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Welcome to the Paul Parent Garden Club 2014 Newsletter
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Growing Boston fern's in the winter


Have you ever wondered how plants get their names? Well, the Boston Fern got its name because it is a mutation of a tropical fern that was found growing in a parlor in Boston, Massachusetts around 1890 by a tropical plant grower from the South. A mutation is a new plant that develops with a different appearance from a known plant. This new plant is totally different; it has unique features, interesting characteristics, the growing requirements have changed and so has the appearance of this plant. Mutation is rare in nature, but this mutation made the fern a plant that could be grown inside your home--no longer a plant for a warm climate that grew outside only.

The Boston fern is a close relative of the sword fern that grows wild in southern Florida and tropical regions of the Pacific. It mutated from the Sword Fern, and today it is the most popular of all the ferns grown. What makes this plant unique is its ability to grow in a brightly lit window. Most other ferns prefer a shady location--even a dark location--to grow in your home but the Boston fern will survive in those conditions, just not thrive or grow very well; it needs light.

What I love best about the Boston fern is that it can be grown on your back porch for the summer months or on a shady patio. When the weather begins to get cold, it can be brought into your home for you to enjoy all winter long--and if you follow a few rules it will give your room a bit of tropical look.

If you have tried to overwinter or grow a Boston fern in your home for the winter and have had problems in the past, follow these easy steps for success. The main problem is when you bring them into your home they begin to shed their leaves and the dried up leaves fall to the floor, creating a mess. This is unacceptable but it can be avoided if you do the following.

Boston ferns require bright indirect light at all times. If you live in the northern part of the country, your fern will grow best in an east facing window with morning sunshine or a west facing window with late day sunshine. A south facing window even in the dead of winter is too bright and the direct sun will burn the foliage. If this is your only window, move the plant to one side or the other to create filtered light.

Boston ferns will not survive if you have a forced hot air heat in your home. This type of heat removes all the moisture from the air and the plants cannot survive in this climate. You cannot grow Boston ferns in a room that has a wood or coal burning stove for the same reason--the air is too dry. If you want a beautiful plant, you will have to mist the foliage every day; not just when you think of it, but every day.

A humidifier is the best way to keep the plant happy because it will apply the moisture to the air constantly, just as it was growing in the wild outside. A humidifier will also help your family sleep better during the winter, and your wood furniture is less likely to dry out and crack. Moisture in the air will benefit all your plants in your home, so keep the Boston fern in the same room as your humidifier. I also place my plant on top of a large saucer filled with stones. I fill the saucer to just below the bottom of the pot with water every morning and during the day that water evaporates creating a micro climate around the plant; but never let the pot sit in the water.

Now, temperature is also something that will affect the growth of the plant. Your Boston fern will do best with daytime temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees and 60 to 65 during the evening. If your plant is in a room that gets warmer than 70 degrees, place the plant on top of a table or on a plant stand rather than hanging it from the ceiling. Heat rises and the temperature near the ceiling could be as much as 10 degrees warmer than at waist high in the room.

All types of ferns love to be fertilized every 2 weeks all year long; lack of fertilizer will also cause yellowing of the foliage. Feed at half the recommended rate with something like Dr. Earth house plant. If you forget to feed, as most of us do, use Dynamite pellet fertilizer; this is a wonderful slow-release plant food that will feed your plant for up to 3 months.

Watering is important and ferns need to be kept moist at all times but never sitting in a saucer of water. I put the plant in the sink once a week and give the plant a good watering and soak the foliage at the same time. This is also a good time to clean off any foliage that turns brown on the plant. Use warm water when watering your plant so not to chill the plant, and if your foliage is beginning to lose some of its shine it is usually caused by allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.

When you purchase a Boston fern you will notice that the plant is growing in the center of the pot. As it matures, new foliage will develop closer to the edge of the pot and some of the older foliage in the center will begin to die off; this is natural.

In the spring, your fern will need to be re-potted. I usually examine the root ball first. Usually you will notice small plants developing up against the side of the pot in the root zone. On the top of the plant you will notice dead spots in the center with all the foliage developing from around the edges. If your plant is large and mature, cut the plant in half and repot into 2 new pots during March or April, and by summer you will have 2 plants that will thrive on your porch or patio during the summer. Feed with Dynamite fertilizer and watch the new plants quickly develop.

When you re-pot your plant, use a good potting soil and blend in 50% peat moss or compost to the mixture. If your new shoots growing around the side of the pot look good but the center is mostly dead, pull the new shoots from the root and dispose of the dead portions. Now plant the new shoots in a clump in the center of the pot and watch them quickly develop into a new healthy plant in just a few weeks...think division. Keep plants away from drafty doors that open and close often to prevent chilling, and away from heating ducts to prevent dehydration of the foliage when the heat turns on.

There are now several new varieties available of the Boston fern: The compact is my favorite. It grows to 18 inches wide and stays compact, not floppy, so it works well in a pot in a planter. Also nice is a variety called 'Fluffy Ruffles,' which is more upright growing, with stiff branches; also 18 inches tall and spreading. If you want a large growing plant that will cascade over the side of the pot look for the variety called 'Bostoniensis.'

Ferns are a bit of work but your efforts will be rewarded with a plant that brings the warmth of Florida into your winter home covered with snow. Enjoy!



Growing Gardenia's indoors


This fall and winter, let's add an old-fashioned southern flowering plant to our collection of indoor houseplants. This tropical plant is a shrub in the southern part of the country and real easy to grow as a foundation plant around most southern homes.

The southern gardener uses this plant much like we do azaleas and rhododendrons in the northern part of the country and its beautiful foliage is as important as the flower buds the plant makes in late summer for fall and winter flowers.

Gardenias (also known as Cape jasmine) have glossy, dark green leaves that are almost leathery in appearance. The leaf is oval in shape with a pointed leaf tip often growing one and half inches to three inches long and one to one and half inches wide. When you look at the leaf you will notice a sunken vein running from end to end on the leaf. Also, sunken side veins run from this center vein to the sides of the leaf, like bones from a fish.

The newer growth is not as dark as mature leaves on the plant, but this distinctive color difference makes the foliage stand out. However, if you have a plant in your home now and it has yellow leaves on the lower part of the plant it could be the result of the plant growing in a location that is too shady for the plant. From September to May your gardenias will do best in a window with full sun--if possible--or at least bright most of the day. Outside during the summer, keep them in the shade.

The foliage is nice but the flowers are the crowning glory of this plant. The flowers are double flowers with many rows of petals and resemble rose flowers. The flowers can grow from 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter, and as they begin to open the flowers will fill the room with a powerful perfume scent. The fragrance will last until the flower falls from the plant.

The flower is a rich creamy-white color, and will last on the plant for several weeks before turning creamy-yellow and falling from the plant. The flower buds look like Soft Serve Ice-Cream Cones," pale green in color and covered with whirled flower petal covers. As the buds open, they seem to slowly turn white. Most stems will make 3 to 5 buds on the tip of the branches; these will open one at a time, lengthening the flowering time on the plant.

Keep the plant outside until September as the plant will make flower buds better if the air temperature is below 70 degrees and the days grow shorter. Now the tricky part: gardenias love humidity and moisture on the foliage. Gardenias will not grow in a house with forced hot air heat or in a room that has a wood or coal stove in it. Forced hot water heat is not a problem if it comes from oil ,but if it comes from natural gas the plant will die quickly, as any unused gas fumes are toxic to the plant.

When the plant is inside the house always keep it on a tray filled with small stones and add water to the tray of stones daily. Daily misting with warm water is very important when the flower buds get ready to open. If your flower buds are falling from the plant before opening, the air around the plant is too dry, so use a humidifier to add moisture to the air; it will help the plant, and you'll breathe better, too. One more thing, keep plants away from drafts.

Fertilize every two weeks from May to September and monthly after that with Mir-Acid fertilizer. Gardenias love acid soils, so never use limestone near this plant or it will stop growing.

Repot in late winter when it has finished flowering; use a soil with lots of organic matter. When you repot the plant, cut back the tips of every branch to stimulate new growth--and watch it fill in and grow thicker faster. Keep the soil moist when growing outside, but cut back the watering when it is in bloom. Also never mist the flower when misting the foliage and buds, as water applied to the opened flower will make it turn brown.

If you purchase a plant from a florist or greenhouse, look at the pot shape. If the pot has straight sides and the soil looks like all compost it is the original soil it was grown in and this plant should be repotted when you get home--or have the greenhouse repot it for you. The soil used to grow the plant is artificial and will dry up quickly. Also the plant is probably root-bound, so please repot into a larger pot with fresh soil to help hold moisture around the developing root system.

Gardenias are beautiful, fragrant and worth all the work that comes with them. Try one this fall or winter as your home may be perfect for this wonderful plant.  Enjoy!



Growing Citrus indoors



You do not have to live in Florida to grow good citrus plants. With today's new hybrids and grafting methods it is possible for you to grow a few oranges, lemons, limes, kumquat, and even grapefruit right in your living room no matter where you live.

They are not just citrus trees, they are decorative plants that will produce edible fruit and marvelous white flowers that are so fragrant that your entire home will smell of the great outdoors in spring time. Citrus plants are evergreen and the glossy, dark green, oval shaped leaves are even aromatic when crushed.

The flowers of the citrus are star-like and usually develop on the plant during the early spring in clusters on the tips of the branches. The flowers are about one inch in diameter and last on the plant for several weeks.

Citrus is traditionally pollinated by insects but because they are growing in an unnatural climate, your home, you will have to do the pollination by hand if you want fruit to form on the plant.

This will be fun--all you have to do is purchase a small artist's paint brush and tickle the flowers when you notice that the center of the flower has a yellow powdery substance forming on it. This is pollen; you have to move it from the pollen sacks and place it on the swollen center of the flower called the "pistil."

Move your pollen-covered brush from flower to flower every day that the flowers produce new pollen and new flowers open on the plant. I find that if you sing while you do this, it will work better! So "Buzz, Buzzz, Buzzzz." As the plant is accustomed to the romance of the buzzing bee, try this buzzing while your spouse or children are in the room and wait to hear the reaction from them.

Most years you will have new flowers and fruit at the same time on your plant as the fruit ripens slowly. If you're successful at pollinating the flowers, a small rounded fruit will form where the flowers were, and in time it will grow in size, forming a green fruit that will bend the branches it develops on. The fruit will form slowly and the color will change as it develops, from a dark green to orange or yellow depending on the fruit you are growing.

Grow Citrus in a sunny or bright lit window or in front of a sliding door, as the plant needs a lot of sunlight to make fruit indoors during the winter. When the weather changes and becomes frost-free, place the plant outside in a full sun location until the fall arrives, then back indoors.

When you place the plant outside in the spring, I would like to see you repot the plant in a pot one size bigger but still small enough for you to handle. Use a good quality potting soil that contains a lot of organic matter like the new Espoma's Potting soil with mycorrhizae. Fertilize every 2 weeks, spring to fall and then monthly during the winter months.

Water the citrus plant weekly when the plant is outside and more often if the weather gets hot. During the winter, water sparingly while indoors but keep the soil moist; do not let it dry out. During the winter, it is best to keep the plant on the cool side--50 to 60 degrees if possible--and avoid temperatures above 70 degrees, as the plant is resting.

Fertilize with an acid-based fertilizer such as Mir-Acid and keep lime away from this plant. When you put the plant outside for the summer, add a little bit of Holly Tone organic fertilizer to give it a push and help the plant make new growth.

If you start to see the foliage color fading or turning yellow, use Mir-Acid fertilizer as a foliar feed. Citrus loves humidity, so keep the plant on a tray of stones that you can add water daily to. This will help provide moisture to the air around the plant. A humidifier will help keep the plant happy--and daily misting is wonderful also.

When you purchase plants, be sure that they are labeled as dwarf or grafted plants. This will insure that they will flower and fruit while still small, usually when the plant reaches 3 to 6 feet tall. Non-grafted plants will need to grow 10 feet plus to produce fruit in your home--like growing an apple tree in your house.

When you eat citrus and save the seeds for potting, they will grow, but because they are not grafted or dwarf they will not bear fruit for you unless you have real high ceilings. The plants are beautiful, the flowers smell great, and with some luck you can have "native citrus" in your living room at this time next fall, no matter where you live. Enjoy!



The Potato Song
The Potato Song



"If you ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself with out it.  But if you invest in beauty it will remain with you all the days of your life."

Frank Lloyd Wright

A unique palm for indoors

When most of us think of the palm, we think tropical, like the climate in southern Florida. Warm temperatures, high humidity, and hot weather, even jungle-like, but this does not describe the growing conditions of the ponytail palm. The ponytail palm originated in the desert of southern Mexico, not the tropics. It prefers dry air and low humidity--making it the perfect plant for the home that is heated with forced hot air heat, very unusual for a plant, unless you like cactus.

The ponytail palm is truly a unique looking plant, and very eye-catching. The base of the plant does look like the foot of an elephant, a thick woody rough skin-like growth that produces a bottle shaped tall growing stem that is topped with grassy like foliage. In the desert the base of the plant and the stem are filled with water like a reservoir for the plant. The leaves are narrow, growing 1/2 to 1 inch wide and up to 36 inches long. They all grow from the top of the stem in a cluster and resemble a ponytail. The leaves are medium-green and have a nice sheen to them; to me they look a lot like the dracaena spike we all put in our planters for the summer time.

Another unique thing about this plant is that it is in nature a "semi-succulent" type plant because of the large foot and unique stem that holds water like all succulents do. In the wild the plant will flower and produce seeds, but seldom when used as a house plant unless you have a greenhouse to grow it in.

Growing the ponytail palm is very easy. With a little bit of care this plant will last for 25 years or more in your home. The plant does grow slowly; it will take up to 10 years to grow 4 feet tall. You will need to transplant the plant every 2 years into a container--2 inches larger each time. After 10 years the pot will be larger, heavier, and more difficult to move around the house, so find a place to leave it as the plant gets larger or place the pot on a saucer with wheels attached to it.

When you transplant, use a potting soil that is well drained, like a cactus soil mix. What I would do is purchase a good potting soil and mix this soil with 50% sand for the extra drainage; think desert soil, not tropical forest. Plants respond best when transplanted in the early spring to summer, avoid the fall and winter.

Choose a location in your home with a lot of direct sunshine near a window. The plant will tolerate less sunshine during the winter months but likes direct sun the rest of the year. This is a great plant for a bright room that gets real hot all year long; most plants will not tolerate these conditions. This is a wonderful plant to grow if your home is heated with forced hot air heat. It will also grow great in a room with a wood or coal burning stove with no moisture in the air and high heat temperatures. The average temperature should be 65 to 75 degrees but it will tolerate 50 degrees during the winter months.

The plants need to be fertilized from March to September with a good house plant food like Dr. Earth house plant food. Fertilize every month except during the fall and winter season, as they go partially dormant then.

Watering is simple for this plant: keep the soil moist from early spring to late fall; never let the pot sit in a tray of water, and if you move the plant outside during the summer time, do not place it in a saucer; you want to be sure rain water can drain easily from the container. During the fall and winter months, water when the soil feels dry 2 inches deep into the pot. usually once a month will be enough.

As the plant matures, it will lose the older leaves, and the remaining leaves will lose their color and turn brown. They will pull off very easily--this is natural. As this is happening, the plant is getting taller and new growth is also developing on the top of the plant to keep the unique "ponytail" look to it.

During the winter, wash the foliage with a damp cloth to remove the dust that will build up on the foliage; this will keep the plant actively growing. When you dust the coffee table wash the plant and check the soil to see if the plant needs to be watered.

If you care for this plant properly, it will reward you with new shoots that will develop at the base of the plant. Each new shoot will begin as a small growth, marble sized, with a bit of foliage; it should be left on the plant until it reaches the size of a golf ball before you transplant it to its own pot--or just leave it there and it will give your plant additional character.

This plant, the ponytail palm, also makes a great plant to grow in a shallow container to create a bonsai-looking plant. You can purchase plants in a 6 inch pot and re-pot them it in a shallow bonsai type container. The plant is also available in larger sizes and the plant can be a single plant in the pot or planted as a group to give you even more character.

It's real easy to grow and it will make a wonderful gift plant for the first time or seasoned gardener. Overwatering is the biggest problem with this plant as it has few insect problems. If brown tips develop on the foliage, cut the brown off with sharp scissors and feel the soil; it usually means too much water. My experience is: if you're not sure if it needs water, wait a few extra days and then test the soil again. Think moist, never wet. Think again to yourself: "this is a desert plant, not tropical, even though it is called a palm."






Garden Cauliflower and kale soup


A wonderful Garden Soup when the Weather gets "COLD"




4 big fat leeks, use the white part only
2 pounds of potatoes, white flesh or mixed colors
4 tablespoons of olive oil or truffle oil
1 large bunch of black kale
1 large head of Cauliflower
2 to 3 cloves of fresh garlic minced
Fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste
 2- 48 ounce containers of chicken or vegetable broth


 Wash and slice the leeks into thin rings. Wash and chop the potatoes into one inch cubes with the skin on. Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add the leeks and the  potatoes, and mix them well in the oil to warm them up.  Slice the Kale into I/2 inch wide strips like ribbon after you have removed the center rib. Add the kale to the pot along with the garlic, salt and pepper.  Cut the cauliflower into small florets about an inch in diameter. Add to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes. Now blend all the ingredients together so they are well coated with  the oil and  have a bit of color to them.  Add the stock and bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender , about 20 to 25 minutes.  Ladle the soup into bowls and  drizzle a bit of oil into each.  Gate a little Asiago cheese over the top, add a few croutons if you like.
Serve with a fresh crusty bread. The leftover soup taste even better the next day.  Enjoy!



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9. Sheet of garden labels
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  Written by Paul Parent                         Produced by Christine Parent

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