Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs December 2002
Christmas Cactus & Cilantro

DECEMBER

     ‘Tis the season to do relatively little in the garden, but if you need some therapy after a bad mall experience and want to plant something, try putting in a few Delphiniums, Foxgloves, Hollyhocks or False Queen Anne’s Lace.  These little green plants don’t look like much now but will reward you in the spring with quite a show.  Delphiniums are especially beautiful in different shades of blue.  Queen Anne’s Lace becomes a big rangy plant with an abundance of white flowers familiar to most easterners (it’s not the same plant, though).  Flowers can be used in fresh and dried arrangements.  Hollyhocks get huge (some to 10’ tall) come in an array of colors and bloom in summer.  The best Foxglove is “Foxy” which blooms quickly and gets about 3’ tall.  When people see any of these plants blooming in the spring they always want to plant them then, after it’s too late.  Do it now!!

CHRISTMAS CACTI

Schlumbergera truncatas are something you usually see around this season. (Oh, okay, Christmas Cactus!).  These are the plants everybody’s grandmother had in her house forever, that were huge and gorgeous and, according to her, totally neglected.  Over the years she gave away a myriad of cuttings that met various fates, but some no doubt became plants to rival Grandma’s.  This plant really is a cactus but seems a far cry from the Barrels, Prickly Pears and Chollas you see around here.  It is native to the cool rain forests and mountains of southern Brazil where it grows in trees in pockets of organic matter.  Unlike our native cactus, it makes a good houseplant.  If prefers bright, indirect light, moist air, day temperatures around 70F and night temperatures above 40F.  Its soil should be fast draining.  Water regularly and deeply, but allow the surface of the soil to dry out between waterings.  Fertilize plants once a month or so from March thru August with half strength 15-30-15.  Keeping the plants alive seems pretty easy, but the rub comes if you want them to flower at Christmas.  In order to set buds, the plants need 14 hours of darkness a day and temperatures below 75F starting in September.  You can easily move them in and out of a dark closet every day, but keeping them below 75F in September in the Arizona desert could be a challenge (and an expense).  If sounds a lot easier to let the professional growers do their thing and just buy a new blooming one every year.  And, like they say, it’s good for the economy!

Many of you people that were ambitious earlier in the season have some nice lush cole crops developing.  These include Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower.  Be prepared for the ATTACK OF THE GRAY APHIDS.  They covet the tender tips of these plants and legions will quickly amass to suck the strength  out of the leaves.  At the first sign of these gray hordes, spray with insecticidal soap or if necessary Malathion.

As temperatures drop, Citrus fruits will begin to color up but are not necessarily ripe. Taste a fruit or two before harvesting to make sure they’re ready.  Only take off what you use right away as fruits always store best on the tree.

Some seeds that can be planted now include Lettuce, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Peas, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Turnips, Radishes, Beets, Carrots.  Radishes and Carrots are excellent in containers.  We have a selection of seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and distributing seeds of crops and wild plants traditionally used by prehistoric and recent cultures of the SW U.S. and northern Mexico.  Included are different Beans, Peppers, Corn, Cotton, Indigo, Amaranth etc.  The folks at the organization based in Tucson are interested in hearing about experiences you have with any of their crops.  Try something different! 

Remember some of the more frost tender plants need to be covered if temperatures drop below 32F for any length of time.  Some of these are Ficus, Natal Plum, Lantana, Bougainvillea, Ruellia, Geraniums, Cape Honeysuckle, small Citrus, Aloes, Tomatoes, Peppers.  When in doubt, cover it up.

CILANTRO
 

Cilantro, also known as Chinese Parsley, is the herb whose leaves give the unique flavor to Mexican salsas and many Asian dishes.  This is an herb that does double duty since the seeds that are produced are known as Coriander.  The crushed, aromatic seeds are a well known spice for soups, stews, baked goods etc.  The seed oil is sometimes used to flavor cigarette tobacco.  Sugar coated seeds are eaten like candy in some countries.  Since Cilantro hates hot weather, plant it now if  you want to use the leaves.  As the weather warms in spring the plants will bolt into flower and later produce Coriander seeds.  Apparently the seeds smell and taste unpleasant until fully ripe and dry when they finally take on their spicy flavor.  Plants readily reseed themselves.

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Web Comments george@mswn.com September 13, 2004 © Shady Way Nursery 2004