Friday, July 22, 2011

Plants I've Killed (Euphorbias)

Plants I’ve killed.

Or more aptly titled plants that have just dropped dead for me.

 (Pretty sad looking Euphorbia 'Bonfire')

This summer was to be year of the Euphorbia in the park. Many may be familiar with the more common trade houseplants of the Genus. Pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli), Cowboy cactus (Euphobia lacteal), Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) and even the well-known holiday classic - Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are just some of the seemingly endless specimens of Euphorbia. While all of those listed above act as house plants and are not hardy to the cool, damp conditions of the north east, there are also a wide selection of Spurges that are supposed to do more than just survive the climate here.  These Euphorbias should be able to tolerant poor, dry soil and sun to part shade. The white, milky, sap of these plants contain latex which not only will give most people a nasty rash, but will also keep any animal with half a brain from eating them.

So how can these plants possibly fail?

Rain, two weeks of rain before establishment has killed almost every Euphorbia polychroma we’ve put in. Less than ideal drainage and two weeks of shade caused complete susceptibility to fungal rot. Meanwhile I’ve noticed that our (non hardy) Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ has been looking very sparse. In some areas the plants are just full of their showy, white, bracts, while in other areas a swarm of pigeons have
descended where people throw bread crumbs on the planting. Pigeons, being as smart as they are, can’t seem to tell the difference between the bread crumbs and anything else in the vicinity the might possibly fit in their beaks. Amazingly, the birds don’t seem to be affected by the plants at all. I’m definitely at a loss there. I suspect our part shade in those areas aren't helping either.

Thursday we made a trip out to long island and I was pretty pleased to see that other nurseries seem to be having the same problems with Euphorbias this year. Everything just looked leggy, wilted, and bare. Luckily, the few I purchased for my father’s house this spring are enjoying the pure sand and baking sun that makes up his yard. While we installed ‘Bonfire’ and its corresponding species, polychroma, in the park I was looking for something darker and more contrasting for my father’s yard. I eventually purchased Euphorbia ‘Backbird’ which apparently is really named Euphorbia x martinii ‘Nothowlee’ with blackbird being its trademark name. Ugh. (Come on patent office, have some pity on hort students who have to memorize this crap.)

Regardless, it’s a beautiful plant. Its dark foliage contrasts great with our gaudy golden spireas and it seems to be thriving in the wasteland of the pine barons. Later I saw that a local nursery had Euphorbia ‘Tiny Tim’ which by ‘Tiny Tim’ I really mean Euphorbia x martini ‘Waleutiny’… Same thing really.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Containers (One of many posts, I'm sure.)

Ah Fridays. Fridays are my Saturdays. I get to sleep late (7 am) and spend time cleaning up some of my plants before I catch up on everything else I've neglected at home all week....

like "fixing" my screen that my cat ate through...

Few New Yorkers have the luxury of having their own yard. For garden buffs like me, it can be a very frustrating thing.  There are hundreds of plants I want to trial. I manage to squeeze some into the beds at work. Others make their way into my father's yard. There's still never really enough space with these two options and both require transportation away from home for my own enjoyment. But even if you don't have the urge to trial almost every Kniphofia you've laid eyes on, you might still want to grow some herbs and vegetables in this urban wasteland.

Container gardens are the most practical way to keep plants alive in the city. I got lucky with my current apartment. I've got plenty of window space and my two front windows connect to a fire escape so I get some sun. I'm aware that having items on your fire escape is supposedly illegal. I'm not suggesting that you do it if its clearly stated in your lease. I recommend that if you do put anything out there, keep it limited and make sure you still have window access. My argument is this, a few pots are not going to hinder a firefighter in the way that an air conditioner will and I see plenty of air conditioners all over the place. The Gothamist wrote something about this in March. If the fire escape is not an option for you, and you have roof access, the roof is an ideal place for containers. (But yet again, make sure you have land lord okay before you build your garden of Eden.) Ground level containers are okay too. Just watch out for theft and vandals and animals... all the same thing really. Windowsill pots are okay too, just remember that they're still being grown inside and they don't always look as great as they would outside.

Your container can be just about anything. I've got a ton of plants growing in soup cans and old yogurt containers. I used recyclables throughout most of college and I still have a bunch of them now that I'm a real person. If it holds soil and drains (or you're really really precise with watering) it can be a container.

Like my slightly cracked Caladium teapot.

I'm not going to list what you should plant if do decide to have your own urban garden. There are different plants for different people and not every planting place has the same environmental conditions. Research the plant before you try it. There's no point in planting Hostas if you have full direct sun and you know you're never going to remember to water. Just as planting most culinary herbs in shade won't yield the healthiest looking basil and certainly not the most abundant crop, don't set your expectations high if you can't provide the right conditions for the plant.

Don't be afraid to mix annuals and perennials. Don't be afraid to mix flowers with edibles. Do plant what makes it worthwhile for you. Do remember to water them.

And if you get really adventurous, try a water garden. Mine has been struggling along. We'll see if it ever really flowers. Keep in mind mosquitoes breed in still water so be sure to change out the water on a regular basis... This might not be back for summer 2012.