Gardening Under Lights: Light for Propagating & Growing Tiny Plants

September 20, 2020

Tiny Terrariums Under Grow Lights

How much light for tiny plants?

I have many different grow light set ups around my home. Here is one of my vegetative propagation and new transplant areas under lights- I use a 4-lamp T5 fixture with only one HOT5 fluorescent lamp inserted, for lower light cuttings and species that are rooting in. New vegetative cuttings do not need as much light as actively rooted and growing plants.

Directly under the lamp the plants with some active root growth are getting a DLI of about 5 umol/m2/day (measured with quantum flux meter and PPFD), which puts the output in a shade/heavy shade low-light category - which is perfect for cuttings or other low light species that are transitioning.

At the edge of the fixture and the lamp, it’s about a 2.5-3 umol/m2/day DLI for cuttings with no roots yet. Lamps is on for 12-hrs. Some of the species here include sinningia, begonia, masdevallia, peperomia, etc. and some new barefoot lithops just potted up (which should be in a shaded area for a week or two).


In the Garden: Zipper Spiders

September 18, 2020

Zipper Spiders

Beneficial & Beautiful Spiders

SPIDER SCORE! Sadly, in spite of the wealth of wildlife habitat and food plants in my garden - which is usually overflowing with insects and lizards - we’ve noticed a SIGNIFICANT decrease in insect life this year. Sounds about right for 2020 😢

So I was elated to finally see a large beautiful zipper spider (Argiope aurantia) out in the front garden, who had taken up residence on a Salvia ‘Amistad’. Smart move because this salvia variety is a magnet for pollinators. I'd say she's about the size of the palm of my hand or a bit larger.

Although I’m not super happy about her catching the honeybees - there are lots of grasshoppers out right now that I’d prefer she work on...but nature is nature.

Any cool spiders in your garden this year? Or have you also noticeda big decline in insects?

Are Zipper Spiders Poisonous?

Many people will really freak out when they see spiders this large in their garden. But rest assured, these spiders are NOT interested in you. Zippers spiders are not aggressive by nature, but if you poke and prod at them and they feel threatened, they can bite. If you are bitten, and are a healthy adult, you may have some stinging and swelling, but otherwise be fine. That said, you could have an allergic reaction, which are rare. Just leave these beauties be and you'll both be fine.


Botanical Nomenclature: How do I Correctly Write a Plant Species Name?

September 16, 2020

Botanical Latin

How to correctly write a plant species name

A quick 101 today on botanical nomenclature (plant names), because I see so many new plant retailers, social media influences, and plant communities online are using it incorrectly. The point of botanical Latin is to make sure we are all talking about exactly the same plant - universally - no matter our native language. So, that means accuracy is important. With more new plant parents interested in botany and correct plant ID, I thought a quick primer was in order!

What is a plant species?

A plant species is a group of plants in which two individuals can produce fertile offspring. Plants are given a binomial species name that includes a genus and a specific epithet; for example, Pilea peperomioides (the species name for Chinese money plant).

The species name is always written in italics or underlined. The genus is capitalized and the specific epithet is lower case. It used to be that if a specific epithet was a proper name it was also capitalized – this is no longer the case.

Subspecies (subsp.) are also italicized: Crassula pubescens subsp. radicans

Naturally occurring varieties of a species are also lower case italicized with the abbreviation var. in front of the variety name: Cornus florida var. rubra

When you are referring generally to multiple species of the same genus, you can do so as Peperomia spp. (in writing the genus would be italicized, but not the spp.) – or a singular species as Peperomia sp. If you are referring to several different identified species of the same genus, you can spell out the genus for the first species reference, Peperomia rubella and then refer to the following species as P. fraseri, P. caperata.

Plant Cultivars

Albuca spiralis 'Frizzle Sizzle'

Cultivated hybrid names -as well as cultivated selected varieties -are included after the species name in single ‘’ quote marks or noted with cv. in front of the name, and are capitalized: Albuca spiralis 'Frizzle Sizzle'

You can get away with noting it as Albuca 'Frizzle Sizzle'.

DO NOT use double quote marks " " for plant cultivar/variety names!

Trade names that are made up after a formal cultivar or variety has been assigned/registered to a plant - specifically for marketing purposes - does not have single quotes around it, but you may see a trademark or registered mark next to the name (this means that the plant is formally registered with a different cultivar/variety name, which can make plant ID confusing).

If the plant is registered with a patent using the formal cultivar or variety name that will also be used in marketing, you may also see a TM or R mark after a cultivar name that is in quotes (this part gets a bit sticky!).

Plant Common Names

Common names are the names we make up for plants, so we can refer to them without knowing the species name. Common names don’t need to be capitalized, but if it is a proper noun you may capitalize it.

Sometimes the common name for a plant is simply the genus. When using a genus as a general common name you may see the genus used in lower case roman, such as cosmos. However if you are using the genus botanically, make sure to capitalize and italicize, Cosmos bipinnatus.

Know that common names vary widely depending on where you live – so most plants can have several different common names, or share common names with other unrelated species.

Problems with Botanical Latin on Social Media

Unfortunately, most social media platforms do not allow us to italicize or underline text, but make sure you always do so where you can and in writing – such as on your blog, plant website, articles, etc. -and at least use proper upper case on the species names, as well as correct cultivar or variety designation, when on social media.

Now, I could definitely dive deeper into this topic, as there are other botanical nomenclature rules to consider, but this 101 should get you started in the right direction!


Plant Parenting: Seed Pellets Make Seeding Easy

July 8, 2020

You don’t have to use loose potting soil to grow your seeds or cuttings. There are many options for preformed plugs, both natural and synthetic, that can make propagation easy and tidy, while providing a good environment for your cuttings and seeds.

Dry compressed coir pellet plugs in a watertight seed-starting tray.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Compressed soilless plug pellets, also known as seed plugs, are one easy option. These are compressed dry disks of peat or coir, plus a small amount of fertilizer, wrapped in a biodegradable film. Often, seed plugs are sold with small seed-germinating greenhouse kits or you can buy them separately.

This arugula is ready to transplant.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

When using seed plugs, it's easy to see when you should transplant your plant to a larger size. Once roots reach the edges of the plug, it's ready to go into a larger pot or even straight to outside!


Plant Parenting: Germination Inhibitors

July 8, 2020

Chemical inhibitors prevent the seed from germinating under the wrong environmental conditions. Otherwise, seeds would germinate at the wrong time, out of season, or in the wrong location and die. Inhibitors also make it possible for seeds to travel some distance away from the parent plant, which helps plant species spread geographically and improve genetic diversity.

Sometimes, chemical germination inhibitors break down and a seed will germinate too early. Have you ever seen a seed sprout inside a tomato fruit?

The germination inhibitors inside this decaying tomato have broken down and the seeds inside have begun to germinate.   By the way, don’t eat those tiny tomato sprouts if you find them in your tomato fruit—tomatoes are in the nightshade family and the stems and leaves contain toxins.

The germination inhibitors inside this decaying tomato have broken down and the seeds inside have begun to germinate. By the way, don’t eat those tiny tomato sprouts if you find them in your tomato fruit—tomatoes are in the nightshade family and the stems and leaves contain toxins.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

This type of germination is called precocious germination, or vivipary. It happens when the hormones that regulate seed development & degrade, causing seeds to germinate- even under the wrong environmental conditions.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck


Plant Parenting: Seed Chitting

June 23, 2020

For most annual and edible seeds, normal germination occurs at optimal soil temperature and moisture levels without any special techniques. But you can speed up the germination process (or improve germination rates from older seed stock) if you pre-sprout them, a process called chitting or greensprouting. Chitting involves soaking the seeds, usually for 24 hours (some species require more time), before you sow them into pots or into the garden.

As these seeds soak up water during chitting, they swell, and the germination process begins.
PC: Botanopia.com

How to Chit Seeds

  • Moisten some dish towels, paper towels, or newspaper to the dampness of a wrung-out sponge, then set the damp material in a tray or on a plate.
  • For seeds that sprout quickly, such as beans (1-3 days), simply spread your seed onto the moist surface. For seeds that take longer & need more constant moisture or harder seeds that take longer to sprout, like succulents and cactus, insert the moistened dish towel or paper towel into a small plastic baggy, place seeds inside, and seal the baggy.
  • Place in a warm spot in your home.
  • Seeds will absorb the moisture & swell, some will germinate & being to sprout. Immediately plant these sprouted seeds into a water rooter, growing media or seed plugs.
  • If your seeds have been molding, then dilute a 1:25 ratio of hydrogen peroxide to water & wipe the seeds with the solution before you place them into the moist towel.

Citrus seeds benefit from pre-sprouting, and will then root more easily..
PC: Leslie F. Halleck


Gardening Under Lights: Use HO T5 Lamps for Seedlings

June 17, 2020

Seedlings Need Bright Light

Once a seedling emerges from beneath the soil, both the amount of bright light and the duration of light are important. Seedlings need 14-16 hours of bright light to grow strong & study. If you notice your seedlings are elongating & stretching, they are not receiving enough light.

Look for HO T5 fluorescents when you’re shopping for growing lamps; skip the standard shop lights.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

When I am growing seedlings, I use HO T5 fluorescent of LED fixtures that hold up to four lamps. These setups will provide the intense light that young seedlings need. The goal is to deliver even amounts of light to the entire seed tray - even the edges.

One of my grow shelves.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

My Seedling Grow Light Set-up

I like to create grow shelves for my seedlings and cuttings with an adjustable shelving unit. I make shelves different heights for different sized plants, so I can move them around as they grow. I use large 4-foot fluorescent light fixtures (which can hold both HO T5 fluorescent and T5 LEDs) on these shelves in my garage, where there is no ambient light available.

If you have wire shelving in your garage, be sure to purchase plastic shelf covers so they will contain any water drainage.


Plant Parenting: Tomatoes can be Planted Deep

June 15, 2020

Some seedlings can be planted deeper in the soil than they were growing. Look below. Can you see the fuzzy part of the tomato stem that has a purple tint? You can bury that portion of tomato stem under the soil, as it will develop new adventitious bracing roots from that part of the stem.

So, if you accidentally waited too long to transplant, or your seedlings stretched due to lack of light, you can get your seedling back on track by planting a little deeper.

Tomato plug ready to be potted up.
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Once I've checked the root system of my tomato plug & found it large enough for bumping up I filled a 4" pot with loose potting mix, then used a dibber to make a plug-sized hole for the tomato seedling. I dropped it into the hole & then gently pressed soil about the root ball & covered any exposed root area with some additional potting mix.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

If you sniped this seedling off right at the soil line, you could also use it as a stem-tip cutting—the stem will grow new roots from the purple area.

Plant Parenting Book


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