Seedlings take two

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. At least that’s what I’m doing with my seedlings. My first batch started out great, but then they got fungi. I tried to treat them by providing more air circulation and later a spritz of hydrogen peroxide. But it was too little too late.

Eventually, only two seedings continued to grow. At first, I thought I’d try to support them. Then I realized that a weak seedling will not produce a strong plant that can withstand the outside fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. So I had to let them go.

New garden plan for 2015.

New garden plan for 2015.


I was surprised how sad the whole experience was. I am new to gardening, and last year my seedlings grew effortlessly. But it’s all part of the hobby of growing living things.

So I have a new crop of seeds planted in my mini greenhouse on top of the fridge. Hopefully, they will be sprouting in a week or two. This time I’ll know to remove the dome lid as soon as they sprout, so fungi have no chance to take hold.

Also, I bought a lighting system. This winter has been so gray that it’s tough for the sprouted seedings to get enough light. My basil is still thriving in the downstairs powder room window (East side of the house). But I know they would grow more vigorously if they had more light.

The lighting frame came in the mail yesterday, but I am still waiting for the bulb. I hope it will come soon, so I can get my basil revved up and be ready for my new babies sprouting.

All of this meant I had to change my garden plan a bit because I ran out of some seeds. The new one is above with my updated spreadsheet below.

— Gina Chen

Bad news: My seedlings have fungi

My seedlings were doing so well, and them boom. I started to notice a while power on their seed pods.

Oh no!

The pods are like sponges made of seedling compound, and you put one seed inside each pod. The pod sits in a foam holder, that allows water to seep in from the plastic container beneath it automatically. So it’s impossible to over-water with this method.

photo (33)

The fan in the foreground is on super low to give my babies some air circulation.

Before I planted them, I had cleaned everything with a bleach solution, as the directions recommended. But, still, there is fungus. I suspect I should have removed the dome lid on the planter sooner. I keep it on while they were germinating and a few days later. It has slots in the top for air, but obviously not enough. Lesson learned!

I’ve done some reading and found that is not uncommon. It seems they may need more air circulation. So now I have a mini fan on low near them to dry them out. I also am going to get a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to spray on them.

It would also help if it would warm up here in Texas. It was great last week — in the 80s. But this week, it is down to the 30s and 40s. If it would warm up, I could take my babies outside to dry out.

Here’s hoping they survive!

On the flip side, my basil is doing awesome!!

New daffodils have bloomed! And my seedlings are growing!

A new daffodil variety has bloomed.

A new daffodil variety has bloomed.

Big news in the micro-world of my garden! My seedlings — which sprouted last week — are continuing to grow very well. I have removed their dome to give them some more air, and they are near my south-side window behind my computer.

My seedlings are growing!

My seedlings are growing!

Everything has sprouted, but the Lily of the Nile and Rudbeckia are a bit behind the others. That’s fine, as long as there is progress. The tallest ones are the pow wows.

I also had some great news with my basil plants. They have sprouted. So I moved them from the top of the fridge and removed the plastic wrap. They are now in my downstairs bathroom window. I have a pretty small house, so I have to get creative with my plants.

When I lived in Mississippi, I had this awesome den with south-side windows that were just crack for plants. You you stick pretty much anything there, and it would grow. Last year at this time, I had a big card table with all my plants up against that window. I’d move them downstairs to the east-side window to catch the good light in the morning, and then move them up for the afternoon sun.

My basil is just starting to sprout.

My basil is just starting to sprout.

In my new house in Texas, our south side has only 1 window. Ugh!! It in my office, where i am sitting now. So my desk has become the coveted spots for my baby plants. However, there is not much room. When we bought this house, I actually raised the issue of not having a south-side windows for plants, but the house was great in so many other ways. Now, I’m thinking about getting a green house. That’s been my dream, and I found a pop-up one that isn’t too expensive. I figure I could put it in the backyard during late window, grow my seedlings, and then take it down in the heat of summer. That would be so nice to have more room! More room = more plants!

Another daffodil variety and the lovely pink flowers on my scrubs.

Another daffodil variety and the lovely pink flowers on my shrubs.

In outside plant news, some new daffodils have come up in some funky colors. I had bought a variety pack of bulbs, and I foolishly didn’t record what I planted where. However, now it is kind of fun being surprised. Next year, I am going to plant many more bulbs. I’d like them to be a bit more dense around my trees. Plus I want some in my garden itself. I wasn’t sure if daffodils would work in Texas — but it seems they are doing well.

I also had a great surprise with a shrub the builder planted that turns out to have these awesome pink fuzzy flowers. You can see them in the back of my picture. I just love having blooms in February! Cannot wait to see what my garden will do next.

— Gina Chen

We have germination!

I love pretty much every part of gardening, but I just really love that moment when a seed turns into a plant. It just feels so miraculous. Last week, I took some water, some growing compound, and some seeds and combined them. Now, we have little plants struggling to survive. (I was just as awed by this experience last year.)

Seeds I planted last week have germinated.

Seeds I planted last week have germinated.

They are just tiny sprouts at this point, but they are ready to make the big move from their first home on the top of the fridge to their second home — my office window that gets amazing sun on the South side of my house. Today, is kind of gray, so they won’t be getting much sun. But hopefully some time this week, they’ll get some. I also fed them a bit.

They are right behind my computer screen as I write this, facing the window. The Rudbeckia shot up the most, followed by the Arizona Sun. The Pow Wows have sprouted, but they haven’t quite poked their heads up yet.

I planted two varieties of basil in this window box.

I planted two varieties of basil in this window box.

They sprouted just in time because it opened the fridge-top space for the basil seeds I planted today. I used a self-watering window box for them (rather than the mini-greenhouse) because it worked so well when I used it last year. I used a chopstick to make small holes for the seeds in three rows. I planted two kinds of basil — the sweet basil I grew last year and some Italian basil from seeds I bought at Central Grocery in New Orleans. Then I watered them and covered them with plastic wrap, taped on like a greenhouse dome. I punched a few holes in the plastic and put the whole thing on top of the refrigerator. Hopefully, in two weeks I can report germination.

— Gina Chen

Seedlings are started! Excited for my new Texas garden

My daffodils started coming in in mid January.

My daffodils started coming up in mid January.

Today, I got my seedlings started for spring. I’m doing some of the same plants I grew in Mississippi, as well as some new ones. The climate in Austin is much drier than Mississippi, but both places are Zone 8B, so similar plants will grow in both. Here in Texas I need to stay away from plants that need the constant humidity of Mississippi, but I have an irrigation system in my yard, so I can grow pretty much anything that works in 8B unless it needs constant watering. We are under a water-limitation right now, so I can only run my sprinklers once a week.

My seedlings are planted and ready to go. They should be sprouting in about two weeks.

My seedlings are planted and ready to go. They should be sprouting in about two weeks.

I planted pow wow wild berry and Rudbeckia seeds again this year. They did great in Mississippi, but I moved before they had bloomed. Hopefully, they are thriving this spring. I also added so purple Echinacea Bravado, Arizona Sun (Blanket Flower), Floristan Violet, Cheyenne Spirit, ¬†and Lily of the Nile. I have three trees in the front yard and one in the back, so my plan is to ring them with flowers. I did so with bulbs — daffodils and Jessie Starflowers — in the fall, and they are bursting with color now.

Jessie Starflowers starting coming in late January. I'll plant more next year.

Jessie Starflowers starting coming up in late January. I’ll plant more next year.

Below is my schematic of what seedlings I planted, so I can keep track of what is what once they sprout. I use a seedling system (photo above) to sprout the seeds in organic sponges. It works great. It self-waters from a tray beneath the sponges that I fill with water, so the sponges stay nice and moist the way the baby plants like them. It has a dome lid, so it works like a mini greenhouse. I tuck it on the top of my fridge until the seeds sprout because it is nice and warm there. Once they sprout — in about 2 weeks, I’ll move the mini greenhouse to a sunny window, so the new plants can get more light. By the last frost (March 28), they should be ready to plant in the ground.

Here is my schematic of what seeds I planted where in the mini-greenhouse. This helps me remember what is what when they start to sprout.

Here is my schematic of what seeds I planted where in the mini-greenhouse. This helps me remember what is what when they start to sprout.

I decided to do all flowers this year because I find that flowers are what I really enjoy. I am going to plant some basil seeds (probably next week) because I cannot live without fresh basil. With our new puppy monopolizing the backyard, we don’t have much space for veggies. I may plant some garlic next fall and perhaps some strawberries. But I find what really excites me in my garden is flowers. There are many great farmer’s markets around where I live, so I figure I can get my fresh veggies from the pros.

Below is a spreadsheet where I keep track of what I planted, how much, where, and when and also how it did.

— Gina Chen

Gardening in Mississippi is moving to Austin, Texas

Well, just as I am starting to get used to gardening in Mississippi, I’m going to be learning to garden in a whole new place. In two weeks, I move to the Austin, Texas, area to teach at The University of Texas at Austin.

Austin is still Zone 8B just like the Mississippi Coast where I now live, but the climate it totally different. While Mississippi is a soupy bayou, Austin is hot and dry. I was totally surprised by this when we were house-hunting in Austin recently. I noticed the thermostat read 96 degrees, but it really didn’t feel that hot. That’s what low humidity will do for. As excited as I am about living in my new city — and climate — I know the plants I’ve gotten used to cultivating in Mississippi love their humidity. So I need some advice.

I’m checking out some Austin gardening blogs to see what flowering perennials will grow well in my new home. I’m thrilled to see that black-eyed Susans (one of my favorite) made the list of Flowering Plants for Texas by Round Rock Garden, a blogger not too far from Austin. They are one of my favorites. I grew them from seed this winter, and they are growing — although didn’t bloom this summer, as it’s their first year.

J. Peterson Design recommends these five perennials. I definitely want to try the Mexican Bush Sage on that list. I reminds me of honeymooning in Wyoming with all the sage around. Plus, it so very different than anything I could have grown in New York or Mississippi. So I’ll definitely be planting that in October.

I know I’ll be turning to this great resource from the Texas AgriExtension time and time again. It notes that Crape Myrtles grow well in Central Texas, which is good news. I saw them all over the place when we were house-hunting, so I figured they would definitely be on my list. They also grow well in Mississippi, and if we stayed there, they were on my list as well.

Based on reading these three resources, here’s my tentative gardening plan:

Front of house (West side) that gets full sun:

  • Crape Myrtle (Dynamit or Red Rocket) (3 to 25 ft)
  • Mexican Purple Sage (3 ft)
  • Knockout Rose (3 ft) probably several of these
  • Black-eyed Susans (3 ft)
  • Purple Coneflowers (1 to 3 ft)
  • Evergreen Wisteria (to go over my fence in the backyard or maybe in the front)

Right side of my house (North side) that gets sun and partial shade:

  • Butterfly Bush (5 to 6 ft)
  • Fall aster
  • Yellow columbine (1 to 3 ft)
  • Squid Agave (1 to 2 ft)
  • Red Yucca (2 to 4 ft)

Very excited about trying Yucca and Agave. Still need to come up with a plan for the South (left) side of the house and the back (east.) Stay tuned.
— Gina Chen

My flowers are loving this humid weather!

My American wisteria is starting to climb our fence.

My American wisteria is starting to climb our fence.

When I moved to Mississippi nearly two years ago, it took a while for me to get accustomed to the heat and humidity of summer. Sure, we had humidity in New York. But nothing like this. In New York, humidity was a front-page story that left us baking for a week or so in August and then fled. Here is starts in May and doesn’t end until Halloween if we’re lucky.

My front walkway is abloom!

My front walkway is abloom!

However, one of the most delightful parts of living in the big ol’ greenhouse that is Mississippi is that plants love it. I struggled to garden in Upstate New York (zone 5a). It seemed just when my plants were starting to get going, wham, there’d be snow, and that was all she wrote. Then it was a long, cold, snowy winter until I could try again.

Now, in zone 8b, I feel like I can pretty much just stick any ol’ thing in the ground and it grows, as long as I water it. I can ignore it pretty much, but it still keeps growing. Until August, when it gets too hot for even the flowers. But now, in the waning days of May my plants are flourishing!

I am especially delighted by my hydrangea and wisteria, both of which I thought were dead in this year’s unseasonably cold Mississippi winter.

Love those hanging petunias, and they love Mississippi!

Love those hanging petunias, and they love Mississippi!

I thought my hydrangea was dead this winter. Now it has two blooming flowers.

I thought my hydrangea was dead this winter. Now it has two blooming flowers.

My wisteria is starting to climb up the fence, as it should. My hydrangea is starting to bloom! My only gardening disappointment is my encore azalea, which bloomed in March and quit. It is supposed to bloom all year (hence the name), and it dutifully did so last year. But this year it hasn’t. I’ve watered, fertilized, but no luck. I’ve read that sometimes plants need a year to get adjusted, so maybe that’s it. I hope so.

Here’s to a blooming summer!

— Gina Chen