Desert Sunflower Roulette

Gardening is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work. Based on my experience the work component can be more or less difficult depending upon the garden’s location. In the desert, there seems to be an ongoing struggle during the warmest months.

There are roadside sunflowers along the trails and highways of Sonoran Desert that seem to tolerate the harsh growing conditions. After seeing this desert-adjusted specimen growing in the Phoenix area, I decided to try to grow the more showy, standard sunflowers in our cultivated garden.

My main concern was the sun’s intensity. Heat is one thing, but the searing intensity of the sun’s rays is another. There can be a more than one hundred days with temperatures of one hundred degrees or more. The one factor in my favor is that our gardens receive irrigation and drought will not be a factor for this experiment.

With this idea in mind, I visited one of our local stores and purchased a package of mixed sunflower seeds. I wanted a selection that would perhaps offer up at least one variety that is less prone to fail under our extreme conditions.



The package indicates that the plants will bloom from summer to fall, but I did not anticipate that long a blooming season in the desert ecosystem.

This is our second year growing these sunflowers. Each spring we pour a selection into a container and make our choice of five random seeds. Once they become viable seedlings, we select the strongest three for final planting.



This year we had a false start because a large squirrel entered our courtyard and devoured our first group of sunflower seedlings. You can read about that HERE.

Bushy-tailed squirrels are not the only culprits in an area where nutrients and water are scarce. Birds, lizards and a variety of rodents prowl the premises looking for greenery to eat. Packrats are especially problematic because of their size and climbing ability.



Did I mention rabbits? There is an abundance of rabbits in our neighborhood and they constantly probe our gardens for weaknesses to exploit.



The situation is not insurmountable, but vigilance is the key. Every day I make the rounds of our gardens to check for damage or potential breeches in our “bulwarks.”

Last year we had two sunflowers from our chosen group that stood out.



This multi-headed beauty enhanced our front courtyard for a number of weeks.



Another seed produced a plant that yielded a single and rather unremarkable flower which was disappointing. Our last chosen seed graced our rear patio with an orange-hued flare. While it did not flower as long as the courtyard specimen, it did give us several nice blooms.



After the destruction of our initial plantings by the squirrel this year, I started additional sunflower seedlings. I was concerned that we missed the best growing window with moderate temperatures, but we had little to lose.

After careful cultivation and coddling, we were able to appreciate the fruits of our labor.



As we were about to leave for a one week, out-of town visit, we watched this one bud get larger and larger and hoped that it would bloom prior to our departure. Sure enough, the day before we left, the flower opened. The plant is a bit taller than I am in the picture above and considering that it is in a pot, I estimate it was 6’3″ tall; give or take.



The close up view (above) shows that there were more flowers to come and we hoped they would survive our time away. Upon our return a week later, we were greeted with this…



This morning, I was making the rounds in our front garden where we have two other sunflower specimens progressing toward their blooming stage and I noticed that there was some destruction on one of them.



We have cutter bees in our town and there is little gardeners can do to prevent their damage. They cut circular patterns in the leaves, but they are relatively small circles or semi-circular holes. I knew this was not their work.

Then I noticed these black dots on some lower leaves



and around some of the large buds heads.



This was a sure sign of a caterpillar, i.e. a larva of a butterfly or moth. Sure enough, I hunted it down and sent it packing! The plant will do fine as long as I continue to monitor the situation and prevent other significant damage. The caterpillar did not eat any of the buds, practically destroyed the one leaf pictured above, but did little else to the plant.

It was not all dismay and gloom with the courtyard sunflowers as this beauty opened this morning.



It was a deep, burnt orange color; nearly red. If it produces well, I might try to collect some seeds from it for next year although it may be cross-pollinated and not true to the mother plant. It would most likely have strong color.



I don’t know if we will continue to grow the showier cultivars of the sunflower family, but it has been fun and fills our mornings with hope that we will be greeted with yet another marvelous flower.


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©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Desert Garden Ablaze with Color

The desert has been ablaze with color over the last two weeks reaching its peak perhaps just a few days ago. It is still stunning in the variety of colors and blooms brought on by more than the customary amount of spring rains thus far.

The Palo Verdes are always a treat, but this year they have outdone themselves.

The contrast of the yellow flowers against the blue sky is wonderful.



Here is a close up of the flower clusters on one portion of a branch in our backyard.



The color palette is expanded below when the Palo Verde in the foreground leads the viewer to the flowers of the Orange Jubilee or Orange Bells hybrid (Tecoma Hybrid).



Naturally a closeup of the Orange Bells is called for as well. The clusters are beyond vibrant in the early morning sun.



Each morning at this time of the year, I prepare my coffee looking out our family room window and I am blown away! (To the right and north of the saguaro, but out of view, is Black Mountain which adds even more wonderment to the scene.)



We have some performers starring in our front landscape too. This cactus was started from a cutting just a few years ago and when it blooms, it puts on quite a show. It will eventually grow arms and as a mature plant, may have a dozen or more flowers open at once. I can’t wait! While I am not able to make an absolute identification, I am fairly sure it is a Trichocereus hybrid.





Here is a picture of the mature mother plant from a friend’s house nearby!


Above picture courtesy of L. Herring


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©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Mums A Bloom in the Spring Desert Garden

In June of 2018, I wrote about growing Mums (Chrysanthemums) in the desert garden. As I explained, these have been more traditionally associated with the Fall in the north and eastern parts of the United States.

You can read the article HERE –
Mum is the Word in the Desert Garden

I thought I would follow up and show readers how the mums look now in nearly mid-spring. They are coming into bloom and will continue for a number of weeks until the process explained in the article above will take place again.

It may be easier to purchase new plants than to take the time and expend the effort to revitalize these older specimens, but I enjoy the challenge of keeping these long-time garden residents alive.

This year we have five pots of yellow mums which is an increase over the three we had last year. I won’t keep more than five because space is limited in our garden. You may recognize some of the pots from the post referenced above.

As a matter of orientation, this is a picture of the mums in front of our sun trellis and the snail vine from last year. You will note that there are three pots of mums



This is a rejuvenated mum currently residing on the left side of the trellis.



You may note the buds on the top of the plant. There appears to be an alyssum volunteer growing along the left rim of the pot. It gets a lot of shade this time of year and will receive mostly shade as the snail vine covers the trellis.



The two mums pictured above receive a bit more sun and the one that is flowering was in sunnier location a few weeks ago and moved to the trellis where there is an existing emitter for the irrigation system. The mum on the right is a bit leggy as it has been mostly in the shade and gets hand-watered because there is no emitter there yet.



These last two mums are on the other side of the courtyard and receive afternoon shade from the Ipomea fistulosa and the Golden Showers Rose which are mostly off to the right of the frame. As you can see, the one mum is blooming and the other has many buds on it.

The nice thing about mums in the desert is that they tend to bloom twice a year and this time of the year, they add color to areas that are just beginning to thrive, i.e. the snail vine.


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©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



A Pungent and Invasive Weed in the Desert

There is a pungent smell in the air this spring in our Sonoran garden and surrounding neighborhoods. It isn’t really a bad smell, but it cannot be described as a totally pleasant one either. When we first discovered this fragrance several weeks ago, we couldn’t figure out the source, but over the ensuing time period we discovered its origin.

You can see the culprit in the picture below…



and here it is again.



This yellow plant is called Globe chamomile (Oncosiphon piluliferum). While seeds can be bought for Globe chamomile, I am sure most gardeners consider it a weed.

Because of the frequent and substantial winter rains, these yellow weeds are pervasive throughout open areas in the Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona corridor.

You can see how thick it grows. It can be pulled out by the handful.





Globe chamomile is a South African native and it has found its way to various regions of the United States and other countries.

It has been in bloom for weeks, but the drier and warmer spring weather is now causing some die off. Notice the brownish stems (below). The flowers are still quite vibrant and fragrant, but they are definitely on the wane.



It has been blamed by many in the area for their severe outbreak of allergy symptoms. Melanie Dunlap, a Naturopathic practicioner, writes about here experience in this article titled Goddess of Allergies

You can read more about Globe chamomile HERE

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



A Rascal in My Garden

It all began when I started some seeds indoors in February. I nursed these seedlings as though they were my only charge and when they had sprouted and showed some green, I put them out during the day and took them in at night.

One day, upon inspection, I noticed that three of the four seedlings had been eaten. I have seen birds do this so I simply chalked it up to my feathered “friends.”

Additionally, I take an almost daily inventory of plants growing in our desert garden areas. The tipping point in the desert is very narrow and a plant can go into stress and die within a day under the right conditions. There is little room for error when temperatures rise to near 110 or when the daily low is 92.

It is currently the spring in the desert, but temperatures during the day would be representative of summer temperatures elsewhere. On the day I am writing this, the temperature was 86 degrees at 1:00 PM. Several days ago, while making the rounds in our courtyard, I noticed that the leaves on our hibiscus had been decimated.



To be sure, the plant had been cut back to stimulate new growth after our winter, but all of the branches had leaves on them and now they were almost denuded. This led me to investigate further.

This gazania in the planter below had blooms on it which apparently were a favorite for the critter who had scaled our courtyard walls to gain a free meal. You may also notice that the right side of the plant has leaves that were trampled and eaten (see arrows).



It is even more obvious in the middle of this geranium and alyssum arrangement. The leaves in the middle were matted (see arrows). If you know geraniums, they have a pungent smell and this may have saved it for extensive damage. This was not the work of birds!



We weren’t sure exactly which animal was doing this, but we were determined to stop the devastation. We own a Havahart trap that we put into action. For two days we had no results. We used peanuts and peanut butter. On the third evening, I was going outside to refresh the bait and look what we found…



A bushy-tailed squirrel! I have been told that these are not native to the Sonoran Desert and they are quite large.



He didn’t like being caught and was trying to bite his way out; but not this time!



We have a plastic box with a top that we use to transport our Havahart critters and in he went, trap and all! We put paper on the bottom for hygiene reasons.





Of course this is stressful for the animal as can be seen by all the droppings it left behind. Interestingly enough, there is a piece of corn that he must have had in his pouch as we have no kernels on our premises.



Once the top is secure, into the back of our SUV it goes!



This is a field several miles from our house. We are hopeful that the squirrel will live and we like the idea that we are giving it a chance.



Here he is just before release.



To keep my seedlings safe, I now cover them with our sifting grate.



I know we are not done with the critters in our courtyard. The area is fenced in, but these creatures are fighting for survival while we are just growing plants to look at. Nevertheless, we try to keep our plants safe and healthy.

You can read about how we use our sifting grate HERE.

See another type of critter with which we have to contend in our garden – HERE

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Gardening – Winter Garden in the Desert

When we transitioned from the northeast to the southwest, it was a dramatic change on a number of levels. We left many of our friends and relatives behind and there was a huge void in our lives because of this.

While most noticeable, friends and family were not our only loss. We also lost our gardens and plants that we relied on for our three seasons of flower-filled joy. There are a number of plants we grew easily in the Northeast (Hunterdon County, New Jersey) such as hostas, astilbes, hydrangeas, morning glories, dahlias, etc. that either struggle in the Sonoran Desert or just downright die.

We have learned, of course, that there are trade offs. We have come to love gazanias which grace us with their bouquet of striking colors throughout the year and we are likewise able to grow geraniums in the spring through early summer and then again from late fall through the winter and spring if we avoid a hard freeze.

Here are some of our gazanias growing strong in January when football on television shows snowstorms in the northeast.





It is a bit unusual to have the alyssum (above) so full and lush this time of year, but we nursed them along. It is so delightful to experience that honey-like smell during a winter’s afternoon.

We have had a couple of light frosts which leave our gardens looking funky when festooned with frost cloths. These are only temporary for a day or two and then they are removed and kept at the ready should we need them again. We haven’t had a significant frost in quite a few years. Last year there were no frost days in our particular area, but we stood ready to take action if necessary!



Our mid-fall planting of geraniums on either side of our front door are still doing well.



In a previous photo, we took a peek at the alyssum currently in bloom, but what wasn’t obvious was their potted companions; pink geraniums.



They really make a great team especially during those chilly winter days when we are glad to be reminded of the inevitable spring.



Here is wider view of the “companions” putting on quite a performance.



It isn’t always fun having these delicate plants “out-of-season.” In the middle of the covered array below are the same plants pictured above during one of our light frost days.



Another geranium giving us significant winter color is a pink trailer situated between two very large pots of twisted myrtle creating a floral exclamation point.



Whenever we pine for our morning glories and dahlias under the blazing 110 degree heat we recall these winter scenes and we are grateful and happy!

NOTE – Fresh plantings of gazanias and alyssum will continue to do fairly well through the summer with ample water and some shade. The geraniums struggle through the heat and are often treated as annuals.



If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability.

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



Gardening – My Favorite Homemade Tool

Gardening can be a very personal endeavor. There are some who love the joy and satisfaction of growing vegetables in our desert environment. There are others who focus on ornamentals and the beauty of flowering cacti. Most gardeners not only focus on particular plants, but over the years, they collect a bevy of favorite gardening tools.

This is one of my favorite gardening tools and time savers.



Wherever I have gardened, one of the first things I have done was build a dirt sifter. I use it many times each season. Perhaps my workflow differs from yours so let me explain…

Our agave collection, for example, gifts us with pups and after they are potted up and cared for a while, they grow their own set of “offspring” and need to be separated and shared.



The rootball is often dense and needs to be dismantled.



We first separate as many of the viable plants and roots as possible for replanting and/or sharing.



The next step is to place the densest part of the root ball on top of the sifter, break it up with a trowel and then rub it back and forth so the soil is released in to a garden cart or cement mixing bin (which we use to mix soil).





In the end we are left with a yield of reusable soil mix. The old roots and debris are discarded. More about the soil mix in a bit.



If the soil is wet or damp, it is placed on the side of our house where the afternoon sun warms and dries it.



Once the soil is dry, we place it in a large covered trash can to be used in our planting medium for new plants. Once again, if you speak to a dozen gardeners, you will probably get thirteen recipes for various plant mixes. This is a very individual preference, but since you ask, here is one I use for non-succulent plants.

Planting Mix
– A five gallon bucket is used as the basic unit –

  • 1/3 – old plant mix that has been sifted
  • 2/3 – new plant mix – I use the Natural & Organic Potting Soil purchased from Summer Winds Nurseries.
  • 2/3 – of a large coffee can of gravel 1/4″ +/- which I purchase in bulk from MDI (2815 E. RoseGarden LN, Phoenix , AZ 85050). This increases drainage and provides a small buffer against over watering. *Adjust as necessary
  • 1 – Large coffee can of used coffee grounds (when available).
  • Mix all the ingredients very well until it appears even in texture and color. Don’t stint on this step. I use a large cement mixing bin and a standard shovel or in the large garden cart.
  • For flowering plants I use a dose of super bloom fertilizer following the recommended amount on the container UNLESS experience has dictated otherwise. This is added after the plant is potted and just before watering-in.





Let’s talk about the sifter. We are not building a piece of furniture here so it doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. Good enough will be just fine for this project.

As you can see, the frame is made from simple 2 x 4’s. One will probably do, but decide how large you want it. Place the pieces of the frame on a flat surface and use L-brackets to fasten the sides.

NOTE – Our sifter is 35″ by 20″ after assembly and accounting for the width of the wood. The sifting surface is relatively smaller. Just decide how large you want it and purchase the appropriate amount of wood.



I then take one longer screw and screw it into each corner of the frame. Drill a pilot hole to assure alignment and to help keep the wood from splitting.



I purchased a roll of 1/2″ hardware cloth that we use for several different gardening tasks and cut it so there was an overlap around all of the sides of the frame. Be careful to trim off any pieces that stick out beyond the grid or you will be creating needles that will puncture gloves and fingers alike.



I then secured the hardware cloth using 3/4″ hot dipped, galvanized poultry net staples. Tap them in as far as they will go. It is OK if they stick out a bit as long as they don’t snag debris, gloves, etc. If you prefer, just hammer them flat so they don’t stick out as much.



Use a wire snip to cut the corners and fold them over similar to wrapping a present and secure the corners well with the staples mentioned above.



NOTE – In one iteration of building a sifter, I erroneously thought that if one layer of hardware cloth was good, two would be better so I assembled the frame using two layers of hardware cloth. That was a big mistake because debris was caught between the two layers. One layer is more than sufficient.



Of course, the sifter isn’t used only for breaking root balls, it is also great for sifting native soil and/or removing large rocks from a pile of dirt. It can even be turned upside down and used to protect seeds from birds or small rodents. Just be sure to place rocks on each corner so the rabbits and squirrels have less of a chance of moving the barrier.



NOTE – This procedure would be the same no matter where you garden. The only modification you would need to make would be in the planting mix and I am sure that you probably have your own favorite variation.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability.

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 – JBRish.com



The Queen Now Has A Crown!


Queens Wreath from 2015

Our Queen’s Wreath – 2015

Readers of JBRish who have been following along for a while might have read a bit about our Queen’s Wreath (Antigonon leptopus) vine (see links below). Up until recently, this plant has been a show stopper and then something happened…

The plant was just not filling out the way it did during the previous years. Instead of a full, swath of leaves and stems this what we saw.

 


Bare, sparse stems

A close up revealed how sparse the leaves where in relationship to the lush coat of heart-shaped leaves we anticipated.


closeup of sparse growth

It was only a vague shadow of its former glory and far from queen-like.


full side view - - sparse

Instead of the abundant bouquet of blooms in the first picture, this was the extent of the flowering.


single strand of paltry blooms

We examined the plant over time looking for insect damage, making sure the water was being amply applied and noting that we used the same fertilizing regimen of the past. At the base, the leaves were more lush so we looked more closely and then it hit us. Rabbits!


Rabbits were eating away at the base

Those pesky rabbits had decided that they now like the Queen’s Wreath and that it would become their salad bar. This was not an issue during the three or so seasons of beauty preceding this problem.

We knew what we had to do even though we didn’t relish the thought. Like other plants in our landscape, this would have to be rabbit-proofed. We erected a plastic barrier approximately thirty inches high.


a picture of the plastic fence

To completely thwart rabbits, some method needs to be used to keep them from digging under the barrier. Most of the time, having the “fencing” flat on the ground for several inches creating a lip and then topped with rocks will be discouraging enough. When done correctly, it forms a resistant border. (See yellow arrows below)


Fencing lip topped with rocks

We were sure to have the water supply located appropriately before fastening the barrier and now we had the fence around the entire plant. I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I knew I had to do something with the existing plant material. Some flowering vines (as well as other plants) will react negatively to a severe trim and the bloom may be lost for the current gardening year.

After all of this trouble, I didn’t want to risk that so I hedged my bet and severely trimmed one side while only moderately trimming the other side in hopes of preserving some of the flowers for this current season.

Luckily the plant began to flourish as in the past and now, at the end of the season, both sides have evened out and the plant is showing why it is called Queen’s Wreath.


Queen's Wreath glorious once again


Sprays of flowers cover the vine


Beautiful, blooming Queen's Wreath

You have to admit, although small, the plethora of blooms do put on a show.


Closeup of coral blooms

We are hopeful that this will be a long-lasting resolution to the Queen’s Wreath’s care and provide years of charming color!

 

 
Showy Queen’s Wreath – October, 2015

Reinforced Trellis Support – Reduce Metal Fatigue

 

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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2018 – JBRish.com



Garden Video: Live Capture of Critters in a Bottle Mousetrap

If you have followed JBRish.com for a while, you may have read one of my posts where I describe the difficulty we have with a variety of rodents (and other critters) in our desert garden.

I try to appreciate and respect all of nature and I don’t like to kill any animals if it can be avoided. I was intrigued by the EL GATO live-capture Bottle Mousetrap which may help with some of our smaller vermin.

Watch the video below and let me know what you think.

 

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©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com



Sunflowers in the Valley of the Sun – Part 1

There is no doubt about it, gardening in the Sonoran Desert during the summer is a challenge. It is similar to other areas of the country which have on season, mainly winter, that is not too hospitable to a wide assortment of plants that would be otherwise easy to grow in spring, summer and into the fall.

Unlike those areas where winter prevents almost all outside gardening, there are some plants and varieties that can tolerate our summers given the appropriate environment; and therein lies the rub!

As I travel the highways and byways of the desert regions of the southwest, I notice that there is one variety of wild sunflower that seems to survive the summer most years and even thrive when there are ample showers. Keeping that in mind, and not being able to nail down the exact variety (my bad), I decided to try a package of mixed sunflower seeds to see what it would yield in my desert garden. This was to be my gardening experiment for the summer of 2018.

Package of Sunflower Seeds

I always check the back of the package to see the “Packed for” date. Obviously the fresher the seeds, the better so I always make sure they are the current year’s seeds. I also like the fact that these seeds are organic and are not treated with chemicals. Our bees are struggling enough as it is.

Notice organic and sell-by date

An inexpensive turkey baster is used in this process to control the flow of water. It is good for delicate seedlings and at times when I need to wet a plant with a controlled, low flow of water.

Turkey baster for gentle watering

To keep everything corraled on the counter, I work inside a container lid. The lip of the lid keeps the water and other debris under control.

Coffee lid container for working

Of course we could plant the seeds directly in the ground, but I considered several factors:

  • We have numerous desert critters that would love to take a bite out of a luscious sprout.
  • There is no guarantee that every seed in a package will be viable.
  • I have limited time and space so I want to make sure any seed has the best start possible.

Considering the above, I decided to pre-sprout the seeds. Here are the three seeds I selected. [NOTE: One cannot tell from the seeds which sunflower will be “born” from any specific seed. This is a mix so it is a random choice.]

Three sunflower seeds-mixed varieties

My process for pre-sprouting the seeds is to wet a piece of paper towel to the point where it is uniformally wet, but not soaked.

Wet paper towel

Once the towel has been wet, the seeds are then placed at intervals on the sheet leaving ample space between, but not too much. I like to make a compact packet.

Seeds on wet towel

After the seeds have been carefully placed, the towel is folded over them so they are enveloped in the moist towel. This will be a good environment for sprouting.

Towel folded over seeds

The towel is folded into an envelope-type form to provide the best chance of staying moist.

Towel folded into envelope/packet

I always make a label just in case I want to keep track of sprouting times, time from sprout to flower, etc., but I didn’t use that information for tracking in this instance.

Sunflower seed label

Once this process is complete, probably less than thirty minutes, the seeds are placed inside a plastic bag, label and all and set aside. I check them every day to …

    – make sure the seeds remain uniformally damp, but not soaking

    – see if they have sprouted (because at that point further action is needed)

Packet in baggie with label

To be continued…

 

Read more gardening posts HERE


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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to JBRish.com are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2018 – JBRish.com