Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Start of a New Obsession - Succulents

You know when you get that 'feeling' about something or someone, and you just know it's the start of something big? Well recently I got that for an Echeveria at the local DIY superstore.

Echeveria Perle Von Nurnberg succulent plant
Echeveria - Isn't it pretty!

Historically, I've not had huge success with houseplants, and after a while I get annoyed with crusty looking soil, dusty window ledges and sunlight being blocked from rooms. Not to mention my extreme clumsiness - potted plants and cream carpets do not mix!

Then I was given a Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis), then another, and another...I've got about 10 now (I think), they really love my West/ Northwest facing kitchen window. Then someone gave me their ancient Hoya (Wax Flower). I was terrified I'd kill it, but it also adores my kitchen window sill!

As I watched more videos from my favourite YouTuber (besides myself of course lol), Laura at Garden Answer, I realised how diverse the world of succulents is, the stunning arrangements you can create with them, and the propagation techniques you can try and (hopefully) master. My interest was piqued, but I wanted to start gently. So I got myself some Sempervivum (aka houseleeks, Hen and Chicks or Ice Plants), and created some exciting outdoor planters and projects.

Sempervivum old Strawberry Planter Pot
Sempervivum are a brilliant way into the world of succulents
Sempervivum are completely hardy in the UK, and will survive down to zone 4 in the USA (−34.4 °C (−30 °F)) - That's pretty darn cold!! The range of colours and textures is lovely, and they are so easy to propagate. When the 'mother' plant (or Hen) grows baby offshoots (chicks) on thick fiberous 'stems', you can either gently pull them off the hen and plant them somewhere else, or allow them to form a beautiful clump. Eventually the hen will die (after about 3 years), and you can take that opportunity to renovate the clump, or just position some of the chicks on top of the brown patch the hen leaves behind.

Sempervivum Hen Chicks offshoots ice plants houseleeks
The large central 'Hen' surrounded by her 'Chicks'
They are quite the most forgiving succulent, and being outdoor plants are much much less demanding than indoor (tender) succulents.

But then I saw it...shriveled and stretched out (etiolated), planted in a chunky glass container with no drainage and marked down from £5 to £2...

Etiolated Echeveria succlent plant propagation
The true state of this poor Echeveria
So I thought, I could use this poor sad creature to practice propagation etc on, the worst thing that could happen is that I kill it outright, and lose £2, but potentially I could have 10-12 leaves, a crown and a rooted stem to grow new plants from - isn't that a really exciting concept?

In fact it was so exciting that the following day I went back and bought the other 3 discounted Echeveria and created this...

Echeveria succulent plants propagated several ways
Leaf cuttings and Crown cuttings read to get growing
80 leaf cuttings, five crowns, four rooted stems (not shown), and an experiment with an unrooted stem, which unfortunately started to go mouldy, so I threw it away for the health of all the other cuttings.

I should mention that there is a really important step in between taking the cuttings and laying them on damp soil to form roots, and that is to allow the wet wounds to dry out and form a callous. This prevents the cuttings soaking up too much water and rotting off. It can take 3-5 days for this to happen, and smaller wounds will callous faster than large ones like crown cuttings.

In this photo the cuttings and soil surface had just been damped down with a spray bottle, I will now leave them alone for a week or so in a bright location, but out of direct sunlight.

This is a brave new world for me, and you can fully expect more blog posts, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts on the subject.

Do you have a passion for succulents? Have you had a go a propagating them? Leave me a comment below and lets have a chat :)

PB xx

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Carnivorous Plant Updates, New Arrivals and Seed Harvesting

Carnivorous Plant update:

It's been a really busy summer in my Carnivorous Plant collection.

Sarracenia var. unknown has had it's best year EVER! I've never had such big pitchers on it, and never seen it with such an intense colour either. That means I can stumble towards a partial identification, it's probably a rubra hybrid, though I couldn't be any more specific than that.

Carnivorous plant Sarracenia rubra strong colour July Pitcher Plant
Sarracenia rubra ssp unknown looking amazing in July

Carnivorous plant Sarracenia rubra 2017 best size pitchers colour Pitcher Plant
Sarracenia rubra ssp unknown 2017 brings the best size pitchers and colour yet

My Venus Fly Trap (Dionea var. unknown) has grown well too. Some of the traps achieved much stronger colour than this photo shows, and it fed regularly on all manner of things including craneflies and earwigs!

Dionea var. unknown growing well and flowering 2017 Venus Fly Trap
Dionea var unknown growing well
I've never seen a Venus Fly Trap in flower, many experts say the flowers are dull and it is better for the health of the plant not to allow the flower stem to develop...but I really REALLY wanted to see the flowers, so I let it carry on.

Dionea flowers July 2017 Venus Fly Trap
Dionea flowers! So pretty!!
I wasn't disappointed! The white Dionea flowers are tissue paper delicate, with fine veining that looks like neat pinstripes extending from chartreuse green centres. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
 Moments after I took this photo, I snipped off the flowers right at the bottom of the stem, allowing the plant to use it's prey to feed up for the winter.

And now the Newbies:

For my birthday in June, my best friend bought me two amazing beasts from Triffid Nurseries (he had to be pointed in the right direction, but the choices were definitely his own)

Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis 'Yellow River' Florida

This delicious specimen came to me in full flower, with pitchers over a foot tall. It's been feeding gluttonously in the greenhouse over July and August, to the point where there are small 'burn' marks on the pitchers, and you can just see the dead insects through it.
Carnivorous Plant Sarracenia rubra gulfensis Yellow River Florida Pitcher Plant
Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis 'Yellow River' Florida

It's so massive I couldn't get it all in one photo and do it justice. The flowers are the most alien I've ever seen on a carnivorous plant. The clever landing pad forming a cup to collect pollen and seed.

Sarracenia rubra gulfensis Yellow River Florida flowers Pitcher Plant Carnivourous Plant
Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis 'Yellow River' Florida flowers are spectacular

Drosera binata dichotoma 'Giant'

Photo to follow! This Sundew is very aptly named. It's a huge, forked variety that attempted to take over the world shortly after it arrived. I ended up having to stake the 18" tall limbs to give everything else breathing space! It is sliding into dormancy now, so I'll have to take photos of it's fresh growth in Spring/Summer next year.

Seed Harvesting

As the Sundew flowering has been so spectacular this year, so I decided to collect the seed with a view to growing it next year.
Once the flowers had finished and the seed pods had turned brown, I labelled some small brown envelopes similar to this listing on Ebay. I wrote one envelope per subspecies of Drosera, then carefully cut the entire dried flower stem off each plant, as close to the plant as I could. Trying not to shake the stem, I opened the envelope with my left hand, and tipped the flower stem upside-down into the envelope with my right.
Drosera are very generous with their seeds, which look like fine, short clippings of hair, so dropping a few won't hurt! Believe me!!
I left the stems in the envelopes for a couple of weeks, until the seeds had fully ripened and dropped into the bottom of the envelope.
The next job was to clean the seeds.
I tipped the contents of the envelopes out onto a sheet of paper (one envelope at a time - don't mix the seeds up!). Then I carefully picked out all the bits of stalk, petal and seed head. Fine tweezers are invaluable at this point, and try not to sneeze or sigh heavily, or you'll be left with all the chaff and none of the seed!
When the seed is as clean of chaff as it can be, carefully pour the seeds back into the correct brown seed envelope, and seal it.
Seed from some species of Drosera need a period of cold stratification to germinate, others can be sown as soon as they are harvested.

Here are the requirements for my collection:

Drosera Species
Native Region
Stratify Seeds?

dichotoma ‘Giant’
Fresh – No /Stored -Yes

Stratification required
filiformis x intermedia
Stratification required
T Form
Fresh – No /Stored -Yes

As it happens, I haven't had time (what with starting my own YouTube channel - did I tell you about that? ;-) ), so everything is being stored until Spring, and I'll stratify or not, depending on the variety and it's requirements.

I'm really looking forward to sowing them though!
Have you ever tried growing Carnivorous Plants from seed? Tell me about your experiences in the 'Comments'
PB xx