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My inner scientist seems to have awoken this year!  Here are a few experiments I’m currently conducting in my gardens.002Regular visitors to my site know that last summer, I was quite taken with the display of yellow Lantana and Gomphrena ‘Las Vegas Purple’ at the Penn State Botanical Garden.  Having had a hard time finding Gomphrena in the nurseries in past years, I decided to start my own at home. I chose Las Vegas Purple and Audray Bicolor Rose.  I ran into a quandary, however, when it came time to plant the seeds.  The packets and some web sites advised total darkness; however, other sites insisted they needed light to germinate.gomphrena "Light" groupgomphrena "Dark" group

I decided to run my own test, and started some in complete darkness, and another group exposed to the  light, with the seeds just gently pushed into the starter mix.  I positioned both groups on a heated mat under the grow lights in my basement.  (One thing all the sources agreed upon was the need for germination.)  Within twenty-four hours, many of the seeds in the light group showed roots.  A day later, several sprouts had already developed.  There were twice as many sprouts in the dark group as in the light group, and they were slightly taller than their light group counterparts.

On the fifth day, 62 out of 100 total seeds had sprouted, and I removed the plastic “greenhouse” wrappings so both groups were exposed to the grow light and open air.  By the time the seedlings were twelve days old, there was no discernible difference between the dark and light group seedlings, and the germination percentages were the same between the groups.  I conclude, then, that Gomphrena seeds will germinate equally well in light or dark conditions.

The Gomphrena seeds may have sprouted quickly, but they grew VERY slowly!  As the seedlings grew, I first thinned them to one per plug, and then transplanted the plugs into larger, biodegradable pots.  Here is one of the little plants, sowed indoors on April 22, in my garden today, over two months later:young Gomphrena plantI had hoped for more by now!  Luckily, I did find some in a local nursery, in full flower, so I bought a few pots to plant with the Lantana in my front garden.  My experience with trying to start it myself suggests to me why it is so hard to find in nurseries until much later in the season than most other annuals.

Another seed test I conducted was with morning-glories.  Conventionally, we are advised to soak morning-glory seeds in water for twenty-four hours before planting them.  Again though, I found contradictory advice in my reading, which led me to wonder whether soaking is indeed necessary.

I chose four varieties of morning glories, soaked half of the seeds in water, and left the rest dry.   After twenty-four hours, several of the soaked seeds had swollen, split, and begun to grow.Four days after planting, several of the soaked seeds had sprouted, but only one of the dry ones had.  However, by a week into the test, the numbers were close to even, with 58% of the soaked seeds up and 66% of the dry.
morning glory seedlings, 6 days after sowing Two weeks after germination, I found it hard to distinguish the plants that had started from dry seed from the soaked seed.  So, just as light exposure seems to matter not for Gomphrena germination, it seems to make little difference whether morning-glory seeds are soaked or not.

I can tell you that ‘Heavenly Blue’ and what I think are ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glories germinate faster and more reliably than ‘Flying Saucer’ or ‘Picotee Blue!’I am growing some of the morning glories this year in pots on the balcony in the front of my house.  I think they will look pretty climbing up the posts!morning glories on balcony

Last summer in Germany, I saw, for the first time, Lantana grown as a standard.  Now I am trying to train one of my own into a little tree.  I chose a nursery plant that grew reasonably upright, rather than branching and sprawling.  I transplanted it into a larger pot, and secured the main branch to a stake.  I used the little clips that came on an orchid over the winter.  Every few days, I snipped off  a set of leaves until I was left with foliage just at the top.  I did not want to shock the plant by removing too many at once!  Lantana tree in trainingNow I will let the top section continue to grow, and snip off any new shoots that emerge from the lower section of the main stem.  I’m interested to see how large it may become by the end of the summer.

Another new thing I am trying this summer is container vegetable gardening.  Cucumbers have historically done poorly in the soil of my vegetable garden, so this year I planted them in containers on our back deck.  They get plenty of sunshine and warmth there.  Additionally, I have two jalapeño pepper plants in pots near the cukes.  The cucumbers on the left are ‘Marketmores.’ I bought the starts from my favorite farm market vendor.back porch veggies  I also direct sowed some Armenian cucumbers.  Every seed sprouted; now I need to reduce this bounty to two or three plants!cucumber seedlingsI’ve put a coated wire trellis for the cucumbers to climb in each container.  One of the ‘Marketmores’ has a blossom and a wee baby fruit already!

Finally, here is one last experiment–a succulent garden in a bird bath.  The cats used this as their personal drinking fountain when it was filled with water, so of course few birds visited!

009I used clippings of sedums already growing in my garden, as well as a few rosettes from my hens and chicks.   There is a thick section of Portulaca, and three Calandiva plants my daughter insisted we buy late last winter from a bright display at a big box home improvement warehouse.

I was nervous about moisture retention, but did not want to drill holes in the bottom of the bird bath bowl until I was sure this would work.  To facilitate drainage, I place a thick layer of aquarium gravel on the bottom of the bowl, and used a combination of cactus soil, regular potting soil, and perlite in equal amounts.  gravel in birdbath succulent gardenI placed my new bird bath garden in a hot, sunny spot, and so far, two weeks after planting, it looks good!  The Portulacas are loaded with buds, some of the sedum and Calandiva are already sporting new growth, and the hens and chicks, which I just pushed gently into the soil, seem secure in their new home.

Part of the fun of gardening for me is trying new things.  I look forward to seeing the further results of all my experiments as the summer progresses!