GARDENING INDOORS AND UNDER GLASS
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO THE PLANTING, CARE AND PROPAGATION OF HOUSE PLANTS, AND TO THE CONSTRUCTION AND MANAGEMENT OF HOTBED, COLDFRAME AND SMALL GREENHOUSE
BY F. F. ROCKWELL Author of Home Vegetable Gardening
NEW YORK McBRIDE, NAST & COMPANY 1912
Copyright, 1911, 1912, by McBride, Nast & Co.
Published September, 1912
* * * * *
There is nothing which adds so much sunshine and cheer to the rooms of a house besieged by winter and all his dreary encampment of snow and ice, as the greenery, color and fragrance of blossoming plants. There is no pastime quite so full of pleasure and constant interest as this sort of horticulture; the rooting of small slips, the repotting and watering and watching, as new growth develops, and buds unfold. Some have the magic gift, that everything they touch will break into blossom; others strive—perhaps too hard—only to gain indifferent results. It is hoped that this book will aid those of the second class to locate past mistakes and progress to future success; and further that it may indicate to those more fortunate ones of the first class the way to more extensive achievements in the work they love.
This is not a technical book; simply an attempt to tell in so plain a way that they cannot be misunderstood the everyday details of the successful management of plants in the house and within such small glass structures as may be made, even with limited means and time, a part of the average home.
There is another aspect of the case worth considering; so much so in fact, that it is one of the reasons for writing this book. By the use of such modest glass structures as almost everyone can afford not only is the scope of winter gardening enlarged and the work rendered more easy and certain, but the opportunity is given to make this light labor pay for itself. Fresh vegetables out of season are always acceptable and well grown plants find a ready sale among one's flower-loving friends.
CRANMERE, August 1st, 1912. F. F. R.
PART I—PLANTS IN THE HOUSE
I INTRODUCTION 1
II THE PROPER CONDITIONS: LIGHT, TEMPERATURE AND MOISTURE 6
III SOILS, MANURES AND FERTILIZERS 14
IV STARTING PLANTS FROM SEED 22
V STARTING PLANTS FROM CUTTINGS 29
VI TRANSPLANTING, POTTING AND REPOTTING 35
VII MANAGEMENT OF HOUSE PLANTS 44
VIII FLOWERING PLANTS 51
IX SHRUBS 70
X FOLIAGE PLANTS 81
XI VINES 90
XII FERNS 97
XIII PALMS 103
XIV CACTI 110
XV BULBS 116
XVI VERANDA BOXES, WINDOW-BOXES, VASES AND HANGING BASKETS 128
XVII HOUSE PLANT INSECTS AND DISEASES 132
XVIII ACCESSORIES 140
PART II—HOME GLASS
XIX ITS OPPORTUNITIES 146
XX THE COLDFRAME AND THE HOTBED 149
XXI THE CONSTRUCTION OF CONSERVATORIES AND SMALL GREENHOUSES 156
XXII METHODS OF HEATING 167
XXIII MANAGEMENT 172
XXIV FLOWERS 180
XXV VEGETABLES 193
XXVI VEGETABLE AND BEDDING PLANTS FOR SPRING 197
A flourishing flower bay Frontispiece
FACING PAGE An isolated bay-window conservatory 8
A tiled window-sill garden 9
Preparing flats for the "sub-irrigation" method of watering 28
Cuttings ready for sand 29
Geranium cuttings ready for potting 29
Potted cuttings ready for their first shift 40
Striking Rex begonia leaf cuttings 40
"Crocking" in a flower pot 41
Seedlings ready to transplant 48
A flower bay protected with heavy curtains 49
Pride of Cincinnati begonia 60
Pansy geranium 61
Primrose (Primula obconica) 61
The Silk Oak (Grevillea robusta) 72
Otaheite orange 73
Baby rambler rose 80
Araucaria excelsa 81
Screw Pine (Pandanus Veitchii) 88
Rubber plant (Ficus elastica) 89
Vines on an indoor trellis 96
Crested Scott Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata, var. Schoizeli) 97
Propagation of Boston Fern by division 100
A variety of the Fan Palm (Phoenix Roebelenii) 101
Weddell's Palm 101
A pan of forced crocuses 116
Victory gladiolus 117
A second story window-box 128
Iceland poppies and trailing vines in a window-box 128
A movable plant table 129
Inside a small greenhouse 148
A small lean-to greenhouse 149
A three-sash coldframe 164
The simplest type of window greenhouse 165
Tomatoes in the greenhouse 196
Cucumbers and lettuce in the greenhouse 197
AND UNDER GLASS
Part One—Plants in the House
To-day the garden is in the zenith of its glory. The geraniums and salvias blaze in the autumn sun; the begonias have grown to a small forest of beautiful foliage and bloom; the heliotropes have become almost little trees, and load the air with their delicate fragrance. To-night—who knows?—grim winter may fling the first fleet-winged detachment of his advance across the land, by every roadside and into every garden-close; and to-morrow there will be but blackening ruins and burned bivouacs where the thousand camps of summer planted their green and purple in the golden haze.
And what provision, when that inevitable day of summer's defeat comes, have you made for saving part of the beauty and joy of your garden, of carrying some rescued plants into the safe stronghold of your house, like minstrels to make merry and cheer the clouded days until the long siege is over, and spring, rejuvenescent, comes to rout the snows?
I do not know which is the more commonly overlooked, the importance and fun of keeping the living-rooms of the house cheerful with plants and flowers in winter, or the certainty and economy with which it may be done if one will use the plain common-sense methods necessary to make plants succeed. Too much care and coddling is just as sure to make growth forlorn and sickly as too much neglect. That may be one reason why one frequently sees such healthy looking plants framed in the dismal window of a factory tenement, where the chinks can never be stopped tight and the occupants find it hard enough to keep warm, while at the same time it is easy to find leafless and lanky specimens in the superheated and moistureless air of drawing-rooms.
It certainly is true that many modern houses of the better sort do not offer very congenial conditions to the healthy growth of plants. It is equally certain that in many cases these conditions may be changed by different management in such way that they would be not only more healthy for plants to live in, but so also for their human occupants. In many other cases there is nothing but lack of information or energy in the way of constructing a place entirely suitable for the growth of plants. To illustrate what I mean, I mention the following instance of how one person made a suitable place in which to grow flowers. Two narrow storm windows, which had been discarded, were fastened at right angles to the sides of the dining-room windows, and the regular storm sash screwed on to these. Here were the three glass sides of a small conservatory. Half-inch boards made a bottom and roof, the former being supported by brackets to give strength, and the latter put on with two slanting side pieces nailed to the top of the upright narrow sash spoken of, to give the roof a pitch. Top and bottom were covered with old flexible rubber matting which was carried back under the clapboards making a weather-proof, tight joint with the side of the house. Six-inch light wooden shelves on the inside gave a conservatory of considerable capacity. How many houses there are where some such arrangement could be made as the result of a few hours' work and thought, and a very small expense. And yet how infrequently one sees anything of the kind. In many instances such a glassed-in window would be all that is needed, sufficient heat being furnished by a radiator under the window within the house. In the case mentioned, however, it was necessary to heat the small greenhouse. This was done by installing a small gas stove in the cellar, as nearly as possible under the window greenhouse. Over this stove a large tin hood was fitted, with a sliding door in front to facilitate lighting and regulating the stove. From the hood a six-inch pipe, enclosed in a wood casing for insulation, ran through the cellar window and up into the floor of the conservatory, ending in a small radiator.
These details are given not with the idea that they can be duplicated exactly (although in many instances they might), but to show what a little ingenuity and effort will accomplish in the way of overcoming difficulties.
Nor is the reward for such efforts as these restricted to the growing of a few more plants. From the actual accomplishments described in the second part of this book, the reader must see that it is entirely possible and feasible for one with only average advantages to have during a large part or even all of the year not only flowers which cannot be grown to advantage in the house, but also such vegetables as lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers, and others if desired; and also to give the flower and vegetable gardens such a start as would never be possible otherwise.
Do not attempt too much, but do not be content with too little, when only a slight increase in planning and work will bring such a tremendous increase in results and happiness. I feel confident that there is not one home out of ten where more thought and more information brought to bear on the things whereof this book treats, would not yield a greater return in actual pleasure than any other equal investment which could be made.
Do not be impatient to get to a description of all the results at once. Do not skip over the chapters on dirt and manures and pots and other seemingly uninteresting things, because in a thorough understanding of these essentials lies the foundation of success. And if a condition of soil, or an operation in handling plants does not seem clear to you as you read it over, remember that in all probability it will become so when you actually attempt the work described. Nothing worth while is ever won without a little—and often a great deal—of patient work. And what is more worth while than to keep busy in the constant improvement and beautifying of one's daily surroundings?
THE PROPER CONDITIONS:—LIGHT, TEMPERATURE AND MOISTURE
After so much advice as to the possibility of making conditions right for the growing of plants in the house, the inexperienced reader will naturally want to know what these conditions are.
In the first place, almost all plants, whether they flower or not, must have an abundance of light, and many require sunshine, especially during the dull days of winter. Plants without sufficient light never make a normal, healthy growth; the stems are long, lanky and weak, the foliage has a semi-transparent, washed-out look, and the whole plant falls an easy victim to disease or insect enemies. Even plants grown in the full light of a window, as everyone with any experience in managing them knows from observation, will draw toward the glass and become one-sided with the leaves all facing one way. Therefore even with the best of conditions, it is necessary to turn them half about every few days, preferably every time they are watered, in order that they may maintain an even, shapely growth.
As a rule the flowering plants, such as geraniums and heliotropes, require more light and sunshine than those grown for foliage, such as palms, ferns and the decorative leaved begonias. It is almost impossible, during the winter months, to give any of them too much sunlight and where there is any danger of this, as sometimes happens in early fall or late spring, a curtain of the thinnest material will give them ample protection, the necessity being not to exclude the light, but simply to break the direct action of the sun's rays through glass.
A great variety of plants may be grown in the ordinary window garden, for which the sunniest and broadest window available should be selected. There are two methods of handling the plants: they may be kept as individual specimens in pots and "dishes" or "pans" (which are nothing more or less than shallow flower pots), or they may be grown together in a plant box, made for the purpose and usually more or less decorative in itself, that will harmonize with and set off the beauty of the plants.
The latter method, that of growing in boxes, offers two distinct advantages, especially where there is likely to be encountered too high a temperature and consequent dryness in the air. The plants are more easily cared for than they are in pots, which rapidly dry out and need frequent changing; and effects in grouping and harmonious decoration may be had which are not readily secured with plants in pots. On the other hand, it is not possible to give such careful attention to individual plants which may require it as when they are grown in pots; nor can there be so much re-arrangement and change when these are required—and what good housekeeper is not a natural born scene shifter, every once in so often rolling the piano around to the other side of the room, and moving the bookcase or changing the big Boston fern over to the other window, so it can be seen from the dining-room?
If the plants are to be kept in pots—and on the whole this will generally be the more satisfactory method—several shelves of light, smooth wood of a convenient width (six to twelve inches) should be firmly placed, by means of the common iron brackets, in each window to be used. It will help, both in keeping the pots in place and in preventing muddy water from dripping down to the floor or table below, if a thin, narrow strip of wood is nailed to each edge of these shelves, extending an inch or two above them. A couple of coats of outside paint will also add to the looks and to the life of these shelves and further tend to prevent any annoying drip from draining pots. Such a shelf will be still further improved by being covered an inch or two deep with coarse gravel or fine pebbles.
This is much better than the use of pot saucers, especially for small pots. Where a bay-window is used, if cut off from the room by glass doors, or even by curtains, it will aid greatly in keeping a moist atmosphere about the plants and preventing dust from settling on the leaves when sweeping or dusting is being done.
A window-box can readily be made of planed inch pine boards, tightly fitted and tightly joined. It should be six to ten inches wide and six to eight inches deep. If a plain box is used, it will be necessary to bore inch holes every six inches or so through the bottom to provide for carrying off of any excess of water—although, with the method of filling the box described in a later chapter, those holes would hardly ever be called into service. Plants in the house in the winter, however, are as likely to suffer from too much water as from too little, and therefore, to prevent the disagreeable possibility of having dirty drainage water running down onto several feet of floor, it will be almost as easy, and far better, to have the box constructed with a bottom made of two pieces, sloping slightly to the center where one hole is made in which a cork can be kept. A false bottom of tin or zinc, with the requisite number of holes cut out, and supported by three or four inch strips of wood running lengthways of the box, supplies the drainage. These strips must, of course, be cut in the middle to allow all the water to drain out. The false bottom will take care of any ordinary surplus of water, which can be drained off into a watering can or pitcher by taking out the cork. The details of construction of such a box are shown in figure 1. It will be best to have the box so placed upon its supporting brackets that it can be changed occasionally end for end, thus keeping the plants growing evenly, and not permitting the blooms continually to turn their backs to the inside of the room.
With the above simple provisions one may take advantage of all the light to be had in an ordinary window. Occasionally a better place may be found ready to hand, such as the bay-window illustrated facing page 8 or such as that described in the preceding chapter, or those mentioned in the first chapter of Part II (page 146). The effort demanded will always be repaid many times by greater ease and greater success in the management of plants, and by the wider scope permitted.
Next in importance to light, is the matter of temperature. The ordinary house plants, to be kept in health, require a temperature of sixty-five to seventy-five degrees during the day and fifty to fifty-five degrees at night. Frequently it will not be possible to keep the room from going lower at night, but it should be kept as near that as possible; forty-five degrees occasionally will not do injury, and even several degrees lower will not prove fatal, but if frequently reached the plants will be checked and seem to stand still. Plants in the dormant, or semi-dormant condition are not so easily injured by low temperature as those in full growth; also plants which are quite dry will stand much more cold than those in moist soil.
The proper condition of temperature is the most difficult thing to regulate and maintain in growing plants in the house. There is, however, at least one room in almost every house where the night temperature does not often go below forty-five or fifty degrees, and if necessary all plants may be collected into one room during very cold weather. Another precaution which will often save them is to move them away from the windows; put sheets of newspaper inside the panes, not, however, touching the glass, as a "dead air space" must be left between. Where there is danger of freezing, a kerosene lamp or stove left burning in the room overnight will save them. Never, when the temperature outside is below freezing, should plants be left where leaves or blossoms may touch the glass.
As with the problem of light, so with that of temperature—the specially designed place for plants, no matter how small or simple a little nook it may be, offers greater facility for furnishing the proper conditions. But it is, of course, not imperative, and as I have said, there is probably not one home in twenty where a number of sorts of plants cannot be safely carried through the winter.
It would seem, at first thought, that the proper condition of moisture could be furnished as easily in the house as anywhere. And so it can be as far as applying water to the soil is concerned; but the air in most dwellings in winter is terribly deficient in moisture. The fact that a room is so dry that plants cannot live in it should sound a warning to us who practically live there for days at a time, but it does not, and we continue to contract all sorts of nose and throat troubles, to say nothing of more serious diseases. No room too dry for plants to live in is fit for people to live in. Hot-air and steam heating systems especially, produce an over-dry condition of the atmosphere. This can be overcome to a great or complete extent by thorough ventilation and by keeping water constantly where it can evaporate; over radiators, etc. This should be done for the sake of your own health, if not for that of the plant.
Further information as to watering and ventilation will be found in Chapter VII (page 45), but before we get anxious about just how to take care of plants we must know how to get them, and before getting them we must know what to give them to grow in—the plant's foundation. So for a little we must be content with those prosaic but altogether essential matters of soil, manures and fertilizers, which in the next chapter I shall try to make clear in as brief manner as possible.
SOILS, MANURES AND FERTILIZERS
The soil must furnish the whole foundation of plant life. For centuries those who have grown things have realized the vital importance of having the soil rich or well supplied with plant food; and if this is important in growing plants in the field or flower garden, where each vegetable or flower has from one to several cubic feet of earth in which to grow, how imperative it is to have rich soil in a pot or plant box where each plant may have but a few cubic inches!
But the trouble is not so much in knowing that plants should be given rich soil, as to know how to furnish it. I well remember my first attempt at making soil rich and thinking how I would surprise my grandmother, who worked about her plants in pots every day of her life, and still did not have them as big as they grew in the flower garden. I had seen the hired man put fertilizer on the garden. That was the secret! So I got a wooden box about two-thirds full of mellow garden earth, and filled most of the remaining space with fertilizer, well mixed into the soil, as I had seen him fix it. I remember that my anxiety was not that I get too much fertilizer in the soil, but that I would take so much out of the bag that it would be missed. Great indeed was my chagrin and disappointment, twelve hours after carefully setting out and watering my would-be prize plants, to notice that they had perceptibly turned yellow and wilted. And I certainly had made the soil rich.
So the problem is by no means as simple as might at first be supposed. Not only must sufficient plant food be added to the soil but it must be in certain forms, and neither too much nor too little may be given if the best results are to be attained.
Now it is a fact established beyond all dispute that not only food, but air and water, as well, must be supplied to the roots of growing plants; and this being the case, the mechanical condition of the soil in which the plant is to grow has a great deal to do with its success or failure. It must be what is termed a porous and friable soil—that is, one so light and open that water will drain through it without making it a compact, muddy mass. One of the things I noticed about my special fertilizer soil, mentioned above, was that it settled, after being watered, into a solid mass from which water would not drain and into which air could not penetrate.
It is next to impossible to find a soil just right for house plants, so, as a general thing the only way to get a good soil is to mix it yourself. For this purpose several ingredients are used. If you live in a village or suburb, where the following may be procured, your problem is not a difficult one. Take about equal parts of rotted sod, rotted horse manure and leaf-mould from the woods and mix thoroughly and together, adding from one-sixth to one-third, in bulk, of coarse sand. If a considerable quantity of soil will be required during the year, it will be well to have some place, such as a bin or large barrel, in which to keep a supply of each ingredient. The sod should be cut three or four inches thick, and stacked in layers with the grassy sides together, giving an occasional soaking, if the weather is dry, to hasten rotting. The manure should be decomposed under cover, and turned frequently at first to prevent burning out; or sod and manure can be rotted together, stacking them in alternate layers and forking over two or three times after rotting has begun. The manure furnishes plant food to the compost, the rotted sod "body," the leaf-mould water-absorbing qualities, and the sand, drainage qualities.
If the soil is wanted at once, and no rotted sod is to be had, use good garden loam, preferably from some spot which was under clover-sod the year before. If it is difficult to obtain well-rotted manure, street sweepings may be used as a substitute, and old chip-dirt from under the wood pile, or the bottom of the woodshed if it has a dirt floor, will do in place of leaf-mould. Peat, or thoroughly dried and sweetened muck are also good substitutes for leaf-mould. Finely screened coal ashes may take the place of sand.
If you live in the city, where it is difficult to obtain and to handle the several materials mentioned, the best way is to get your soil ready mixed at the florists, as a bushel will fill numerous pots. If you prefer to mix it yourself, or to add any of the ingredients to the soil you may have, most florists can supply you with light soil, sand, peat or leaf-mould and rotted manure; and sphagnum moss, pots, saucers and other things required for your outfit. If a large supply is wanted, it would probably be cheaper to go to some establishment on the outskirts of the city where things are actually grown, than to depend upon the retail florist nearer at hand.
Potting soil when ready to use should be moist enough to be pressed into a ball by the hand, but never so moist as not to crumble to pieces again readily beneath the finger.
Manure of some sort is essential to the growing of plants in pots or boxes, both because of the plant-food it adds to the soil, and because it improves its mechanical condition and sponginess or water-holding quality. Thoroughly rotted horse manure or horse and cow manure mixed is by far the best. Cow manure alone, or pig manure, is lumpy and cold, and hen, sheep, pigeon or other special manures are not safe in the hands of the beginner, as they are one-sided, being especially rich in nitrogen and likely either to burn the plants or to cause too soft and watery growth.
This brings us to the point where it is necessary to say a few words about the theory of manures, for they are not all alike and what would be wise to give a plant under some circumstances under others would be quite wrong, just as you would not think of feeding beefsteak to a baby just recovering from the colic, while it might be a very good thing for a hungry man who was going to saw up your wood-pile.
Plants of all sorts—in pots, in the garden or in a ten-acre lot—require three kinds of food elements: nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potash. These elements may be fed to the plants in various forms; for instance, the nitrogen in hen manure, or in cottonseed meal, or in salts from the nitrate fields of Chile, known as nitrate of soda; the phosphoric acid from bone, or from acid phosphate (a ground rock treated with acid); the potash from wood ashes or from German potash salts (muriate or sulphate of potash). Plants, to do their best, require that all three elements shall be present in sufficient amounts to supply their wants.
It is not necessary, however, to go very deeply into the science of plant foods in order to grow plants successfully. Fortunately, manure rotted as described above, furnishes all three elements in about the right proportions. Cow, sheep, hen and pigeon manure are best used as described later, under "Liquid Manuring."
There are many brands of mixed fertilizers prepared specially for use in the greenhouse or on plants in pots. There is a temptation to use these on account of their convenient compact form, and because they are more agreeable to handle. As a general rule, however, much better results will be obtained by relying on rotted manure.
If you want to use fertilizers at all—and for certain purposes they will be very valuable—I would advise restricting the list to the following pure materials which are not mixed, and which are always uniform; nitrate of soda, cottonseed meal, pure fine ground bone, and wood ashes. (Several of the other chemicals are good, but not so commonly used.)
Ground bone is the most valuable of these. It should be what is known as "fine ground," or bone dust. It induces a strong but firm growth, and can be used safely in the potting soil, supplementing the manure as a source of plant food. From two to three quarts to a bushel of soil is the right amount to use. It should be thoroughly mixed through the soil. It may also be frequently used to advantage as a top dressing on plants that have exhausted the food in their pots, or while developing buds or blooming. Work two or three spoonfuls into the top of the soil.
Nitrate of soda is the next in importance. It is very strong and must be carefully used, the safest way being to use it as a liquid manure, one or two teaspoonsful dissolved in three gallons of water. If first dissolved in a pint of hot water, and then added to the other, it will be more quickly done. Use a pint or so of this solution in watering. The results will often be wonderful.
Cottonseed meal may be safely mixed with the soil, like ground bone, but requires some time in which to rot, before the plant can make use of it.
Wood ashes are also safe, and good to add to the potting soil. They help to make a firm, hard growth, as a result of the potash they furnish. Where plants seem to be making a too rapid, watery growth, wood ashes may be applied to the surface and worked in.
With a soil prepared as directed in the first part of this chapter, there will be very little need for using any other of the fertilizers, until plants have been shifted into their last pots and have filled them with roots. When this stage is reached the use of liquid manures as described later will frequently be beneficial. If, however, a plant for any reason seems backward, or slower in growth than it should be, an application or two of nitrate of soda will often produce results almost marvelous. Be sure, however, that your troubles are not due to some mistake in temperature, ventilation or watering, before you ascribe them to improper or exhausted soil.
Now, having had the patience to find out something about the conditions under which plants ought to succeed, let us proceed to the more interesting work of actually making them grow.
STARTING PLANTS FROM SEED
One of the ways of getting a supply of plants for the house is to start them from seed. With a number of varieties, better specimens may be obtained by this method than by any other. Most of the annuals, and many of the biennials and perennials, are best reproduced in this way.
Simple as the art of starting plants from seed may seem, there are a number of things which must be thought of, and done correctly. We must give them a proper situation, soil, temperature, covering and amount of moisture, and when once above ground they need careful attention until lifted and started on their way as individual plants.
The number of plants of one sort which will be required for the house is naturally not large, and for that reason beginners often try starting their seeds in pots. But a pot is not a good thing to try to start plants in: the amount of earth is too small and dries out quickly. Seed pans are better, but even they must be watched very carefully. A wooden box, or flat, is better still. Cigar boxes are often used with good results; but a more satisfactory way is to make a few regular flats from a soap or cracker box bought at the grocer's. Saw it lengthwise into sections two inches deep, being careful to first draw out nails and wire staples in the way, and bottom these with material of the same sort. Either leave the bottom boards half an inch apart, or bore seven or eight half-inch holes in the bottom of each, to provide thorough drainage. If they are to be used in the house, a coat or two of paint will make them very presentable. Of course one such box will accommodate a great many seeds—enough to start two hundred to a thousand little plants—but you can sow them in rows, as described later, and thus put from three to a dozen sorts in each box.
Where most beginners fail in attempting to start seeds is in not taking the trouble to prepare a proper soil. They are willing to take any amount of trouble with watering and heat and all that, but they will not fix a suitable soil. The soil for the seed box need not be rich, in fact it is better not to have manure in it; but very porous and very light it must be, especially for such small seeds as most flowers have. Such a soil may be mixed up from rotted sod (or garden loam), leaf-mould and sharp sand, used in equal proportions. If the loam used is clayey, it may take even a larger proportion of sand. The resulting mixture should be extremely fine and crumbling, and feel almost "light as a feather" in the hand. If the sod and mould have not already been screened, rub the compost through a sieve of not more than quarter-inch mesh—such as a coal-ash sifter. This screening will help also to incorporate the several ingredients evenly and thoroughly.
While we provided holes in the seed box for drainage, it is best to take even further precautions in this matter by covering the bottom of the box with nearly an inch of coarse material, such as the roots and half decayed leaves, screened out of the sods and leaf-mould. On the top of this put the prepared soil, filling the box to within about a quarter of an inch of the top, and packing down well into the corners and along sides and ends. The box should not be filled level full, because in subsequent waterings there would be no space to hold the water which would run off over the sides instead of soaking down into the soil.
The usual way is to fill the boxes and sow the seed, and then water the box on the surface, but I mention here a method which I have used in my own work for two years. When filling the box, set it in some place where it may be watered freely, such as on the cellar floor, if too cold to work outdoors. After putting in the first layer of coarse material, give it a thorough soaking and then put in about two-thirds of the rest of the soil required and give that a thorough watering also. The balance of the soil is then put in and made level, the seeds sown, and no further watering given, or just enough to moisten the surface and hold it in place, if dry. The same result can be obtained by filling and sowing the box in the usual way, and then placing it in some place—such as the kitchen sink—in about an inch of water, and leaving it until moisture, not water, shows upon the surface. Either of these ways is much surer than the old method of trying to soak the soil through from the surface after planting, in which case it is next to impossible to wet the soil clear through without washing out some of the small seeds.
After filling the box as directed, make the soil perfectly smooth and level with a small flat piece of board, or a brick. Do not pack it down hard,—just make it firm. Then mark off straight narrow lines, one to two inches apart, according to the size of the seed to be sown.
The instructions usually given are to cover flower seeds to from three to five times their own depth. You may, if you like, take a foot-rule and try to measure the diameter of a begonia or mignonette seed; but you will probably save time by simply trying to cover small seeds just as lightly as possible. I mark off my seed rows with the point of a lead pencil—which I have handy back of my ear for writing the tags—sow the seed thinly, and as evenly as possible by shaking it gently out of a corner of the seed envelope, which is tapped lightly with the lead pencil, and then press each row down with the edge of a board about as thick as a shingle. Over the whole scatter cocoanut fiber (which may be bought of most seedmen) or light prepared soil, as thinly as possible—just cover the seeds from sight—and press the surface flat with a small piece of board. A very light moistening, with a plant sprinkler, completes the operation.
The temperature required in which to start the seeds of any plant will be about the same as that which the same plant requires when grown. Germination will be stronger and quicker, however, if ten to fifteen degrees more, especially at night, can be supplied. If this can be given as what the florists term "bottom heat," that is, applied under the seed box, so much the better.
Until germination actually takes place, there is little danger of getting the soil too warm, as it heats through from the bottom very slowly. The box may be placed on the steam radiator, on a stand over the floor radiator, or on a couple of bricks on the back of the kitchen range; or the box may be supported over a lamp or small kerosene stove, care being taken to have a piece of metal between the wood and the direct heat of the flame. For the first few days it may be kept in the shade, but as soon as the seeds push through they must be given all the light possible.
If the seed flats or pans are prepared by the newer method suggested above, they will probably not need any further watering, or not more than one, until the seeds are up. The necessity of further watering, in any case, will be shown by the soil's drying out on the surface. In the case of small seeds, such as most flower seeds are, the moisture in the soil will be retained much longer by keeping the box covered with a pane of glass, slightly raised at one side. If the box is to be kept in bright sunlight, shade the glass with a piece of paper, until the seedlings are up, which will be in a day or so with some sorts, and weeks with others.
From the time the little plants come up, until they are ready to prick off in other flats or into pots, the boxes should never be allowed to dry out. If they are being grown in winter or early spring, while the days are still short and the sun low, they will require very little water, and it should be applied only on bright mornings. In autumn and late spring, especially the latter, they will require more, and if the boxes dry out quickly, you should apply it toward evening. In either case, do not water until the soil is beginning to dry on the surface, and then water thoroughly, or until the soil will not readily absorb more. If you will take the pains, and have the facilities for doing it, by far the best way to keep the seed boxes supplied with moisture is to place them, when dry, in an inch or so of water (as described for seed sowing) and let them soak up what they need, or until the surface of the soil becomes moist. This does the job more evenly and thoroughly than it can be done from the surface, and is also a safeguard against damping off, that dreaded disease of seedlings which is likely to carry away your whole sowing in one day—a decaying of the stem just at or below the soil.
From the time the seedlings come up they should be given abundance of light, and all the air possible while maintaining the required temperature. It will be possible, except on very cold dark days, to give them fresh air. Never, however, let a draft of air more than a few degrees colder than the room in which they are blow directly upon them.
The secret of growing the little plants until they are ready for their first shift is not so much in the amount of care given, as in its regularity. Tend them every day—it will take only a few minutes time. When the second true leaf appears they will be ready for their first change, which is described in Chapter VI.
STARTING PLANTS FROM CUTTINGS
While many plants are best started from seed, as described in the preceding chapter, there are many which cannot be so reproduced; especially named varieties which will not come true from seeds, but revert to older and inferior types.
Also it very frequently happens that one has a choice plant of some sort of which the seed is not to be obtained, and in this case also it becomes necessary to reproduce the plant in some other way.
Where large numbers of plants are to be started, and they may be had from seed, that is usually the best way in which to work up a supply: but where only a few are wanted, as for house plants or use in a small garden, propagation by cuttings is the quickest and most satisfactory method. Practically all of the house plants, including most of those which can be started from seed, may be increased in this way.
The matter of first importance, when starting plants by this system, is to have strong, healthy cuttings of the right degree of hardiness. Take your cuttings only from plants that are in full vigor, and growing strongly. They should be taken from what is termed "new growth," that is the terminal portions of shoots, which have not yet become old and hard. The proper condition of the wood may be determined by the following test: if the stem is bent between the fingers it should snap (like a green bean); if it bends and doubles without breaking it is either too old and will not readily root, or too soft and will be almost sure to wilt or rot.
The cutting should be from two to four inches long, according to the plant and variety to be propagated. It should be cut off slant-wise, as this will assist in its being pushed firmly down into the cutting box. It may be cut either near, or between a joint or eye—with the exception of a few plants, noted later. The lower leaves should be taken off clean; those remaining, if large, shortened back, as shown in the illustration facing page 29. Then the plant will not be so likely to wilt.
If the cuttings cannot be put in the propagating medium immediately after being made; keep them in the shade, and if necessary sprinkle to prevent wilting. I once obtained a batch of chrysanthemum cuttings from a brother florist who said that they were so badly wilted that they could never be rooted. I immersed them all in water for several hours, which revived them, and had the satisfaction of rooting almost every one.
The medium most commonly used in which to root cuttings is clean, medium-coarse sand, such as builders use. It must not be so fine as to pack tightly, nor so coarse as to fit loosely about the cuttings, and admit air so freely as to dry them out.
Make a flat similar to that used for starting seeds, but four or five inches deep. Place in the bottom an inch or two of gravel or coal ashes, covered lightly with moss or a single thickness of old bag, and then fill nearly full of clean sand. Make this level, and give a thorough soaking. After drying out for an hour or so, it is ready for the cuttings.
Mark the box off in straight lines, two or three inches apart, and insert the cuttings as closely as possible without touching, and to a depth of about one-third or one-half their length. A small, pointed stick, or dibber, will be convenient in getting them in firmly. Wet them down to pack the sand closely around them.
The best temperature for the room in which the cutting box is to be kept will be from fifty to fifty-five degrees at night. Like the seed box, however, it will be greatly helped by ten or fifteen degrees of bottom heat in addition. For method of giving this extra bottom heat, see page 26.
If the box is kept in a bright sunny place, shade the cuttings with a piece of newspaper during the heat of the day, to prevent wilting, and if the weather is so hot that the room is warmer than seventy degrees, an occasional light sprinkling will help to keep them fresh.
Never let the sand dry out or all your work will be lost. As a rule, it will require a thorough soaking every morning.
With these precautions taken, the cuttings should begin to throw out roots in from eight to twenty days, according to conditions and varieties. Do not let them stay in the sand after the roots form; it is much better to pot them off at once, before the roots get more than half an inch long. If some of the cuttings have not rooted but show a granulated condition where they were cut, they will be safe to pot off, as they will, as a rule, root in the soil.
The above method is the one usually employed. There is another, however, just as easy and more certain in results, especially where bottom heat cannot easily be had. It is called the "saucer" system of propagation. Make the cuttings as described above. Put the sand in a deep, water-tight dish, such as a glazed earthenware dish or a deep soup plate, and pack the cuttings in as thickly as necessary. Wet the sand to the consistency of mud and keep the dish in a warm light place. The temperature may be higher than when using the sand box, and there will not be a necessity for shading. The sand must be kept constantly saturated: that is the whole secret of success with this method of rooting cuttings. Pot them off as soon as the roots begin to grow.
Cuttings made by the two systems described above are usually taken in autumn, or in spring. When it is necessary to get new plants during June, July or August, a method called "layering in the air" will have to be resorted to if you would be certain of results. Instead of taking the cutting clean off, cut it nearly through; the smallest shred of wood and bark will keep it from wilting, but it should be kept upright, for if it hangs down the end of the shoot will immediately begin to turn up, making a U-shaped cutting. The cuttings are left thus partly attached for about eight days or until they are thoroughly calloused, when they are taken off and potted, like rooted cuttings, but giving a little more sand in the soil and not quite so much water. They are, of course, shaded for several days.
Some of the plants ordinarily grown in the house, such as Rex begonias, rubber plants, sword ferns, are best increased by leaf cuttings, topping, layering or other methods differing from seed sowing or rooting cuttings. These several operations will be described in treating of the plants for which they are used.
Having carried our little plants safely through the first stage of their growth, it is necessary that we use some care in getting them established as individuals, and give them the best possible preparation for successful service in their not unimportant world.
TRANSPLANTING, POTTING AND REPOTTING
Directions have already been given for preparing the best soil for house plants. This soil, sifted through a coarse screen—say a one-half inch mesh—is just right for "pricking off" or transplanting the little seedlings.
Use flats similar to those prepared for the seeds, but an inch deeper. In the bottom put an inch of the rough material screened from sods and manure. Give this a thorough watering; cover with an inch of the sifted soil, and wet this down also. Then fill the box nearly level full of the sifted soil, which should be neither dry nor moist enough to be sticky. Take care also that this soil is not much—if any—colder than the temperature in which the seedlings have been kept.
It is usually best to transplant the seedlings just as soon as they are large enough to be handled, which is as soon as the second true leaf appears. Nothing is gained by leaving them in the seed boxes longer, as they soon begin to crowd and get lanky and are more likely to be attacked by the damping off fungus than they are after being transferred.
Find a table or bench of the right height upon which to work comfortably. With a flat stick, or with a transplanting fork (which can be had for fifteen cents) lift a bunch of the little plants out, dirt and all, clear to the bottom of the box. Hold this clump in one hand and with the other gently tear away the seedlings, one at a time, discarding all crooked or weak ones. Never attempt to pull the seedlings from the soil in the flat, as the little rootlets are very easily broken off. They should come away almost intact, as shown facing page 48. Water the seed flats the day previous to transplanting, so that the soil will be in just the right condition, neither wet enough to make the roots sticky, nor so dry as to crumble away.
Take the little seedling by the stem between the thumb and forefinger, and with a small round pointed stick or dibber, or with the forefinger of the other hand, make a hole deep enough to receive the roots and about half the length—more if the seedlings are lanky—of the stem. As the little plant is dropped into place, the tips of both thumbs and forefingers, by one quick, firm movement, compress the earth firmly both down on the roots and against the stem so that the plant sticks upright and may not readily be pulled out. Of course there is a knack about it which cannot be put into words—I could have pricked off a hundred seedlings in the time I am spending in trying to describe the operation—but a little practice will make one reasonably efficient at it.
When the flat is completed, jar it slightly to level the surface and give a watering, being careful, however, to bend down the plants as little as possible. Set the plants on a level surface, and if the sun is bright, shade with newspapers during the middle of the day for two or three days.
From now on until ready for potting, keep at the required temperature, as near as possible, and water thoroughly on bright mornings when necessary, but only when the drying of the surface shows that the soil needs it. Above all, give all the air possible, while maintaining the necessary heat. The quality of the mature plants will depend more upon this precaution than upon anything else in the way of care.
The little seedlings are sometimes put from the seed flat directly into small pots. I strongly advise the method described above. The flats save room and care, and the plants do much better for a few weeks than they will in pots. Where room is scarce, it is well to transplant cuttings into flats instead of potting them off. As soon, however, as either the transplanted plants or cuttings begin to crowd in the flats, they must be put into pots. How soon this will be depends largely, of course, upon the amount of room they have been given. As many as a hundred are often set in a flat 13x19 inches, but it is well to give them twice as much space as that if room permits.
Cuttings and small plants are put into two-inch or "thumb" pots. Some of the larger growing geraniums or very sturdy plants require two-and-one-half inch pots, but the smaller size should be used when possible.
The soil for pots up to three inches should be screened, but not made too fine. A coal-ash sifter, or half-inch screen will do. The soil should be made up as directed in Chapter III.
The pots should be thoroughly cleaned with sand and water, or by a several days' soaking, and then wiping out with a cloth, if they have been used before. An old pot, with dirt sticking to the inside and the pores all clogged up, will not do good work. Old or new, they should be immersed in water until through bubbling just before using; otherwise they will absorb too much moisture from the soil.
The method of potting should depend somewhat upon the condition of the roots of the cutting. If they are less than half an inch long, as they should be, fill the pot level full of soil, make a hole with the forefinger of one hand; insert the cutting to about half its depth with the other, rap the bottom of the pot smartly against the bench to settle the earth, and then press it down firmly with the thumbs, leveling it as the pot is placed to one side in an empty flat. (The jarring down of the soil should precede the firming with the thumbs, as this will compact the soil more evenly within the pot.) This should leave the soil a little below the rim of the pot, making a space to hold water when watering; and the cutting should be so firmly embedded that it cannot be moved without breaking the soil.
With cuttings whose roots have been allowed to grow an inch or more in length, and plants with a considerable ball of roots—as they should have when coming from the transplanting flats—it is better partly to fill the pot. Hold the plant or cutting in position with the left hand and press the soil in about it with the right hand—firming it as directed in the former case. With a little practice either operation can be performed very rapidly. Florists do four to five hundred pots an hour.
When for any reason it is necessary to put a small or weakly rooted plant or cutting, or a cutting that is just on the point of sending forth roots, in a pot that seems too large, put it near the edge of the pot, instead of in the middle. This will often save a plant which would otherwise be lost, and at the next shift it can, of course, be put in the center of the pot.
If no small pots are at hand, several small plants or cuttings can be put around the edge of a four-or five-inch pot, with good results. Care must be taken, however, not to give too much water.
As soon as the little plants or cuttings are potted up, give them a thorough watering and place them where the holes in the bottoms of the pots will not be clogged with soil. A large flat, in the bottom of which an inch of pebbles, coarse sand or sifted cinders has been put, will be a good place for them. Keep shaded during the hot part of the day for three or four days. At first the pots may be placed as close together as possible, but in a very short time—two weeks at the most, if the growing conditions are right—they will need to be put farther apart. Nothing will injure them so quickly as being left crowded together where they cannot get enough air. Better, if necessary, give or throw away half of them than to attempt to grow fifty plants where you have room for only two dozen.
As before, water only when necessary, i.e., when the surface of the soil begins to look whitish and dry. Then water thoroughly. Until by practice you know just what they need, knock a few out of the pots, say fifteen minutes after watering, and see if the ball of earth has been wet through to the bottom; if not, you are not doing the job thoroughly. If the pots do not dry out between waterings, but stay muddy and heavy, either your soil is not right or you have used pots too large for your plants.
In the course of a week or two, if a plant is knocked out, the small white roots may be seen coming through the ball of earth and beginning to curl around the outside of it. The time for repotting the young plants will have been reached when these roots have made a thick network around the ball of earth, but before they become brown and woody; that is, while they are still white and succulent—"working roots," as the florists term them.
The shift, as a general rule, should be to a pot only one size larger, that is, from a three to a four, or a four to a five.
Remove the plant from the old pot by holding the stem of the plant between the index and middle finger of the left hand, and with the right inverting the pot and rapping the edge of the rim sharply against the edge of the bench or table.
Before putting the plant into the new pot, remove the top half inch of soil and gently loosen up the lower half of the ball of roots, if it is firmly matted.
Put soil in the bottom of the pot to such a depth that when the ball of roots is covered with half an inch or so of new soil, the surface thereof will still be about half an inch below the rim of the pot. Hold the plant in place with the left hand, and with the right fill in around it, making the soil firm as before. Water and care is the same as after the first potting.
Pots four inches or over in size should be crocked to make certain of sufficient drainage. The best material to use is broken charcoal, in pieces one-half to an inch in diameter. Pieces of broken pots, cinders or rough pebbles will do. Be sure that the drainage hole is not covered; if pieces of pots are used, put the concave side down over the hole, as illustrated facing page 41. The depth of the drainage material, or crocking, will be from half an inch to three inches, according to the size of the pot. Over this rough material put a little screenings, leaf mould or sphagnum moss, to prevent the soil's washing down into it. Then fill in with soil and pot in the regular way.
The time for repotting house plants is at the beginning of their growing season. It varies, of course, with the different kinds. The great majority, however, start into new growth in the spring and should be repotted from the middle of March to the middle of May. Plants kept through the winter for stock plants are usually started up and repotted early in February to induce the abundant new growth that furnishes cuttings. The method of repotting will depend on the nature of the plant. Soft-wooded plants, like geraniums, are put in in the ordinary way and firmed with the fingers. The palms do best with the new soil more firmly packed about the old ball of roots. Hard-wooded plants with very fine roots, like the azaleas, should have the soil rammed down firmly about the old ball; for which purpose it is necessary to use a blunt, flat piece of wood, of convenient size. In repotting such plants, it is well to let the ball of roots soak several minutes in a pail of water before putting into the new pot. If very densely matted, make several holes in it with a spike, working it around, and leave the soil a little lower at the center of the pot to induce the water to run down through the root ball.
Plants that have been crocked in the old pots should have this material removed, if possible, before going into their new quarters.
Plants in large pots often use up all the plant food available, and where they cannot be given still larger pots become quite a problem. They are usually handsome specimens which one does not like to lose. Remove such a plant from its pot and carefully wash all the soil from the roots; clean the pot and carefully repot in fresh soil in the same pot. The result will be extremely satisfactory.
Until one has become proficient in the art of potting, it will pay well to practice with every plant and cutting that may be had. If you have mistakes to make, make them with these, so that your favorite plants may be handled safely.
MANAGEMENT OF HOUSE PLANTS
There are some general rules that will apply to taking care of all plants in the house; then there are several groups, the different sorts in which are handled more or less alike; and lastly there are the individual requirements of the plants in the several groups to be considered.
Information about all these varieties, as given in the usual way, results in a more or less confusing mass of detail. It is for the purpose of getting this information into as plain a form as possible that the instructions in the first chapters of this book have been given in such detail; and those instructions should be used in conjunction with the following pages. The beginner cannot expect to fully comprehend the suggestions given until the plain everyday operations of plant growing have become familiar.
Much of what has been said in the previous pages has borne upon the several points of managing plants successfully in the house. It will be of use, however, to have those various suggestions brought together in condensed form.
In the first place it must be remembered that at best it is hard to get conditions in the living-room that will be suitable for the healthy growth of plants. Every effort should be made to prepare a place for them in which such conditions may be made as nearly ideal as possible: plenty of light, evenly regulated temperature; moisture in the air.
For most house plants the temperature should be 50 to 55 at night and 65 to 75 during the day. An occasional night temperature of 45 or even 40 will not do great harm but if reached frequently will check the growth of the plants.
Air should be given every day when the temperature of the room will not be too greatly lowered thereby. Avoid direct drafts, as sudden chills are apt to produce bad results. Even on very cold days, fresh air may be let in indirectly, through a window open in an adjoining room or through a hall. It is better, when possible, to give a little ventilation during an hour or two, than to rush too sudden a lowering of the temperature by trying to do it all in fifteen minutes.
The amount of water which should be given will depend both upon the plant and upon the season. During the dull days of winter and during the "resting season" of all plants, very little water will be required. It should be given on bright mornings. During early fall and late spring, when the pots or boxes dry out very rapidly, water in the evening. In either case, however, withhold water until the soil is beginning to get on the "dry side" and then water thoroughly. Water should be given until it runs down through into the saucers but should not be allowed to remain there.
Sometimes it will be beneficial to moisten the foliage of plants without wetting the soil. Just after repotting and in fighting plant lice, red spider and other insect enemies (see Chapter XVII) this treatment will be necessary. A fine-rose spray on the watering-can may be used but a rubber plant-sprinkler costing about sixty-five cents, will be very much better, as with it the water will be applied in a finer spray with a great deal more force and to either the upper or under surface of the leaves—a point of great importance.
Plants growing in windows, where the light strikes them only, or mostly, from one side, should be frequently turned to prevent their growing one-sided.
Also do not hesitate to use knife, scissors and fingers in keeping them symmetrical and shapely. One of the greatest mistakes that amateurs make is in being afraid to cut an ungainly or half leafless branch. Instead of injuring a plant, such pruning frequently is an actual benefit.
If neglected, dust will quickly gather on the leaves and clog their pores, and as the plants have no way of breathing but through their leaves, you can see what the result must be. Syringing, mentioned above, will help. They should also be wiped clean with a soft dry cloth, especially such plants as palms, rubbers, Rex begonias. Do not use olive oil or any other sticky substance on the cloth. Always remove at once any broken, dead or diseased leaf or flower. Do not let flowering plants go to seed: nothing else will so quickly bring the blooming period to a close.
Do not try to force your plants into continuous growth. Almost without exception they demand a period of rest, and if you do not allow them to take it when nature suggests, they will take it themselves when you do not want them to. The natural rest period is during the winter. During this time a very little water will do and no repotting or manuring should be attempted.
It is, however, desirable in some cases, as with many of the flowering plants, to change the season bloom, as we want their beauty during the winter. In such cases they should be made to rest during the summer, by withholding water and keeping them disbudded.
Many beginners get the idea that as soon as any plant has filled its pot with roots it must be immediately shifted to a larger one. While this is as a rule true with small plants, being grown on, it is not at all true of mature plants, especially those wanted to bloom in the house. When a shift has been given, at the beginning of the growing period, no further change should be necessary during the winter. It will, however, be well, if not imperative, to furnish food in the form of liquid manures when the soil in the pot has become filled with roots. It should be applied from one to three times a week—the former being sufficient for a plant showing ordinary growth.
All the animal manures, cow, horse, sheep, hen, etc.,—are good to use in this way, but cow manure is the safest and best. Place three or four inches of half-rotted manure in a galvanized iron pail, fill with water, and after standing a few hours it will be ready for use. The pail can be refilled. As long as the liquid becomes the color of weak tea it will be strong enough to use. Give from a gill to a pint at each application to a six-or eight-inch pot. The other manures should not be made quite so strong. For liquid chemicals see page 19 or mix up the following: 5 lbs. nitrate of soda, 3 of nitrate of potash and 2 of phosphate of ammonia, and use 1 oz. of the mixture dissolved in five or six gallons of water.
At the beginning of the growing period and at frequent intervals during the early growth of plants they must be repotted. The operation is described on page 40.
As soon as danger of late frost is over in the spring the plants should be got out of the house. It is safest to "harden them off" first by leaving them a few nights with the windows wide open or in a sheltered place on the veranda. Those which require partial shade may be kept on the veranda or under a tree. Most of them, however, will do best in the full sun and should, if wanted for use in the house a second season, be kept in their pots. The best way to handle them is to dig out a bed six or eight inches deep (the sod and earth taken out may be used in your dirt heap for next year) and fill it with sifted coal ashes. In this, "plunge," that is, bury the pots up to their rims. If set on the surface of the soil it will be next to impossible to keep them sufficiently wet unless they are protected from the direct rays of the sun by an overhead screening of lath nailed close together, or "protecting cloth" waterproofed. Where many plants are grown for the house such a shed, open on all sides, is sometimes made.
Care must be taken not to let plants in "plunged" pots root through into the soil. This is prevented by lifting and partly turning the pots every week or so. They will not root through into the coal cinders as rapidly as into soil and better drainage is secured. Watch the soil in the pots, not that in which they are plunged, when deciding about watering. For most plants a thorough watering, tops and all, once every afternoon ordinarily will not be too much.
Plants such as geraniums and heliotrope, which are wanted for blooming in early winter, should be kept rather dry and all buds pinched off. Do not shift them to new pots until two or three weeks before time to take them in.
The very important question—"What plants shall be grown in the house?"—must be left for the individual to answer. In selecting a few to describe somewhat in detail in the first part of this chapter, I do not mean to imply that the others are not as beautiful, or may not, with proper care, be successfully grown in the house. However, most of those described are the more popular—very possibly because as a rule greater success is attained with them.
The same is true of the treatment of the other groups—shrubs, foliage plants, palms, ferns, vines, cacti and bulbs, which are classed not upon a strict botanical basis but with reference to their general habits and requirements, my sole object in this book being to make the proper cultural directions as definite and clear as possible.
I think if I were restricted to the use of one class of plants for beautifying my home in winter I should without hesitation choose the begonias. No other plants so combine decorative effect, beauty of form and flower, continuity of bloom and general ease of culture.
There are three types: the flowering fibrous-rooted begonias, the decorative leaved begonias and the tuberous-rooted, with their abundant and gorgeous flowers and beautiful foliage. (These latter are described more fully in Chapter XV on Bulbs.)
Begonias are rather difficult to raise from seed and the best way to get them is to go to some good florist and select a few specimens; after that you can easily keep supplied by cuttings (see page 29). The large fancy-leaved begonias (Rex begonias) are increased by "leaf-cuttings." Take an old leaf and cut it into triangular pieces, about three inches each way and with a part of one of the thick main ribs at one corner of each piece; this is the corner to put into the sand. These—seven or eight of which can be made from one leaf—should be inserted about an inch into the sand of the cutting box or saucer, and treated as ordinary cuttings. The new growth will come up from the rib. (Illustration facing page 40). Some of the foliage begonias have long, thick stems, or "rhizomes" growing just above the soil; from these the leaves grow. Propagate by cutting the rhizome into pieces about two inches long and covering in the rooting medium.
The most satisfactory way to select your begonias is to see them actually growing at the florist's. In case selection cannot be made, thus, however, the following brief descriptions may be helpful. The begonia with the most showy flowers is the "coral" begonia—(in catalogues B. maculata, var. Corallina). The flowers, which grow in large clusters, reach half an inch across.
Begonias rubra, Alba, Vernon, nitida and N. alba, Luminosa, Sandersoni and semperflorens, gigantea rosea, are all good sorts.
For foliage, Begonia metallica, is the most popular. The flowers while not conspicuous are very pretty. B. Thurstoni, albo-picta, and argenteoguttata are also very attractive, the two latter having small silvery spots upon the leaves.
Of the large leaved Rex begonias new varieties are frequently introduced. They are seldom improvements over the old favorites, Philadelphus, Silver Queen, Fire King, Mrs. Rivers and others.
One of the most glorious of all flower sights is a plant of begonia Gloire de Lorraine in full bloom. It makes a graceful hanging mass of the most beautiful pink flowers. I cannot, however, conscientiously recommend it as a house plant. The best way is to get a plant, say in October, which is just about to bloom. Even if you lose it after it is through blooming—they continue in flower for several months—it will have been well worth the expense. But it is not necessary to lose it. When through flowering give it less water and keep in a cool light place. During summer keep it as cool as possible, on the veranda, or plunged in the shade of a tree. About September rapid growth will be made and it may gradually be given full sunlight.
Gloire Cincinnati is a splendid begonia of very recent introduction and it is claimed to be much hardier than Gloire de Lorraine, but whether it will prove satisfactory as a house plant I cannot say. There are many other beautiful kinds of begonias besides the few described above. If you have room, by all means try some of them.
As to soil, add about one-third of thoroughly pulverized leaf-mould to the potting soil described on page 15, if you would give them the best conditions. In watering keep them if anything a little on the "dry side." They like plenty of light but will do best if kept out of the direct rays of the sun.
There is perhaps no plant which more perfectly combines gracefulness and beauty of color than a well grown fuchsia in full bloom. Well-grown in this case does not simply mean that it should have been given the proper care as regards food and temperature. The fuchsia is naturally a somewhat trailing and very brittle-wooded plant. It needs support and the problem is to give it this support and at the same time not destroy its natural gracefulness of form, as is usually done when it is tied up stiffly to a wooden stake. If tied carefully to an inconspicuous green stake by means of green twine this may be accomplished. A better way will be to use one of the stakes described on page 144.
Fuchsias are shade plants. The full direct sunlight is likely to prove fatal to their existence. In winter they may be kept in an east or north window, or on the inside of other plants in a south window. If they are wanted to bloom early in the fall keep well pinched back and disbudded during the summer which is the natural blooming season for all the best varieties. For summer blooming, dry off gradually in the fall and keep during the winter—until February or March—in a frost-proof room or cellar. After they have been brought into the light, repot and water and new growth will start. Prune back the old branches severely, as the next crop of flowers will be borne on the new wood. This is also a good time to start cuttings for a new supply of plants.
Old plants—two or three years—will, however, give a far greater abundance of flowers.
The most serious enemy of the fuchsia indoors is the pernicious red spider. For details of the proper reception to be given him see page 134.
The varieties of the fuchsia, in both single and double flowers, are many. Among popular sorts are Elm City, Black Prince, speciosa, Phenomenal. Florists' catalogues list many others, new and for the most part well worth trying.
The geranium has been for years, and is likely to remain, the most popular flowering plant of all, whether for use in summer flower beds or for the winter window garden. To some people this wide popularity renders it less desirable, but with those who grow plants for their intrinsic beauty and not because they may or may not be in vogue the geranium with its healthy vitality, its attractive foliage and its simply marvelous range of color and delicate shadings will always be a favorite. I even venture to predict more; to prophesy that it is going to be used, as one seldom sees it now, as a cut flower for decorative purposes. I have grown some of the newer varieties with stems from twelve to eighteen inches long, supporting enormous trusses of dull red or the most delicate pink and keeping fresh in vases for days at a time. I find that very few people, even old flower lovers, have any conception of the improvement and variety which the last few years have brought, especially in the wonderful new creations coming from the hands of the French hybridizers. The latest news is that a German plant-breeder has produced the first of a new race of Pelargoniums (Pansy or Lady Washington geraniums) that continues to bloom as long as any of our ordinary bedding sorts. It has not yet been offered in this country, but doubtless soon will be, and it will be an acquisition indeed.
The culture of the geranium is simple. For its use as a house plant there are just two things to keep in mind; first give it a soil which is a little on the heavy side; that is, use three parts of good heavy loam, one of manure and one of sand; secondly do not over-water. Keep it on the "dry side"—(see page 45).
To have geraniums blooming in the house all winter prepare plants in two ways, as follows: First, in May or June pot up a number of old plants. Cut back quite severely, leaving a skeleton work of old wood, well branched, from which the new flowering wood will grow. Keep plunged and turned during the summer and take off every bud until three or four weeks before you are ready to take the plants inside. Secondly, in March or April, start some new plants from cuttings and grow these, with frequent shifts, until they fill six-or seven-inch pots, but keep them pinched back to induce a branching growth, and disbudded, until about the end of December. These will come into bloom after the old plants.
The best time for propagating the general supply of geraniums is from September 15th to the end of October. Cuttings should be taken from wood that is as firm and ripe as possible, while still yielding to the "snapping test" (see page 30). In all stages of growth the geranium is remarkably free from any insect or disease.
The varieties of geraniums now run into the hundreds—a wonderful collection. I shall name but a few, all of which I know from my own experience in selling several thousand every spring, are sure to be well-liked and good bloomers.
S. A. Nutt leads them all. It is the richest, darkest crimson—usually ordered as "the darkest red." It is a great bloomer, but one word of caution where you grow your own plants:—You must keep it cut back and make it branch, otherwise it will surely grow up tall and spindling. E. H. Trego is the most brilliant of the reds that I have grown. Marquis de Castellane is the richest of the reds—a dull, even, glowing color with what artists term "warmth" and "depth." The trusses are immense and the stems long, stiff and erect. It is the best geranium for massing in bouquets that I know.
Beaute Potevine is the richest, most glorious of the salmon pinks—perhaps the most popular of all the geraniums as a pot plant for the house. It is a sturdy grower and a wonderful bloomer.
Dorothy Perkins is a strong growing bright pink, with an almost white center. Very attractive.
Roseleur is one of the most lovely delicate pinks. Mme. Recamier, perhaps the best of the double whites, making a very compact, sturdy plant.
Silver-leafed Nutt, very recently introduced, is, I believe, destined to be one of the most popular of all geraniums. It has the rich flowers of S. A. Nutt and leaves of a beautiful dull, light green, bordered with silver white. I am chary of novelties, and got my first plants last spring with the expectation of being disappointed. So far it has proved a great acquisition.
New-life is another new sort which has won great popularity, the center of the flowers being white in contrast to the red of the outer petals. This is one of a new type of geranium having two more or less distinct colors in each flower. Another new type is the "Cactus" section, with petals narrower and recurved. In fact, the geranium seems to have by no means reached its full development.
Foliage Geraniums. The foremost of these is Mme. Salleroi (Silver-leaf geranium). It is unequaled as a border and for mingling with other plants in the edge of boxes and vases. Well grown specimens make beautiful single pot plants. Mrs. Pollock and Mountain of Snow are other good varieties.
Sweet Scented Geranium. This type has two valuable uses; their delicious fragrance and also the beauty and long keeping quality of the leaves when used in bouquets or to furnish green with geranium blossoms. Rose and Lemon (or Skeleton) are the two old favorites of this type. The Mint geranium, with a broad, large leaf of a beautiful soft green, and thick velvety texture, should be better known. All three must be kept well cut back, as they like to grow long and scraggly.
The ivy-leafed geraniums have not yet come into their own. To me they are the most beautiful of all. The leaves are like ivy leaves, only thicker and more glossy. The flowers, which are freely borne, contain some of the most beautiful and delicate shades and markings of any flowers, and the vines are exceedingly graceful in habit when given a place where they can spread out or hang down. Like the common or Zonal geranium, the ivy-leafed section has within the last few years been greatly improved. There is space here to mention but one variety (L'Elegantea), whose variegated white and green foliage, in addition to its lovely flowers, gives it a wonderful charm.
The Pelargoniums (Pansy Geraniums)—This section contains the most wonderful flowers of all the geraniums. Imagine, if you can, a rather graceful shrub with attractive foliage, eighteen inches or so high and broad, covered with loose clusters of pansies in the most brilliant and harmonious contrasts of color, and the most delicate blendings of rare shades, such as snow white and lilac. Unfortunately, these marvelous blossoms remain but a few weeks at most, and then there is a year's care and waiting. As with the fantastic cacti, all their blossoming energy and beauty seems to be concentrated into one brief but glorious effort. It certainly is to be hoped that the new strain, mentioned on a former page, will successfully be developed. Pelargoniums are propagated by cuttings, and cared for as the ordinary geraniums, except that they should be kept very cold and dry during their winter resting spell. Cut back after blooming.
The heliotrope has long been the queen of all flowers grown for fragrance. It is grown readily from either seeds or cuttings; the latter generally rooted in the spring. For blooming in winter, start young plants in February, or cut back old ones after flowering, and keep growing but pinched back and disbudded, in partial shade during the summer.
There are several varieties, from dark purple to very light and white. Lemoine's hybrids have the largest flowers, but are not so fragrant as some of the smaller sorts.
By pinching off the side shoots and training to a single main stalk, the plants may be grown as formal standards, with the flowering branches several feet from the pot, like the head of a tree. For certain uses they are appropriate, but I think not nearly as beautiful as when well trimmed to shape and grown in the ordinary way.
The heliotrope objects to any sudden change, whether of temperature, watering or soil, and will readily turn brown and drop all its leaves. Giving it proper care and cutting back, however, will quickly bring it into good humor again.
The petunia is one of the most easily grown and generous bloomers of all house plants. It is, however, a little coarse and some people object to its heavy odor. The flowers are both single and double, each having its advocates. Both have been vastly improved within the last few years. Certain it is that some of the new ruffled giant singles are remarkably beautiful, even as individual flowers; and the new fringed doubles, which come in agreeable shades of pink, variegated to pure white (instead of that harsh magenta which characterized the older style) produce beautiful mass effects with their quantities of bloom.
They are grown either from seed or cuttings, the latter frequently blooming in the cutting box, if allowed to. In raising seedlings, be sure to save all the slowest growing and delicate looking plants, as they are fairly sure to give some of the best flowers, the worthless singles growing strong and rank from the start. Plants growing outdoors during the summer may be cut back, potted up and started into new growth. The singles bloom more freely than the doubles, especially indoors. After blooming, cut the plants back to within a few inches of the root, repot or give liquid manure and a new growth will be sent up, and soon be in blossom again.
Of the deservedly popular primrose there are two types, the Chinese primrose (Primula Sinensis) and Primula obconica. Both are favorites, because of their simple beauty and the remarkable freedom and constancy with which they bloom. Another advantage is that they do not require direct sunlight. Primroses need no particular care. The soil may have a little extra leaf-mould and should slope toward the edges of the pot, to prevent the possibility of any water collecting at the crown of the plant, which must be left well above the soil when potting.
The easiest way to get plants is to buy small ones from the florist every spring. They may be raised from seed successfully, however, if one will take care to give them a shaded, cool location during the hot summer months, such as a coldframe covered with protecting cloth, or any light material that will freely admit air. From seed sown in February or March they should be ready to bloom by the following Christmas. It does not pay to keep the plants over for a second season.
There are numerous varieties. One very small sort, P. Forbesi—sometimes called Baby Primrose—is exceedingly floriferous. Several plants of this sort put together in a large pan make a most beautiful sight, and will do well as a decoration for a center table.
Until recently P. obconica was inferior in size of flower to the Chinese primrose, but the newer strains, under the name P. grandiflora fimbriata, or Giant Fringed, are quite wonderful. Some of the individual flowers are over an inch and a quarter across, and range from pure white to deep rose. If you cannot obtain other plants of this type from your florist they will well repay the trouble of starting from seed.
I feel somewhat doubtful about giving this comparatively little known flower a place among the especially recommended plants. Not on the basis of my own experience with it, but because in the several books in my possession which deal with house plants, I do not find it mentioned. There certainly can be no question that the long spikes of flowers in pure white, light and dark reds, deep wines and clear yellows, with combinations of two or more of these in many cases, are among our most beautiful flowers. They stay in blossom a long time, each stalk opening out slowly from the bottom to the top of the spike, like a gladiolus. They seem, in my own experience at least, to stand almost any amount of abuse; this spring several old plants that I had abandoned to their fate insisted on coming to life again and trying to vie with their younger progeny in flowering.
Snapdragons are easily raised from seed, or propagated by cuttings. For winter blooming sow the former in March or April, grow on in a cool place and keep pinched back to make bushy plants. If you have limited room, let one stalk blossom on each plant, so that you can avoid selecting duplicates. Cuttings may be taken at any time when the weather is not too hot. Take the tops of flowering shoots which have not yet matured so far as to become hollow.
The varieties have been greatly improved, that now sold as Giant-flowered Hybrids being the best. There is also a dwarf type and of still later introduction a double white. This will undoubtedly break into the other colors and give us a valuable new race.
With the directions given for the foregoing, and also on pages 6 to 50, the following brief instructions should be necessary to enable success with the other flowering plants which are worth trying in the house for winter blooming.
OTHER FLOWERING PLANTS
Ageratum—Valuable for its bright blue flowers and dwarf growth, going in well with other plants. There is also a white variety. Make cuttings in August, or cut back and pot up old plants.
Alyssum—Good with other plants to produce a light bouquet-like effect. White. Fall and dwarf varieties. Seed or cuttings.
Balsam—Beautiful colors. Take up and pot after blooming in garden. Only double sorts worth while.
Candytuft—Colors. Good for cut flowers. Seed or cuttings.
Cannas—New dwarf hybrids, named varieties have beautiful flowers. Give rich soil, lots of sun and water. Dry off after flowering.
Carnation—This beautiful flower is not well adapted for house culture. It may, however, be grown in five-or-six-inch pots, using a heavy soil, keeping in a cool temperature, about forty-five degrees at night, watering regularly and spraying daily with as much force as possible. For further information about growing the plants, see Part II., page 181.
Carnation Marguerite—These are much better suited for the trials of house culture. While not as large, they are in other respects fully as beautiful. Take up the best sorts from the flower garden, cut back severely and keep shaded until new growth starts.
Chrysanthemum—This is another beautiful flower not well suited to house culture. However, if you have room,—it will take an eight-, nine-or even ten-inch pot for each plant—and want to go to the trouble, you can have it indoors. For cultural directions see Part II, page 185.
Daisies, Double English Daisies—The bright little short-stemmed daisies, seen so frequently in spring (Bellis perennis) are not often used as a house plant, but make a very agreeable surprise. Start from seed in August; transplant to boxes of suitable size, and on the approach of freezing weather cover gradually with leaves and rough manure or litter in a sheltered, well drained place. Bring them in as wanted from January on.
Daisy, Paris or Marguerite—Beautiful daisy-like flowers, very freely borne, in two colors, pure white and delicate yellow. Root cuttings in spring and keep pinched back for winter flowering. Grow in rather heavy rich soil, with plenty of water.
Patience Plant (Impatiens)—This old-fashioned but cheery flowered plant resembles the flowering begonias in looks and habit. It grows very rapidly and is one of the most indefatigable bloomers of all plants. Spring cuttings grown on will make good flowering plant for winter. Give plenty of water.