Once upon a time I would spend many winter hours reading gardening books. (Remember books? Those are those things we dusted before we learned to do a Google search). I bookmarked pages and made lists. I kept a list of things I hoped to remember at the appropriate times, like when to plant seeds indoors or outdoors. I checked seed packets and counted back 12 weeks from the last frost. I learned the date of last frost in this area. It’s around April 30, my birthday, which is easy to remember bit.ly/ChicoFreeze.
I learned a lot of things the hard way, such as not to expect much from broccoli plants. I also stopped planting tomato seeds in January in the window sill. That was just silly. You can buy two plants for five bucks in May.
All of that … and I don’t worry about gardening much anymore. I plant what I want where I know it will grow. Mostly I learned that if something doesn’t grow, there are always more seeds and plants where those came from.
This month I’m sharing a few tidbits from things I learned more recently. You can do what you want with this information. If you end up including it in a book, I’ll be happy if you buy me lunch.
Success tally sheet
Most people plant Vinca rosea as an annual. This Vinca is dramatically different than the invasive Vinca we call periwinkle. Also known as Madagascar periwinkle, Vinca rosea is sold in early spring in six-packs and has shiny leaves. The flowers are similar to Impatiens, yet will thrive in the blazing sun.
Typically, the plant melts with the first frost.
Last year was rather mild and I tried an experiment to keep my Vinca rosea alive. I had read it is technically a perennial plant, but only if you’re living in a climate like Madagascar.
My blooming treasures were growing in one of those faux wine barrels, made of hard plastic. When I saw that the nights would dip below freezing, I covered the plant with another faux resin wine barrel. Some of the leaves received damage, but for the most part, the plants survived. Then they thrived.
I moved the barrel to the entrance of my walkway. The first thing I see right now when I walk toward my front door is a flowering success. After a long day of teaching, I need that.
Just for fun, I’ll try to keep the plant for a third year. I learned that Vinca rosea goes partially dormant in the cold weather. You won’t notice, but the plant isn’t growing. At this time, its best to keep watering to a minimum to avoid fungal disease.
You can also make new plants of Vinca rosea through cuttings. Who knew? Yet, we’re getting near the window of time when this will work. The SFGate website recommends cutting a stem at a leaf base and putting the stem in fresh potting soil. Many people also use a rooting hormone to increase their success.
One of the key ingredients of rooting hormone is often a synthetic version of indolebutyric acid. (No, children, you will not be tested on that word).
Oregon State University’s Cooperative Extension online article “How to Make a Rooting Tonic“ has a step-by-step method for making a rooting tonic that includes the acid with that impossible to pronounce name.
Home hormone recipe
• Collect two cups of willow branches or three cups of willow bark. (Young branches include the highest concentrations of the acid. The branches should be fresh, not gathered from the ground).
• Cut the branches into small pieces, 3-6 inches.
• Place the pieces in a large pan.
• Boil one gallon of water and pour it over your clippings.
• Let sit for about a day.
• Pour the magic willow water into glass jars with lids (after taking out the branches). You can store the liquid for about two months.
When using the willow water, soak the tips of your plant cuttings for several hours in the willow water. The goal is to thwart bacteria, fungus and viral diseases.
Some people also dip their plants in honey, or boil water with honey before soaking stems. The “How to Make a Rooting Tonic” article also includes a few words about trying this.