Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) - Best Air Cleaning Plant #5

One thing you may have noticed is that our list of air cleaning houseplants is that none of them so far have been flowering plants. Sure, plants like the Mass Cane are capable to producing flowers, but as houseplants they rarely ever do.

Which brings us to #5 on the list-gerbera daisies.

Gerbera daisies are a bit of a misnomer, as they're not really daisies, but in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). You can tell by the sturdy stems, thick leaves, and the shapes of the petals on the flowers. Gerbera daisies are native to southern Africa, and come in all kinds of beautiful colors. Its natural states are yellow, red, and orange, but growers have managed to produce pink, white, salmon, cream, and crimson flowers. In some cases, the same flower can even have petals of different colors. It's a perennial plant, meaning that if you grow it outdoors (in a frost-free climate) it'll wilt and look dead over the winter but pop back up in the spring.

The gerbera daisy (also called "gerber daisies" or "African daisies")--and in fact the entire genus--was named in 1737 by Dutchman Jan Fredric Gronovius in honor of an 18th century German medical doctor, naturalist, and botanist named Traugott Gerber. Gerber worked as a medical doctor in Russia and also took medical expeditions around the work searching for medicinal plants and herbs. Funny thing is, no one knows exactly why Gronovius decided to name the genus after him, but with over 30 species in the wild and over 100 species in total, the name stuck.

For years I worked at 1-800-Flowers, and that's where I first found out that Gerbera daisies are a popular cut flower (in fact, they're the fifth most popular cut flower behind roses, carnations, mums, and tulips). Here's one of their more popular arrangements:

As pretty as these flowers are, I always felt it kind of a waste that someone would pay upwards of $70 for two dozen of these, and they'd just die after a few weeks.

The cool thing about Gerberas, though, i that they make a good houseplant as well. In other words, not only will the flowers last for weeks, if the plant is well cared for, it'll bloom indoors in the autumn and winter.

I was excited to order my first-ever Gerbera daisy houseplant, again from 1-800-Flowers.

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It's a bit pricier, but I've never, ever had a problem with plants from 1-800-Flowers, and buying from cheap places like K-mart always end up costing me more (saving $5 on a bag of potting soil has ended up costing me $50 and counting in fungus gnat remediation).

This is what I got in the mail.

Yes, a little disappointing that there are only two flowers and not nearly as many leaves as in the photo, but hopefully with some TLC more flowers and leaves will be growing. The plant is in excellent health, with no dead leaves, vibrant flowers, strong stems, and NO FUNGUS GNATS.

I also absolutely love the ladybug planter, which comes with a plastic insert for you to transplant the plant in from the small container it comes in.

Overall, it's not a bad little gift to give to someone. As for me, I'm going to transplant it in a bigger pot hoping for a lot of flowers and growth. 

Like the English Ivy, the gerbera daisy gets one of the highest ratings for removal of chemical vapors from Dr. Wolverton. 

Some care tips: 

1) Temperature: Keep between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and 45-50 degrees at night. 

2) Sunlight: It likes full sunlight to semi-sun, but you need to protect it from the sun at midday to prevent the blooms from aging too quickly.

3) Care and feeding: Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. Feed regularly during the growing season. Keep on a cool windowsill in the autumn and winter months. 

Update: A few weeks after repotting the daisy, the two flowers started drooping. Thanks to sites like the National Gardening Association's, I realized I was not alone and that this was a fairly common problem. Here are some tips I found:

1) Keeping the leaves healthy is more important than the flowers--if the flowers wilt, just cut them off. As long as you continue to keep the leaves fed, sturdy, and green, new flowers that are more acclimated to your environment will take their place. 

2) Temperature is important. Gerbera daisies like it cooler than most plants, so find that perfect spot in the house where they get good sunlight in the morning but are otherwise shady and cool.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Replacement Aerogarden Strawberries Arrive

Well, as I prognosticated, only one of the clumps of twigs and dirt that Aerogrow sent over managed to grow. "Dormant State" indeed! Although I must say, the one plant that DID grow is growing very well.

To the Aerogrow lady's credit, she did send over a new set of strawberry crowns. I got the package in the mail about two weeks after she said she'd send it.

I like the fact that it says "LIVE PLANTS! PLEASE OPEN IMMEDIATELY", but I still question the decision of Aerogarden to send it via UPS SmartPost, a service that saves money by deliberately holding packages in a warehouse for days before sending it to you.

The first thing I did was to remove the strawberry crowns that did not grow. They were a muddy mess with absolutely no indication that they'd even tried to sprout. 

Taking the new "crowns" out of the box, they didn't look much better than the ones I was sent before.

Although this time, instead of crumbling when I touched them and seeing powdery white mold on it, I did see small indications of green. Still not quite what they picture on their Web site, but if it grows I won't mind.  

And so, I followed the instructions again and dug into the Coco Chunk to plant the strawberry plants. They say that 10 are supposed to come in a package, but after separating them as best as I could, I found maybe three decent sized plants, and the rest were twigs. We'll see how many grow this time.

Again, the proper way to grow them is to plant them root side down into the growing medium and let the Aerogarden water it every hour by filling the tank and draining it.

And so now the waiting game starts. Let's see if this new batch grows any better than the old one. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Aerogarden Strawberry Kit - Can you Really Grow Strawberries indoors?

If you've been following this blog you know I've grown just about everything there is to grow in an Aerogarden (at least legally). I've gone through herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, peppers, and flowers. In short, I've been a sucker every time Aerogrow decides to release something new.

With my Aerogarden Ultra back in action I decided to do something I wanted to do for a long time--send away for the Aerogarden Strawberry Kit. Now for years people have been experimenting with strawberry plants in the Aerogarden with limited success. I'm not sure the exact reason, but my guess is that it's because strawberries are really tough to grow from seed, so the best way to grow them is from cuttings which are rooted in an actual soil.

But recently, Aerogrow designed a new system that lets you root plants in an actual growing medium. And not surprisingly, the first kinds of plants they released were strawberries (although according to their site, their system also supports plants like orchids, bonsai, dwarf fruit trees, miniature roses, and more).

I'd love to try some of those other kinds of plants at some point, but because this would be my first experience I sent away for the Aerogarden Strawberry Kit, which I assume has the best chance for success.

The package arrived in the mail about a week after I ordered it using a service called "UPS SmartPost". This is where UPS delivers it to my local post office and the post office delivers it to me. What this usually means is an extended delay by the time the package gets to me, a fact that will become relevant as you read on.

Opening the box revealed a bunch of new plastic parts. It took me a while to figure out how they all go together, but once you realize how it's engineered you'll find that it's an ingenious way to "extend" the Aerogarden.

You actually have to do some minor surgery on your Ultra to make it work. Here's what you need to do:

1) Take your existing grow bowl and remove the top cover (with the holes to plant the seed pods in), and put it aside. You won't be needing it.

2) In the box is a smaller bowl that fits snugly on top of your main grow bowl. This is what's going to contain the growth medium, which I'll describe below.

3) You need to go into your big grow bowl and remove the long tube that sticks out of the pump. Again, put it aside as you won't be needing it, but you'll need it whenever you decide to convert your Aerogarden back to its original state.

Then, you'll replace it with a shorter tube that they provide you.

You then fit a plastic drain and "inlet nozzle" to the upper bowl

And then put the two together by putting the small bowl over the large bowl.

Here's what it'll look like, with the drainage plug in place. 

4)  You get two bags of growth medium. It's not soil, but something called "Chunk Coco Grow Media". If you don't want to use their growth medium, you can also use other media like aquarium gravel, perlite, or hydroton. Chunk Coco Grow Media looks like a bunch of wood and twigs broken into pieces the size of croutons. It turns out this is coconut fiber (basically chopped coconut shells) which turns out to be an ideal growing medium because it provide support for growing plants, provides sufficient oxygen, drains much more quickly than soil or sand, and is a renewable resource (no guilt throwing this in the trash).

You fill your bowl with this coconut fiber (the two bags they provide are more than sufficient to fill the bowl and have some left over). Prior to using it, you need to soak them in water to hydrate and expand them. This turned out to be a much more difficult exercise that I thought it would because as it turns out, wood floats. So I would follow the instructions and fill the plastic bag the coconut fiber came in with water only, only to see them float on top of the water and pop out. I figured out after a while that I just had to fill the bag halfway, tie the end of bag to seal it, and let the wood soak the water in that way.

Once your wood is soaked the rest of the process is pretty simple. You just pour it into the smaller bowl, and this will be where you plant your plants.

5) You also need to configure the computer for the AeroGrow Ultra. One thing I missed in the instructions is that you first have to set up using "Quick Plant" and choosing the cycle for "Flowers".

Then, you need to go in and modify the behavior of the pump so that every hour it pumps for two minutes and then it goes off for the other 58 minutes.

By setting the Aerogarden this way, your plants essentially get "rewatered" every hour when the water is pumped out of the lower bowl into the upper one. It's a rather clever way of simulating a hydrated fertile piece of ground. If you plant something other than strawberries, you'll need to experiment with different watering cycles--plants that like drier environments like orchids or bonsai may need only 2 minutes a week!

6) The next is planting. Unlike previous Aerogarden sets, you don't get a seed pod with the Strawberry kit, but actual live plants. Or so it's supposed to be. I think because I had my package delivered on a hot summer week using UPS SurePost (when these packages sit in warehouses for days at a time), what I got didn't look a lot like live plants.

Here's what I expected to see, photo courtesy of the Aerogarden Web site:

And here's what I got:

As bad as it looks in the picture, it looked worse in real life. It was just a clump of brown twigs and dirt that looked pretty dry and brittle. I could see that maybe two plants had the slighted hint of green in them, but the others were so dry they practically disintegrated when I touched them. In fact, a few had fuzzy mold growing on them.

The package was supposed to have "ten plants", but for the life of me I had a hard to finding ten after trying to separate the dirt, dried roots, twigs, and dust.

I called AeroGrow and the woman there insisted to me that they were in a "dormant state" and that I should try planting them anyway. After a little bit of back-and-forth, she was kind enough to agree to send me a new set of plants, but I could tell from her voice she was skeptical. She said a new batch was on its way, but why don't I try planting them anyway and seeing what happens?

And so I did. To plant them, you basically have to put them root side down (again, it was a little tough telling which side was the root), push the coconut fiber aside, and basically cover all but a small portion of top of them with the medium.

Here's what they looked like planted.

I'm going to predict that maybe two of them are going to grow, but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts the rest won't. But to Aerogarden's credit, they'll be sending me more plants.

If you're interested in buying your own Aerogarden Strawberry Kit, bear in mind that first you need an Aerogarden ULTRA or ULTRA LED (it won't work with other kinds of Aerogardens, even tall garden ones due to the shape of the bowl and the type of pump).

If you have one of those, all you need to the AeroGarden Site, click on "Seed Kits" in the top navigation (even though these are plants, not seeds), and search for "Aerogarden Grow Bowl and Strawberry Kit" (for the entire kit) or "Strawberry Crown Kit" (for just the plants).