Sunday, December 29, 2013

Flower color is the only thing that matters.

Streptocarpus 'Wow'
Story # 124, Part X, Final in a series,

Flower color is the only thing that matters.

            Nobody buys flowers they don’t like.  Flower color is the most important selection criteria.

            In Streptocarpus, every other variable characteristic needs to be optimized through hybridization and smart selection.

            If Streptocarpus is to become a major plant category it must have pretty flowers and be tougher than it is now.

            It can be done but will need a champion to pull it up!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Is Streptocarpus flowering seasonal?

Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue'

Story # 124, Part IX,

            Is Streptocarpus flowering seasonal?

            With modern Streptocarpus hybrids we don’t worry about day length to induce flowering.  They are day neutral and will flower at any time of the year.

            Some Streptocarpus species may be seasonal but it’s hard to know if it’s day length.  It seems to be more temperature related --- like cool nights or drought related --- rainy season.

            My observed conclusion is that ultimate flowering is in months March and October.  They do the best when grown bright and cool.  So grown through the cool winter, they respond to the higher light intensity of March, April.  Grown across late summer, they respond to the cooler nights of October, November.

            There is no reason to have selections that don’t flower year around.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Does anything count more than bud count?

Streptocarpus 'Cape Essence'

Story # 124, Part VIII,

            Does anything count more than bud count?

            The way to get big flower power is either big flowers or with many small flowers.

            Bud count in Streptocarpus is genetically variable.  You can get from 1 to 24+ flowers per spike (peduncle).  Buds are formed in pairs up the stem in succession. 

            Because we know that high bud count is possible, there is no reason to release hybrids that don’t have a reasonable amount (2-4, 4-6).

            The trade-off is flower size which can compensate for lower bud count.  Stem strength and length are variable too but we don’t pay much attention to it.  S. ‘Mary Sakamoto’ is one where the huge flowers are too heavy for the stems, requiring staking. 

            Sometimes you may have a flower with color, shape or size that must be saved.  But the variety should not be release with a bud count of one.

            High bud count is genetically possible so we should move in that direction.

                                       Streptocarpus 'Mary Sakamoto'

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Symmetrical leaves in Streptocarpus

Streptocarpus 'Heartland's Baby Kisses by Dale Martens

Story # 124, Part VII,

            Symmetrical leaves in Streptocarpus.

            Streptocarpus grow with one long leaf and one short leaf per fan.  The result is unsymmetrical clusters of leaves that are unwieldy. 

            Some Streptocarpus species are very symmetrical and have been dubbed ‘star’ shaped so we know that uniformity is genetically possible.

            No one is worrying about this symmetry yet but it is there waiting to be transferred into breeding lines.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Streptocarpus with a head of flowers

Streptocarpus 'Rose Halo'

Story # 124, Part VI, 

            Which is better --- a flush of flowers or continuous flowering?

            The first Streptocarpus hybrids I had 40 years ago like ‘Constant Nymph’ were continuous flowering but you would be lucky to have more than one or two flowers open at a time.

            Some varieties now will get a flush where 4-5 flowering stems will open together giving a big show then recycling later with another flush.

            Which is better?

Commercial crops are selected for uniformity and maximum flower power.  If we’re going to attract buyers we need a flush of flowers that last!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Non breakable leaves on Streptocarpus

Streptocarpus 'Myfanwy'

Story # 124, Part V,

            Many Streptocarpus with pretty flowers have long or wide leaves that break with handling.  Commercial crops are often sleeved for shipment and sometimes sold that way.  If the plant has long non-flexible leaves, they crack and break, leaving a mess.

            I don’t know of any Streptocarpus with flexible leaves but we have varieties with short leaves.  We could have wide leaves if they were short.

            Some of you are cringing.  Short and fat leaves with flowers coming out of the center sounds like we are trying to make it look like an African Violet.

            Trust me, Streptocarpus flowers on a compact plant will not be confused with a violet.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hang-on-tight Streptocarpus flowers

Streptocarpus 'Fernwood's Cherries Jubilee'

Story # 12 4, Part IV,        

Hang-on tight flowers.

        We know that some Streptocarpus flowers stay attached to its calyx better than others.  It appears to me to be a mechanical problem.  But it is genetic and can be selected for.

       A secondary problem is accidental self-pollination.  This happens when the positioning of anthers (pollen sac) are in direct line with the stigma (female receptor) as the style grows out through the corolla.  The stigma runs into the anthers, breaking them open and the pollen falls onto the stigma causing pollination.

   So what?

    When a successful pollination occurs, the physical response is that the corolla detaches --- flower drop.  This is just as serious a problem as weak flower attachment.

     Simple solution ----- only select varieties that have hang-on- tight flowers.  If you select a must have pretty flower with flower drop, cross it into tight flowers until you get the corolla to stay on.

     Hang-on-tight flowers ---- It’s mandatory!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Heat tolerance in Streptocarpus

Streptocarpus 'Jealous Heart' - very heat tolerant
Story # 124, Part III,

            We know that Streptocarpus wilt in temperatures above 85 degrees F.

            Is this a problem?

A.     Yes.  They are difficult to produce in the summer in the North and most anytime in the South’s heat.

B.    No.  They do best in bright and cool so just produce them September to June.

     No plant performs to its ultimate all year around so be happy with what you get.  Each has its season.

     It’s technically possible to produce Poinsettias year around.  But why would we want to?

     Heat tolerance is not what’s holding back Streptocarpus but it certainly would improve the plant’s year around survivability.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What is the most important improvement in Streptocarpus?

Streptocarpus 'Azur Giant'
Story # 124, Part II,

            What is the most important improvement needed for Streptocarpus to make it a standard commercial crop?

            The last story concluded that Streptocarpus are just not tough enough.  What improvements need to be made?

            I view Streptocarpus to be in the same stage of development as African Violets were 60 years ago.  Why is African Violet the top selling flowering houseplant in the World?

            Step 1.  Hobbyist collected and traded the first violets.  Hobbyists hybridized new varieties and specialized small greenhouses started producing them.

            Step 2.  Someone championed the crop and invested in massive hybridizing and selection projects to improve the major faults.  Holtkamp’s Greenhouses toughened them up with hang-on-tight flowers and less breakable leaves.

            Step 3.  The champion (Holtkamp) mastered production techniques such that the quality went up and the price went down.  Distribution put beautiful flowering African Violets everywhere.

            Streptocarpus is at stage 1.  There are approximately 1,000 named varieties but nobody but hobbyists know about them.  Their main distinctive characteristic is flower color and size.

            All the other variable inherited traits are riding along without any critical culling.  We know what some of them are:

A.     Heat tolerance.
B.    Hang-on-tight flowers.
C.     Leaf length.
D.    Flush versus continuous flowering
E.     Rosette leaf pattern versus non-symmetrical
F.     Bud count
G.    Day neutral versus seasonal flowering.

It’s hard to say which weakness is the most in need of improvement but commercial growers will be cautious until the crop is more fool-proof.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Streptocarpus everywhere!

Assorted Streptocarpus for sale
Story # 124, Part I,

            What is the one thing that would make Streptocarpus ubiquitous? 

            Streptocarpus is such a minor crop that they are seldom seen in garden centers.  What is the problem?  --- Supply or demand?  I have a few customers that could sell Streptocarpus if they had them.  Everybody else is afraid of them because Streptocarpus don’t hold up in a retail environment.

            Why don’t they hold up?  The leaves can break, the flowers can fall off, the leaves watermark with cold water, they wilt in hot weather and flowering is sporadic. 

            I’ve tried to figure it out and will discuss hybridizing goals in future stories.  But what is the limiting factor in Streptocarpus success?

            Streptocarpus are just not tough enough.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Where do good ideas come from?

Story # 123, O T,
            Where do good ideas come from?

            When a new product or service shows up, the common reaction is one of two things --- A.  Why didn’t I think of that? or  B. I had that idea years ago.

            I’ve said before that there are only two parts to work ---- deciding what to do and doing it.   But what to do?

            SethGodin has the answer to “Where do good ideas come from?”  They come from bad ideas.  Try many things and improve the ones that work.

            JamesAltucher gives out advice freely and you can latch on to anything you like.  One of his recommended tricks is to write down 20 ideas a day ---- Good or bad.  At the end of a year you would have thousands of ideas collected.  Maybe there are some good ones worth trying among them.

            SteveBlank teaches how to run a start-up business.  His simple revelation is that a start-up in not a small version of a big business.  He preaches that you must get out of the building and ask customers about your product to see if it is what they really want.

            Humans are very poor at predicting the future.  That’s why nobody can pick the business ideas that will work.  Apparently, smart venture capitalists bet on losing ideas every day and hope the few winners compensate for the losses.

            The only thing that we know for sure is that ideas are a ‘dime a dozen’ and only execution can prove them right or wrong.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Replicas that you care about.

Story # 122,

Replicas that you care about.

            Miniature Gardens are a segment of Garden Centers that are struggling to find their way.  Workshops are highly successful for the few people that want to find out about this hobby.  But Miniature Gardening is trying to define itself.
            Will it be the up and down flash-in-the- pan like terrariums or can it become established similar to model railroading which is an enduring lifetime hobby for many.

            I see a phase of Miniature Gardening that could elevate it to ‘Art’ status.  If the display could be a replica of something that you care about, you might seek it out and be willing to pay a premium for it.

            The first example would be your house and property.  A scale model of your place could be very intriguing.

            Scaled down models of public buildings have always been sold in souvenir stores, but what if you had a Miniature Garden with all of the landscape.

            Expensive molds have been made to produce the most recognizable landmarks in big quantities.  The breakthrough now is 3-D printing which allows 1-of a kind to be made.

      3-D printing technology is rapidly becoming practical and affordable for any custom design.  You can order a model of your house and get an exact replica made for you.

            Put that in your Miniature Garden and impress your friends.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The milk factory

Cows are just as curious as cats

Story # 121, O. T.       

            I was very lucky to get an inside tour of a major dairy operation.  Katie works there to help milk 900 cows and feed hundreds of calves.  It is at a scale that no Farmer every imagined 50 years ago.  My Dad milked, at most, 24 cows twice a day.  Here, it’s 900 cows, three times a day, in continuous rotating shifts.

            Two workers manage the elaborate milking system which handles 40 cows at a time.  When they are milked and turned out, another 40 walk in for their turn.  Each cow is identified and production and health records are monitored by computer.

            The volume of milk requires that three milk tanker trucks are on standby with the on-site cooling system pumping milk directly into them. From there, a milk hauling service trucks them to milk processing plants.

            Calves are fed pasteurized milk which is produced on site at the farm.

            I support the right of Farmers to sell raw milk.  I drank it for my first 17 years.  But there is a clue here.  If the management of very valuable calves is to feed pasteurized milk, why would any human want to feed raw milk to their family?

            Milk is very cheap food.  Thank a Farmer for continuously getting it to your store and risking millions of dollars on a milk factory. 

All you can eat silage
40 cows milked at once

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why does my Streptocarpus wilt?

Streptocarpus from Polish hybridizer
Story # 120,

Why does my Streptocarpus wilt?

            There are three possibilities for Streptocarpus to show wilt.

Case 1,  Dry

            The plant is in good health and has dry soil that is causing the wilt down.  When the pot is watered enough to saturate the soil, the plant will recover without harm.

Case 2,   Heat

            The plant is in good health and watered but it is wilted.  If the temperature is above 85 degrees F, Streptocarpus will naturally wilt as a survival mechanism.  Watering does not help.  The plant needs cool and will recover once the temp goes below 85 degrees.

Case 3,  Rot

            The soil is watered and the temperature is below 85, but the plant is still wilted continuously.  This is usually a sign that the plant has root rot and, to the extreme, will rot off and dies.  This can be the result of overwatering or continuously sitting in water.  You can attempt to reestablish roots by carefully monitoring watering.  Run on the dry side until new roots form.  If the clone is important to you, propagate immediately from leaf cuttings, in case the root rot kills your plant.

            Streptocarpus grow better in smaller pots and less soil volume.  Being dry occasionally is better than too wet all the time.

            Heat tolerance in Streptocarpus may be improved someday, but for now, wilt is normal in high temperatures.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Coleus 'Vanessa' has a story.

Coleus 'Vanessa' grown on Vicky's deck.

Story # 119,

Vanessa always wanted to have a plant named for her.  Since she is not a hybridizer of plants, she can’t create one on her own.

I can help her with that.

Plant species, which are all ‘weeds’ somewhere in the World, follow a strict set of rules for naming.  The Genus, Species naming system is important to take the chaos out of plant identification.

Hybrid names or selections of certain clones are a little more free form.  Names are picked by the hybridizer or originator.   Selections that can be commercially grown are given names that fit the marketing program --- ‘Knockout’ Roses.  Commercial names used in Europe are often changed for the U.S. market --- ‘Ladyslipper’ Streptocarpus.

I looked for a plant that could be ‘Vanessa’ and decided on Coleus ‘Combat’.  It is a European variety listed by an Israeli propagator.  It has a wild and crazy foliage pattern which would match Vanessa’s personality.  It’s bright and vibrant --- Definitely worth promoting.

If you didn’t get one this year then watch for Coleus ‘Vanessa’ next Spring at Longwood Gardens’ Plant Shop.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Is it better with flowers?

Hemizygia 'Candy Kisses'
Story # 118,

            Is it better with flowers?

            We had forgotten to watch for flowers on the Hemizygia ‘Candy Kisses’.  After finding a source for the variegated plant that has every appearance of being a Plectranthus,  I’ve grown tip cuttings as a ‘Mini’ plant.

            The short days of Fall have triggered the budding on the terminals.  It has an interesting pink flower, different from other Plectranthus I’ve seen, which are white or purple.

            It could be grown in a shallow tray to create a look similar to Bonsai.  It could be shaped and branched by trimming.  Winter flowering would be a bonus.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Variegated Artillery Fern - 'Mini' plants for Miniature Gardens

Variegated Artillery Fern

Tenth in a series,

Common name:  Variegated Artillery Fern

Botanical name:  Pilea microphylla variegata

Height:  6”                         Width:  4”

Why would you want it?

            It is a colorful foliage plant, perfect for Miniature Gardens. Of course, not a Fern  --- It has a lacy top and shoots its seeds giving the name -- Artillery Fern.  The variegated form does not shoot seeds.

What is its best feature?

            The pink and white variegation on a normally green plant gives the impression that it is flowering.

How would you grow it?

            It is a house plant that needs bright to indirect light.  Water when the soil is dry to prevent wilting.  Extreme dry will kill the plant.  It grows half as fast as the green form so it stays in bounds for Miniature Gardens.

What would you do with it in a Miniature Garden?

            Variegated artillery fern is perfect for a tree-form.  It can grow with a main stem like a tree trunk and form a branching head to make a canopy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What are the 'half-pints' doing?

Poinsettia 'Tapestry'

Story # 117,

            The ‘half-pint’ Poinsettias will be appearing soon at Longwood Garden’s Plant Shop for the third year.  The original concept was to offer a Poinsettia slightly bigger than the miniatures from Holtkamp’s’ Greenhouse.

            Customers seem to like the idea of a small plant for small spaces.  We have many of the novelty colors, like ‘Marble’, ‘Monet’, ‘Winter Rose’, ‘Ice Punch’ and ‘Strawberries N Cream’.

            Around Thanksgiving we can start selling ‘Tapestry’ ---- a variegated leaf with red flowers.  I’m told that we will not need full color.  You decide?
            A new red – ‘Advent Red’ is being watched to see if it will be the first to reach full color before Thanksgiving. 

                                                         Poinsettia 'Advent Red'

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Sinningia 'Stone's Yulia'
Story # 116,


            Today celebrates this blog on its 1 ½ year anniversary. I've read through some of the stories and still agree with most of them.

            The title ‘10+ things that you should know about Streptocarpus & Sinningias andother Specialty Plants’ has gone into 115 stories.  I've added other plant interests --- ‘Mini’ plants for Miniature Gardens and ‘Eyelash’ Begonias.

            Writing is hard but sticking to it is easy if it’s something that you’re interested in.

            Julia and Denny asked where the new stories were when I needed to be rejuvenated and didn’t write.  That was the best compliment.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sinningia 'Li'l Georgie' culture

Sinningia 'Li'l Georgie'

Story # 115,

            Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ is a micro mini Sinningia that is tougher than we ever though was possible.  This hybrid made by Jim Steuerlein is a breakthrough in durability beyond the obscure small species that are its parents (S. muscicola x S. concinna).

            So how to grow this little plant?

            Sinningias grow in very bright light in Brazil where all the species are found.  So ‘Li’l Georgie’ can be in a very sunny location as a houseplant ---- bright light to moderate light.  The problem with full sun as a houseplant is not the high light but the heat which can cook the plant.      
            Serious plant hobbyists grow plants on shelving under fluorescent lights so sufficient light is on longer an issue.


            Whatever room temperature you like to live with.
            60 F  -- 85 F  Normal
            50 F – 95 F  Extreme

            Water when the soil surface is dry.  Constantly wet or setting in water will rot the tuber.  Extremely dry will cause the top to shrivel up and damage growth.

Sinningias grow a tuber for survival when conditions are not ideal.  If the top of your plant dies back, do not throw it away.  The tuber will resprout.  Water sparingly until you see new growth.  Give bright light to keep the shoot compact and grow to reflower.  The plant tends to grow off the tuber which has shallow roots.

            Any dilute houseplant fertilizer used once a month will help healthy growth.  Too much fertilizer will burn the roots and kill the plant.  Too little fertilizer will prevent green leaves and reduce flowering.

            One of my original ‘Li’l Georgie’ has flowered nonstop for 2 ½ years in a North window.  The plant is no longer attractive but it proves that continuous flowering is possible.  It is on wick watering, so I don’t have to pay much attention to it.  It has never had fertilizer.  The plants in the greenhouse have very bright light and weekly fertilizer to give dark green growth and flowering.

            ‘Li’l Georgie’ will not seed itself so you need to manage the tuber for regrowth.  Even though it appears to be no mandatory dormancy period, if the top goes bad, it can regrow. 

            ‘Li’l Georgie’ can be maintained for years to give you continuous little purple flowers.

Lights on!

Lights on!

Story # 114, O T

            Why don’t cars always have headlights on?

            It’s been known for years that headlights on in the daytime decrease accidents.  The driver doesn’t need them to see; ---- the lights are for other drivers to see you.

            No research or further study is needed.  Just do it.  All that is needed is for one brave car manufacturer to make ‘lights on’ the default and others will follow.

            Of course, there will be ‘idiots’ who won’t want to have their lights on, so there will be a switch to change the default to ‘Off’

            Can’t we just agree that it makes sense and do it.

            Lights on!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

'Eyelash' Begonias from tissue culture?

Table Top Garden with Begonia 'Tiger Kitten'

Story # 113,

‘Eyelash’ Begonias from tissue culture.

                Begonias  -- ‘Rex’ and ‘Eyelash’ --  can be easily propagated from rooting leaf cuttings.  Crop time is about 3 months to get a clump of plantlets to pot into a 4” pot.  In 8 – 12 weeks you have a nice sized foliage plant for sale.

                Should tissue culture propagation be able to compete with leaf rooting?

                Technically, it’s possible.  The only two questions are:

1.        Can ‘Eyelash’ Begonias be produced by tissue culture for less cost than leaf propagation?
2.       Will the tissue culture plantlets be multi-crowned and husky to compete with good leaf starts?

Nobody knows.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The start of the NO mildew campaign!

Table Top Garden with Begonia 'River Nile'

Story # 112,

The start of the NO mildew campaign!

            Begonias are a major plant category.  ‘Rex’ Begonias are very colorful and millions are sold as houseplants and for combination planters in the Summer.  Several major propagators feed the system with an assortment of ‘Rex’ with multicolored leaves.

            What’s the catch?  They will get mildew that makes them ugly and to the extreme --- kills the plant.

            What’s the answer?  Commercial growers spray fungicide and get the ‘Rex’ Begonias through to the retailers.  Unless the homeowner treats for mildew or just gets lucky, all ‘Rex’ Begonias will get mildew.

            The secret that has been known for 50 years is that rhizomatous ‘Eyelash’ Begonias are immune and do not get mildew.

            Why have growers ignored this fact?

            ‘Eyelash’ Begonias are not as showy as ‘Rex’.

            But what has changed is that now there are a complete range of colors and leaf sizes to compete with ‘Rex’

            We have greens in ‘River Nile’ and ‘Party Dress,  yellows in ‘Snoopy’ and ‘Golden Lime’, black in ‘Black Truffles’ and bronze in ‘Marmaduke’ and ‘Dr Block’.
            There are tiny varieties for Miniature Gardens like ‘Little Darling’.

            A new addition, ‘Angel Glow’, gives us a reddish type.  No one will confuse it with the brilliant red ---- ‘Rex’ ‘Red Heart’.  But ‘Angel Glow is red enough.

            If you want a Begonia grown for its interesting colorful leaves that will not get mildew, ask for rhizomatous ‘Eyelash’ Begonias.

            ‘Rex’ gets mildew.  ‘Eyelash’ doesn’t.

            Lead the NO mildew campaign!