Tag Archives: gardening for beginners

How to Prune Variegated Ginger?

Variegated Ginger - mlm

Spring Pruning of Variegated Ginger

(Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata)

On my post about foliage plants, Jennifer P. commented, telling me of her variegated ginger, and how tall it has grown. She asked the best way to prune it. I gave her a brief reply in the comment section of that post, and promised to publish more extensive information. That information is below, but first, a bit about this plant and its required growing conditions:

Is Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata Edible?

No. While it is closely related to the culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale), whose rhizomes we are all familiar with, Alpinia zerumbet variegata is NOT edible.

 

Sun Parched Ginger - mlm c@

This once-large variegated ginger was planted in rocks, in full sun, and probably received very little water. It is no longer there.

Sun vs. Shade:

Although it can take full sun, variegated ginger does best in, at least, partial shade; it requires rich, moist soil. It is NOT drought-tolerant, so it requires frequent watering, especially if planted in full sun. Full sun stresses the plant, and requires a lot of water.

 

 

Nutrient Requirements:

You can fertilize your variegated ginger monthly with a balanced fertilizer. I have never fertilized mine, but I do have them planted in rich, moist soil, and they are beautiful.

“Balanced” means all three numbers should be the same, for example 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. Use a liquid plant food, or dilute a water-soluble granular fertilizer to half-strength. Using hot or warm water will help to dissolve the granules, but take care not to pour hot water onto your plant or the ground around it. Always read the instructions on the package, as strengths will vary between brands. Do not expect blooms right away. New growth, as well as newly planted rhizomes will bloom in the second year.

Growth Habits:

Alpina grows 8 to 9 feet tall in the mild climates of USDA Zones 9 – 11, where it is evergreen. I am gardening in Zone 9-A. The leaves will be killed off by frost; the canes will die in extended periods of cold weather. In these zones (9 – 11), variegated ginger will send up new growth quickly when killed back to the ground by freezing weather. Watch for light-reddish spears. New leaves will emerge from these light red “sleeves”.

There Are Several Reasons to Prune Variegated Ginger:

1. When the plant grows too tall for your garden:

This evergreen plant can grow to 8 or 9 feet tall in Zones 9 – 11. Often it will become top heavy, and lean over onto other plants, or it may simply be taller than you would like. To achieve a shorter, more compact plant, remove the tallest canes at the ground. If additional canes need to be removed, cut others to the height desired, by cutting just above a leaf, as shown here.

 

2. AFTER FREEZE DAMAGE:

Drought Damage 3

If you find leaves like these, that are discolored around the edges with or without spotty damage, this is likely frost damage or damage caused by a light freeze. These leaves should be removed individually, leaving the cane which will grow new leaves.

On the other hand, if you find dark brown or black leaves with mushy canes, there is severe freeze damage. In this case, the entire cane should be removed at the ground. Don’t worry. New canes will grow back quickly. Do wait a few days after a freeze before pruning, however, to see the full extent of the damage. Remember that new canes don’t bloom until their second year.

3. After damage from drought conditions:

Frost Damage

Alpinia needs a lot of water, so during a drought, be conscientious about caring for this plant, while complying with watering restrictions. After a drought, you may need to remove some brown leaves or leaves with a lot of brown spots.

If you are under severe water restrictions, save any unused coffee, tea, or water, and use it to water your plants. If rinsing out an empty milk carton, use that water on your plants – it’s a good source of calcium. If you have to let the water run very long to get hot water, catch the cold water in a container, and use it to water the plants. It could also be used to dilute strong coffee or tea before using them on plants. I do this year-round, restrictions or not.

4. For floral arrangements:

ginger-flower-mlm-c

Variegated Ginger Flowers - mlmAlpinia’s pendulous orchid-like flowers provide a great addition to cut flower arrangements, as do the large green-and-yellow striped leaves. Each cane blooms only once, then dies. These canes would be good ones to remove, but be sure to enjoy the tiny flowers first. It is important to remove old canes after they have bloomed, because if they are not removed, the plant will eventually stop producing new canes — removing old canes encourages new healthy canes to emerge. When cutting a portion of the blooming cane for a floral arrangement, this would be a good time to go ahead and remove that entire cane.

When to Prune:

Remove freeze-damaged canes a few days after the freeze, allowing time for all damage to become apparent. Otherwise, always prune them after the blooming season has passed, in order to enjoy the gorgeous orchid-like flowers. Individual leaves that turn brown can often be removed with your hands.

How and Where to Cut:

Here, loppers are being used to cut the thick cane just above a healthy leaf.

Here, loppers are being used to cut the thick cane just above a healthy leaf.

Be sure to cut on a fairly steep angle, because, if the cane stands straight up, and the cut gives it a flat top, this will allow water to sit on top of the cane, and gradually seep into the stem. That will cause rot, and invite disease and pests.

You can cut the tallest canes back to the ground, if you want, or you can cut them just above a leaf, at the desired height. Again, always take out the weakest canes, or any that may be turning yellow.

What to Use:

As always, start with clean blades on your pruning shears or loppers. Some of the canes can be cut with the short, handheld pruners, but some of the older canes can be quite thick and fibrous, especially near the bottom. This may require the longer handled loppers that will give you more leverage.

Dividing Alpina

Want More Plants? Want to Share?

Variegated ginger is a vigorous plant; its clumps will spread up to 8 feet in diameter. If your garden is small, Alpina will need to be divided every couple of years. To make handling easier, the canes can be pruned off at the ground. I prefer to leave the young, healthy canes in place, as they are the next ones to bloom. It is fine, however, to remove them, leaving only the very young new shoots. This is especially helpful if taking them along when relocating. It is also fine to remove all canes, handling only the rhizomes.

When Dividing Alpina, Have a New Home Ready and Waiting

As with any plant, do not allow the roots/rhizomes to be exposed to air for any longer than absolutely necessary. I prefer no more than a few seconds. This requires having a new hole already dug and waiting, or having a pot with moist soil inside, ready and waiting to receive the newly divided plant. Water well and often, and soon you will see new your plant send up new those pretty light-red spears that will open to reveal large yellow-and-green striped leaves.

The Large, Gorgeous Leaves of Variegated Ginger

Variegated Ginger Leaf MMP x2

The leaves alone on this plant will add interest and a tropical flavor to your garden. The flowers are serendipity — “icing on the cake”. Proper care will ensure that Alpina brings you pleasure for years to come.

 

What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?

Gina McG. texted me this photo and asked, “What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?”

I texted back:  “This looks like to much water, which is a common problem, especially with all the rain we’ve had. Thank goodness we only get stretch marks when we grow too fast!”

Gina replied that she was growing her tomatoes in containers inside her screened-in lanai.  Below, I have elaborated on the information I gave her.

Gina's Mater

At the time this photo was taken, we had had more than our fair share of rain. Too much water causes rapid growth for many plants. The tomatoes were growing faster than their skins could stretch, which caused the skins to split open.

If the splits are very recent, and are not too large, you can simply cut away the exposed portion of the tomato, and eat the remainder.  If you have been away for a few days, and the problem has gone unnoticed,  pests and/or disease could have infiltrated most or all of the tomato. In that case, simply toss it — preferably into your compost bin. From what I can see in this photo, I believe the top half of this one should be trashed. Maybe all of it, but I wouldn’t know for sure without cutting into it and seeing the inside.

Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about too much rain on our gardens. On the other hand, if you are growing your ‘maters in containers, simply take them into a covered area whenever they have had too much rain.

During extremely hot weather, container-grown plants will need more water than those planted in the ground. A good way to monitor moisture is to put your finger into the soil. If the top inch is dry, add some water. Use a saucer to catch the water that drains out of the bottom of the container. The plant will soak up water from the saucer, BUT be sure to pour off any water that remains in the saucer after about 30 minutes has passed, as most plants don’t like wet feet (aka, roots).

Starting Coleus From Cuttings – Nothing Could Be Easier

Coleus Variety

Whether you pronounce it “cole-yus”, or “col-e-us” you have to agree it is one of the most colorful foliage plants we have. This plant comes in so many color combinations it is mind-boggling:  burgundies, reds, purples, various shades of green, white, and even yellow. Coleus is easy to grow, and will add beauty to your garden.

The photo above shows just a few of the many colors and leaf shapes available. The top left  frame contains one I call my weird coleus. That is all one plant that came up as a volunteer from seed dropped last summer.  I have never seen have its colors evenly divided right down the middle vein like one stem of that plant has. The original plant had the splotches of burgundy on chartreuse that is on parts of this plant. I assume it is some kind of genetic mutation. If so, I think it’s a pretty cool mutation.

Until the last few years, coleus grew only in the shade. Today, however, there are many new varieties that do well in full sun. Oh, the wonders of hybridization! Some of them do well in either sun or shade, but change depth of color based on the amount of sun they get.

The following photos show the process of going from cutting to garden-ready:

To root your own cuttings, simply break off a piece, with a long stem, if possible. Strip the cutting of its lower leaves. Any leaves left on the lower part of the stem will be under water where they will rot and contaminate the water. Place the stems into a glass or jar of water, or even an empty cottage cheese container as shown below. Within only a few days you will see pale bumps begin to emerge on the stem. The little bumps will become tiny hair-like roots.

Some of the leaves above the water level may dry and fall off. That’s OK. New leaves will soon come. If any fall into the water, be sure to remove them. They will make great compost for your garden or flower beds.

Starting a cutting

Below is a closer view of those baby roots. Roots that sprout in water are tiny and delicate. These need another two-to-three weeks to grow. They will soon appear to be ready to plant, but don’t be too hasty. They will protest by wilting if suddenly moved from water to soil because, when taken from their watery environment, these little roots quickly become brittle. They can recover, but it is traumatic for the plant, and will require daily extra effort on your part.

Zoomed on Baby roots

The best way to avoid that problem is this:

When there are sufficient roots that have grown 2-3 inches long, begin to add small amounts of clean (un-used) potting soil to the water.  Used potting soil or soil from your garden will contain microbes that will likely encourage mold to grow in the water.  If you are rooting a lot of cuttings, you will need to move them to separate containers before the roots grow large enough to become entangled. I save empty cottage cheese containers for this, as well as for starting seeds. On the other hand, if you want to plant them all in one spot, no need to separate them.

Gradually increase the amount of soil and decrease the amount of water. The photo below was taken after several additions of soil. You can see that the soil is still extremely wet.

You may be wondering why the container below is sitting in a bowl of water. It’s because I realized too late that I had put the cuttings and soil into a container with holes punched in the bottom. These cuttings are not yet ready to have their water drain off, so I put them into a bowl that would hold the water.

After the roots adjust to this much soil, you should begin to back off on the water, and add more soil. When the plant thrives as a normally potted plant, it is ready to move to your garden. You can also grow coleus as a potted plant, if you prefer. In that case, you do want a pot with drainage holes!

In Wet Soil

Soon you will have a beautiful coleus plant like this one, or those at the top of this page.

Wine

Leave your gardening questions or comments below, or e-mail me at inthegarden.maria@gmail.com.