End of February Garden Roundup

Posts from the last month

Howdy all. This is a long look back on February, and how the plants have been doing. Even over the course of a few weeks, these plants have surprised me in untold ways this year (though I’ll still try to tell them!). This list of events was updated as the month went on, so the sense of time isn’t always quite clear.
I hope you have fun looking at how fast cress can grow!

Be sure to check out my latest guided meditation!

The Quiet of the High Desert Mindful Foliage

The start of the month rode in on the tail end of some extreme January weather. Extreme for Los Angeles, anyway. Snow fell on Manhattan Beach’s beach. Or potentially just very tiny hail that was close enough to count. Before that, Hermosa Beach froze for a little bit. They even had ice on the roads. I’m not sure the city even has salt set aside to salt the roads. Snow fell on the mountains, especially above 5000 feet. On top of that, we’d had some fairly intense wind roll in from the coast. Or at least, it felt like the coast – my basil plants were stripped towards the East, so the wind was coming from the West. Even South Coast Botanic Garden’s main sign fell over from the 1-2 wind-and-rain whammy

Going into the very start of February, the weather warmed up just a smidgen. Historically, the beginning of February holds the worst weather around here. February 10th is the most rainy day (80%+ chance that rain will fall on that day, I believe).

I had picked up some paperwhite bulbs and didn’t feel like waiting the month out for the weather to turn better. I went ahead and stuck them in a patch of dirt where some Billy Button seeds had completely failed not long before. The weather was so intense (or my soil so removed from the ecosystem) that no weeds had sprouted in the past month. I wasn’t sure if the paperwhites would survive their new home without being hardened off for the weather… but that’s never stopped me before. If the cress seedlings are any indication, the weather isn’t too terrible. Just… mildly terrible.

February falls perfectly this year. 28 days with the month starting on a Monday. That means Sundays are multiples of 7. Depending on how you split the week, I went hiking near Mount Baldy in either the first or second week of February. Regardless of the actual calendar date (the 7th), I had a deep and overwhelming urge to go touch some snow. I had missed out on Manhattan Beach, on Hermosa Beach… I had even managed to be on the wrong side of Torrance when hail fell for about 15 minutes.

The San Gabriel Mountains loom over LA and San Bernardino. Most days, you can see the mountains. If the smog is relatively light (or if we’re coming down off a mix of high wind and rain), the air is clear enough that you can see the snow at the top of the mountains. I realize only now that these mountains are about 50 miles away. You can be closer than that and have the air so thick that nearly nothing is visible. While I could see snow on the mountains, I wanted to point at a peak and get going.
I hadn’t done much exploring of the ranges north of the cities, so I mixed a bit of old- and new-school plotting. I laid my phone down with the map open, pointing in the correct direction. I looked across it to the mountains to see where it lined up on the map. Finally, I zoomed out bit by bit until the map revealed the first mountain that would be in my line of sight. The sun would be coming from my end of the mountain (south), though. I figured the snow on the shadow side (north) of the mountain would have less chance of melting by the time I drive up. 

Looking at the map a little more closely, there’s a trail for Icehouse Canyon. I was willing to read this book by its cover – and the name didn’t disappoint. 

Snow much snow. 

Picked up new seeds to rearrange the garden and get ready for spring. This is going to be my best-planned year, without as much ‘cram stuff into a small planter and see what I can make work.’ I’ll be growing plants with the intent to eat them, not just to have whatever nature I can scrabble together. I think my 50+ cacti are helping calm my plant-needing urges.
I’m planning on starting Cherry and Roma tomatoes, Shishito peppers, Sunflowers, and Billy Balls. I guess the last two might not be for eating – but I’ll be starting the seedlings indoors in little peat disks. It’s a whole new world for me.

Threw out the christmas tree, which was finally beyond living. His name was Herbert. If he had a voice, it would be Rocky & Bullwinkle-esque and indefatigably cheerful. I’ll miss the Christmas tree.

Check out my new book, The Horses Mouth! Available on kindle and in paperback.
It’s been a while since people have heard from a Genie…

Got the rough garden plan drawn up now that we’re a month out from Spring: The garden has been planned out through spring, as long as the seeds I’m starting agree with my timeline. Outside will be some remainders from past years: cacti, thyme, olive, bloodleaf, rosemary, strawberry, ginkgo. Some new plants to be transplanted in spring: tomato x 2, shishito pepper, (potentially) sunflower, (hopefully) billy balls. Inside will have many remainders. Ignoring the seedlings (which will rotate out), we’ve got: bamboo, orchid, zz plant, money tree, tillandsia, a mossy log, boston fern (to be divided in spring), polka dot, corkscrew rush. And at work I’ll have: philodendron x 2, dracaena, pilea, and daffodils. And for fun, just to see what happens, I’ve got: paperwhites, grape vines.

Just noticed that the polka dots are flowering. I haven’t had this one for particularly long, but I can’t deny just how darn fast it’s growing. There’s new stems seemingly every day. There’s more and more poking out the sides, and even more coming from the dirt. I can’t tell if I have one plant of each color (with many stems), or about a dozen of each. The flowers are supposed to be self-seeding, so I’ll probably have even more of these plants in a month. Maybe it’s time to think about transplanting it. Again.

Started a sunflower seed. I only have two viable sunflower seeds at home right now, so I’m trying them one at a time. If this one doesn’t start to sprout in the next two weeks, I’ll go ahead and put the second seed in a peat disk.
It’s probably not a good idea to grow sunflowers outside in a pot after all the amazing gusts. I have no doubt that I’ll wake up one night to the sound of a terracotta pot smashing to the side, or the sunflower cracking in half over one of the handrails. I need to figure out which corner of the balcony is the least windy… and then how to fasten the pot to the wood. 

Happy valentine’s day! While at a winery, I was given some green grape vine cuttings (they were growing as part of an archway… I’m not even sure they’ll be edible kinds). I don’t have any rooting hormone and have never used it, so I’m going to be trying to propagate these vines my favorite way: Stick them in water and see what happens. It has about a 100% chance of teaching me something new, though the plants don’t always make it. I hope these green winter cuttings survive!

Towards the end of the third week (because February’s weeks fall evenly enough that I can reference the days this way), the seedlings all started to wake up. The tomato seedlings somehow all stuck their first leaves up on the same day. They all managed to pop up out of the ground at least an inch on their thin little stems – I wish I could have seen the moment they first went pop

I feel like these happy seedlings are a good sign for the future of my balcony garden. At the very least, the sunflower bud (peeking out of the dirt) also looks very happy.

The Billy Balls continue to march on towards growth. The 5 seedlings that are surviving (out of the original 3 bags of seeds) are growing at about the same pace. One is definitely taller than the other 4, but all have exactly the same number of leaves. They look like tinier, minimalist versions of their eventual full-sized selves – although with their starter leaves still attached. I’m hoping they’ll all grow up big and strong!

The daffodil bulbs, long neglected and now growing next to my office desk, have started putting up some serious leaves. I’m not confident that I have the right amount of light for them, but they’re happier now than before I put in the newest daylight-mimicking bulbs. They’re definitely happier about the weather than the paperwhite bulbs are – they’re acting a little delayed in putting up leaves. Their greater outdoors light makes me think they’ll catch up pretty quick, though. Guess that’ll be a race I need to watch next week!

Finally, in the last week of February, the seedlings made an impressive jump upward. Everyone except the peppers. The tomatoes were first, springing up nearly an inch in a day. Since then, they’ve grown what seems like every three days – or maybe that’s how long it takes me to notice a change. I’ve been thinning them out, first from three seedlings per peat moss pod, then two. Pretty soon I’ll take each pod down to one seedling. From the four of each tomato variety, I’ll plant two and give away two. The two that are planted will eventually be pruned down to the one strongest. Then I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best.

The second was the lone sunflower seed. It didn’t do much for a long while… then slammed up a hardy seedling. It already has the stature and bearing of a stalwart sunflower. It’s the thickest seedling stem I’ve seen outside of a Ginkgo, and leaves that must each weigh as much as a whole tomato seedling. A handful of days later, two more leaves sprouted out perpendicular. I have high hopes for this tall plant. Maybe I’ll move it into the ceramic pig, which currently holds the paperwhites. 

Speaking of flowers… The paperwhites are continuing their steady march upward. They have lived outside since they’ve been planted, growing through the worst of the winter windy season. Temperatures outside got as low as 40F (4C), and still they hung on. Shy at first, the pair of bulbs now have multiple leaves and a clear flower stalk. I’m looking forward to the bloom and how happy it may make my visiting hummingbirds. Inside the home, the Billy Balls continue growing ever so slowly. They march in lockstep, completing each stage of development in time with the others (except one, which has now decided to grow out instead of up). I really cannot express how much I’m looking forward to having some Billy Button flowers. If you have any tips on how to grow these, please send them my way. 

Then, at the very end of February, all the new little plants changed. In rapid succession, the cress shot up to unfathomable sizes – double where they’d been for a week, and in only a few days. The paperwhites opened up to great acclaim. The tomatoes are developing alternating sets of leaves, and are ready for a second pruning-back. The sunflower got the next pair of leaves, and was ready to move up to a larger pot (its roots were growing out of the peat moss pad). The Billy Balls have leaves large enough to develop curves. I’m still worried about putting them outside – the temperature gets down to the mid-40s still, and the wind would be rather fierce on these baby plants. I tap them a few times a day to simulate wind, hoping they’ll build a sturdy foundation. I’ll have to transplant them soon enough too.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!

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A look back at everything that's happened in February
A look back at everything that’s happened in February

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