What to plant, and what to look out for, in the garden right now

1. Start a terrarium. There are two types: open and closed. Open terrariums are meant for plants that come from dry climates such as cacti and succulents, especially diminutive specimens such as zebra plant (Haworthia spp.), hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.), living stones (LIthops spp.), flower dust plant (Kalanchoe pumila), mini bromeliads and a vast variety of stonecrops (Sedum spp.).

You can select from ninety-three different Sedums offered Mountain Crest Gardens, a northern California mail-order nursery ( Most orders over $45 include free shipping. When it comes to appreciation for the expansive world of succulents, perusing this nursery’s online catalog is an experience second to none. Closed terrariums are meant for humidity-loving tropicals. To create such a biome, find a stoppered clear glass container. Candidates for this terrarium would include a wide spectrum or Pilea species such as artillery plant (Pilea microphylla) and aluminum plant (Pilea caideri), button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia), spiderworts (Tradecantia spp.) and radiator plants (Peperomia spp.), so-called because the plants of this genus tolerate a warm draft from a radiator during winter. 

The oldest closed terrarium in the world was created in 1960 by David Latimer, who lives in a village in southern England when he planted a few spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.) seeds in some compost in a ten-gallon bottle. The terrarium plug was pulled in 1972 to add a little water, but since then it has remained sealed. 

2. February is peak bloom time for moth orchids (Phalaenopsis). There are 20,000 Phalaenopsis species, even though the selection found in nurseries and home improvement centers is limited to less than ten and their hybrids. An east-facing window is the most favorable exposure for moth orchids, and sun that reaches the plants directly unltil 9:30 or 10 a.m. is sufficient. Make sure, however, that no trees interfere with ambient light streaming through your window during the day. An unvarying irrigation and fertilization regime should be maintained throughout the year to enjoy protracted bloom periods. Once a week, for three-week stretches, pour a solution over your orchid roots that consists of one teaspoon of liquid fertilizer (20-20-20) in a half gallon of water. Every fourth week, soak the roots with plain water only in order to leach out salty fertilizer residue that builds up in the root zone.

3. The heavy rains we have experienced this winter have increased the likelihood of bacterial and fungal infections of our plants. Bordeaux mixture is a long-standing preparation used in preventing diseases caused by these organisms. Its pest control property was accidentally discovered when a vintner in France sprayed it on grapes at the ends of his vineyard rows where pilferers would steal his crop. The concoction he devised – a mixture of copper sulfate and lime – discolored the grapes and gave them a bitter taste. Not only did the pilferers go away, but he discovered that the devastating downy mildew disease was thwarted. Detailed instructions for preparation and application of this mixture may be found by entering “UC Bordeaux mixture” into your Internet search engine. Because of its discoloring effect, Bordeaux mixture should only be sprayed on dormant, leafless plants such as roses and deciduous trees that are not growing up against fences or buildings. 

4. David Austin roses combine the best qualities of old roses – those that have been around for over 150 years – to create what are known as English roses, whose first representatives were bred 60 years ago. A complaint regarding David Austins is that they grow too tall, some of them eclipsing ten feet in height. However, there are small David Austins that stay at around three to four feet tall, including Heritage, a pink variety that is especially well-suited to coastal growing. Where inland gardens are concerned, smaller David Austins would include the intensely fragrant, apricot peach Tamora, utilized in a long hedge at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, and Ambridge rose, another apricot peach selection.You can order these and other David Austins at At this time of year, you can acquire bare root David Austin roses which will be less expensive than if you were to acquire them in pots. If your David Austin or any other rose, for that matter, sends up a tall cane or shoot, you can maximize its flowering potential by gently bending it back, creating a loop, and tying it off half way down. When the shoot begins to flower, the show will be quite spectacular. 

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5. This is the ideal time to plant gladiolus corms, which are bulb-like structures. It is essential to plant them no later than the end of next month since hot weather brings on thrips, a miniature insect which you may not even notice but which causes major damage, sometimes preventing flowers from blooming altogether. No matter when you plant gladiolus, you will have to wait two and a half months for flowers to appear and you really don’t want them to bloom much later than mid-June. However, by planting them at two week intervals through the end of next month, you will have a steady supply of their flowers, once they begin to open, for quite some time. Plant the corms six inches deep and six inches apart. No fertilizer is needed when planting but you can apply a balanced fertilizer lightly when plants are a foot tall and then again when they begin to show flower buds. Once leaves appear, they should receive an inch of water per week. Good garden soil will be penetrated to a six to 15-inch depth when an inch of water is applied.

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