Category Archives: Tropical Plants

New Year, Old Winter

It’s a blustery new year, with an old weather pattern. A cold front blows through from the north, 35-mph gusts tearing at the white plastic greenhouse I made over an ancient, rusting swing set. I string extension cords for tropical plant heaters and wait for the contractor who’s just begun rebuilding our garage, to tell me what I already know: you can’t set concrete with temps down in the 30s, so no work today.

Still, the year is off to a good start, thanks to the yogurt maker Santa brought us. Works great! Sorry Chobani, this homemade stuff tastes better than store-bought, it’s cheaper and easy to make. Hat tip to my sister, who gave me the idea (passed along to St. Nick).

Also posted in Food, Nature

Drive-By Tropics

For years it has been my nature to devote fair energy in maintaining an uncommon number of tropical plants on my grounds that would not, on their own, manage to quite stay alive in our not-really-tropical climate.

Eventually, plumeria just grow too big to move...This can be kind of a pain, but if I didn’t think I was gaining more from the pleasure of growing and enjoying these plants than I was losing in the efforts of rescuing them from extreme weather, well, I wouldn’t keep doing it.

So it was that I found myself yesterday, driving 90 miles each way to the Polka Farm to save four plants from an unseasonable cold front. You might not think a mere four plants would be worth the trouble, not to mention the gasoline, but these are special plants. Two of them are heritage plants, harkening back to ancestors on my wife’s side of the family. Historical plants, you could say, and that’s a pretty cool thing all by itself. Those are roots you can literally trace.

The other two started out as cuttings from my original Pink Dwarf Singapore plumeria, a semi-rare variety that cost me more than I was used to paying, six years ago or so when I bought it from now-defunct Teas Nursery in Houston. Here’s the thing about plumeria: They are trees, and in most parts of the U.S., you have to keep them cooped up inside of pots, because they usually die in weather even approaching freezing. Still, they can grow very large, as in 12, 13 feet or so, even stuffed into a pot. But a dwarf plumeria stays at a more manageable size. It almost resembles a bonsai plant, very slow-growing but still easy to flower and just all-around cute.

So it was worth three hours of driving and some gas, to me, to save these plants. While I was at it I looked in on several dozen full-sized plumeria that I’d already put into storage in the barn, tucked them in for winter by taking away their water and light. But you still have to maintain their dormancy at above freezing, or they’ll die or be damaged.

So I had to apply some heat – I have a heater in the barn that turns itself off at intervals after heating a room to pretty much whatever temperature you like – and I only applied a very little. Tucked the plants back into their barn bed and came on home to repeat much the same procedure with the tropicals here.

During the drive I listened to several taped lectures I found kicking around on the Internet, by a philosophy professor whose books I’d read maybe 45 years ago. You know you’re an old fart when you would rather listen to philosophy lectures on CD than commercial-free satellite-driven rock or jazz music, to say nothing (nothing at all) of hip-hop. I haven’t told the kids about this, as I’m afraid they might become horrified.

After Thanksgiving the days are expected to warm back up to the mid-60s, with correspondingly warmer nights, and I’ll probably drag some of the non-dormant plants back out into the sunshine to give me something urgent to do ahead of the next cold snap.

But if I keep up my part burning as much fossil fuel as possible, I can help drag us into USDA Climate Zone 10, at which point I can just leave these tropical plants around wherever I like, thanks to that climate change everybody else is so afraid of.

Also posted in Farm, Texas

Cold Weather Weightlifting

Yesterday the weather service folks predicted Wednesday night will hit the 34-degree mark here, which is pretty cold especially since it would represent a sudden chill and not a gradual one (the nights have been in the mid-50s for the most part). That means if I want to be sure the plumeria aren’t damaged by cold or possible frost, I need to move them to snug quarters.

So yesterday I made an emergency run to the farm and stuck 75 plumeria in the barn, where they should begin going dormant soon. I also began moving the 40 or so larger plumeria into what shelter I have left here at home. Luckily, I created that greenhouse space around the old swing-set. It’s now about two-thirds full of large plumerias. I’ll add a couple of large buckets of water in hopes that will provide a little evening solar heat (water takes on heat under the plastic during the day, feeds the heat back up into the air gradually at night).

Of course, today after finishing up the heavy plant moving, I find that the weather service predicts 35 degrees instead of 34. Judging from past experience, the low on Wednesday could wind up at 40. But if I take a chance and guess wrong, a lot of plants will bite the big one…

Also posted in Farm, Nature

Heat+Rain

We painted our unfinished bathroom and what around here we call a “mud room” out at the Polka Farm this past weekend, then mowed in the dry dust and cleared out the beginnings of a bike trail. Then on Sunday the heavens opened and rained generously on the parched ground.Plumeria J105, a.k.a. Lampang Symphony

Back at home, the One-Acre Ranch looked like a lush green jungle. kukuzzas hung 12 feet off the ground, two eggplant plants had toppled from too much fruit weight, rainfall and an apparent downdraft, and the last dead trunk from the dead fig tree fell over from all the wet, collapsing one end of my shade-cloth plant nursery but causing no real harm.

An Orange Punch seedlingThe plumeria are green and lush and sprouting flowers, including several that never bloomed before. These include an unnamed Orange Punch seedling and a great cutting from the terrific horticulturist Kukiat Tanteeratarm in Thailand. This latter one – known variously as J105 or Lampang Symphony – has really large blooms more than 3 inches across with large orange centers and purplish-red patches on the pedals. (Click the thumbnail photos a couple of times for increasingly larger ones.)

Soon we’ll be moving the larger portion of our plumeria collection out to the farm, where there’s more room for winter storage. The catch is, I’ll need to install some sort of watering system, too. You can’t count on Mom Nature to provide weekly downpours, although that’s just what she’s done this year.

Also posted in Garden