The wonderful worm

If you do not have enough worms in your garden organic materials are unlikely to break down to a point where your plants can take up the nutrients through their roots. There will be a lack of aeration which encourages fungi and that nasty swamp odor sometimes found in soils down here. Water may be retained longer in clay and not as long as needed in sandy soils with out earth worms mixing things up and breaking things down. A lack of earthworms can also hurt the pH levels in your soil.

There are 2700 different kinds of earthworms known. Worms have five hearts. Worms are covered in a mucus that keeps them moist and allows them to breath through their skin. Worms have been on the planet for 120 million years. That is the time when continents were breaking apart and flying birds and flowers were just beginning to appear. The Egyptians considered earthworms to be sacred.

One acre can contain a from 50,000 earthworms to a million earthworms consuming up to 10 tons of debri and turning up to 40 tons of soil per year.

Not to worry if you spear one with your garden shovel. A worm’s body has up to 100 segments, new segments will grow on the front section. Worms are both male and female and will mate in spring and summer.

There are earthworms near the Equator, Espinals, that grow to 8′ in length. Glaciers wiped out northern North American earthworms and the Europeans brought them back when they moved here. Some northern forests are having problems with earthworm infestations.

Earthworms show up after a rain just because it is easier for them to move about the surface when it is wet. They suffocate when they are dry, not wet as folklore would have us believe.

You can buy earthworms if you need more. I haven’t tried this but who can miss all the ads in the spring catalogs. It is the fastest way to rejuvenate poor soil.

I am a big fan of earthworm castings and buy and distribute a healthy amount throughout the yard twice a year. It is a fantastic fertilizer and castings also attract more worms to your garden.

Once you get a sufficient amount of worms in your garden then nutrients will get broken down into small parts for the plants. Worms beget worms and the population grows. Good microbes multiply. As the worms work the soil they leave air pockets that the good microbes need. The good microbes keep the fungi and other pathogens in check. All of this means less fertilizers are needed and less pesticides. Cheaper and less work for you and better for the environment.

Cyclamen

I had not thought of these as Christmas plants but I’ve read several columns referring to cyclamens as holiday plants last month.

They grow in the wild from tubers producing leaves late winter and flowers in the fall. In the wild they grow in dry forest areas in part shade where they are often seen under olive trees.

When buying one as an indoor plant pick one with only a few flowers open with lots of unopened buds. Buds should be tucked under and flowers in bloom should be on upright stems.

Because this plant goes dormant in the summer, you want to keep it cool in the house. This is a great plant for a drafty window or door. When the plant gets too warm outer leaves will yellow, die and brown. Stems on the plant will get soft.

Remember this plant has a tuber and prefers dry areas. That means you need to go easy on the watering. Water it only when the top half inch of soil is dry and be sure to drain the water thoroughly.

But it also likes high humidity. If the leaves start curling under try putting it in a damper location.

Plants that grow in part shade outdoors usually want the brightest window you can offer them indoors. Remember too in the winter there is a lot less sun coming through your windows.

Cyclamen will go dormant after blooming. Stop watering when the leaves die off. Save it and place the whole pot outside in the summer, but it needs to be kept pretty dry. So make sure it is sheltered from the rain. Around October new leaves should appear. You can begin watering it regularly again at that time and bring it in if you’d like. It does not like temperatures in the low 40s so bring it in when nighttime lows are in the mid 40s.

Keep an eye out for spider mites.

This is an annual in Houston if grown outside.

An ounce of prevention keeps cold weather from harming your plants

I’m reading a flyer on cold weather and plants put out by the Tarrant County Horticultural Office and the first advice is if it can’t handle the cold don’t plant it. Clearly this was not written by a gardener. ;-)

Skipping that sage advice and moving on to more useful notes we have: Plant tender plants in warm, protected locations. ( I guess design is not a consideration either. )

The most protected areas for tender plants are:

Close to your home, underneath overhanging eaves.

The best location is under an eave on a south facing side of your home. The house will soak up sunlight all day and radiate it out in the evening.

The least protected areas for tender plants are:

Open areas that are exposed all around particularly on the north side. The north winds are a main cause of damage.

Shallow areas that are enclosed. Colder air will drop and it will settle into low protected spots in your garden.

And…

1 ) Fertilize in October to give your plants the nutrients they need for the winter, then not again until late March. Do not fertilize them in the winter. Plants in an active state of growth and newer leaves and stems are most likely to be damaged by the cold.

2) Reduce but do not stop watering your plants. Plants stressed by a lack of water will incur more harm.

3) Wait until spring to prune the damage! If you prune too soon, you will get new growth which will be killed by the next frost. And plants that seem damaged beyond hope often are not. Be patient.

4 ) Mulch heavily around tender plants in the fall. Leaves, newspapers, bark, straw all work well. Mulch high around tender plants. Some people use the pipe insulation tubes you can buy at the hardware store to protect tree trunks and other tall thin plants.

5 ) If the weather looks really bad, take cuttings of your favorite plants. Plant them in sphagnum and you’ll have a starter plant to replace ones that don’t survive