Monday, November 1, 2010

Cosmos

Cosmos is my favorite garden flower. It is low maintenance and easy to grow. The color varieties include orange, yellow, lemon yellow, pink, purple and white. Cosmos flower have various forms such as single layer, double layer, with stripes and cone shape. There is also a variety with smell of chocolate.



I started with the orange variety by sowing the seeds in a mixture of soil and coco peat in a small medium sized container. The container received the sun light most of the day. Within a span 3-4 days the seedling emerged. Since this was my first experiment with cosmos I did not transplant the seedling and instead left it in container. Few of them emerged stronger and in about 8 weeks they flowered and continued for a month or so. The first step in Cosmos propagation was successful. But I was not very impressed by the number of flowers or the size of it.



Next in line is a variety named Sensation Mix that included mix of white, pink and purple flowers. I sowed the seeds as above. The seedlings emerged within few days and started growing vigorously. I was excited by the prospect of the mix of these colors. However even after waiting beyond two months none of them showed any signs of budding. I was not sure if the problem was with the seeds or the weather. December winter temperature steadily going down and only few hours of sun on my side of house would have been the likely cause. But as a consolation, Mother Nature, finally gave me one single pink bloom just to keep my spirits high and for the record book!







It was time for some serious reading about Cosmos. Internet has so much information about cosmos and researching through them I realized that the Cosmos needs full sun, not much fertile soil and minimum watering. I specifically liked reading through the following two websites.

I decided to wait till the winter pass. By first week of February I started my third cycle of Cosmos experimentation. This time, I selected seeds of Orange, Yellow and Lemon Yellow colored varieties. Also I planned to directly sow it in my corner garden instead of the containers. Prepared the soil by tilling lightly, mixed red soil and then thinly layered coco peat. I had read somewhere that when seeds are directly sown in the soil, it is better to mark the location of the seed using small rolls of paper or cardboard around them.  This way you easily water the proper location and also identify the seedling from other weeds and plants around.



As earlier seedling emerged within few days and started developing fast. For some reason I did not take the photos of the progress they made. However in the next three months, as the scorching summer sun lit up my side of home, the plant started growing vigorously. The Orange variety had slender stems whereas the Lemon Yellow variety has very think stems and very green foliage. And by around 12 weeks most plants started flowering and continued for another two months. The color mix did look very appealing. I had a grand success.






I constantly removed the spend flowers and also collected the seeds when pod was almost dry. I made a mistake of not separating seeds by varieties. Instead I dropped them all in an old show box and kept it shade. After about 2 months, I cleaned all the seeds, blew off the dried petals and then stored them in an air tight container.




 






Very excited, I now longed for some new varieties of the Cosmos. I contacted one of my friends who was in US and was about to return to India in June. Though I order several varieties, only the following two were in stock - Cosmos Candy Stripe  and Cosmos Sea Shells Blend. Not only these seeds were costly (compare to prices in India) but also very few in quantity.  I was not very sure if they would grow at all in Bangalore. I sowed them in container with coco peat and soil mix. I was pleasantly amused when the seedling emerged after few days and started growing fine. 



The buds appeared after 6 week – and that is when I decide to not keep them in the same container. I transplanted them to a several container, 2 seedling per pot and remaining were planted them on the ground in the place were earlier Cosmos generation had flourished.




Sun was still shinning on our side of the house. The constant Monsoon rains and later autumn sunshine ensure healthy growth of the plants. And just like other verities, by 8 weeks, most of them started flowering. And what amazing color they had! I spend so much time gazing these lovely color, feeling the petal, smelling the stem (this variety ‘s stem has a sweet smell), removing spent flowers, collecting the seed buds, and photographing from every angels.

















So after almost a year of experimentation, I can now say I know how to grow this beautiful plant. It is now early November and still flowering. I have collected enough seeds to continue this cycle for another year. Yes, this time I have remembered to store the seeds separately as per the colors.



Meanwhile the worthy Orange variety has self-seeded and is competing with its US counterparts. I had also strewn some seeds in a small patch, under a tree, in front of my house. And they too are now flowering.

Before I finish this post, I would like to share something I discovered while researching about cosmos. In some parks of Japan they grow Cosmos on enormous fields every autumn and it is called Cosmos Festival. The sight is breathtaking and for a fan of Cosmos like me, it is a dream to visit the place.

Update (2010/01/04):
Submitted for How to Find Great Plants (Issue #2) at Appalachian Feet.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Petunia


The plant that started it all
Last year few Petunia plants bought mostly from the roadside nurseries surprised me by flowering profusely. Especially a plant with red flowers with streaks of white bloomed continuously for around 2-3 months. My wife was impressed and added few more colors like dark blue, purple, pink, lavender and white to the collection. The plant remained on the top of the shaded compound wall receiving sunlight only for few hours in the morning. I thought of collecting the seeds and then try my hands at raising a second generation of petunia plants.


Petunia flowers stay in bloom for a very short period of 3 to 4 days. Like most plants, regularly removing the spent flowers encourages the plant to flower in abundance. At the base of the wilted flower the seed pod forms, initially very small but later swell to a size of a small peanut. When the seed pod turns light brown carefully pluck it without squashing the pod. Place the pod on the sheet of while paper and break open the pod. Very tiny sand-like black seeds will spill out. In this manner, over a course of about 3 months I collected seeds of 5 to 6 different colors and placed all of them in used kids coloring bottle as shown here. Then I forgot about them for another three months till the rainy season started in June.

Green Seed
Dried Seed Pod
Seed Pod and Seeds
My Seed Collection box one for each color
When I sowed the first batch of Petunia seeds I did not have much hope - I mean here is a seed which is so small it would just decompose and melt away. And that is exactly what happened when I could not find any sign of sprouts even after a month. Then I came across this wonderful article 'All about PETUNIAS - By Shehzad Ahmed'. After reading that article, I realized the mistake I did first time. I had sowed the seed too deep and also I had placed the container in shade.

After being a little wiser by first failure and reading the above article I was ready for the second batch. This time I took two waste Styrofoam containers and filled it up with mixture of mostly coco peat and small quantity of compost. Sprinkled the Petunia seeds lightly all over the surface, spread using fingers and pressed them gently. Most seeds were still on the surface but I left it like that. Both the containers were then placed in the direct sunlight. It was the month of July and the monsoon clouds hovered over Bangalore every day. Occasional rain and cool but sunny days would have done the magic. Within 7 to 10 days of the sowing I could see numerous sprouts from both the containers. I was extremely happy and did not want to move the container - it was placed on the rim of flower pots outside my house. 

Seed Starting Container
7-10 days
As the fate would have it one day a stray dog got curious about the container and knocked it down and tried to rip it apart. But for timely intervention, all seedlings would have been destroyed. I could manage to recover half of the seedlings and also the container.

After being wiser more, I moved the containers to the top of the compound wall were it received sunlight most of the day during monsoon. As coco peat retains water very well, I had to only water occasionally when the coco peat felt dry. The seedlings started to grow fast. In the containers I had sowed seeds of different colors in separate sections and had marked the section. However as the seedlings started emerging and covering the containers and the puppy's knock mixed up some of the section, I lost track.


20 days
(The container that survived dog attack)
20 days

So after about a month, as the seedling started developing 2-3 set of leaves and overcrowding the container, the seedling were transferred to small plastic pots filled with mixture of soil, coco peat and compost. Remaining excess seedlings were all transferred to a single large broken plastic container and made it sort of a nursery for the Petunias to be moved to separate container when available.

About a month
(you can see the color code papers)




In about next two weeks some of the plants started blooming. By another 4 weeks all the plants started to have multiple flowers and to my surprise few plants had mix of the original colors. 


6-7 Weeks





So in about 8-10 weeks all the plants started blooming fully. Some plants have the original colors of the mother plant and some darker or lighter shades. And some are mix of two different colors. All in all, in this second generation I was able to see much more colors that the first. And of course, everyone favorite red with white streaks has made a comeback but with smaller flower size.


8-10 Weeks



New mixed color variety
New mixed color variety
The nursery basin
The Favorite is back! 
It is now the 3rd months and the compound wall is splashed with Petunia colors. We can see how well it catches the attention of the neighbors and the passerby :)