Geraniums in Need

I don’t deserve my houseplants.

In college I bought two geraniums at a plant sale. I’m reasonably sure I’m watering one of them in this short film my friends and I made in 2008.


I since gave one to my dad. It’s beautiful and lush and is living out its days on the front porch. The other one stayed with me, and I’ve been treating it with an attitude that could very generously be called laissez-faire.

Here it is.


It’s been wasting away in the window of our living room for a few years. This past spring I finally got it together to give it a dash of fertilizer, which inspired it to grow this long tentacle off to the right.

To its credit, it’s been blooming more or less constantly all this time. I’ve been hoping to collect some seeds, but while I’ve gotten a few fluffy spikes from the spent flowers, no actual seeds have appeared.


Deciding I owed it to this plant to try and make things right, I took a few simple but decisive steps. First of all, I cut off the tentacle. It was the newest growth, but it was unsustainable. It could barely hold itself up and was only going to get longer.

For curiosity’s sake, I stuck it in a bucket of dirt to see if I could get it to take root.


I removed all the flowers (and, since, a few of the leaves) to help it focus its energy on root-growing.


I trimmed up the main plant a bit and gave both containers a big dose of kelp meal and water. I set them in the dappled shade for a few days, then moved them to fuller sun.

Now it’s been a little over a month and, against all odds, both plants are alive and kicking.


I’m especially impressed with the tentacle which, with four leaves to its name, has produced a big clutch of flowers and buds.


If I’d known this thing was going to make it, I might’ve taken a little more care planting it – like cutting it down or sticking it in better soil that wasn’t infested with mulberry seeds.


I’m not about to mess with now, though. I’ll give it some more time either to establish or exhaust itself, and then I’ll take stock.


The main plant is looking much better, too. It’s still on the spindly side, but it’s a lot greener and blooming more vigorously.


I’d say Project Geranium was a success. They have another good month or two outside to build up their strength, so hopefully it’s only up from here.


If they hold on long enough, they just might get to star in another movie.




Tomatoes on Their Own

A while back I bought too many seeds. And then I planted them. So before I knew it I had too many seedlings.

Here are my little baby tomatoes back in March. Aren’t they cute?


Here they are last weekend. Not so cute anymore.


This poor seed tray was overrun with tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, peppers, melons, and cabbages. The tomatoes were the real problem children – they got so big they flopped over and started to grow up again at a 90 degree angle, shading everybody in the process.

After an unseasonably warm winter, early May was unusually cold. I waited as long as I could, but finally had to give up and move them outside. The nights could be warmer, but the danger of frost seems to have passed. And these things can’t keep growing in the living room.


I got three varieties of tomatoes and grew three plants of each. I have a second plot in the community garden this year, but there’s still nowhere near enough space, so I’m going container crazy. I got a few 7 gallon fabric grow bags, and boy do they hold a lot of dirt. If the tomatoes aren’t happy with this amount of space, I don’t know what to tell them.


You can bury tomatoes deep when you transplant them, which is nice when your seedlings are over two feet tall. Even so, they have some very funny bends to them. I tried to angle them toward the bars of the cage and tied them gently in place. With any luck they’ll grow up straightish from here.


Since the nights are still chilly, I wrapped the cages in plastic painters’ drop cloths. The idea was to retain a little bit of heat, but as evening fell and the wind picked up, I decided they’d be even better for wind protection. I did harden the seedlings off over the course of several days, but spending your first night outside in the wind and tied to a stake would be rough on anybody.


The end result was a pretty sturdy set of tents. It wasn’t supposed to get below freezing, and I wasn’t looking for a repeat of the hoop house – all I wanted was a little extra protection.


I did put a few tomatoes in my garden plot as well, and I gave them the same wrap treatment. The wind in the garden is considerably stronger than at my house, and I was slightly worried I’d just tied my seedlings to big sails… They survived the first few nights, and then I took the plastic off due to rising temperatures and sheer anxiety.


Five days later all the plants are doing well. No one has wilted and no one has gotten wrenched in half by a gust. Last year’s tomato season was something of a bust, so I’m really hoping for a good showing this summer.


With nine plants, I have the numbers on my side.

Lemon Hope

My lemon tree has had a strange winter. It’s shot up by a few feet and is about as tall as I am. And it’s lost a lot of its leaves…

Both very good reasons to give it a bigger pot.


This tree has never given me a lemon and perhaps it never will, but I love it anyway.

I planted it from a seed three years ago when I moved to Providence. In a fit of gardening I went to the grocery store and bought every food I thought I could plant. The only remnants are this tree and my prized ugly rosemary bush, grown from a sprig.

I bought a 16″ pot with a false bottom that’s supposed to be self-watering. Citrus trees need a lot of water, so I’m hoping this helps.


First I had to get the tree out of its old pot. I gently turned it on its side. Some loose soil fell out, but but almost all of it was bound up in the root ball.

Cat for scale.IMG_4254

It took some doing to get the root ball out of the pot. I banged on the sides and bottom and yanked gently on the trunk. The trunk is a good centimeter in diameter and very woody, but this was rougher than I wanted to be with it. I was about to get the shears to cut the pot away when the whole thing popped out all at once.


The roots had started to circle around the bottom – not ideal. I loosened them up a little with my fingers, so hopefully they’ll spread out in their new home.


I made a bed of a few inches of potting soil and set the tree on top of it. At some point in the winter it sprouted this new little stalk from the base of its trunk. It’s the healthiest part of the tree and my failsafe – if the main plant gets worse I’ll lop everything off and hope this little guy makes it.

There are some new leaves higher up, though, so I’m hoping for the best.


I filled the pot up too high with potting soil and worked in some kelp meal. I’ll have to research what lemon trees like to eat, but in the meantime I get the impression that you can’t go wrong with kelp.


I filled the pot even more too high with buckwheat hulls to keep the moisture in. My dad has forever put bits and bobs in his potted plants, so I do too. They’re especially helpful for holding the hulls in place and dispersing the watering can’s stream more evenly.

The bits and bobs featured here are oyster and scallop shells, a rusted railroad tie, and some rocks from Iceland.


I’ve put the tree in a dappled shade part of the driveway. I’ll move it to full sun eventually, but this is already a big change from its window inside, and I don’t want it getting scorched.

Hopefully it starts to recover those lost leaves.


Maybe someday I’ll even get a lemon.