As this year’s colder-than-usual temperatures already have us hunkering down indoors, we can still keep our green thumbs limber — and keep the young’uns from climbing the walls — with some off-season gardening projects. Marianne C. Ophardt, Director of the WSU Extension at Benton County, has a couple of fun tips to keep both young and not-so-young gardeners entertained until we can get outside again.
For example, you can grow your own pineapple from the leafy top of a pineapple that you buy in the grocery store. Fresh pineapples are a tasty treat at this time of year and make us longingly think of the tropics where they grow. Alas, a trip to these tropical paradises isn’t an option for most of us, but by gently twisting the leafy top off of a pineapple you can grow your own plant at home. This should be fairly easy if the pineapple is fully ripe.
At the base of the leafy shoot, carefully pull off several of the lowest leaves, leaving at least three-fourths of an inch of base. You should see some little brownish root “bud” bumps called primordia.. After this process, wait a couple of days to allow any damaged tissues at the base to dry.
The next step is easy. Simply press the base of the twisted pineapple top into an 8-inch pot containing a well-drained and well-aerated potting. This is important because pineapple plants don’t like “wet feet.” Press the base into the potting soil, gently firming the mix against the base. Don’t let any soil get into the leaf bases. Keep the soil moist while the roots begin to develop… in about a month or so.
Once the roots form, place your new pineapple where it will be warm and get lots of light. Once established, keep the soil only slightly moist. Pineapples are native to areas with 20 inches of rainfall per year, so water them sparingly after the roots have developed. Provide the plant with fertilizer every two to three months using a water soluble houseplant fertilizer. Your pineapple may never grow big enough to produce fruit, but what fun to grow your own from garbage.
Another simple garbage gardening endeavor is growing your own lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit tree from seeds. Of course you can’t use a seedless orange to get started! You’ll need seeds from any type of citrus fruit, well-drained potting soil, and a pot. Place a couple fresh seeds, plump ones that haven’t been allowed to dry out, in the soil and cover with about one-half inch of soil. Place the pot in a warm place and keep the soil evenly moist, not soggy. Within a month or two the seeds should sprout. Save the strongest one and remove the rest.
Your new citrus plant needs warmth and plenty of light… it is a tropical plant. It takes a lemon tree 15 years from seed until it will produce fruit, so it’s not likely that your citrus tree will ever produce fruit. However, you will get a nice citrus plant with shiny green leaves that yield a delightful citrus scent when rubbed. Watch out though, most citrus plants have huge sharp thorns. Keep the soil moist and fertilize regularly as your tree grows.
You can also start your own apple or pear tree in the same way, except the seeds need a chilling period for several months (to simulate winter) before they will germinate. This is easy to do by placing the seeds in some slightly moist potting soil in a sealed plastic band and placing them in the fruit bin of the refrigerator for two to three months. They can then be taken out and planted in pots.
Garden Note: If your fruit tree started from seed (citrus, apple, or pear) ever does produce fruit, the fruit will not be true to variety. For example, seed from a Golden Delicious or a Honeycrisp apple will not be the same as the parent fruit… plus seed from fruit on grafted dwarf trees will not produce dwarf trees.
Potting Soil Hint: I’m usually not able to find many potting soils on the market that are “well-drained and well-aerated” straight from the bag. One reason for this is that many potting soils no longer have peat moss as their major component. The cost of peat moss is high and there are concerns that it’s not a renewable resource. Many companies are using compost as the organic base of their mixes instead of peat moss. These materials tend not to have as good aeration and drainage as peat moss. Because of this, I like to generously add perlite to these heavy potting mixes. (Perlite is volcanic material that has been expanded under heat. It’s those white gritty particles you find in many potting mixes, but usually not in sufficient quantities.) Mix one part perlite to three or four parts of potting mix. That should help improve the aeration and drainage of a heavy potting mix.
For more gardening advice from Marianne, visit WSU Extension’s Garden Tips.