Learning To Better "Learn" Plants

Any happier?  
A recent post mentioned research that showed Aloe capitata native to an area with an average annual rainfall of 52 inches.  (Seattle's average is a mere 38 inches.)  What makes a plant thrive in the garden is a matter of research, guesswork, luck, and experience.  

I've been hand watering my apparently thirsty A. capitatas.  Any improvement yet?  I'm not sure.

This brings to mind the idea of "learning" a plant.  Research and general advice, while important, only does so much.  Spending time observing multiple plants of the same type and hands-on experimentation with care is the last mile in partnering with a plant to enable it to really look spectacular.  
Sometimes all you need is dumb luck:
Where I am on the gardening journey these days:  learning to better "learn" plants, to understand them as much as I can--for their benefit as a plant and mine as a gardener.   

Growing Eustoma selections (aka Lisianthus) has been interesting.  First of all, is it Eustoma or Lisianthus?  It's Eustoma.  See the story here.   I planted some purchased seedlings for the first time last year.  Results were mixed.  I set about this year to better learn them. 
Enamored of the truly beautiful flowers, puzzled by the plant.  The general growing advice is:  sunny location, evenly moist soil.  Some, but not ubiquitous, mention of staking.  Conflicting information--sometimes "don't let the plant dry out" and sometimes "can be drought tolerant".  More comprehensive advice for Eustoma growing found by searching on, of course, "Lisianthus".   (Sigh and eye roll.) 

In this garden and climate, planted from widely available and inexpensive six-packs, Eustoma initially grows a solitary 10-16" stem that quickly produces beautiful flowers. 
Note new stem at base of young plant:

That single stem, having enticed a gardener to adore it, if not supported then proceeds to flop over, sometimes enough to allow the flowers to comfortably rest face down in the soil.

Straighten up and grow right, please:  
Lesson learned:  support required.  At least in this garden.  Your mileage may vary.
If reasonably happy, new additional stems sprout at the base of the original stem.  From each basal stem, new flower-producing side growth will develop.  A plant that has grown multiple stems will then happily flop over so many more flowers can comfortably rest face down in the soil.  
Unless it gets some support
Last year, I figured out:  support them and water them.  Enough learning for one year.  

So, is Eustoma an annual or a perennial?  The answer, of course, is "Yes."  Almost all the plants from last year lived over in this mild USDA zone 10.  They probably won't in Minnesota zone 3. 

Last year's plants looked terrible all winter, but were small enough to overlook.  The old growth yellows--I cut it off to the ground after bits of new growth appeared at the base, bits that did nothing much until the soil began to warm up in late March.  As the weather warmed, last year's plants grew and were stronger, bushier, and had better looking foliage than last year.  Flower buds formed.  Then they fell over and I remembered they need support.  

These two plants were very poor last year and I kept meaning to pull them but never got around to it.  Good thing.   
This year, happy!  Lots of flower buds:
More Eustoma added this year to what was the vegetable garden and what is now mostly re-purposed as a cutting garden.  Because:  beautiful flowers!  Eustoma, now somewhat learned--the basics, anyway. 

I'm Another learning experience recently with Agave 'Blue Glow'.  One can learn new things even from plants long grown--I've been growing 'Blue Glow' for at least ten years, and there are at least two dozen individual 'Blue Glow's planted throughout the garden. 

'Blue Glow' is a nearly solitary growing Agave, one of its virtues.  One plant may produce an offset or two, but most do not.  For this gardener, Agaves that offset too freely are weedy.  

I've learned from experience that 'Blue Glow' will produce a few plantlets on its flowering stems, so there will be replacements for those that bloom and die.
Like five of these:
'Blue Glow' will produce a slim straight narrow flower stem that may produce a few seed pods, a few plantlets up at the tip of the stem, or nothing at all.  Stems 1 and 3 here, had a couple of plantlets and seed pods each:
 'Blue Glow' may also produce strange clumps of growth, like stem 2 above.  Up close:
 This clump of strange growth had fifty-odd plantlets growing on scattered secondary short stems.  I didn't know this would happen.  Another thing learned about 'Blue Glow'. 
Three on this one:
Yet another 'Blue Glow' discovery this year:  the plantlets root very slowly in slightly damp soil, which is how I normally root them.  When rooting plantlets this spring, one group in a pot got a whole lot of moisture--far too much, I thought, even in a free draining and fast drying potting mix.  A check, however, revealed healthy big root systems. 
 Lesson learned:  plantlets root faster and better kept quite moist (quite moist by Agave standards).  

One of the wonderful things about gardening is the constant learning involved, and how much fun it is!  What plants do you know thoroughly?  What has surprised you? 


  1. Those faces are too pretty to be in the dirt! Thanks for sharing the 'Blue Glow' oddities, I love learning about Agaves. A friend here in town is watching his second bloom spike this summer (first was 'Sharkskin' (in the ground) a couple of years ago, now A. colorata (in a container). Still wondering what my first one will be...

  2. Eustoma leaning over so that the beautiful flowers can comfortably rest face down in the soil - funny and disappointing. They're so pretty though. Interesting about that growth on Blue Glow and good to know that the babies like water to root faster. I haven't learned anything about plants and continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

    1. Yet your garden manages to be gorgeous anyway. For shame!

  3. I love how you staked your flowers. Easy and effective. Funny how we so often forget the lessons we learned from the year before. I love you agaves. We've come across agaves with plantlets like yours that were littering the street/sidewalk. A few came home with us to our Agave garden.

    1. I have a lot of those screen pieces around--with a piece of shade cloth attached they are temporary shade. They are also rabbit guards, bird guards, and don't-step-on-this guards, besides acting as stakes.

      Free agaves! Hooray! :)

  4. Have you tried fertilizing your Eustoma at all? I did that once, trying different products, and all the plants failed, although that may have been a reaction to heat. Yes, they definitely want support (and I think prefer being in areas protected from strong wind). I agree that they look better and flower more strongly in their second or third year if you hang onto them. Unfortunately, they have that ugly phase after they finish blooming, which has led me to dig some up and put them in temporary pots - none of mine have liked that. And I learned this week that their foliage can get scorched with high heat.

    1. I gave them a little splash of fish fert. at planting, that was it. I don't put down much fertilizer when we have a dry winter. :(

      I thought they would all die in the heat, but they didn't. What got damaged and what did not was a definite surprise. Newly planted Gerberas, unfazed. Roses well established for more than a decade, toasted. ?!?!?!!!


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