In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2012
Regional Report

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Variegated winter daphne (Daphne odora Aureo-marginata) is a well-behaved shrub with rosy-pink flower buds opening to white, sweetly fragrant flowers. I've planted mine near my front entrance so I can enjoy their fragrance each time I walk by.

Chasing Away Those Winter Blues

The holidays are over; the Rose Parade is just a memory; I've cleaned my gardening tools and carefully stored my plastic and terra cotta pots. I've done some winter pruning and enjoyed the flowers on my winter daphne. My seed catalogs are dog-eared beyond hope. Now what? It will be weeks -- maybe months -- before I can work out in the garden and I'm going through withdrawal. I need to plant something -- anything -- to soothe my winter blues.

My inspiration came when I was admiring a pineapple sent from friends visiting Hawaii. Instead of throwing out that pineapple top, why not turn it into a houseplant? That thought sent my mind into high gear, and as I was cleaning up the kitchen counter, I spied the food scrap bucket. What about those carrot tops and avocado pits? I'll bet I could make them sprout some greenery! Sweet potato chunks, leeks, garlic cloves, apple and orange seeds might also sprout that luscious green growth I crave.

Garbage gardening isn't a new concept, just one I had forgotten about -- until now. The long, dark days of winter seem like a perfect time to give it a try. I know not all my attempts will be successful, but I'm willing to take the chance.

What Exactly is Garbage Gardening?
It involves growing new plants from your kitchen scraps, specifically the fruit and vegetable seeds or extra plant pieces that usually go down the disposal or onto the compost heap. It is a low-budget science experiment, recycling lesson, and garden project all rolled into one.

Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, garlic, ginger, papayas, pomegranates, potatoes, tomatoes, and turnips are good candidates for garbage gardening. Although most of these grocery store items are hybrids and may yield inferior fruits and vegetables, if they produce any at all, I still think they will make nice (practically free!) houseplants or at the very least, interesting conversation pieces.

Pineapples
To grow a pineapple, twist or slice off the leafy top, leaving about a fourth of an inch of the fruit attached. Scoop out the pulp and let the top air dry for a few days. Then, press the top into a pot or pan of moistened rooting media, such as peat moss or potting soil. Vermiculite or perlite will also work well if you have any on hand. Keep the media moist at all times and when roots form, repot the top into potting soil and place it in a sunny windowsill.

Carrots
Carrot plants can also be started from what we usually throw away. Cut off three-fourths to 1 inch of the top of the root with the green tops attached. Set in a shallow pan of moistened rooting media, and wait for the new fibrous roots to develop.

Avocado
Avocado pits are yet another plant to rescue from the garbage pail. Wash the pit to remove the fruit pulp, and then bury the bottom (wider) half of the pit in moistened rooting media. Another method is to insert four toothpicks at quarterly intervals about halfway up the pit. The toothpicks should only be inserted as deeply as necessary to provide support. Place the pit into a glass of water with the broad end down, resting the toothpicks on the rim of the glass. Roots and eventually a shoot can take up to three months to appear. Repot into potting soil with the top of the pit exposed, and pinch off the tip of the shoot when it reaches about 6 inches in length. Several side branches will form along the remaining stem.

Tree Fruit Seeds
Fruit trees, such as apple, orange and cherry, can be grown from the seeds of ordinary fruit. Most tree seeds must be stored in cool, moist conditions for up to three months before they will sprout. Pack the seeds in moist vermiculite, peat moss or sand. Then plant the seeds in good-quality potting soil. Move the plants to a brightly lit area, such as a south-facing window, and water as needed to allow the top inch of soil to dry between waterings. Use a houseplant fertilizer according to label directions. When plants are large enough to survive transplanting outdoors, plant the seedling trees in a sunny, well-drained location. Most fruit trees take many years (up to 7 or more) to become mature enough to flower, particularly when grown from seed. Many fruit species need to be cross-pollinated by another cultivar of that fruit, so it is best to grow a few of each type.

Sweet Potatoes
If you have a leftover sweet potato on hand, stick a few toothpicks around the middle and place it in a clean jar of water. The toothpicks should rest on the rim of the jar so that the narrow bottom half of the sweet potato is under the water. Put the jar in a sunny windowsill. Add water every few days. Roots and stems will quickly appear. You can transplant your new sweet potato vine into a container of potting soil and keep it inside or actually plant it in full sun in your outdoor vegetable garden this spring.

With a bucket full of potential new plants, I'm well on my way to chasing away the winter blues. Hope you find some interesting possibilities in your own kitchen scrap bucket. Happy gardening!


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