Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
March, 2010
Regional Report

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A spring equinox display of irresistible, gorgeous cut flowers on 34th Street, Manhattan.

Sowing My Own

"Tithonia, please," emails a garden client every March. This bright orange Mexican sunflower is Lucy's favorite. Tithonia rotundifolia is tops on my list too.

When I was only able to do container gardening, one seed in a large pot in the sun would explode into a four- to five-feet wide and tall butterfly magnet. Its many branches and sub-branches hold exquisite, 3 to 4-inch, composite ray-and-disk flowers. The more I clipped for cut flowers, the more blooms it popped, all summer long until frost.

Tithonia is not a small bedding plant. Though every garden would be the better for having them, I've never seen Mexican sunflowers for sale in six-packs at a garden center. This means I have to start them from seed in March. They do best if they are thick-stemmed and at least 4 inches tall when planted outdoors in warm soil in May.

Early last summer, I planted some spindly specimens in Lucy's new "kitchen window" garden. To my dismay, the seeds I'd started indoors didn't thrive; only four or five lived. (Well, I'd left them in the greenhouse and forgot to water them. Shame on me.) I crossed my fingers and apologized to Lucy beforehand, assuming the frail seedlings wouldn't make it. She must have sent good vibes their way while washing dishes at the window. They grew like teenagers- fast and furious- once the warm June sun was on them.

The tall variety 'Torch' can reach 6 feet. The dwarf cultivars 'Fiesta del Sol' and 'Sundance' are a more compact 2 1/2 to 3 feet. There's also a 'Yellow Torch' cultivar.

This mid-February, I planted spinach seeds for myself and oat grass for a friend's cat, hoping to have healthy seedlings to show for my Philadelphia Flower Show's Gardener's Studio demonstration. One seed of each sprouted. Not a success story. The seed packets are dated 2008, which in this case proved too accurate. So I've substituted a floral array photo (in Manhattan, likely by way of Alsmeer Flower Market Dutch auction) rather than a dull shot of plantless, gray soilless mix.

Second Sowing
I have gathered new courage up to make a second sowing of Tithonia 'Torch'; Zinnias 'Apricot Blush' and 'Fruit Smoothie'; and Cosmos 'Rose Bon Bon' and 'Seashell.' Some 'Apricot Blush' seeds are sprouting! The heating mat under the growing tray is earning its keep.

And Genovese basil for my own new garden plot! Yes, this summer I'll be growing my own yellow beans; soybeans; pole, tri-color and filet beans, five kinds of beets; crookneck summer and butternut squash, various greens and herbs in-ground.

Now, where to erect my grow light? In the past, I've depended on the common shop light fixture with cool white florescent bulbs as a light source. This season I'm switching to the new T-5 lamp and fixture; it will hang just fine from my 50-inch PVC-pipe frame. The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center has found the T-5 uses 45% less energy and produces more lumens (95%) longer than the T-12 florescents (75%) for a shop light. Though more expensive, one T-5 substitutes for two T-12s.

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