Growing this blue poppy is joy. True blue happiness. I was delighted when my first Meconopsis bloomed last May. The color is a shimmering radiant blue that reflects the heavenly color of the sky and sea. It’s such a contrast to all the others flowers around that one can’t help but fall in love with this flower. As soon as mine bloomed I was already planning to collect the seed and propagate this precious gem. I waited for May to turn to June. It produced three or four flowers during this time. Each one was cause for a celebration.
This plant was new to my yard and the flowers surprised me. Like an unexpected guest. A surprise visitor. Who could knock at my front door and visit me and produce such delight? A professional athlete? A movie star? A president of our country? No, these people would be interesting but they wouldn’t bring me as much joy as Meconopsis. So as my poppy grew throughout the summer I kept watching the flower head, waiting for it to dry out so I could collect the seeds. Finally in August I couldn’t wait any longer and I cut open the three pods and teased the seeds out. I put them in a little plastic box and they sat in my house until December. I had instructions from the Rhododendron Species Garden where I purchased the plants the previous year. The instructions said specifically ‘after collecting the seed, place in a ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator until sowing in November or December’. Well I kept thinking about my little tiny Meconopsis seeds during the Fall and I even thought about the refrigeration part, but I never actually put them in there. To busy, too tired, life was running too fast. It’s hard to garden when you’re moving too fast. Plants don’t move at that pace. They force us to slow down. They make us look up. They help our fingers dig deep in the earth. Thank you plants.
So in December I took my little seeds to the greenhouse and sowed them onto a flat of soil, very lightly covered with soil, and put them on the heated and lighted propagation bench. I remember the instructions said that they grow like weeds, so I had high expectations. One week went by and nothing. I was disappointed, but not worried. Two weeks went by and I began to panic slightly. Three weeks went by and I thought this project was doomed. No more Meconopsis for me. My dream of a yard filled with blue poppies was dead. I was almost positive that the seeds were dead and done. I was so distressed that I called up the Rhodie Species Garden and spoke with someone. They again confirmed the process for storing seeds: collect late summer, place in ziploc bag and put IN THE REFRIGERATOR or they will dry out and die. He told me my seeds probably died, all dried out. Noooooo I thought. I would have to wait until next year and try again. Could I wait that long? One season of plant life is like a seven of my years! I wanted more seeds now! UGGGHhh. I almost tossed out my seeding flat, kicking myself for not following the formula exactly. I have a hard time following instructions exactly. Usually I prefer to make up my own instructions as I go. But sometimes that doesn’t work so well.
Fast forward to January 9, an ordinary day in the greenhouse. I was zipping around, watering, scouting for insects, helping students, etc… when I stopped in front of my Meconopsis flat. It looked the same, just soil. Nothing. I kept staring at it. Look closely I told myself, you never know. Maybe the Rhodie Species Garden Guy was wrong. Maybe those poppies were tougher than we all thought. Just maybe…wait! Did I see GREEN? WAS THAT A TEENY TINY LITTLE LOVELY STEM EMERGING? Yes! They germinated!!! I could hardly believe it. On Monday 4-5 tiny little seeds opened, shoots up and roots down. Cotyledons showing promise of a beautiful perfect poppy. I was so excited. I know some plants take a long time to germinate, but these guys really made me nervous. And now it’s Wednesday and I counted about 20 tiny little shoots shyly poking their heads out of the soil. I’m on my way to a poppy garden. Oh joy!
When I see the word hibiscus I think of big, beautiful blooms. When I hear the words New Zealand I remember scenic flax covered coasts. But when I think of New Zealand hibiscus I feel troubled. I should have known when this hibiscus germinated so readily and grew so easily that there would be trouble. Trouble when it grew so fast and sparsely and discouraging when the flowers only lasted for one day. Twenty four hours to shine. The flowers are quite pretty, but after they disappear it’s back to the rangy looking plant. It’s not my favorite. I purchased seeds when I traveled to New Zealand last year. Out of all the plants I tried to grow from NZ, this one was the most vigorous. I’m not sure how it would fare if planted outside. I had mine in a greenhouse and after I cut them back I moved the pots outside and they didn’t make it through the winter. And now the seeds I collected are gathering dust, I don’t think this is a plant that I want to grow again. I’m waiting for seeds from my Meconopsis, that will be a good day!
Before cut back
After cut back
Just the Facts
New Zealand Hibiscus, Puarangi
Hibiscus richarsonsii (erroneously referred to as Hibiscus trionum)
Indigenous to New Zealand north island and Australia, New South Wales.
Coastal, growing in recently disturbed habitats.
Annual to short-lived perennial up to 3 feet tall (1m)
Normally growing aphids is a bad thing, but in respect to our beneficial insect program, it’s a good thing. At the Environmental Horticulture Program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology we grow and propagate thousands of plants in our greenhouses. Each year the students put on a huge plant sale that generates money that helps fund the program. This year we had a serious threat from aphids, which began appearing in November and stayed through the spring. Working with Alison Kutz from Sound Horticulture, we began a biological control program, using beneficial insects. We started to bring in good bugs to help us wipe out the bad bugs.
One of the insects that parasitizes aphids is the native wasp Aphidius matricariae. It seeks out aphids and lays an egg inside them, killing the aphid and producing another generation of wasp. Each female lays about 100 eggs, but may attack 200-300 aphids in the process. That’s a lot of destruction from one tiny super-wasp. The larvae develop entirely inside of the aphid which turn a light brown and remain on the leaf surface. These aphid shells are referred to as ‘mummies’. They aren’t just found in greenhouses, I recently discovered an aphid mummy on my Japanese Maple. I was happy that nature was helping me keep my plants healthy.
Buying Aphidius frequently, however, can get expensive, so we decided to raise our own. A true baby wasp nursery in the greenhouse. It’s called the banker plant system. We raised a type of aphid that only lives on grasses, so it wouldn’t transfer to our greenhouse crops, and this provided a place for Aphidius to maintain and grow their populations. More wasps, less aphids…healthier plants. We had to build an exclusion cage to keep Aphidius out until the aphid populations were strong enough. We sprouted our wheat plants and left them in the exclusion cage for 2-3 weeks and them placed them on benches around the greenhouse. It was fascinating to watch the Aphidius we released near these plants. We could actually see them attacking the aphids, not a good viewing activity for the faint of heart. This is parasitism at its best. As our wheat matured we noticed more and more aphid mummies appearing on the plants. The system appeared to be working! Our aphid numbers did get too high at times and we still had to spray with insecticidal soap. Next year we will start our wheat earlier and get a strong population ofAphidius ready to engage in battle.
Wheat grass banker plants in greenhouse
Introducing aphids to the wheat grass
Exclusion cage for banker plants
Aphids on wheat
Aphids on Wheat
Aphids and Aphidius
Following is a video of an Aphidius release as they search out aphids on the banker plants.
This is an amazing solution to a plant problem. Big fat hungry aphids are gobbling away on the plants, sucking and deforming the leaves and getting out of control. This little parasitic wasp is released and is attracted to the aphid colonies immediately. It begins to lay its eggs inside of aphids and will attack 200-300 aphids in the next week. Yes, parasitism is slightly disturbing, especially if you’re on the wrong end. The wasp eggs hatch inside the aphid body and begin feeding on the aphid from the inside out. They complete their development inside the aphid body and emerge from the ‘aphid mummy’ after 15 days as a new adult and the life cycle begins again. More wasps, less aphids, happy plants, healthy greenhouse!
This is the container of Aphidius that we received from Sound Horticulture to release in our school greenhouse. We hope to use more beneficial insects for pest management and spray less chemicals. We also released Aphidoletes, Stratiolaelaps and Ambylesius cucumeris, the subject of future posts!