Monday, June 1, 2015

Accomplishing The Unlikely

Lemon verbena has been with us for many years.   Fresh finely chopped leaves sprinkled over fruit salad creates a flavor that defies description.  What it does to watermelon is truly wondrous.  Native to western South America, it grows into a eight foot tall bush that must be an impressive sight.  In climate zones numbered above 8 it is a perennial shrub.  Here in zone 4 it is marketed as an annual.  Difficult to find at local nurseries, we try to keep it alive year round.

The first obstacle that must be conquered is the speed with which its leaves droop and drop off when the plant is unearthed preparatory to potting it up.  No amount of water will coax the leaves away from their pout.  If the plant is placed in constant shade and watered liberally for days, some leaves may remain when the plant is moved indoors.

Once inside lemon verbena serves as a white fly magnet.  Sticky traps catch and hold them by the hundreds but survivors do serious damage to already struggling leaves.  We flood the potted plants twice each week.  Plastic dishpans contain the overflow.  A great deal of luck combined with generous amounts of water sometimes carry living plants through to spring.  This year all three plants survived.

These three plants have been basking in warm sunlight for weeks.  Perched on the stone wall near the basement door, the plants are carried indoors when nighttime cold threatens.  Few leaves remained when the plants were first moved outside.  Visible new shoots and bright green leaves are all new growth.  These plants have lived to enjoy another summer in the sun.  That will be the end of the road for them as they will grow to a large size that will make potting them up impossible.

Heel cuttings taken when the new branches first appeared seem to be well on their way.  Our cutting soil mix includes a generous amount of fine white builders sand as well as peat moss and some of our compost.  This is our first year using Richters rooting compound.  So far all of the cuttings have rooted.  Initial high moisture is maintained by dropping a bottomless juice jar down over the plants.  A pot saucer holds enough water to supply ample moisture from the bottom.  These plants appear ready for a move into a larger pot filled with regular garden soil.  A few weeks later they will be set out in the garden.  At summer's end, a move into large pots will ready them for a winter spent in a sunny basement window.  This entire process is repeated every year,  so far we find lemon verbena well worth the effort!

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