Winter is my time for basement gardening. Where we live we have to put our tropical plants in the basement for the winter. It’s a lot of labor to go through twice a year. We take them in when we know that the night temperature will drop and stay below 45°F, usually around late September or early October. Then take them back out in spring when the temperatures will stay above 45°F at night. It was easy when they were small but it gets much harder once some of them grow taller than us. But it’s always a pleasure to have them around. They keep me going in winter and give us fresh herbs even when the ground is covered with snow outside.
Tropical plants that are taller than us in addition to Kaffir lime and the Ficus, are the Water Jasmines (Wrightia religiosa), of which we have two, one over six feet tall and the other is around 1.5 foot tall. I grew both of them from seeds. I did try air layering once but that plant survived only a couple of years.
They never flower when they are in the basement. I guess it’s not quite warm enough and perhaps not enough light. The taller one gets very finicky with temperature changes too. It drops 95% of its leaves when we first take it outside or when we bring it back inside. Leaves and flower buds come out again after a month in full sun. The tiny white star-shaped flower has a light, soothing fragrance. Each flower blooms for just one day but there clusters of replacements ready to bloom in its place.
When they are outside and in full bloom, various types of bees, honeybees included, come for the nectar during the day and the moths take over at night. Its seed pod is also interesting, it looks like a wishbone. Once it’s matured the pods split open and release seeds with a silky thread attached that the wind will catch and carry to a new place. That is how I propagate it, by the seeds. The plant grown from a seed takes a few years before it will flower. Air-layer and cutting are recommended for faster flowering.
Water Jasmine is easy to grow in a pot, as I do. It needs a warm temperature and plenty of sunlight to bloom. It can be planted outside in USDA Zone 8 and up. If planting outside it can be used as a hedge. It can also be trained to create a Bonsai.
It seems to have no known pests when growing outside, however Spider mites are the main problem when growing indoors. I use an insecticide soap to get rid of them and mist the plant with water weekly. I’m looking forward to germinating some of these seeds in March and hope to have a few more to create Bonsai from.
Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) has many benefits, in both food and medicinal. Using its leaves is much common in cooking. Fruit is too sour to use but rind is also used in cooking. I love the scent of its crushed leaf and have been using them in my cooking. The oldest and biggest tree I have is around 20 years old.
It’s a pretty tough tree. Aside from being dragged up and down steps to the basement twice a year, it has been tipped sideways by strong wind many times. But, it’s still growing and pushing out new leaves every year. I have to prune it down every year so it can fit in the basement during winter. The rest of the limes are at various ages. I grow all Kaffir lime from seeds.
Kaffir lime is a small tree, native of Asia. Growing it from seed is not difficult even in a cold climate. Just take seeds from a ripe fruit, select the healthy looking seeds and discard the flat ones.
Clean jell off the selected seeds and put them in seed starter medium. Put one seed per container so seedlings can be replanted in a bigger pot without their roots disturbed later on.
Water, keep the container covered but leave a small gap for air to circulate then set it where it can get direct sun.
If you have a heat mat, set the temperature at 80° F. Keeping the soil temperature constantly at 80° F will help the seeds germinate faster. Fertile seeds will germinate within three weeks. It may take a little bit longer without the heat mat. With one batch I didn’t use the heat mat but put the tray out on a cement floor under direct sun during the day and took it in at night. Some seeds may rot if the soil is too wet.
Clean, dry seeds can be kept in a dry airtight bag for a few years. The seeds I germinated this year are three years old.
When you start Kaffir lime seedlings from dry seeds, soak the seeds for a couple of hours before putting them in the soil to soften the seed shell. The wet seeds will feel a little bit slimy but that is common for lime seeds.
Once the seedlings develop a second set of true leaves, put them in a slightly bigger pot. The potting soil should be loamy and kept moist at all times. The key word is ‘moist’. Kaffir lime hates wet, soggy soil. Root rot can be a major problem. So, if keeping the soil ‘moist’ is difficult, stay on the dry side… much safer that way.
If growing it in the house, keep it on the windowsill where it can get direct sunlight. Plant lights will do if there is no access to direct sun, but the light need to be on at least 8 hours a day.
Kaffir lime can stay outside if the temperature is above 50° F both day and night. It can deal with nighttime temperatures between 40-50°F if the pot is situated close to the house.
Change some of the potting soil every two years if possible. Loosen the old soil off the roots around 1/3 from the bottom but not more than half then put the plant in a new pot with fresh soil mix with compost at the bottom. Cover topsoil with some fresh soil and compost mix as well. Water thoroughly.
Prune branches that crossed and rubbed one another. Nip the tip off a plant when it’s around six inches tall. It will start to branch out. Keep the pruned leaves in the freezer for future use in cooking.
Feed monthly and keep soil moist. Stop feeding a month before taking the plant inside to over winter and start feeding again a month before bring it outside in spring or when new leaves start to bud.
Even keeping Kaffir lime in an apartment, stop feeding in late fall and during winter time. Let it stay in semi-dormant stage until late winter. The plant will tell you when to feed. It will start sprouting new leaves, even in the house, when spring approaches. This is an indication to start feeding. Water it less in winter as well.
Spider mites are a known pest for houseplants, kaffir lime included. An indication is the web and tiny specks on the leaves. Leaves start to dry out and drop. If this problem occurs, give it a good shower both top and bottom of the leaves. Aphids like fresh new leaves, just spray them off with water. A spray bottle works very well for this.
The easy part, growing, is done. The difficult part is to refrain from eating it until it’s big enough to tolerate the leaves being picked off.
Today is the official first day of spring but it has been snowing since midday. So far we have accumulated around two inches. I don’t mind the big fluffy flakes with no wind; very peaceful. However that spring itch has gotten to me. I started trimming the tropical plants in the basement and fed the ones I have no plans for transplanting to a new pot. It’s a task I do one month before I can take some of them outside for real sunlight and fresh air.
They seem to know that spring is coming. Many of them are pushing out flowers and new leaves. The ones that have been in a semi-dormant stage during winter are showing signs of new buds. Here are some ‘basement buds’ trying to rush spring along a little:
And a welcome mat from the windowsill: Moth Orchids
What’s left blooming in our garden now are just some hardy roses, calendula and the broccoli that we let bloom for the bees (though technically a vegetable). The re-blooming iris are just producing flower buds which may or may not bloom. The weather has been staying around 50º F during the day and drops down below 40º F at night. Last week it dropped below 30º F for a couple of nights and that stunted the growth. The iris will bloom again if the weather stays above a frost. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
There may not be much left in the garden but down in the basement where the tropical plants reside in winter there is still activity. I can smell perfume wafting up the basement stairs from a variety of jasmines every time I open the door. I’m thinking of taking a table and chair from the garden and putting them down there so I can continue the joy of being in a tropical garden in winter.
The Night Blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) are doing well this year. I re-potted the largest one to its benefit. I also propagated a few plants from the main one and gave some to friends. They perfume the basement now, competing with the Orange jasmine (Murrayapaniculata).
Jasmine ‘Poet’ (Jasminum grandiflorum) loves cooler temperatures and started to bloom profusely outside, but it continues to bloom down in the basement.
One of the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera hybrid) bloomed as soon as it got inside. This is a hard to kill plant. No matter how negligent the treatment I give them they never miss producing flowers year after year.
I took this Orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata) photo back in June when it enjoyed sunlight outside. It still blooms here and there until sometime in the middle of winter when it will bloom heavily again.
We have two Orange Jasmine (Murraya paniculata) that have never stopped blooming. It doesn’t matter where they are, under artificial light in the basement, in the bay window or on the pool deck in summer, they bloom. They deliver that delicious scent reminiscent of the tropics in the middle of winter. I let the flowers set fruit that look a little like small oranges and take a while to mature to a bright red.
I didn’t think the seeds would sprout, but I put each one of them in individual pots anyway. I took a chance since air-layering on tropical plants is hard to do because of the very short summer in my area. If the seeds sprout, great. If not, I have nothing to loose. Surprisingly enough, four of them came up. Even more surprising to me was that when they reached an inch and a half tall, they flowered. A little white flower perched on the top of each plant. I expected them to take a year or two before flowering. I guess growing in mostly compost helps.
This summer, I let the fruits fall in the parents pots and let nature do the work. I have a couple more seedlings now. I only wish I could grow them outside so I could have a whole hedge of Orange Jasmine that would perfume the garden year round.
I don’t like photographing flowers at night; they never come out the way I want them to. Tonight was an exception. I got a text message from Bill while on the train coming home. Having arrived home ahead of me, as soon as he opened the door a strong but delicate fragrance of Orange Jasmine (Murraya paniculata) welcomed him in. The fragrance permeated the entire house, even to the bath room at the far end of the hall. All of it from just two plants in the living room bay window, each just a foot tall!
I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I got these two Orange Jasmines to surprise Bill. He loved the scent so much when he first encountered it on one of our vacation trips to the tropics several years ago. During winter they reside in the bay window area so they can get real sunlight. Not much but it’s still better than the rest of the tropical gang in the basement who put up with ‘grow-lights’ all winter long. The Orange Jasmines never stop blooming. In earlier years, they did better on the pool deck during summer but the location doesn’t seem to matter to them now.
They are easy to grow. Don’t need much…just light, water and food now and then. They’re also fast growing and quick to reproduce. Ours have five kids now. Two of the kids bloomed in the first year when they were only 2 inches tall and they are blooming now in the basement. I will have to re-pot them this summer to give them more leg room. The left one in the photo produced one little seedling in the pot that needs to be given its own space.
They are great to come home to after a long day at work. Just close your eyes and the scent transports you right back to the tropics, minus the heat and humidity. The fragrance gently washes over one self and the dystopian odor of the big city melts away. A soothing way to unwind with a glass of wine and legs propped up.