Monday, July 28, 2008

Victoria's are ready to bloom!

Our Victoria waterplatters are getting ready to bloom. These are a must see if you have not done so yet! As you may recall 4 years ago we were able to bring the Victoria water platters back to the Como Zoo after being absent for nearly 100 years. Every year it is quite a process that happens behind the scenes to get these looking as awesome as they do year after year!

The flower is also so unique on the Victoria's that it deserves a seperate explanation. The Victoria's are night bloomers. Right at dusk, sometimes earlier in the day, you can see the flower bud crack open. This is a sure sign we would have a flower that night. The first night the flower is white and it has a pineapple scent to it. The second night it reopens and it is now deeper pink. After it has opened twice, it is considered a spent flower and we would remove it. This grooming happens on a daily basis throughout the whole pool.

In South America, where they are native, a Scarab beetle would be the main pollinater of Victoria's. In Minnesota, we tried for the first time last year to pollinate by hand, using a small, soft paint brush. It was a lot of hard work and many hours put in and unfortunately were unsuccessful. We will keep trying till we master the art though!

The water gardens will be up and running till early fall but that is all weather dependent of course! Horticulture staff that work on this day in and day out do a wonderful job! It is the best we think its every looked!! Great job fellow staff!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pot recycling

Staff on the Como campus are constantly brainstorming ways to have a positive impact on the environment. Como even has a team of staff called the green team that does just that. The following is the result of one idea that came out of this group.

The horticulture department at Como go through lots of plastic pots, cell packs and trays. In the greenhouse behind the conservatory, horticulture staff grow plants for display in the conservatory, the zoo grounds, the carousel, como town, the butterfly garden, and even the water gardens in front of the visitor center. You may not know that we also grow annuals for other portions of the city of St. Paul including, but not limited to, Como golf course, Midway Stadium and downtown St. Paul. In the process of growing all these plants from seed, cuttings or plugs, the plants are often times transplanted from one pot to another, from a pot to a flower bed or moved from a pot to the compost.

Aren't you curious what we do with the pots when we are done with them? I'll tell you. The short answer is that they are reused but since the soil that remains in the pots potentially harbors pathogens and other pests that could damage future crops, our used pots are routinely washed and sterilized by volunteers before they are reused. Reusing pots reduces our costs and saves space in the landfills since plastic gardening pots cannot be recycled through the regular plastic recycling programs. All pots at the conservatory do not get washed however. After a while some pots and are inevitably broken and must be discarded. A year ago the conservatory was still throwing all the extra pots into the garbage. Como's green team was still looking at ways to reduce waste and one team member found that there was in fact a recycling program for plastic gardening pots through the Minnesota Nursery and Lanscape Association. The information for this program was posted on the MNLA website and in the Star Tribune in 2007. The recycling program continues this year and today gardening staff loaded up the van with plastic pots for the second trip this year to have our plastic pots recycled instead of putting them in the trash. Homeowners can do this too. A handfull of garden centers accept the pots so its best to find out before you go.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hot, Hot Days

Once again it is that time of year where no matter how much water you drink it still doesn't quench your thirst! It has been difficult conditions for the horticulture staff to work when it is so hot and humid. The staff that work on the zoo landscape battle the lack of in ground irrigation. So they are constantly moving hoses and sprinklers to keep grass green and plants happy! The staff that works inside battle the obvious lack of air conditioning since that would not be feasible in a greenhouse. Plus, over half of the displays in the historic conservatory are tropical environments. Adding to that there is a real lack of air flow inside, we count on a few ceiling fans and some help from mother nature once and awhile. Everyday something has to be watered when its so warm and humid and throw in some high winds and you have the cards stacked against you!

Besides keeping up with watering in the gardens, we have routine maintenance, which consists of weeding, deadheading (removing old flowers), mulching, trimming, etc. Our new Blooming Butterfly Exhibit has kept everyone extra busy. We are all trying not to fall behind in our work because it will be that much harder to deal with down the road. Although some things are couple weeks behind from our late spring which helps us out a little. We deal with these conditions year after year but, we certainly don't look forward to the hot and humid days!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Water on hot days

On these hot days it can be difficult to stay cool. The gardening staff don't have waterfights or go swimming in the pools even when tempted. We do have to drink lots of water, wear hats and take breaks if necessary.

The plants are at somewhat of a disadvantage. The plants inside the conservatory rely solely on the gardening staff for their water needs. Gardeners water the collections of plants on display by hand. This can take a couple hours in the morning before the general public starts to enter the gardens at 10am.

Two of the display rooms, Tropical Encounters and the Fern Room, have an additional method of cooling which increases humidity in these rooms called meefog. Meefog involves a series of nozzles which add water vapor to the air. In Tropical Encounters these nozzles are placed throughout the exhibit, often near the ground. In the Fern Room these nozzles are on the ceiling. Many visitors who walk through the Fern Room will notice the mist as they walk through this room. Meefog is not a method of watering. The mist does not provide enough moisture to keep the soil wet. It does reduce the rate that water is lost from the fern fronds and helps protect roots from drying out.

In the Fern Room, increasing the humidity is quite important to the health of the plants in that room. The fern collection includes many tropical species that require a higher relative humidity than that which occurs in Minnesota.

Did you know that the tree ferns in the fern room not only have roots in the soil but also have roots on their trunks? The higher humidity helps preserve the health of these plants. In fact, water is an essential part of the fern life cycle. Where flowering plants have pollinators that participate in fertilization of those plants, ferns use water to reproduce. That's something to think about. Reproduction in ferns occurs without flowers on a microscopic level after spores germinate. The result is a new plant, ferns don't produce seeds.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Flowers for Fall and Winter

The weather has finally felt like summer and now the gardeners are already thinking about fall and winter. They have been working hard on preparing plants for the fall and winter flower shows. Just recently they have received 1,600 mums and are waiting on a shipment of poinsettias. There are rows and rows of mum seedlings in the greenhouse that are being cared for. The mums are planted either singly for taller plants or 3 to a pot for smaller plant.

Fall Flower Show