Free Plants

   Written by on January 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

The word for the week is parsimony, which means unusual or excessive frugality. With the weather so cold it’s hard to think about being frugal when it comes to your heating source, but just maybe you can reconsider some of that fruit you buy at the grocery store during the winter. After all, once you’ve eaten the fruit, you have free seeds. The commercially grown fruit you’re buying right now is expensive since it’s out of season so you might as well make the most of it by propagating some nice plants from the seeds and save yourself some money in the spring.

There are some general rules and cautions that apply to this type of endeavor. First of all, germination rates are low so it’s probably a good idea to start with a lot of seeds. And you’ll have to be satisfied with just foliage for the most part. A lot of fruits have male and female flowers on different plants and most plants grown from seed are male, so the likelihood of you raising your own oranges on a table in the kitchen is slim.

Almost all seeds sprout more readily in the spring than in the fall or winter, but sometimes seeds can be tricked into thinking spring has arrived by keeping them in the freezer for a few days, and then thawing them out before planting.

Now, what to plant? A good seed for the novice is the reliable avocado. Once the seed is exposed, pierce with toothpicks to hold it, flat side down, partially submerged in a glass of water until root growth is apparent then plant. When the plant is six inches high, cut it back to two leaves and prune the new growth as desired.

Grapefruit is the easiest citrus to grow. Soak seeds in a cup of hot water overnight, then plant in compost-rich soil. The plant will do best in a deep pot with plenty of room for the roots. The flowers, if you should be so fortunate, will be very fragrant, but plants grown from commercial fruit will not flower readily.

If you can get your hands on a raw coffee bean or two, it’s worth a try. All the beans in the grocery store have been roasted but specialty shops have raw ones. Keep the seeds very warm for germination. A small bush with glossy leaves, a coffee plant likes loose, sandy soil and warm, moist sunny conditions. Think about where coffee plantations are usually located.

Peaches and nectarines make beautiful house plants. Crack the stone with a nutcracker, but be careful not to crush the seed. Plant the seed four inches deep. Keep warm and out of the light until shoot appear in about two weeks.

Pomegranates need a warm place and about two weeks to germinate. Wash the seeds thoroughly and let dry. Grown naturally, pomegranates are pretty big, but if you grow them in a small, shallow container and let the soil get quite dry from time to time, the plant will remain a manageable size. Grow them in south window if possible, pomegranates like it sunny and warm.

Of course, there are some real fun challenges out there. Cut the top off a fresh pineapple about three-quarters of an inch below the crown and let it dry for a day. Plant it in loose, acidic soil up to the crown. Mist periodically and feed the leaves once a month. They should be ready to flower in about two years.

Sweet potatoes are the absolute easiest, of course, but how about ginger? Sprout a small lump of fresh ginger in Perlite and then plant in general purpose potting soil. Be very patient. And, naturally, there are some that are just not worth the trouble: guava, kiwi and mango being the biggest disappointments. They’re either uninteresting plants, too particular to be believed, or take an ice age to germinate.

Look at the produce section from a different perspective next time you’re in the store. You never know what may sprout from your imagination.

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