Q: What are the little balls between the stems and dried blossoms of this Christmas cactus, as shown in the photo? The blossoms dry but never fall off. — Lorene M.
A: Your Christmas cactus is producing seed pods, which when ripe should contain seeds from which new plants could be started. Seed pod formation on holiday cactuses is fairly rare, both on Christmas cactus with its rounded stem pads, or Thanksgiving cactus with its pads that contain toothlike projections at each joint.
Christmas cactus flowers are somewhat self-fertile, meaning its own pollen can start the pod-forming process when it lands on the flower’s female portion. Seed pod formation is reportedly more successful, though, when pollen is transferred between two separate plants.
How does male pollen get transferred onto the female parts of the flower? In nature, wind and insects are usually responsible. If flowers happen to be shaken a little indoors, the movement might be enough to accomplish pollination and start pod formation, which might explain why this somewhat rare occurrence happened to your plant.
Christmas cactus flowers can be purposely pollinated by using an artist’s paintbrush to gently sweep the centers of flowers, moving from one flower to the next, or from plant to plant. On the average Christmas cactus, pollination doesn’t happen, no pods are formed and flowers fall.
In the rare cases where seed pods form, dried flower petals often cling to the pod but can be cut off if you wish. Seed pods can be left intact if you’d like to see what happens. Purposely cross-pollinating two different colors is how new hybrids are developed.
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Q: A co-worker has asked me to start some cabbage plants for them this spring, as they want to make sauerkraut. Any suggestions as to which varieties of seed to get? Any planting tips? — Larry E.
A: I love sauerkraut and making it is half the fun, plus growing the cabbage. Although other types can be used, the best cabbage varieties for sauerkraut are late-maturing, long-season types, listed as requiring 85 to 110 days. Such varieties ripen during the cooler temperatures of late summer or fall and develop a higher sugar content. Generally larger in size, the heads of late varieties tend to have solidly packed interiors, preferable for kraut making.
Varieties with proven sauerkraut track records include Danish Ballhead, Passat, Premium Late Flat Dutch, Typhoon, Gumma, Tibute and Krautman. I might suggest planting two varieties, to avoid putting all your cabbage in one basket. Krautman has been a favorite of many, although seed can reportedly be hard to find. I did locate seed online at Logan Zenner Seeds. The other varieties mentioned can also be obtained by searching seed companies online.
Start cabbage seed indoors about March 15 for transplanting into the garden in early May. Although cabbage plants are quite tolerant of spring frosts, setting plants out too early can result in poor head development. Space late cabbage varieties about three feet apart for maximum size development.
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Q: I’ve heard that it’s good for houseplants to add eggshells to the soil after first soaking the shells in water. Does it matter if the shells come from fresh eggs, or can they come from hard-boiled eggs? — Mary P.
A: Your question is a reminder of the eggshells my mother always added to her beautiful houseplants. It is recommended to rinse eggshells to avoid causing odor.
The University of Illinois indicates eggshells can be used for fertilizer benefit, but the shells must be ground into a fine powder for the elements to be readily released. Coarsely broken eggshells release very little minerals until broken down in a year or two.
The primary mineral in eggshells is calcium, and our outdoor garden soils from the Red River Valley westward generally have more than enough calcium naturally. Soils to the east of the valley which have tested acidic or low in calcium might benefit from this mineral’s addition.
Houseplant soil, which tends to be high in acidic peat moss, might benefit from eggshell’s calcium. Instead of powdered, though, houseplants might benefit more from coarsely crushing the eggshells, which could keep soil porous and improve water penetration and drainage. The University of Minnesota also says eggshells can help promote beneficial soil organisms and won’t harm soil or plants.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.