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Vermiculite vs Perlite: What is the difference?

Several years ago, I had an experience where I specifically needed perlite for a gardening project. When I got to the gardening section of this store, I discovered that they were out of perlite. I asked a store employee for help, and he confirmed that perlite was indeed out of stock everywhere in the store. Instead, the employee tried to sell me vermiculite, insisting they were basically the same thing. While this is true in one respect, this mistake could also ruin your project. While working for the same purpose in one respect, perlite and vermiculite are completely opposite in another. So it is important to know the difference between perlite and vermiculite so that you are never influenced to do something that could ruin your gardening projects by incompetent store employees.

Vermiculite and perlite are both non-organic soil additives that are used to aerate the soil. As rooting mediums, they offer this same benefit. Vermiculite is a spongy material made from mica whereas perlite is a type of highly porous volcanic glass that resembles pumice. Perlite appears as small, round, non-uniform, white particles. Some people mistake perlite in potting soil mixtures for Styrofoam balls. While both mediums are used for aeration, they cannot always be used interchangeably.

Both perlite and vermiculite are great at retaining water, but vermiculite retains much more water and offers a little less aeration than perlite. Vermiculite literally acts as a sponge that will retain water to the point of saturation. Perlite holds water by having a large amount of surface area within the nooks and crevices of its vast pores. But being porous and made of volcanic glass it allows excess water to drain much more readily than vermiculite.

In a case where you have especially thirsty plants and want the soil to hold extra water, vermiculite would be a better choice. You might find that perlite will dry out too quickly in this situation. But if you were growing cacti, you would eventually discover that the amount of water vermiculite holds would lead your plants to rot. Perlite, on the other hand, would be well-draining and suitable for your cacti mixture.

Vermiculite is also used in mycology to add moisture to the substrate that mushrooms will grow on. Perlite would fail miserably at this task. Perlite can also be used in mycology or horticulture to raise humidity levels. Because perlite has more surface area, it fosters higher humidity by evaporation off this extra surface area. Vermiculite would not work as well for this though because it would retain much more of that water.

So essentially, perlite and vermiculite are the same in that they can retain more water than many other things, and they can aerate soil. But vermiculite differs from perlite because it retains water and creates a soil mixture that retains water, whereas perlite fosters a well-draining soil mixture. Likewise, vermiculite’s tendency to retain water makes it a good additive to mushroom substrates but a bad candidate for increasing humidity. Perlite’s hard, porous nature makes it a great mechanism for increasing the humidity of a given area but disqualifies it as a candidate for creating a substrate that will retain moisture.


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When Should I Plant Flower Seeds?

The following question was posed on Yahoo answers, but the amount of space they allowed me to answer was not nearly what was needed for me to fully answer the question. In order to provide supplemental information and help others that may have similar questions, I am providing my full answer here:

The question of when to plant flower seeds is relative to your area and the type of seed being planted. In general, you want to think of the “time to plant flower seeds” as the time within the seasonal cycle of your area more so than the literal time of year.

Ideally, you want to start the seeds as early as possible so that you can maximize the amount of time you get to enjoy your blooms. But if you plant the seeds too early, it is possible to stunt growth of young seedlings or kill them altogether. The best thing to do is look on the packet or look up a grow guide for the individual species you are growing. This will give you an idea of the seasonal conditions that are optimal for the given species you are trying to grow.

But let’s talk about some general terms. If you are dealing with flowers such as poppies you actually want to start them very early in the season. I can say from experience that cosmos and leonotis nepetifolia (klip dagga) are not flower species that will be hurt from planting too early. You will see many packets or grow guides talking about starting the seeds as soon as the ground is workable. In this case, it means that once the ground has thawed enough that you can work in it, you can plant your seeds. Again, these are seeds that can tolerate and may even benefit from cold or frosty conditions. So when you talk about the time that this occurs, it goes back to being dependant on area.

It seems that the most common recommendation you will run into is plant the seeds after the danger of frost has passed. While the seeds themselves may be able to withstand frost, these are usually plants whose seedlings are frost tender. Many seeds in nature have mechanisms to prevent them from germinating all at once. Packaged seeds have a tendency to produce quicker and more regular germination to please the customer. But it removes the plants defense from the “irregular” nature of weather. So if you were to plant a species whose seedlings are frost tender too early, you may end up with a spout of nice weather that causes most of your seeds to germinate only to experience a period of frost that kills your seedlings. So if you pick a time in which you know the danger of frost has passed to plant your seedlings, you can avoid this problem. In many areas, May is suitable for this. But in other areas you might even wait til early June. On the other hand, you will be able to plant earlier than May down south.

But all of this speaks about planting outdoors. Many growers get a head start on the season by starting seeds indoors or in something like a greenhouse. Again, this will affect the question of what month you can plant. If you have suitable conditions, you can technically start plants or flowers in any month, and you can grow just about any species (even tropical) plants in your location. But the key to this is being able to provide suitable conditions. Indoor light simply cannot match the light outdoors. Even a well-lit window probably has less light than a shady area outdoors.

When you start your plants indoors you have to consider two things. The first is whether the conditions are suitable to maintain the plant long enough to get it outdoors. Seedlings tend to require lower light than established plants. This makes sense not just because seedlings are smaller and have less biomass to maintain. Seedlings often get their start beneath leaves, branches or under the shade of other plants. As they grow higher, they eventually find the light they need to maintain adult growth. It seems that nature understands this and has made seedlings adaptable. If your seedlings start out very tall and skinny, it is likely that your house lacks the light even to maintain seedling growth. For this, you would want to supplement the light with a grow bulb or compact fluorescent. But imagining you get past this, you do not want to start your seedlings so early that you pass the seedling stage before you can get them outdoors. So even indoors, the time of when to plant can be dependant on where you live and when the weather is warm enough outside. But it will give you a head start. As for determining when indoor planting is right, you can often look on the seed packet or in a grow guide for help. Of course, if you supplement the natural light in your house with something like fluorescent lights, you can often determine yourself when you want to plant because you will have sufficient light to keep the plants going beyond what natural light alone may offer.

The second thing you want to consider about starting seeds indoors is called hardening off. Essentially, this is the idea of getting your seedlings used to the harsh outdoor world. As mentioned before, the sun will be stronger outdoors. Just as people tend to get burned easily early in the season after lack of sun exposure, so do plants. To get your plants used to these conditions, you want to gradually expose them to the outdoors over a period of time while also increasing the amount of light you expose them to until they reach their final growing place.

Here is a basic plan for hardening off: Start them off in complete shade for a few hours a day. Over the next few days increase the time the plant it outside until it is outside all day. Monitor the plant for any signs of stress. Then eventually you want to gradually increase the light exposure until you find that your plant can tolerate its final growing place.

Some packets and grow guides will actually mention starting seeds indoors x number of weeks before the last frost. But they do not explain much of what I have just described. This will help you in such cases. Starting flowers from seed can be a bit more work than buying plants. But with seeds you will usually be able to get a lot more flowers and a lot more variety for the same price. Each year your skill will improve so that growing from seed will be second nature. But if you have any reservations about your ability when starting out, go for easy-to-grow varieties like Grandpa Ott’s Morning glory, cosmos, klip dagga, California poppy, Purple coneflower (echinacea) or sunflowers. You can find seeds for most of the locally, but we also carry them at World Seed Supply. Perennials such as echinacea will return each year while some like Grandpa Ott’s morning glory have a tendency to reseed. So you initial efforts will pay off in the long run. Don’t be discouraged. Happy planting!


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Why Mulch?

Mulching your garden will improve your plants’ health and save you time in the garden. They say time equals money. Well, mulching equals more spare time for you. So, if you are not already doing it, here is some “valuable” information. Many of us might already be mulching our flower beds to control weeds. But the benefits of mulching are not just limited to weed control. Mulching allows the soil to retain moisture and heat longer. It can extend a growing season. It also provides an environment that houses beneficial insects and works to improve your soil over time. Mulching can even reduce infestation.

You may very well be familiar with mulching when it comes to landscaping and flower beds. Landscapers often use mulch to keep weeds from overtaking their projects. So why not do the same in your garden? If you haven’t been mulching, then you’ve probably been busy fighting with weeds that compete for light, moisture and root space with your plants. But in today’s world time is precious commodity. And gardening is supposed to be a hobby, not another chore. Any idea that saves time is usually a good one. You can use straw as an inexpensive alternative to traditional mulches. By putting a thick layer down, you block new weed seeds from reaching the soil below while starving seeds that are already below of the light they need to thrive. This is not to say that it will block every weed. After all, life has a way of adapting to just about any obstacle. But it will certainly free up more time to spend on the more enjoyable endeavors in your garden.

Another way mulching saves you time is watering. Just as the mulch creates a barrier to weeds, it does so with moisture. Mulch blocks the sun’s rays from directly beating on the soil. At the same time, mulch keeps soil moisture from evaporating right out into the air where it disappears. After leaving the soil, moisture can remain in the mulch itself where it is still of more use to your plants than if it had dissipated. By conserving water, it means that you will spend less time watering. This is beneficial to the environment and to your water bill. Just like time is money, water is money. So even if you have a sprinkler system so that watering time is not so much an issue, mulching will still help you save in other ways.

Mulching can also benefit you timewise by extending your growing season. Just like mulch will help maintain moisture, it acts as an insulator. In this way, it can insulate the roots of late-season crops so that you may be able to get some extra growing time out of them. In some cases, mulching the roots can even help perennial plants survive the winter in an area where it might otherwise just miss being able to do so, due to cold temperatures. It may not do much for the leaves and branches of the plant. But if the roots are preserved, the rest of the plant will regenerate much quicker and stronger than growing from seed. Or depending on the case, this may save you the time and space of having to bring plants indoors for the winter.

On the other side of the spectrum, mulching can buy you time in the early part of the season too. Mulching can help you get an early start on the season with seeds you are sowing in the ground by helping keep the soil a little warmer. A loose layer of straw will also work well to help shade new seedlings from the intense sun until they get on their own feet. By this, we mean having a layer of straw (or other mulch) that is not packed so that there are gaps in between the pieces where seedlings can grow. The shadows created by the pieces of the mulch will create shading for seedlings just getting off to their start in life. As the seedlings grow, just add more mulch until you have the thick layer of mulch you will need later in the season. This shading will keep them from being stressed while improving their moisture supply to ensure your seedlings get off to a better start. And getting back to the concept of time, a better start should mean quicker growth. So you may spend just a little less time waiting for your plants to start producing.

Along with these benefits, mulching will also improve your soil quality. Healthy soil is an entire ecosystem with the plants only being one part. Mulching helps provide a home for beneficial insects, fungi and micro-organisms. Insects like ladybugs, centipedes and spiders help by feeding on potential pests. Mulching also has a tendency to attract earthworms, which are often good indicators of soil health. Earthworm castings, which is a nice way of referring to the solid waste of the worm, have countless benefits to the soil. Castings act as a fertilizer and can increase a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. The castings also contain bacterias and microorganisms that, just like the worms, help break down organic matter. As organisms break down the mulch, it will help provide additional nutrients to the soil. By working with nature’s natural chemistry you can forgo the monetary and health expenses of using chemical fertilizers.

Another good thing about mulch is that it allows you to foster that ecosystem in your garden in a way that it is partitioned. The microorganisms and insects that break down organic matter tend to lie primarily in the soil below the mulch. The mulch layer prevents splash up during watering that can introduce soil-borne diseases to the foliage of your plants. This mulch barrier also works out well for fruits like cucumbers and melons that may lie on the ground. While their roots can still partake in all the benefits of the mulch, the fruits can lay atop the mulch layer, keeping them away from excess moisture as well as many organisms that might invade the fruit. Instead, the fruits are left up above that layer with you, the one who will be doing all the eating.

At the start of this, you may have thought of mulching as just an extra thing to do in your gardening this year. But mulching is one of those extra steps that pays for itself. If you can take a single step that will save you time, money and at the same time increase productivity, then only poor planning should prevent that step from happening. We could go on further about the benefits of mulching, but this article is very much about saving time. And I think we’ve spent just enough to get the point across

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Choosing Cacti for a Beautiful Garden

Cacti are not just for the desert anymore. The hobby of cacti collecting has captivated a worldwide audience with many growers finding themselves engulfed in the quest to collect them all. But it is not just the typical spiny thing you’ve come to expect from your local Home Depot or Walmart. For the collector, the cactus is often a living work of art. Breeders mix and match these features, deserving the same praise as any artist. With ornate spinal patterns, zebra textures and wooly tufts, it is not hard for anyone to see the aesthetic appeal. So getting away from hardware stores and discount department stores, let us take a look at some ornamental options for your garden.

Perhaps the most ornamental genus of cacti is that of astrophytum. The root of the name astrophytum refers to the stars, as in the word “astronomy,” which reflects a somewhat star-shaped appearance of this cactus. There are various species of astrophytum such as astrophytum asterias, astrophytum ornatum, astrophytum capricorne and the quite popular astrophytum myriostigma, or Bishop’s Cap. Both astrophytum asterias and myriostigma are characterized by virtually spineless stems, which can make handling safe, particularly where there are children or pets present. Asterias is commonly referred to as sand dollar cactus and has a star-shaped pattern of cottony dots. Ornatum and capricorne, on the other hand, are prized for their ornamental spines. The name ornatum suggests its visual appeal while Capricorne refers to the ram, a reference to the way its spines curl.

Most of these species originate from Northern Mexico and Texas, although over-harvesting and habitat encroachment has led to endangerment in the wild. According to Adam Gottleib’s book, Peyote and Other Psychoactive Cacti, several species of astrophytum may have been considered sacred by the Tarahumara culture. Although astrophytum does not appear to contain psychoactive compounds, the historical and possible sacred significance will add to conversational value of your garden. Although the sad story of wild endangerment applies to a majority of the ornamental cacti, astrophytum is valued enough to ensure that it will at least remain preserved in cultivation.

When it comes to cultivation, the Japanese have become leaders in the art of breeding cacti. In particular, their variations of members of the astrophytum genus are unprecedented. One of the most popular of these gems is astrophytum asterias “super kabuto”. They have taken the already remarkable astrophytum asterias and improved upon it. Variations of this include changes in the texture and number of ribs as well as numerous hybrids. These are all options that will make your cacti garden stand above the rest, although it should be noted that some of the more marvelous specimens can be quite pricey. Many growers also resort to growing from seed which can be rewarding for both pride and finance.

Another genus that is filled with prime choices for a beautiful garden is ariocarpus. It has eight species. The most popular of these cacti is ariocarpus fissuratus, although ariocaprus retusus is nearly as popular. Like astrophytum, ariocarpus cacti remain short. Their rough texture has earned them the nickname, living rocks. However, it should be noted that this name refers to various other short cacti and succulents. Both lithops and pleiospilos nelii are examples. Ariocarpus fissuratus has variable features, but those with rougher skin are generally considered more valuable. From above, it looks like a stack of stars with a wooly tuft in the center. If you are lucky enough to be in a warm climate and have a cactus that is ten years or older, you may even get to witness the pink blooms.

Ariocarpus retusus has flowers that are usually white, sometimes with pink tips. It looks much like a small, chubby aloe. There is even a subspecies called ariocarpus agavoides, which is considered by some to be its own species. Retusus specimens vary mainly in the length and thickness of its tubercles. The tubercle is the nodule of flesh that sticks out from the body of the cactus. There is a well-known variety of ariocarpus retusus, called ‘furfuraceus‘, which has a significant amount of wool between the tubercles. Also, if you find aricocarpus retusus attractive, you will probably like obregonia denegrii or artichoke cactus.

All of the species mentioned thus far are button-like cacti that will remain small. A good cactus arrangement will usually benefit from some columnar cacti. Ideal choices of columnar cacti include myrtillocactus geometrizens (blue myrtle) and various species of the trichocereus genus. Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus, huasca and spachianus are all ideal choices. All of these columnar cacti are recommended because they are fast-growing and easy to maintain. Blue myrtle is a perfect choice because it has small spines and a bluish green body. Trichocereus peruvianus is a variable species with forms that have a similar, and sometimes frosty, color. It also has a number of different spine lengths to choose from, depending on genetics. On the other hand, the most common form of trichoereus pachanoi, which is known as the Backberg clone, has rather small spines. Another variety of pachanoi, the Tom Juul’s Giant, has even smaller spines. If you’re looking for spines with different coloration, those of spachianus are often golden with those of huascha ranging from reddish to golden. Furthermore, huascha can add appeal to your garden because of its tendency to clump at the base.

For experienced growers, trichocereus and myrtillocactus can be used to speed up the growth of their slower growing cacti or cacti seedlings by grafting. One of the most coveted grafting stocks in addition to these columnar species is pereskiopsis spathulata. Pereskiopsis is evolutionally on the border between cactus and succulent. It has both leaves and spines. Needless to say, pereskiopsis is quite unique on its own or with another species attached. By slicing and tapping into the vascular rings from a host cactus on the bottom, a separate specimen on the top will grow at an increased rate. It is also as way to save species whose roots have rotted because they will be able to benefit from the roots of their host plant. The combo of two cacti like this will certainly make your garden unique.

So your garden now has button-like, columnar and clumping cacti. But if you are still looking to add more variety to your collection there are more options. One more option is the lobed cacti, particularly opuntia. Opuntia are some of the most durable cacti in the world. Many of them can survive freezing temperatures, even if they are not rooted. Their spines range from long and sharp to barely visible hairs that will catch in your skin and irritate you. One of the best things about opuntia is that their blooms, often yellow or red, will be followed by edible fruits. The common prickly pear is the fruit of the opuntia ficus-indica. Opuntia pads are also eaten cooked or pickled and used to feed livestock. Opuntia are fast growers, and like previous mentions, they are sometimes used as grafting stock.

This final suggestion is somewhat surprising, but it is part of a growing trend. If you want to add that final degree of distinctiveness to your garden consider what is called a monstrose or crested cacti. These forms can be any species that exists. What makes it crested or monstrose is a mutation in the meristem (growing point) in the cactus. What were once outcasts have come to be known as genetic rarities, and like the Japanese cultivars, those of already rare species can carry quite a price tag. Mutations in these cacti result in a number of oddities. Crests tend to be rippled, wavy or fanlike, sometime resulting in brainlike shapes. Monstrose tends to have more of an outright deformed clumping effect. The most popular of the monstrose is probably that of cereus peruvianus. Crested trichocereus pachanoi and trichocereus thelogonus are also quite popular. However, when it comes to something that will surely catch your attention, there’s nothing like the trichocereus bridgesii monstrose, or more appropriately, the penis plant.

So now that I’ve finally got your attention, go back and narrow down some selections on your own. Our varied garden includes button-like, columnar, lobed, monstrose, crested and perhaps some grafted cacti. While everyone’s preferences will range, hopefully this article has given you some new options and a place to begin looking in the quest to beautify your cactus garden. I urge you to get into the growing hobby and become part of this worldwide hobby. As I said, look beyond your local department store or supermarket.


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World Seed Supply’s Seed of the Month

World Seed Supply’s Seed of the Month

Welcome to World Seed Supply’s Seed of the Month page.  We offer free “Seed of the Month” packets with domestic orders that ship from our NY location. Below you will find the Seed of the Month for each month.  We will keep the list going back for a period of one year in case you need to refer back or if you are curious about past offerings. Click each seed name for more information.
January 2015

December 2014

Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola)
November 2014