Thursday, March 26, 2009

A few words about Moonflowers

The tomato and foxglove seedlings are still going strong (anyone else think it's cool how the tomato seedling's first leaves close together like praying hands at night and open up again in the morning light?), and Rose's Iceplant seeds have made the upgrade to seedlings yesterday, as well.

This morning brought us even more sprouts--Rose's Common Thyme is starting to come up only 5 days after planting, and my Moonflowers are poking up their seeds now, too--8 days after planting.

Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) are one of the few things I've grown for a few years running. Before we moved here, we had an apartment with a west-facing balcony and I grew them next to Morning Glories, both in pots.

Once I'd gotten a few things worked out, they did pretty well there.

They are a very impressive flower when they bloom, with lots in common with their cousin the Morning Glory, but kicked up a notch or two. The leaves and vines look like Morning Glories, but bigger, thicker, greener. The blooms, when they finally bloom, are really big, 6 or 7 inches across, like a lunch plate, and they smell just glorious.

The seeds, too, look like Morning Glory seeds, that kind of asymmetrical football shape with a hard shell, but about 4 times the size. And when they sprout, they do it just like big Morning Glories--popping up like a seed on a stem before pushing out of whatever remains of the seed coat (and often quite a lot remains) to open into a pair of notched cotyledon leaves.

I've read that you're supposed to soak both types of seeds before planting, and nick the seed coat for good measure. Over the years, though, I've gotten lax on that, but they always work just fine anyway. Whether or not I do that, some of both types of Ipomoea sprouts seem to die trying to get out of that seed coat, but soaks and nicks don't seem to change the rate of that.

You're also supposed to be able to direct sow both types of seeds, but in zone 5 (the apartment), I've never been able to get the Moonflowers to bloom that way. Lots of promising vines and leaves, but nothing like a bud or bloom before the fall frost killed it all. Maybe with more sun than they got on the balcony it would work, but since the sun didn't bend to my will, I needed to change the things I could change, and starting them indoors before the last frost did the trick for me. Could possibly be better here in zone 6, but I certainly don't think it's likely enough that I want to try it and risk a year without Moonflowers. And besides, since they do so well starting indoors and it gives me something to play with in the early spring, what's the downside, right?

They are pretty adaptable, I've found, and can be started a month or two before they get transplanted outside. I bring them outside for sun once the days get warmer (which, by the way, would not be March around here!) and back in at night until the last frost. They, like the Morning Glories, start a bit slowly but take off once you let them vine on something, but that pre-vining growth is fine in a pot or biggish flat, and that's been the best way I've found to get them to bloom by mid-summer.

Not a bad trick, actually--you get something green and growing to play with indoors while you wait for the good weather and, once that good weather comes, you get astounding, fragrant flowers showing bright in the moonlight on summer evenings. Who doesn't love that?

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