Shopping for plants in the produce aisle

It won’t be long before the gardening crowd will be dusting off their trowels and stampeding straight to plant sellers to stock up for the upcoming summer growing season.

Unfortunately, with dedicated nurseries in short supply these days, most intrepid plant hunters will be headed to the big boxes where lumber stores, outlet malls and even Canadian Tire have discovered there is big money to be made selling plants alongside the all-season radials, car seat covers, and two-by-fours.

Pineapple is a plant that can be grown from a specimen picked straight from a grocery store’s produce aisle. PHOTO: Steven Chadwick
Pineapple is a plant that can be grown from a specimen picked straight from a grocery store’s produce aisle.
PHOTO: Steven Chadwick

It’s not surprising that supermarkets have taken the lead as one of the bigger players in the plant biz since they specialize in selling leafy things year round. But it’s not just in their parking lots and caged compounds full of captive impatiens and begonias where the most interesting plant material can be found. I like to go inside the store and root around in the fruit and vegetable aisles looking for an exotic leaf or tuber I can grow in the garden or a pot.

As anyone who has left an onion in the cupboard or forgotten about that bag of potatoes in the basement knows, most fresh vegetables are really just little bundles of energy raring to go, and once these snoozing veggies realize they have escaped the frying pan they will more often than not put up a sprout and start growing.

There’s no shortage of plants you can grow by the pound from the grocery stores – from garlic, ginger, peppers and beans, to grains of quinoa and chia from the bulk bin. But for me, it’s big leaf plants and dramatic foliage displays that I’m after, and here are a couple of my favourites from the produce department.

Colocasia esculenta (Elephant ear) – or in supermarket lingo, eddoe, taro, dasheen and sometimes coco yam – is a small ringed corm readily available at Asian, Caribbean and most larger chain grocery stores where you can usually find a few that are already starting to sprout. Start them indoors in early spring by simply placing the plump corms on a saucer of pebbles and water until they begin to develop roots. Plant the corm in a large pot and place outside in a sunny spot and with a regular watering and fertilization schedule it will produce giant heart-shaped leaves that can grow to a length of over two feet by late summer.

Colocasia esculenta is shown here grown from a grocery store taro. PHOTO: Steven Chadwick
Colocasia esculenta is shown here grown from a grocery store taro.
PHOTO: Steven Chadwick

Pineapples require quite a bit more patience but the end result will be well worth the effort when you show your friends the miniature fruit precariously balanced on the sturdy stem that emerges from the centre of the foliage. Unfortunately, when I say ‘patience’ I mean a ‘lot of patience,’ since they flower and fruit whenever the mood strikes them – usually 24 to 36 months after planting.

If you want to grow a store-bought pineapple, buy a firm fruit with healthy blue-green leaves and detach the crown with a quick twist as if you were wringing out a wash towel. You can also slice the top just below the leaves but if you try this method, make sure the sliver of fruit is removed before planting to avoid rot. Let the foliage cure for twenty four hours and then remove the bottom three or four sets of leaves to expose the small white nodules that will eventually become the root system. Place the lower third of the plant in a glass of water and after the roots start to appear (in about two weeks) plant in a well-draining potting soil and put outside in a warm sunny spot. Pineapples, like most of the bromeliaceae family, almost thrive on neglect and gain most of their water and nutrients from their cupped foliage, but they will have to be brought inside and put in a sunny window for the winter. However, fruiting or not, the brilliant blue green foliage display is worth the price of admission and makes for a great conversation piece whether indoors or out.

 

Steven Chadwick is a professional gardener and horticulturist, and long-time Beach resident

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