David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Kitchen Scraps Make Interesting Houseplants
No need to wait until spring to start growing your plants
Back in the 70s, you could find an avocado pit speared and partially submerged in a glass of water in every kitchen. Then three years later, someone would finally get around to throwing out the resulting tree that did nothing but produce green leaves, though it probably was the center of many cocktail parties.
That was the start of recycling, well before the emphasis changed to glass, newspapers and your old appliances.
Starting in the 90s, many gardeners started to shun these free plants. Kitchen scraps were something shoved down the disposal or thrown in the trash. However, are we missing an opportunity to recycle our kitchen trash and turn it into a treasure that we can share with others, including our kids and grandkids? Are we missing an opportunity to brighten the dreary days of winter with our green thumb prowess?
Not everything makes a kitchen treasure, and some things are just down right nasty. Sure, you could probably cut the top off a beet and grow it, but why would you? Beets are nasty things that don’t even belong in your kitchen or garden in the first place.
Some things just won’t grow. Forget about any luck with anything that comes in a can.
However, there are some things that can be mildly interesting.
Potatoes are the simplest to sprout; sometimes they do it on their own under the sink if they don’t turn into a putrid smelling rotting mass first. Cut up a few pieces of the potatoes, making sure you have an eye in each one, and plant in a pot or large cup with potting soil. Water and stand back.
Chances are, though, you won’t get many tubers forming, and after awhile, you’ll find that sprouted potatoes aren’t the most interesting of houseplants.
Sweet potatoes can also be sprouted, but since they aren’t a tuber like regular potatoes, you can’t cut them in pieces and expect lots of plants. Tubers are swollen stem tissue with lots of buds; sweet potatoes are tuberous roots with only buds at the end.
Find the growing end of the sweet potato and cut it off. You can dangle it in water, or allow it to dry on the counter overnight and plant it. Eventually, you’ll get waxy green foliage and lots of plants emerging from that end. This should happen in a matter of weeks. If not, you probably started the wrong end.
Sweet potatoes look nice on the kitchen window ledge, cascading down toward the counters and sink. Over all, they’re more attractive than potatoes. If you keep them alive long enough, you can plant them outdoors around Mother’s Day. Most of us get sick and tired of them by then, though.
Grapefruit, lemon, orange and papaya seeds will sprout. If every papaya seed germinated, we’d be overrun with papaya groves. You can even start kiwi seeds if you want to take the time to separate them.
Mango and avocado pits will also grow, though the key to them is recognizing what is up and what is down. Avocados should have the biggest end sitting down, sort of like humans. Mangos have one edge that is slightly wider that looks like an eye – that goes up.
The riper the plant, the faster the seeds start. However, overripe fruit can be magnets for insects and molds. Once you’ve dug out the seeds, let them sit on the counter for a couple of days to dry. Since it’s winter, they shouldn’t attract too many fruit flies.
You can recycle fast food containers for pots, making sure the container is relatively clean. Poke a few holes in the plastic or Styrofoam to allow water to drain.
Before you know it, you’ll have a jungle of plants that will seldom give anything back to you for all the attention you’ve given them. Sort of like a teenager.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.