Showing posts with label houseplants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label houseplants. Show all posts

Challenging Plants Weird Yet Wonderful

Begonia 'Silver Jewell' in MOBOT conservatory.
April is the perfect month to visit a conservatory. One of my favorites is at Missouri Botanical Garden. Even though we might see a few warmish, sunny days, there is nothing like a warm humid room full of plants to get your gardening engine going.

Jade vine in conservatory.
While I'd never be able to grow most of the plants inside, some pique my interest, which is one of the reasons I take photos so I can check them out later on. I know I could do it on the spot with my phone, but I prefer not to interrupt my enjoyment of the surroundings to go as Google.

The American Begonia Society rates the culture of Begonia 'Silver Jewell' as on the difficult side, but ideal for the advanced begonia grower. You've been forewarned.

Callistemon citrinus
During visits to MOBOT's conservatories, I got to see a jade vine, which comes from the jungles of the Philippines. It's a pretty rampant vine, and wouldn't like it much in the Chicago region. It's botanic name is Strongylodon macrobotrys, and its flowers are of a other-worldly turquoise color. Logee's Plants offers it, but they don't recommend it for a one-summer bloomer, especially in cooler climates.

Callistemon citrinus is a plant you can't possibly pass by--especially when it's in bloom. This Australian native is a tree, and even though there are dwarf forms that grow no taller than four feet, it is another one that probably wouldn't do well as a summer tropical on my patio.

I had lots of fun growing hardy dunce cap, though. This cute little succulent with a tongue-twister of a name--Orostachys moehmari--makes it okay to call it by its common name.

Hardy dunce cap can survive winters as cold as Zone 6, but only if it's planted in rocky, well-drained soil. It has been known to survive temperatures as low as -30 F, but only if it is growing in the ideal conditions.

Orostachys boehmeri, or hardy dunce cap, blooms in September. It is hardy to Zone 6.
As with any plant that you hope to live on beyond one summer, keeping it very healthy throughout the growing season is essential. Fertilize if necessary, but cut back the food as the days grow shorter. Its roots should be robust and full of nutrients in order to survive the winter. Because nobody likes to go to bed hungry.

I'll be including batfaced Cuphea to my summer plant list again this year.

From a distance, Cuphea llavea, or batfaced Cuphea is well-covered in small red flowers. But up close, it's a lot more interesting. It got its common name from its central purple "face" surrounded by bright red "ears."  It's a shrub in its native Mexico, but will remain compact and bushy at no more than two-feet tall in a summer garden. It thrives in full sun and the hummingbirds love it.

Always consider a plant's requirements before bringing it home to enjoy. Give it some time to acclimate to its new surroundings, and then enjoy the challenge.

Houseplant Renaissance

Epipremnum ‘Silver Satin', aka Satin Pothos, Silk Pothos,
or Silver Philodendron  is a variety of a plant I grew in the '70s.
Everyone seems to be on board with houseplants. Just the term, "houseplant" is new to anyone under the age of 50, or familiar only within the confines of a statement that also includes the term "grandma." You could say it's the '70s all over again, but this incarnation of what were, in most recent memory, called "foliage plants" is different. For one thing, there are lots more varieties of Pothos (devil's ivy) and Sanseveria (snake plant) to choose from. And succulents? In the '70s, we were limited mostly to jade plants, and those cacti with the fake flowers stuck into them.

I started with houseplants. They sucked me in as gateway drugs are known to do, and when I moved to a south window-bearing apartment, the real madness began.

A sign of the times, or this iteration of the succulent trend is well-illustrated with these wine cork plant holders.
I discovered succulents, which likely came along with the turquoise and silver craze that ruled the '70s along with ground-grazing bell bottoms and bongs. My logic went like this: "They're small, so I can have more." That logic serves me well now that I seem to have come full circle.
A fresh batch of Echeverias at TPIE.

However jade plants and aloes arrived in the Midwest, I fell in love and wanted more. It was long before Google and online commerce, so researching sources for some of the more unusual succulents took a bit of imagination.

One of the first books I bought on the subject was published in 1977 by Jack Kramer. I still have it, and at the back of the book is a list of sources. Most are in California, although there were a few outside that state. One of them,  Lauray of Salisbury in Salisbury, CT, just closed its doors in 2015. Also closing its doors in 2015 was Abbey Garden, Carpenteria, CA.

I was able to find a few still doing business. Abbey Brook Cactus Nursery in Sheffield, England is still in business. Grigsby Cactus Gardens is selling its cacti and succulents online.  Logee's and Karutz Greenhouses are still going strong.

Stromanthe sanguinea ‘Tricolor’
Today, most of the houseplants that line the endcaps and overflow all manner of structures in stores from Walmart to independent garden centers are grown in Florida and California.

There is no common name for Stromanthe (stroh-MAN-thee), but it's not that hard to say. A particularly striking variety called 'Tricolor' caught my eye at the Tropical Plant International Expo in Ft. Lauderdale. What a gorgeous foliage plant! If you have a bright, east-facing window, you can grow it as a houseplant. It can be grown in dappled shade outdoors when weather is consistently above 60 degrees F. It's a Brazilian rain forest native, so it likes lots of humidity.

Today's succulents do a lot more
hanging around than they used to.

Dracaena marginata 'Ray of Sunshine'
If taller houseplants fit into your plans, give Dracaena a chance. The species D. marginata often is referred to as Madagascar dragon tree. One of the newer, more unusually colored varieties is 'Ray of Sunshine', because it has a very wide, bright gold center in each leaf. Dracaena marginata is known for its versatile nature, and makes a great houseplant if you have a bright spot inside. They'll go leggy if they don't get enough light, so it's best to give them as much as they can to keep them compact and colorful. And, as with any houseplant, don't overwater it.

Houseplant Basics

If you grow plants indoors, they're called "houseplants," even if they're the type of plant that spends the summer outside. Whatever you call them, growing them well will keep you and the plants much happier. Here are just a few basics that will serve you well when growing just about anything indoors in a pot.

1. Turn towards the light. It's what plants do, especially if that light isn't directly overhead. I have too many plants to keep them all right under the lights, so I have to turn them. It might sound anal, but it's good to turn them in a clockwise direction. Always. The reason is simple: who can remember which way you turned them last time? 

2.  There is no such thing as a dormant leaf. It's either bringing home the nutrients or it's not. A browned or yellowed leaf isn't doing anyone any good, so it's best to remove it. 

3.  When potting up plants in the fall or winter for growth indoors, use potting soil with gritty amendments. Unless you keep your house in the 80-degree range, your plants' soil will stay moist for a long time--especially if they don't get the light they're used to. I buy a good potting soil and add vermiculite and medium chicken grit, which you can buy from your local feed store. 

4.  Use a heat mat. Although some plants prefer it on the cool side, many seem to like it hot. I keep the heat-lovers on a heat mat, which can raise the soil temperature 10 to 20 degrees F above the air temperature.

5.  Learn everything you can about the plant you're growing, even if you only know its common name. Google its name and gravitate toward university extension services for the most accurate information, including the plant's botanical name. Then Google the botanical name.

Think You're An Impatient Gardener?

If you've ever wondered whether you're a patient or impatient gardener, try growing houseplants in the winter.

Even with lights on a 16 hrs on/8 hrs off timer, a heat mat, and frequent grooming and inspection, growth is painfully sluggish.

Well before the Slow Food movement, the slow houseplant crusade had already written its very own, very literal, manifesto.

Hippeastrum 'Razzle Dazzle' inspiring me in my writing room.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I head immediately to the room where my plants are, a banquet table covered with an inexpensive plastic tablecloth beneath bars of lights strung from cords. Like my outdoor garden, it's more laboratory than it is landscaped.

The good news is that the blooming plants' flowers last a very long time. The bad news is that they seem to take forever to flower. I'm watching a slow-moving romance instead of an action flick, which I much prefer. So I've been making up for the lack of activity with the addition of new plants. When that fails, I play with my plants--which for the most part means I prune them, clean their leaves, and take their photos.

  This bulb's flower has been in a holding pattern for six weeks.
It's so embarrassed, I've had to disguise its identity.     
On ambitious days, I drag out the plant accouterments and repot them. This is a dicey operation in the middle of winter, though, because even with the lights, the roots don't grow that fast either! I'm waiting at least another month, when the days will be longer, before graduating any plant to a larger pot.

There is no doubt that the lights are encouraging my plants to remain green, perky and alive. I've set the table up against the south windows of the room, so their growth is also subject to day length.

         Episcia 'Alice's Aussie' in her plant sauna.        
Plants are grouped by light and heat requirements. And then there is height. Some pots are perched precariously on top of upside down vessels in order to keep them from becoming shaded out by their taller neighbors. Some are too tall to keep under the lights and are relegated to another room in the house.

Even more so than garden plants, houseplants are in-your-face humbling. You've let them into the house, for one thing. And there is no getting away from them. With the elaborate setup I've devised, I'd damn well better be successful. And I have been, for the most part.

So far, I've killed an Episcia, and have successfully nursed a tragic Begonia back to health. Another Begonia is still in intensive care. I've learned that some need to be left alone in order to strengthen their spindly stems. I've replaced the dead Episcia with another of a different variety called 'Alice's Aussie'.

For now, a foliage plant, I have high hopes for
Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'
Inspiration for this exercise has been the books that display beautiful plants in imaginative and lovely containers "effortlessly" placed throughout the house in little vignettes. Two of my favorite books have been The Indestructible Houseplant, and The Unexpected Houseplant, both by Tovah Martin.

Unfortunately, this whole "houseplants as decor" thing requires clearing off a table or some other spot in the house where plants are viewed to their best advantage.
Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' looks best without the
flowers, which occasionally appear to let
me know I'm doing something right.

And here is the ugly truth--my house is a mess. Although far from being called a hoarder, I'm definitely cavalier about where and how I leave things. There are boxes on the floor with catalogs and magazines and books on top of them. A laundry basket holds clothes I washed last September and won't need again until May. They're held in place with books and then a layer of clothes I plan to take to the resale shop.

Our house is too big for us, apparently, as I only spend time in three out of the seven rooms (not counting bathrooms) that make up our 60s-era ranch. And those three rooms are heavily lived-in. I could put plants in the other four rooms, but since I don't spend time in them, there is little point.

This in-situ vignette contains Oxalis 'Plum Crazy', Paphiopedilum 'Napa Valley'
and Begonia 'Black Fancy'. 
So I'll create my vignettes in situ, occasionally bringing them into the room where I write. For inspiration, or simply to give me something to feel good about. And isn't that the basic reason for growing them?

Having a Blast with SunBlaster Plant Lights

It's like spring again in January. Thanks to my plant lights, I wake up each morning to see if I can detect new growth from the last time I checked, about 14 hours earlier.

For one thing, grow lights are more accessible and less expensive. I have a set-up devised by a Canadian company called SunBlaster Lighting, which I discovered at Chesterton Feed and Garden Center.

I positioned my three-light Sunblaster combinations
at two heights, depending on plant height
and light requirements.
I purchased components a few at a time, so the eventual cost for two fixture combinations was spread over a few paychecks. Based on the size of the banquet table I was going to use for my plants, I opted for the 24-inch lights (the Sunblaster 904296 NanoTech T5 High Output Fixture Reflector Combo, 2-feet), three per fixture connected by Sunblaster light strip hangers, which hold up to seven lights per set of two. The total cost for my set-up, for six lights plus reflectors and two light strips was around $280, which less than what I spend each year on plants and tools for my outdoor garden.

The clips that come with the light strip hangers make it easy to adjust everything.
While my houseplants don't erupt into bloom each day, they actually grow, as opposed to what they were doing when left to fend for themselves with the light that came through the window. While I can't say what the best distance from the light or the ideal amount of time the lights are on for each plant, I hope to figure that out by the end of the winter. For now, I'm just happy to have color in the house and plants to play with for the next four months.

Easy and Colorful: Blooms for Beginners!

Hippeastrum 'Razzle Dazzle' in bloom today
  If you thought Amaryllis were for advanced gardeners, you might want to revise your prejudice. From a papery brown bulb to this bodacious beauty is just a matter of patience.
  Of course you have to help it along a bit with proper planting.
  'Razzle Dazzle' began to open yesterday; 'Pavlova' (below), 10 days ago.  If everything goes well, I should have cut flowers through St. Paddy's Day!
  'Pavlova' wasn't staked like 'Razzle Dazzle' so she flopped as soon as two flowers opened. I cut the stem and, 10 days later, she is still blooming in a vase on my desk at work.
Hippeastrum 'Pavlova' opened 10 days ago and now lives in a vase.

Potted up in October - see blog

Hippeastrum 'Apple Blossom' last March

Potted up in the Lechuza Delta 20 planter, this 'Apple Blossom' trio is now showing buds and will hopefully be in bloom in a couple of weeks. Last year, its second since I originally bought it, it opened on March 26. 

I promised more color, though, right? Brunfelsia australis should be more readily available. This tropical is easy to grow, stays small, and starts blooming as early as mid-January. Also called "yesterday, today and tomorrow, for its stages of bloom color, it might not be a showstopper when compared with other tropical plants, but it's easy to get excited about it in mid-winter. This Brunfelsia is available from Logee's.

Brunfelsia australis flowers are slightly larger than a quarter.

And my dwarf pomegranate is getting ready to open! I bought it in November from Ted's Greenhouse and it's just been hanging out near a window since then. I'd just ignored it and gave it plain water when it looked dry. The other day I noticed buds on its gangly stems. It's a plant that needs a good shearing in the spring when new growth is imminent, but for now, I'll be glad when it blooms.