Category Archives: Houseplants

IN WITH THE NEW, STILL WITH THE OLD

Scale Attack Beginning!

As if to ring in the new year, scale insects are starting to make their presence known. These insects crawl around as babies, find nourishing spots on leaves or stems, insert their feeding tubes, and then spend their days sucking plant juice. Carbohydrates and sugars are what result when sunlight and chlorophyll get together, so longer days may already be making plant sap sweeter and more plentiful, much to the liking of these suckers.

Armored scale on staghorn fern

I encounter two kinds of scales on my houseplants. Each armored scale looks like a small, raised, brown tab. Cottony cushion scale looks like a small tuft of white cotton. As either kind feeds, it exudes a sweet honeydew that drips on leaves, furniture, and floor, and eventually becomes colonized with a fungus that airbrushes those sticky drippings an unappealing smokey haze.

(Scale insects are often problems on trees and shrubs …

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EVERYTHING’S EASY, FOR NOW

An Easy Orchid

Orchids are one group of plants I’ve regularly sidestepped. It seemed to me that if you grew orchids, you became crazed over orchids, to the exclusion of other plants. You then fill your home with as many of the over 20,000 species as you can cram onto your windowsills. I feared being led down that path.

My sidestepping took a turn into orchid-land 25 years ago when a local orchid enthusiast gave me a plant of Odontoglossum pulchellum, which I today learned has also been called lily-of-the-valley orchid. But more importantly today, the plant is in bloom. Blossoms from this plant are no rare occurrence; it’s bloomed every year for about the past 20 years, some years around now and other years waiting until February to unfold.

Odontoglossum pulchellum doesn’t sport knock-your-socks-off, traffic-stopping blossoms; instead, they have a soft, subtle beauty. Right now, delicate, arching flower stems rise up from …

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GARDEN DREAMS AND REALITY

Figs (Cuttings) Galore!!

Cold weather and short days have put a not totally unwelcome lull in the gardening year. Nonetheless, I wander into the greenhouse occasionally just to drink in the sight and smell of lush greenery suffused in warmth and humidity, and to pull some weeds. The figs in there could use some pruning; they are dormant and leafless and need all stems cut back to 3 to 4 feet in height.

Gardening lull or not, I can’t just toss those cut stems away, putting them to waste. Each stem can make a whole new tree, and fairly easily. So I set up a little propagator for rooting some of these “hardwood cuttings.”

Being leafless, the cuttings lose little water so have no need for the high humidity demanded by softwood cuttings, which are cuttings taken while plants are actively growing and leafy. Any cutting, hardwood or softwood, does need its bottom portion, where roots will form, …

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MY PONYTAIL GROWS, AND SEEDS ENTICE

I Grow A Ponytail

A friend gave me a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) decades ago, and up to this summer it looked something like a palm tree sitting atop a large onion. Or a long-leafed dracena plant whose stem, near ground level, had swollen almost to the size of a bowling ball. The plant looked very interesting, but not particularly attractive, and the sharp edges of its long, strappy leaves were grabbing at me every time I walked by too closely.

So last summer, I was going to toss the plant in the compost pile; instead, I lopped off its top to about 3 feet in height. What remained was nothing more than what looked like a tan bowling ball halfway immersed in a pot of soil with a inch-thick, bare stem tapering skyward from its upper side.

After pruning, I ignored the plant just as I had done for the past few …

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SENSORY DELIGHTS, NOW AND FUTURE

A Scented Wave

    For the past couple of weeks, every time I walk upstairs to my home office, a sweet aroma hits me like a wave a few steps before I reach the top stair. This wave pulls me forward, a room and a half away, to the Meyer lemon plant sitting in my office’s sunny, south-facing window.
    The wave began when only a single Meyer lemon flower had opened. Now, the plant, only a foot and a half high, is decked out with more than 20 flowers.
    This “tree” started life as a cutting I took from a friend’s old tree that anyway needed some pruning. With their bottom leaves stripped off, the 6 inch long stems rooted reliably in a few weeks after their bottom portions were plunged into a moist mix of equal parts peat and perlite, and transpiration was reduced with a clear plastic …

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NUTTY TIMES AND COLD WEATHER

Nuts Galore

    What a nutty time of year, literally! Chestnuts and black walnuts, two of my favorite nuts, were raining down, figuratively, just before the middle of the month.
    Black walnuts are free for the taking. Wild trees are everywhere around here, and keep increasing because of overlooked nuts buried by squirrels. The nuts are so abundant this year, and most years, that squirrels and humans can have their fill. (Not so with my filbert nuts; squirrels will strip those bushes clean.)
    Black walnuts have a strong flavor. Like dark beer, fresh blackcurrants, and okra, not everyone likes the flavor. That’s fine. Fast food chains might purvey foods that everyone sort of likes, while a home gardener and gatherer can grow and gather fruits and vegetable and nuts that he or she really, really likes, and ignore what he or she really, really does not like.
    There’s …

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OLIVE HARVEST IN FULL SWING HERE

What To Do With This Year’s Harvest?

Olive harvest will begin — and end — here this week. Yes, it’s late. After all, the harvest in Italy was in full swing weeks ago, back in autumn. But this is the Hudson Valley, in New York. What do you expect?    I’m talking about harvesting real olives, not Russian olives (Elaeagnus angustifolia) or autumn olive (E. umbellata), both of which grow extensively in a lot of places, including here. Too extensively, according to some people, which is why they’re listed as “invasives” and banned from being planted in some regions. (But their fruits are very tasty, their flowers are very fragrant, their leaves are very ornamental, and their roots enrich the soil with nitrogen from the air, all of which garnered them a chapter in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.)    Present harvest here is of the true olive (Olea …

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THE CHILL BANK IS FILLED?

But Do I Want Flowers Now?

    The season has been “chill,” literally and figuratively, the former predicted by weather experts based on a this year’s strong El Niño.    Because of El Niño, the West was pounded with rain; here in the Northeast, except for an occasional night, temperatures have been mild over the past few months, much milder than I remember for any other fall. It is those chilly, but not frigid, temperatures — in the range from 30 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit — that signal to plants that winter is over and it’s safe to begin unfolding flower buds or pushing new shoots from dormant buds. A certain number of hours within this temperature range does the trick, typically about a thousand hours, the exact requirements varying from plant to plant. Temperatures below 30 or above 45 degrees don’t contribute to the needed hours, can even set the clock …

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