Category Archives: Houseplants

Happy Birthday Ficus

 

Another Year, Another Pruning and Re-potting

I’d like to say it was the birthday of my baby ficus except I don’t know when it was actually born. And since it was propagated by a cutting, not by me, and not from a seed, I’m not sure what “born” would actually mean. No matter, I’m having its biannual celebration marking its age and its growth.

Just for reference, baby ficus is a weeping fig tree (Ficus benjamina), a tree that with age and tropical growing conditions rapidly soars to similar majestic proportions as our sugar maples. That is, if unrestrained in its development.

Baby ficus (FIGH-kus) began life here as one of three small plants rooted together in a 3 inch pot and purchased from a discount store. (Weeping figs are common houseplants because of their beauty and ability to tolerate dry air and low light indoors.) Eight years later, it’s about 4 inches …

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Orchid Intimidation

Fear Not

I used to find orchids intimidating to grow. Their dust-sized seeds are fairly unique in not having any food reserves so — in the wild, at least — need the help of a fungus partner to get growing. And some orchids (epiphytes) spend their lives nestled in trees so need a special potting mix when grown in a pot. Orchids have above-ground structures called pseudobulbs. And many, especially those that call humid, tropical forests their homes, demand exacting environmental conditions that are very different from that found in most homes. Whew!

So I steered clear of growing any orchid for many years — until a local orchid enthusiast gave me a plant. After a couple of years, that plant, around this time of year, sent up a slender stalk which was soon punctuated with eight waxy, white flowers, each an inch across. For two months, those flowers greeted me each …

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The Best Winter Herbs

Mini-Trees for Flavor

Second best to fresh-picked vegetables in winter, which are not within most gardener’s grasp with temperatures in the single digits, are fresh-picked herbs. Fresh-picked herbs — indoors — in winter are within the grasp of most gardeners, even non-gardeners.

Flowering and fruiting demand lots of light energy, but it is the leaves of most herbs that provide us with flavoring, so most herbs do fine in any reasonably bright window. The same goes for normal household temperatures and humidity.

So make space near your windows for herb plants!

Let’s look below ground now. Any potting mix suitable for houseplants will also be to the liking of herb plants. The mix should hold some moisture between waterings while at the same time drain well so that roots, which need to breathe, don’t suffocate. My own mix, made  from equal parts compost, perlite, peat moss, and soil, provides air and moisture as well …

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An Early Spring

It could be spring. Now. Indoors, with the sweet fragrance from a flowerpot of pastel colored hyacinths and other spring-flowering bulbs. All it takes is a little bit of trickery. The bulbs don’t have to wait till spring.

Knowing what a bulb is helps understand the trickery. But first: All that we commonly call a “bulb” is not, in fact, a bulb botanically speaking. To conjure up an image of a true bulb, picture a stem that’s been telescoped down from a couple of feet or more long to a fraction of an inch. All the leaves on that bulb also move down and closer together. The leaves, except the innermost ones, are thick and juicy, the better to store both moisture and food reserves. Near the center of the bulb is a sleeping flower bud.

Hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips are true bulbs.

Though often called a bulb, crocus is an example of …

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Red and Green for Winter

A Mexican Native Adapts to Pot

A recent snowfall draped the landscape in magic. The white blanket settled softly on every horizontal surface to create a harmony in white.

Still, I miss green. Even better than seeing some green plants would be to liven up that green with, from the opposite side of the color wheel, red. And even better still would be to have this red-and-greenery close at hand — indoors.

Three plants fill this bill well, and are easy-care houseplants.

The most obvious and common member of this clan is poinsettia. Breeding, manipulation of their greenhouse environment, and plant growth regulators have transformed this sporadically blooming native of Mexico into a compact plant bursting into large blossoms for Christmas in foil wrapped pots.

(Actually, the “blossoms” are not blossoms, but colored bracts, which are modified leaves. Peer into the whorl of bracts and you’ll see small, round, yellow cups, called cyanthiums in which …

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HOUSEPLANTS THRIVE DURING MY CUBAN GETAWAY

 

Water In Air, In Soil, In Reserve

My houseplants enjoyed my absence more that I expected. I thought it might be harder on them. After all, with spring in the air (indoors) for a few weeks now, they were all pushing out new shoots from the ends and along stems that had lain dormant all winter. Citrus, avocado, and amaryllis were even flowering, and rosemary was getting ready to flower.

Lack of water was going to be the threat, 5 days of it, while I was far away wandering up and down streets and in and out of alleys of Havana, Cuba.

Through winter, I had eased my houseplant watering chores by using “water siphons” (aka “hydrospikes” or “self-watering probes”). These porous ceramic probes, filled with water and pushed into the potting soil, have the thin, flexible tubes coming out of their caps plunked into mason jars filled with water. I knew well …

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IT’S SPRING! INDOORS, AT LEAST

 

A Big, Fat, Red Flower; Perfect For Now

One spring day many years ago, my friend Bill looked out upon the daffodils blooming and other stirrings, and summed up the scene with the statement that “It’s spring and everything is wigglin’.” We haven’t yet come that far along, but things are wigglin’ — indoors. (Little did I know that 2 days after writing this, all would be buried under two feet of snow!)

Most dramatic among the wigglins is the big, fat flower bud pushing up from the big, fat amaryllis bulb. True, the goal of most people is to have the flamboyant, red blossoms open for Christmas, which requires beginning a bulb’s dormant period in the middle of August. It’s cool temperatures, around 55°F., and dry soil that puts an amaryllis bulb to sleep. Then, in early November, warm temperatures and just a little water wakens the bulb out of its …

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OF FLOWERS AND TEMPERATURES

Flower, You Hoya

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but some plants suffer much neglect in my hands. My aloe, for example, has occasionally gone a whole year without a drop of water.

Hoya, also known as wax plant or Hindu rope plant, is another of my neglected plants. This plant is about 25 years old and has sat in the same pot in the same location for the past 15 years. The pot is only 3 inches square, dwarfed by the 3-foot-long “Hindu rope,” a single stem along which grow thick, green, involuted leaves. The hoya sits on a west-facing windowsill of a tower window in my house, and the lanky stem can drip down another 2 to 3 feet before it’s got to be shortened to keep from being bumped by anybody beneath it. One reason the plant gets watered so infrequently is because watering involves pulling out and climbing a …

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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 …

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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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