Finicky Ficuses

Finicky ficuses

One thing that I realized as I was bringing in the house plants and trying to get them placed around in various windows, was that I tend to collect groups of plants.

I suspect most of us with room for a good number of plants will do this. We start out with just lots of house plants and over time decide to add more of certain kinds that we like deliberately.

My two biggest collections have to be either snake plants or “holiday” cacti in the schlumbergera genus. I have about a dozen of each–nothing crazy.

I do have about 6 or 7 different types of ficus though as well. Some, like ficus elastica–the well known rubber plant–are very easy. Even my old ficus benjaminii–the weeping fig–doesn’t give me issues.

But the 3 pictured above–you see ficus lyrata, the fiddle leaf fig, most prominent–are very finicky. I find it to be finicky about everything! It’s fussy about temperature, which you can’t be as a plant in my house. It can’t be overwatered or it rots (not usually a problem for me). And spider mites are a perpetual problem. I need to keep it showered–which doesn’t help with the “don’t over water” issue in my cold house.

Ficus Audrey

But the fiddle leaf fig looks good compared to ficus Audrey. This is one of my “OMG, this plant was over $30 so it can’t die!” plants. But from the moment I got it a year ago, it’s been nothing but trouble! In addition to all the issues that the fiddle leaf fig has, (you can actually see the spider mite damage on the lower leaves–yuck!) It also gets mealy bugs. Great. If I weren’t so “invested ” it would be compost.

Variegated saber leaf fig

This plant is actually fairly trouble free–it just doesn’t grow much. I know variegated plants are slow but this is an 18 month old plant for me. It actually doubled in size over the summer, which is good or it would have become compost. I was getting very discouraged. Obviously nothing will happen now until next summer–and I have moved it away from its 2 pest prone friends to try to safeguard it. The last thing I need is another finicky ficus!

A Love Letter to First-Time Gardeners

Dear First Time Gardeners,

Lately, I have been reading stories that things might not have worked out quite the way you planned. And I am here to say that that is perfectly okay. Please don’t get discouraged.

Some of my best gardening “accidents” (I call them “Happy Accidents” and will post about them regularly here) are things that I never planned to happen. What am I talking about?

Roses and hydrangeas

This for example: shrubs and roses that I planted together simply because at the time I had no place to put them. They’re not exactly in the right spot–they get a little too much shade for the roses–but the combination of the hydrangeas and the roses blooming together is lovelier than anything I could have dreamed up!

I understand that many of you have not had stunning success with your vegetables this year. It’s okay, that’s almost a cliche by now. Remember, there’s a book called The $64 Tomato about all the effort it takes to grow vegetables!

I am patting myself on the back because I got at least 50 cherry tomatoes–50! That’s a ridiculously high harvest for me. And I literally had to snatch them away from the squirrels and the chipmunks in the drought year. But they weren’t vine-ripened by any means–oh no! I had to bring them in green before anything could even think about wanting them–so if your harvest was spotty due to critters, believe me, I get it!

But do I stop growing? Oh no. I just keep trying to come up with ways to outsmart the critters. And I admire them so much. If I had to survive outside all winter, hunting up my own food–well, suffice it to say, this blog wouldn’t exist.

Back when I first started growing vegetables here, I will never forget the number of folks who told me, “Oh you can’t grow…..” whatever it was. And sometimes they were right. And lots of times they were wrong.

So please, beloved first-time gardeners, every year is different. Don’t give up. Next year will be better–you know so much more now!

So relax during this autumn and winter and make bread or take up knitting or do a jigsaw puzzle or write a book or whatever everyone is doing during this pandemic. And next spring, please do try again! It will be better–I promise!

“Come See Our Amazing Blooming Snake Plants!”

Earlier this summer, one of our local garden centers had this headline in an Instagram post. And I just smiled.

The posted photo looked great with a whole cluster of blooming snake plants (I hesitate to call them by a botanic name at the moment because what we have known as sansevieria for years has been subsumed into the dracena genus. And when plants get muddled up botanically–or cleared up, but it seems muddy at first–the good old fashioned “common” name seems pretty good all of a sudden!!)

Snake plant flowers

But as anyone who has been around a blooming snake plant knows, those small flowers pack a powerful fragrance! They are especially fragrant in the evening. That’s generally how I know one of mine is blooming–I will smell it first when I walk into the room–then I look over to the windowsill and see it. You’ll notice my photo was taken at night, when it was the most fragrant, of course.

What I am trying to say is while the garden center had a great marketing headline, anyone with enough light can make a snake plant bloom. Just about all of mine in this west window have.

The conditions they need are higher light (many people grow then in dark northern exposures because they tolerate it–but this is a western exposure and I have grown then in an eastern exposure too.) They also like to be tightly potted so don’t keep increasing the pot size.

If you notice the right side of this cheap plastic nursery pot, this plant has actually broken through it twice! Heaven help me when I go to re-pot it! At this point, it’s almost all plant and roots–I will need to cut the pot off to re-pot it. And it’s a little overdue. But I can’t go much larger or I literally won’t be able to lift it. This is one heavy plant. That’s why I chose the cheap plastic to start with–I had to get it upstairs and into the window somehow.

So I will enjoy the blooming–and try to ignore the re-potting issue.

But if you would like to get your snake plant to bloom, try giving it a bit more light. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Blooming Snake plant

Summer Vacation for the House Plants is Over

Aglaeonema grouping

I am always stunned when I bring my house plants back in after their very brief time outdoors. In my climate, they really are house plants–they are inside from early September through the middle of May each year.

So it wouldn’t seem that a brief few months outside would make so much difference. And yet it does.

In certain plants, like my giant medinilla, it promotes flowering, almost immediately. In others, like the aglaeonema, above, it enhances the colors, even though they summered in the deep shade of a dogwood tree.

Tropical pitcher plant

Then there is this, my nepenthes. It went outside as a single strand of pathetic looking ropey leaves, and no pitchers. This is how it came back in. By next May, we’ll be back to a single strand of ropey leaves, I suspect.

I would say that it was the natural rainwater that helped it, but we had too little this summer for that to be a factor. Maybe it liked all the heat.

In any event, not everything did well. My citrus went outside with lots of lemons and came back with one. The drought and tropical storm winds were not kind to them. Critters thought that lemons might be a good moisture source.

Still, on the whole, my plants almost always come in far better than they went out. This year, the house plants had a better vacation than a lot of people, sadly.

What Insect Apocalypse?

Katydid on fuchsia

I had an interesting experience while I was out walking the dog one quiet Sunday morning not too long ago. Sunrise is getting later so we were out just after sunrise and it was still and quiet–until we approached our property.

As we got in front of the little patch of woods that we have, I heard all sorts of noise. I stopped because I couldn’t identify it at first. I hadn’t heard it anywhere else on the street. Then I realized it was insects. There were cicadas in the trees, and something else chirping, maybe katydids, and I think I am hearing trees frogs.

It’s been so long since I have heard tree frogs that I am not even sure. I used to hear them all the time 20 years ago. Then a new subdivision went in and a lot of trees were taken down and I haven’t heard them since. So how tree frogs might have found their way to our little patch of woods mystifies me, except that it is now one of the few “little patches” of woods left standing.

But whatever I was hearing was so loud that it literally stopped me in my tracks and it was only in front of my property. Everyone else’s property was quiet.

There are all sorts of articles dating back a couple of years ago talking about stories of insect die-offs as dramatic as 75%. This became known as the “insect apocalypse,” and dire warnings and predictions followed.

Fortunately, some of those studies and methodologies proved to be wrong. But for those of us of a certain age, we can notice that, for example, there are fewer of certain types of insects.

I vividly remember the 2 hour car trips to the beach and back as a child. When we arrived around 9 pm in the evening, our windshield and headlights would be bug-spattered.

Car trips of similar duration now don’t leave our cars bug-spattered. And while I am grateful for small favors, I don’t think the insects have become better navigators. I just think there are far fewer of them.

Is this a problem? I will leave that to the scientists to determine. But in the meantime, I will be grateful that I have a cleaner car and a property that welcomes wildlife of all kind, even invertebrates.

If You Want Tulips and Daffodils, Plant Now!

Bulb Catalogs

In gardening, certain things can be put off and certain things cannot. The earth will not stop spinning if you decide that you’re not going to weed for a day–or a week–or even a month. Yes, there may be consequences. As the old saying goes, one year’s weed seeds, 7 years’ weeds.

But if you don’t plant bulbs in the fall, you will not have spring flowering bulbs. And it’s easy to think, “well, I will just buy pots of tulips or daffodils or hyacinths,”–fill in your favorite bulbs–and then plant them–but it’s not as easy to do. Because they come with the foliage (leaves) already attached, you have to let those leaves die off, then plant the bulbs to get them down to the proper depth. By then, it’s early summer–and who wants to leave a patch of earth bare so that you can insert your bulbs then? No, much easier to plant them now.

So what to do? Is it too late to order them from a catalog? Maybe. True bulb lovers began ordering in July, when the bulbs catalogs came out. But there are still some great choices left. You might not get your first choice, but you will get some good ones.

By the way, you might have noticed, my decided preference for Connecticut bulb companies. That surely doesn’t mean that these are the only good companies–it means that these were the immediate catalogs I could grab when I wanted a photo (and yes, incidentally, I did place orders from these growers this year. It just a version of shopping local).

But these are by no means the only excellent bulb companies. I also ordered from Brent and Becky’s bulbs, another wonderful company whose catalog just wasn’t quite as nearby. And no, I get nothing for saying anything about these companies–I just happen to like them.

Can you go to a box store or supermarket and buy them? Yes. But the catalog bulbs are more varied in choice and generally are larger as well.

What’s the point of a larger bulb? Remember, a bulb is just a “storage unit” for the flowers. It contains the energy that the plant needs to product flowers and stems. The larger the bulb, the more prolific the flowers and stems.

If you are someone that needs instant gratification, the next best place to get your bulbs is at a garden center. They generally buy from specialty bulb farms so again, your bulbs will be larger. You’ll also have a larger selection than just tulips and daffodils and the bulb packages will likely have better information (although not always). You’ll also have access to garden center employees who can answer your questions if you have issues with critters or difficult soil.

There are so many bulbs–literally thousands of different kinds–that if one or two types haven’t worked for you, you should definitely find a garden center and try others. Ask for help. Bulbs are a true joy.

And as it gets later in the season, look for sales and close-outs and try some for forcing. You’ll see my posts later this year about forcing hyacinths. I do it all winter. It gets me through the cold, icy and bleak days from November through April.

Fall Is For Planting

I can see that I am going to have to watch this new WordPress format carefully. In addition to being really finicky about posting in advance, its autocorrect is horrific. I will tell it what I want, and it will go back and auto correct over me a second time. So if my posts seem crazy, I am still working the bugs out on my tablet.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, days are growing shorter, even if it hasn’t yet begun to cool down where you are.

With any luck, there has also been moisture where you are. That makes autumn the perfect time to plant. Obviously I am not talking about planting annuals, although in many places cool season annuals like pansies can over winter right into next spring.

Similarly ornamental cabbage and kale are hardy enough to survive as decorative plantings until it is time to replace them with warm season annuals.

I don’t live in such a place, but I can still plant many things in autumn for next season. One of the things that I tell people is to think about soil almost like a body of water. You know how a lake or the ocean is slow to warm in the spring, but in September the temperature of the water is still perfect for swimming.

The same is true for soil. Our garden soils are also slow to warm in spring as well so plants put into them in spring get a slow start.

But plants put in now, even though they will be going dormant shortly, are getting put into warm soil. There is less adjustment for them (provided you remember to water).

So it’s a great time to plant perennials, trees (if you can find the variety that you want) and shrubs. Again, you must remember to water, if nature isn’t doing it for you, until your ground freezes. Here, in my cool part of the world, that’s usually late November or early December.

On Monday we’ll talk a bit about spring flowering bulbs–which also must be planted now.