House Plants are Living Things: Beware of Using Them as “Decorations”

I know that there are whole blogs devoted to “garden ranting” but you can tell when something has set me off, can’t you? This time it’s an article in a style magazine called something like “Decorating with House Plants.”

So many things were wrong about the article that I scarcely know where to begin. The first is that almost no proper names for plants were used, only common names. Now, I am not such a stuffy person that I think we have to go around only referring to plants by their proper botanical names–but I also think that if I am recommending a plant for a space, I want to make sure that the person buys the right plant. Common names too often lead to confusion. At least reference the botanical name in parentheses so that they person can acquire the right plant!

Next, far too many ficus plants were recommended as “decorations.” Seriously? As a lover of anything and all things ficus, I can tell you that many are not particularly easy to grow. The one recommended in particular was ficus triangularis, which was described as “extremely rare.” I don’t find it to be “extremely rare,” but I do find it to be at least as finicky as the plain old benjaminii type. It seems that if I blink the wrong way, mine starts dropping leaves. Not a good recommendation, especially for a “decoration,” unless you find dead leaves decorative.

In fact, in the above photo, you will see 2 of my many ficus. The “extremely rare” triangularis is the plant in the middle–the one in the pot with the fluted edge. Since its repotting last week, it has lost 8 leaves. The variegated benjaminii type to its left hasn’t lost a single leaf–and they are reputed to be very finicky. Hmm…

Finally, and this is my favorite crazy recommendation–oxalis triangularis! Oh yes, please, if you like to pull dead leaves and flowers off the plant at least every couple of weeks. Otherwise, once again, maybe you find all those stringy dead parts, “decorative.”

Clearly these decorators don’t know a thing about house plants and their growth habits over time. And that’s where we all suffer. People are going to read these sorts of articles and take these recommendations and then feel that somehow, they can’t grow plants, or there is something wrong with their conditions. And that’s wrong.

I am not sure how we solve the problems of bad advice articles like this because I think they do more harm than good. Luckily there is lots of good advice out there. With any luck, most people will not be discouraged by losing a plant or two.

After all, there are so many beautiful plants in the world. If you don’t succeed with one, try something else that’s better for your light conditions!

Happy Memorial Day!

In the United States, it’s Memorial Day, a day we set aside to commemorate those who have died in the military service for our country. We have parades, visit cemeteries, have picnics, and generally, here in Connecticut we recognize that it is finally safe to set out any tender vegetation that we have been holding back, like basil and tomatoes.

This year, everything I have is in containers and will remain in containers so that I can remain near the house as I garden

I will obviously need to move these tomatoes into larger containers as they grow–but only one is an indeterminate variety. The other two are bush types. Even in these smaller containers, I set them down almost to the bottom to give them a good start–or as I said to the Spoiler–to make sure they’re nice and sturdy for the chipmunks and the squirrels. It’s a constant battle with them.

The herbs are something that I have pretty much always grown nearby, so that’s not too much of a change. I like to keep them close to the kitchen so I can harvest them quickly as I need them. This year I am starting them in smaller pots but they too will quickly need to get potted into larger pots as soon as we get some warmth.

Obviously we will have a quiet day. Maybe we will have a staycation picnic. However you celebrate, if you do, enjoy!

Plant Management

So now that all the plants are outside and nature gave them a nice drink of water, it’s time to transplant. I always do this in the spring when I bring them outside. I think it’s a great time to do it because they are already in “growth mode.”

I do know other house plant experts who think it’s perfectly fine to do this chore in the fall. This doesn’t really make sense to me because plants are slowing down their growth in the fall–not exactly what you want if you want them to settle into a new container.

But maybe they worry about bringing in little critters or something. That really hasn’t been a problem for me so I will stick with my spring re-potting.

This is a spathophyllum (peace lily) that was just moved into an 8″ container (from a 5″ one) last year. You can see it’s a fast grower. This time I divided it into 4 containers although I am not sure what I am going to do with them all. If they survive, I suspect they will go to work with me. Perhaps I can find new homes for them there.

And these are the roots of my beloved pittosporum. If you see something like this, don’t panic. It’s just a natural process at work.

I did however scrape all these off the “shoulders” of the soil. We’ll see if they come back.

I spent most of the day Sunday transplanting, which was an easy chore, and I was just outside the door in case the Spoiler needed me, not off somewhere in the yard. It was nice to get a bit of gardening done.

Busy, Crazy May

So, I had no sooner moved about 60% of my house plants outside last weekend when the meteorologists started making sounds about “record-breaking” cold.

Needless to say, after all that plant moving, I wasn’t amused. Nor was I moving any plants back.

You can tell that I haven’t been posting quite as regularly as I used to. The Spoiler is having some issues, beginning with a hospitalization in late April. He is recovering, slowly, but we have a whole host of helpers coming in–PTs, OTs, nurses, etc.

And I am busy running him to doctors as well. So gardening has really taken a back burner, as it should.

So, when the cold snap hit, I simply went out with a motley assortment of blankets and beach towels–very festive!–and covered the house plants that were already summering outdoors. Let’s face it, there are really bigger things to worry about right now.

The next day was a holy day, so I uncovered the plants early and went to church. And no, I didn’t pray for the plants!

And Friday is always my “late day”–I am not supposed to be at work before 9 am. So, I brought the rest of the house plants out because Saturday is supposed to be our first rainy day is over two weeks so I might as well let nature water rather than me!

As for the rest of the gardens? There’s been no weeding, no pruning, no clean-up, and I can’t even really get stressed about it right now. I am barely noticing what’s blooming, sadly.

I am hoping to get some of these plants that need to be transplanted taken care of on Sunday–or not. We’ll see.

And of course, Memorial Day weekend is my traditional vegetable and herb garden planting. Maybe it will happen this year. If not, there’s plant of time for it to happen later.

Gardening is a respite for me though, so I do wish I had a bit more time to do it. But I will take what I can get!

Do You Know These Plants?

It’s almost time to move the house plants outside for their summer vacation. Lately, they get more of a summer vacation than I do–but that’s a whole different story!

The plant shown above is a medinilla magnifica. It has a couple of common names–showy medinilla, Rose Grape, Tropical Rose Grape–you can see that the plant word hasn’t really settled on what to call this lovely plant. I originally heard it called “Chandelier Plant,” but I guess that has fallen out of favor.

The “grape” in the name comes from the berries that the plant makes after it flowers–the flowers turn into a cluster of purple berries (which will stain if they fall and are crushed onto something, so beware! I have a stain on my hardwood floor from such an incident!!)

This less-showy variety is medinilla myriantha. Its leaves and flowers are smaller but it still makes the same, grape-like berries after flowering. And it has had a much more sprawling habit for me, but perhaps I haven’t pruned it appropriately.

Either of these are lovely, easy care house plants for me. I give them morning sun indoors or outside. Because they haven’t been re-potted recently, they are fairly thirsty outside, but they don’t need a lot of water when they are inside. They tolerate my cool home nicely. Normally they each bloom once a season, in the winter and the bloom lasts for months at a time, until they make the grape-like berries.

Both of my plants are fairly mature–at least 10 years old or more. I love them!

Let’s Talk About No-Mow May

For those who may not yet have heard about it, No-Mow May is an initiative begun a few years ago in Wisconsin, I believe to help pollinators. The idea is simple: people don’t mow their lawn in May so that pollinators have some early blooming wildflowers to get nectar from.

I think it’s been 3 years since the first “No-Mow” and predictably the pushback has started. So I am going to try to provide some common sense ideas so that we can all get along AND help pollinators because that’s the goal.

Now I think we can all agree that while this lawn might be the suburban ideal of the perfect lawn, it does nothing for pollinators.

But let’s take a look at the “no-mow” lawn photo, which interestingly enough, is across the street from this house. I am not sure that they are actually trying for “no-mow;” the house is empty and being renovated so it may just be the result. But it provides a nice discussion point.

What I see in the unmown lawn is really nothing much helping pollinators at this point. The dandelions have gone to seed and there’s really nothing else blooming for them.

This lawn, which is a little further along down the street, is much more diverse. In fact, there’s hardly any grass in the foreground of this photo. There’s a field of chickweed, and in the middle of that, some blue Veronica. Further out are dandelions gone by and I know there’s some henbit too. It’s a really diverse lawn, great for pollinators. And yes, this lawn IS mowed and it doesn’t affect these weeds (with the exception of the dandelion flowers) in any way because they are so low to the ground. So there’s no reason to avoid mowing here.

We have a similar situation with lots of low growing violets, clover and ground ivy. When they flower, the flowers are so low to the ground that mowing has no effect on them. So they are preserved for our pollinators.

I love the idea that we are always thinking about the pollinators and new and creative ways to garden for them. But if you are feeling bad about mowing your lawn, maybe it’s not the worst thing. If I had to choose between mowing the lawn or avoiding pesticides, there’s no choice: always choose to avoid the pesticides. That will help in a far greater way.