When We Say Houseplants Are Tropical Plants, We Mean It

Colors like you might see in the Caribbean

Most of the United States is sweltering under various heat domes this summer. All sorts of records are being broken for high temperatures, including here in the frozen north (and yet, I would take this lovely steamy weather over our ice and snow anytime. I really do live in the wrong place).

Every year when I transition my ” houseplants ” outside, I talk about how beneficial this is for them, even for the brief term that they get to be outside in my climate–usually early May to early September.

Calathea rattlesnake

When this Rattlesnake Calathea came outside after a difficult winter, it had 4 leaves. After 3 months in a shady location, here is its recovered look.

Calathea orbifolia

This plant had a more dramatic recovery. It had 3 leaves, 2 of which were half dead, and it was spider mite infested. It’s better now, although I will obviously have to watch for mites once it’s back inside.

Alocasia Black Velvet

And this might have been one of the plants that I featured in my “It’s Not Growing ” post this winter. I can’t recall if it had 2 or 3 leaves but it just looked sad. It is much happier now. The old leaves are gone.

I could show you a dozen more examples but these are some of my most challenging plants. If they can do well, most anything can.

Obviously, in Northern climates it is a little late to think about transitioning plants outside now if you haven’t already done so. But definitely consider it for next year. The plants will thank you!

Editing Nature

Wild ferns

On Monday, you saw some “wild” planted impatiens, goldenrod and white snakeroot. I am fond of saying that nature sometimes plants better than I do!

Here’s another area where I have been “gifted” with free plants. I didn’t plant these lovely ferns, but they work beautifully under a large dogwood, with some hosta that I did plant.

So what do I mean about editing? Well, if nature had her way, we would also have about 2000 maple seedlings under that dogwood–and of course an assortment of weeds.

Unfortunately the ferns are not thick enough to shade out the weeds (unlike the goldenrod and snakeroot. Nothing seems to grow there except an occasional aster, another lovely late blooming pollinator plant).

So this area needs some attention at least once a year, perhaps more in wet years. But somehow that seems a small price to pay for nature-gifted plants!

Even the Weeds are Wilting

Wilting wild impatiens

I really hesitate to discuss weather and drought with so much of the world suffering from drought, extreme heat, wildfires and flooding.

Wilting “weeds”–which I consider wildflowers because they are so attractive to hummingbirds–really isn’t that much of a problem when you consider the number of people who have lost their homes to extreme weather. Many have lost lives as well. I don’t mean to minimize that for a moment.

But one glance at the above photo tells you that the drought in my part of the world is once again becoming problematic. Look at the dry, cracked ground. And the extreme heat predicted for us this week isn’t going to help.

By the way, this is a shade area (if you hadn’t guessed by the impatiens and the moss. As another aside, notice how drought tolerant the moss is).

Goldenrod and white snakeroot

This is that other later blooming area that I have for pollinators. The snakeroot should be coming into bloom just about now–it’s budded. Instead it looks like this.

Wilting shakeout

Needless to say, because of the drought, we are not watering. But this is sad to see.

Again, it is nothing compared to the heart-rending images in the media of worldwide devastation caused by weather. It is literally nothing.

I am doing what I can for my pollinators–keeping small fresh sources of water available. But other than that, their plant palette is limited in my yard this year.

Thinking About Shade…

My very shady backyard in early spring

Because I have been thinking so much about trees, I have also been thinking about shade. So many of us garden under trees here in New England, so we are very familiar with shade gardening. In fact, I remember distinctly a couple of decades back now (although it seems like almost yesterday) when my Mom bought a house, she asked for me to help with the landscaping.

Well, she was blessed with full sun. And I had been gardening in shade for almost a decade by that point. I had to completely reverse my thinking to pick out trees, shrubs and perennials for her. In addition, she was at the beach and had very sandy soil–not my heavy clay. It was really a total switch for me. Luckily we found some good garden centers where we could choose some plants.

But it always shocks me when I start thinking about shade–and how I might describe shade, for example–for a lecture I am giving. You come across the descriptions of “part-shade” as 4 hours of sun. That’s totally shocking to me because there are areas which get 4 hours of sun in my yard and I call that “full sun!”

For the record, “full sun,” is described as at least 6 hours of continuous sun. There are very few places in my yard that I have that–in fact, I think the only place that I do have 6 hours of sun is around my mailbox where I grow my roses.

Crotons–which normally love the sun–sit here in an east exposure

But shade has its own advantages. The houseplants–even those that normally sit in my south windows all winter–prefer a partially shaded site once they’re outside and getting the benefit of true sunlight. And those that like less light prefer it under the shade of my dogwood, which actually throws quite a bit of shade, but still permits some early morning sunlight to get to the plants (before they roast on these midsummer days!)

Houseplants under the dogwood where a shaft of morning sun is just starting to break through to them

True shade houseplants actually sit on my front stoop where the shade from the house protects them. Shade from a building is of course total shade–all light is blocked. Some ambient light filters to them from the front, but nothing gets to them from the rear–and they are completely happy and growing like that.

Houseplants–and ferns–in the protected shade of the front porch

So all shade is not created equal–it helps to remember that whether you are gardening in containers or in the ground!

Lately I Have Been Thinking About Trees

Bucolic image–with a few dead trees

This lovely image, above, is from the office park where I see my retina specialist. But really, it could be just about anywhere in Connecticut. We are a heavily forested state.

I am sure that that comes as a shock to many of you reading this. For those of you who know your geography, you know that Connecticut is a relatively small state–the third smallest in fact–and that it is located along the east coast roughly equidistant between New York and Boston.

So to hear that it is heavily forested must come as a shock. How is this possible?

Of course this wasn’t always the case.

When Dutch and other European settlers arrived, the land was already being farmed by our indigenous peoples. The European settlers further cleared the existing forests and piled up the rocks that they found in our soil to form the stone walls that still exist today. Hiking trails in our woods occasionally follow the stone walls of the old farmsteads. Our local roads will also wind along these beautifully constructed walls that have stood for hundreds of years.

But as we abandoned agriculture for manufacturing, the forests began to regrow. It is estimated that Connecticut has 80% more trees now than it did when it was settled in the 1600s.

Dying spruce

So just about everywhere you look, you will see trees, and mature trees as well. But lately, within the mature trees, I am seeing a disturbing number of dead trees–not dying trees, but dead ones. What has happened? Several things, unfortunately.

Dead trees at the edge of a small woodland

We have had several summers of drought–and this summer is turning into another of those. We have had several winters of unusual weather, with periods of warmth followed by abrupt cold and no insulating snow on the ground. Woody plants and larger plants like trees struggle with these sorts of changes. They might be able to endure a year or two of this, but they cannot endure it forever. The stress takes a toll on them and they die.

It’s always upsetting to lose a tree. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be something to get used to.

And While We’re Talking Spoiler….

While I was recovering from retina surgery, the Spoiler decided that it would be a good idea to have some of the shrubs trimmed.

Keep in mind that I originally gave him this name because he went after a Japanese maple with an electric hedge trimmer–and then tried to prune all the buds off a rhododendron.

This time he asked our garden helper to prune. The above were a couple of hydrangea. But they fared better than this hydrangea, below.

Almost obliterated hydrangea

And this is a nearly obliterated spirea–a funky variety with bluish foliage from Proven Winners.

Yes, most everything will recover, at least if we get some rain anytime soon. I am still not supposed to be dragging hoses, nor should I have to. These are established plantings that shouldn’t need my extra help–except for pruning incidents. Sigh.