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!

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!

A Mite-y Big Problem

This photo–except for the dated bathroom tile–is actually much prettier than what it really it. All the plants in the tub have just been sprayed with insecticidal soap–my remedy of last resort, really–because I have discovered a quite extensive spider mite infestation.

You can’t quite tell, but there are 6 plants here in the tub. And they only look so good because they are still glossy from being sprayed.

This is the window where they reside. That big croton in the photo is in the tub–it’s pretty badly infested. It’s an old plant–I am guessing about 8 years old or so.

The big hibiscus next to it seems okay so far. We’ll see.

And the lemon on the end is probably infested but it’s too big to move. It’s going to have to hang on until I can get it outside.

It’s that point in the season where the insects are really getting into high gear and I am counting weeks until I can bring the plants out. But at least it’s just weeks now and not multiple months.

Plants Are Usually Killed by Overwatering–Except at My House

Earlier this week, I walked by this window and noticed this wilting succulent. Now more plants, particularly cacti and succulents are generally killed by over-watering, not under-watering. Then there’s my house.

My house is generally on the cooler side, especially in the winter, so keeping a plant, particularly a cactus or succulent too wet is certain death for it.

Other plants that also prefer a bit of dryness–philodendron and citrus come to mind here–also don’t mind the coolness of my home so long as I don’t drown them.

So I always tend to err in that direction.

But now that we are into late March–soon to be April–and the sun is getting warmer, I need to be mindful that certain plants might need a bit more water than they needed in December, say.

I have been checking for–and sadly already finding–the little insects that love to make themselves known with more sunlight and warmer days.

So take a lesson from me–plants don’t like “tough love!”

My Snake Plant is Busting Out All Over

This poor snake plant (dracena zeylanica, formerly sansevieria zeylanica) has taken matters into its own leaves, so to speak, and decided to literally bust out of its container. It has broken through the pot and now is migrating down my windowsill. Clearly it is a priority that I re-pot it come May.

Here’s a slightly better view so that you can see what’s going on.

And despite the fact that it clearly wants to get out of that container, it’s also about to bloom.

By the way, notice the backyard through the window. Not a sign of life or green anywhere outside yet, except for the evergreens. Winter or July and July isn’t here yet. Maybe in April. That’s been known to happen.

A Little Fragrance Goes a Long Way

As I was dusting and changing clocks Saturday morning in my living room, I suddenly realized that there was a new fragrance in the room.

Sure enough, my jasmine officinale has begun to bloom. And as you can see from this crazy photo, (the jasmine blooms sandwiched between a couple of amaryllis leaves), there are just a few blossoms open.

Here’s the whole photo so that you can see how few blooms–and how many are yet to open.

Sometimes with very fragrant plants like this it’s best that the blooms only open a few at a time. Especially indoors, with no pollinators, and just me to enjoy this, small doses are best!

Who’s Been Chewing My Plants?

The holes in the end of this strelitzia leaf just fascinate the Spoiler.

It may be that he has to look past it (as well as several other plants) to see out the window. But he has remarked on them several times and wondered about them.

I am fairly sure about them. I just presume that when the leaf was still furled, some critter came along, took a bite, decided that the leaf wasn’t to its liking and moved on. But the teeth marks remained and became more pronounced as the leaf grew.

Still, the Spoiler rarely wonders, so it’s an interesting thing.

I am more focused on the plants behind the big Bird of Paradise. Some of them are beginning to show signs of different insect infestations. Ah, the signs of spring!