Unwelcome Pest

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I acquired two little tropical hibiscus plants early this season–on the same trip that I bought the “invisible” impatiens that I talked about on Monday. One is sort of a red-orange color and the other a orange-yellow color–you know, the tropical bright colors that hibiscus come in!

They haven’t bloomed as much as I would like despite the heat and humidity that we have been having but when they do bloom they make me unreasonably happy. I think it’s just that I can count on one hand the number of trips I have made to the garden center this year so anything blooming in my yard is really making me happy.

I also situated them right next to my door–in among my herbs–so I see them several times a day when I come in and out of the house with the dog. So there’s a splash of color with the herbs when they bloom.

I especially like the yellow one. Yellow is one of my favorite colors in the garden. So I watch the buds as the unfurl.

But last Saturday I noticed something amiss with the buds. They would get to a particular stage–almost open–and then stop. I leaned in closer and reached for one and it came off in my hand.

That’s just not typical–hibiscus aren’t THAT fragile–so I sat right down, picked up the pot and took a closer look. I saw two things that troubled me.

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This was the first. If it weren’t for the presence of the ant on the bud, I might have thought it was mealy bugs. But I didn’t see any full grown mealies–just this sort of white cottony stuff.

So I looked a little more and sure enough, there was a little green wedge shaped bug–a green plant hopper. So the white mess is the wax hiding its nymphs.

My first choice–always–when dealing with any pest–is a sharp blast from the hose, which seems to have worked well and gotten rid of the nymphs. We are in moderate drought so I am trying to be judicious about water use, but at the same time, hibiscus are very sensitive to any sort of insecticide, even organics, so the hose seemed the best choice here.

And so far, so good. No more plant hoppers or nymphs. We shall see if the remaining buds open properly. Fingers crossed.

Unexpected II

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I caught sight of this across the room last weekend. It startled me because this plant hasn’t grown in several years.

I haven’t changed anything–pot or soil–and I don’t fertilize so that’s not it.

Certain plants sense things like when they are going to die and they put out seed. Other plants, like oak and pine, have heavy mast years and lighter ones. This leads to abundant years for small mammals like chipmunks and squirrels. In leaner years, fewer chipmunks and squirrels (although most gardeners will tell you that there’s always too many).

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But I really have no explanation for this sago palm deciding that it will do this now.

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Maybe it decided that I needed something to cheer me up.

A Buggy Time of Year

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I mentioned on Monday that we had had the house power washed recently. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Of course I had to move many of the over 100 house plants that I had brought outside so that they too wouldn’t be “power washed” or damaged in the process.

As I was doing so, I discovered that somehow the mealybug infestation that I had indoors had returned and had spread to several other plants.

Now, one of the reasons why I “summer” the plants outdoors is because a lot of these pesky plant issues have natural predators that are kept in check.

Scale, for instance, is nicely handled by wasps and ants.

And the hose washes off spider mites.

But apparently nothing likes mealy bugs. Doesn’t that figure?

Anyway, I found the problem, isolated the infected plants again, and we’ll see. I have one troublesome ficus that may just become compost at the end of the season.

So I definitely got much more than a power wash from this adventure!

Dreaming of Tuscany

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I have a U-shaped area of bluestone and brownstone that serve as my entryway access. Two steps go up to a bluestone landing, facing a low brownstone wall. At that point, if you turn left, you have a short two steps and a walkway to the front door (which, in typical New England fashion, we don’t use).

If you noticed the second photo on Wednesday, I was taking it in the direction of the enclosed porch, mentioned below. The landing is clearly visible.

Turn left and there are 4 steps, a longer bluestone walk, and there’s an enclosed porch that we use for access to the home.

I like to sit on the steps in early morning or late afternoon and just enjoy the plants.

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This quite often is the view that I have seen in the past. It’s very cooling and soothing so no matter how warm it is out, I have the illusion of coolness, especially if I have just watered the containers.

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This year, I have staged my containers on the steps leading to the front door so that the ferns are far less visible. My view, instead, is of citrus, a fig, an olive tree, and if I turn to look behind me, herbs. It’s much more Tuscan than New England woodland.

We’ll have to see if I get the same cooling effect as summer warms up.

Old versus New Plants

I am old enough to remember–and to have been gardening since before– the first house plant craze in the mid-1970s. If you can believe it, house plants were popular back in the age of disco! Somehow we don’t associate them with the Bee Gees and Donna Summer, though.

One of the fun things that I usually do when I lecture on house plants is to bring “old” and “new” versions of the same genus:the old plant would have been popular in the 1970s and the new plant is popular today.

So here’s what that looks like.

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We all know this one–in fact, we still see it occasionally in commercial settings. This is ficus benjaminii, or the weeping fig. Most folks gave up on them at home because they’re so finicky.

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So they decided on this trendy thing, ficus lyrica, the fiddle leaf fig, which is just slightly less demanding. But at least it doesn’t drop its leaves every time you look at it cross eyed (and believe me, with my double vision issue, I should know!)

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Here’s a plant you may not be familiar with. This is pilea involucrata moon valley. It’s just starting to get its color after a dismal winter of too little light.

This was a hugely popular plant back in “the old days,” particularly for terrariums. Now it’s just retro and old school (and still good for terrariums).

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This, of course, is the hugely popular pilea of today. It’s pilea peperomioides, which has about 10 common names or so.

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Finally there is the spider plant, chlorophytum comosum. I don’t even have a photo of that 1970s version because I don’t think they sell them anymore. Suffice it to say that they were all green, with no variegation. Today’s variety are all variegated.

So it’s easy to say that a lot of things have changed, but they haven’t really. I am as crazy about plants as I was in the 70s. And if the plants look a little different, that’s fine. That just gives me new reasons to seek them out!

Sneaky Little Devils

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One benefit of some extra time on my hands is that I managed to catch a very strange mites infestation. You can see the freshly showered plants here.

I am not sure if you can distinguish it, but all these plants are in the ficus genus. What’s interesting is that they are scattered around a rather large room with other plants in between that are not affected.

Some of the unaffected plants are a large ficus elastica, one of those very trendy pilea peperomoides, and 4 snake plants.

What’s especially unusual is that the plant in the upper left–ficus ‘Audrey’–has been deliberately segregated all winter because it’s had mealy bugs. Some plants can’t win for trying. But it was way away from everything. How do these mites travel?

I have to conclude that it’s me. They must hitch a ride on my clothing or hands and travel from plant to plant. But at least I have the time to catch this sort of thing right now.

Great Bloomin’ Aloe

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Remember my trip to Oklahoma City back at the end of January? Me either. That might as well have been in another century.

I bring it up again because I remember remarking when I was showing pictures of the Land Run Centennial Park that I hadn’t seen a lot of plants (well, yes, it was January) but I could identify an aloe that I had at home that blooms for me in a container.

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And here’s my blooming aloe. Now I can no more identify it (by variety or species) here than I can in Oklahoma. My recollection is that it came in a container of mixed succulents–and not necessarily the one I currently have it in.

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But clearly it’s happy at my house. That’s all that matters to me.

Do Plants Stress?

Do plants feel stressed? Well, yes and no. Actually I’m not going to tell you that they don’t feel stress in ways similar to humans. There have been some studies where plants have had leaves hooked up to electrodes and then were pruned and there was evidence that they reacted.

There is also evidence that a plant under attack from an insect sends chemical signals to its neighbors. Is that stress? Is it a warning? We’re not quite sure.

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But there’s this. Here’s a healthy, normal looking zygocactus (otherwise known as a non-blooming Christmas cactus).

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Occasionally they look like this. This is what happens when they get too near a window (in other words, get chilled by glass–at least in my climate).

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And there’s this, which is what happens if they’re getting too much sunlight.

Are they stressed? Somewhat, but not so much that they might be overly susceptible to insects or disease (which is what happens when a plant is stressed).

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And then there’s this. This probably doesn’t look all that odd to you, because these zygo cactus can bloom randomly throughout the year.

But this is ‘Holiday Cheer’ the first of the plants to bloom for me. It bloomed for me last October. I remember posting a photo with it’s tag and the rather snarky comment “what holiday?”

I would say that it’s the Columbus Day/Easter cactus but Easter cacti are an entirely different genus!

Sun’s Out–Time to Check for Bugs

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If your plants look like this, take a closer look. I did, and by accident discovered the beginning infestation of spider mites.

Luckily this plant is on a plant stand away from most of my plants. I took it to the sink, gave it a good rinse, and put it back on the plant stand.

I do expect re-infestation for a couple of reasons. First, mites breed on a 3 day cycle, and just because I cleaned the plant doesn’t mean that I got every single mite off.

Nor did I get every inch of the stand, or every crevice of the decorative pot clean. You begin to see the issue with something that breeds so quickly.

So since we all have a little more time on our hands, (or at least are spending a little more time at home with our plants), take some care to make sure insects don’t get out of hand.

Who needs one more issue right now?