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?

Sun’s Out–Time to Water More

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It’s hard to believe how warm the late March sun is. But plants that are in south windows–and even some that are in east windows–need more water now.

How much am I talking about? Well, plants that were getting watered once a week–or, occasionally in the darkest, coldest part of winter, every 2 weeks–are now getting watered every 4 days, and if I weren’t so lazy I could do it every 3 days.

All the other plants–in the western and north windows–definitely need water every week. In winter, it wasn’t that way. Many weeks I went 2 weeks between watering.

So if you haven’t checked your plants lately and changed up your watering, maybe you want to think about that.

The Joy of Tiny Plants

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One thing that I don’t see talked about a lot are tiny plants. I see a lot of folks growing them–you just have to scroll through some house plant feeds on Instagram and there are lots of tiny plants (although the giant plants seem to be all the rage at the moment).

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And of course, as I mentioned last week, I like my plants to be interesting. So even most of my tiny plants have variegated leaves.

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This African violet is an exception. No interesting leaves. But I put the small pruner next to it so you could get a sense of size. This plant is probably 10 years old and may be 3-4″ wide. The leaves may be dime sized–if they’re that big.

Another fun thing to do is to find truly small cachepots for these plants.

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This is the pot that the tiny orchid is in–and yes, I brought it home from Aruba.

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This is a pretty hand-painted Italian pot. I am not sure where I got it but I love it. It holds the Asian violet.

So if you have the opportunity to grow some truly tiny plants, take it. They are a joy!

Yes, There Will Be Lemons

I talked last Friday about lecturing on house plants and how I always talk about the importance of interesting leaves in a house plant collection.

Another thing I mention–although it’s not as important as colorful leaves–and it’s much more elusive–is fragrance.

Fragrance can be tricky. The classic example of this is paperwhite narcissus. I’ve mentioned that I like the smell of those, but many people don’t. In fact, many people find the scent downright objectionable.

Jasmine is another one (Jasminum officinale). In small doses, it’s a heavenly scent. But once the whole plant starts blooming, it can be so overwhelming, it can actually give me a headache.

There’s a whole science to what goes on behind scent–I won’t get into it because I am not qualified and would make a muddle of it. I’ll simply repeat what I said at the beginning–scent is probably our most visceral sense. We know immediately what we like and what we don’t.

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One of these small flowers–a lemon blossom, but it’s true for other blossoms in the citrus family as well–perfumes a whole room in my home. I need only to walk into a room and I can tell when this plant–or my other citrus–is in bloom.

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This plant has bloomed quite a bit this winter–winter is the normal bloom time for many citrus–and already you can see small lemons beginning to form at the end of the branches. So long as I transition this plant gently outside in the spring–and gently back inside this fall–by next winder I should have edible lemons.

All of this is accomplished with no additional pollination from me. I have heard of folks who hand-pollinate their citrus with paintbrushes and I have seen small mechanized devices sold for such purpose.

As I have repeated many a time, in my house, it’s every plant for itself–and clearly this lemon is doing just fine. Bring on the lemonade.

Trendy House Plants

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It’s garden lecture season for me. One of my topics is “Hot Garden Trends.” And while house plants have been a hot trend for awhile, that’s really not what this post is about.

In the lecture, I say that an up and coming trend is “patterned gardening.” I don’t limit it to just plants; I talk about paving materials and even those houses for insects that have now gone mainstream.

It started as mason bee houses, but folks have now expanded that into whole apartments for bees, butterflies, ladybugs, lacewings and other beneficial insects. I guess they work–I have no idea. I prefer to let all those things just live and nest in my yard. But I am spoiled. I have a lot of property and can set aside brush piles and other places for them to do that.

Suddenly, however, I am getting articles about how “trendy” patterned house plants are. I guess that I had better change up my lecture to add this as a genuine trend.

Plants with interesting leaves are no stranger to me. In fact, as part of my house plant lecture, I always talk about growing plants with interesting leaves so that when they’re not in flower (if they flower at all) there’s something interesting to look at the rest of the year.

It’s a principle shade gardeners know well. Many shade garden plants are grown primarily for foliage (hostas, ferns, coral bells, etc.) But the leaves of many of those same plants are so stunning that you don’t care if they flower.

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Here are a few rhizamatous begonia. These leaves are so pretty that I don’t care if they bloom.

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This is an interesting plant called ruellia. It happens to be in bloom. But even when it’s not, the leaves are lovely enough that you don’t care.

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Then of course there’s the croton. Does anyone care that this doesn’t bloom?

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And speaking of patterns, remember these from Monday? They do bloom, but it’s so insignificant that I scarcely notice.

Obviously I didn’t acquire all these plants overnight. I have been collecting “patterned” plants for quite some time. I actually have lots more–but there’s no point in overkill. You can clearly see what a difference patterns make in a plant collection.

Houseplants Welcome Spring

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As of yesterday, March 1, we welcomed spring in the northern hemisphere. For those of you scratching your heads because you thought spring began with the vernal equinox on March 19, you’re not mistaken. We’re just talking about 2 different ways to measure when “spring” begins.

Most folks think it begins on the vernal equinox, which is somewhere between March 19–22 each year.

I use the meteorological way of calculating and thus spring begins March 1, summer begins June 1, autumn begins September 1 and winter begins December 1.

In any event, your house plants aren’t waiting for mid-March to know that spring has arrived. They are already responding to the longer daylight and warmer sun.

What does this mean for you? First, you will need to check your plants more frequently to see if they need water, particularly those in bright southern windows.

Next, you will want to make sure that plants that have been fine all winter in an east or west window are suddenly not getting too much sun. This happens to me every year (and unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of moving many of those plants–they just have to tough it out until my trees leaf out).

Finally, as your plants start to wake up, so do little insects. Be alert for this and catch infestations early, before they spread beyond the infested plant.

If you live in a cold climate–even in one that hasn’t had a particularly bad winter–it may be tempting to get outside as soon as you get a nice day. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t forget to check on your house plants too. They need you more than ever this time of year.

Poinsettia Aftercare

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Remember this lovely pink poinsettia? Well, sadly, it didn’t look like that for long. I don’t know if these new cultivars are more finicky than regular poinsettias, or if it was this plant in particular, but it dropped its leaves on a regular basis almost from the moment it left the greenhouse and entered my care.

By comparison, the other poinsettia I bought at the same time from the same place was far more easy care and would have maintained its leaves until now had I permitted it.

But it’s the end of February, almost March, and by now no one wants to look at poinsettias. Most of us are thinking spring!

The true gardener doesn’t toss the poinsettia, however (unless space is at a premium. In that case, I hope you can compost it at least).

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Here’s the pink poinsettia today. It’s already on its way to lots of new regrowth. In fact, it looks great. I have it in a south window and despite the fact that they don’t like cold, it is tolerating the cooler temperatures in that window just fine. It must be the brighter spring sunshine sustaining it during the day.

So I will keep it there until about Memorial Day (or later if we have a cold spring). Then I will transition it outside to a shady area at first, then a partly sunny place for the summer. It will stay there until early September when I will bring it back in.

At that point, I will put it back into a sunny window, but I will make sure it’s in a room we don’t use much–likely our living room. Chances are, by next December, it will begin to set its colorful bracts again.

Knowing how easy this is, try keeping your poinsettia next year. They’re not really “toss away” plants.