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.

Winter Bulbs

Technically this post isn’t about true winter bulbs, which in my climate would be things like winter aconite and snowdrops. Rather, it’s about the indoor bulbs, both tender and hardy, that I force into bloom to get me through winter!

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You already saw these on New Year’s. These are paperwhite narcissus, often just called paperwhites. They are ridiculously easy to force:set the bulbs on some rocks or gravel and wait 4-6 weeks depending on your house temperature.

The thing about paperwhites is that they are very fragrant. You like them or you don’t. So if you have not had them before, don’t buy dozens until you know if you like the scent.

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The next typical indoor winter bulb is the amaryllis. These are often sold loose, or as kits, with soil, pots and bulbs together. I have even seen them sold just as a bulb with a waxy coating: no soil or pot needed. For me, who keeps hers from year to year, that’s not sustainable, because of course you can’t do that with the coated bulb.

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Finally here are some less traditional choices. In my case, these are hyacinth. I find they are really the only ones worth forcing all winter. I started these around Thanksgiving. And I have more coming behind them so that I should have hyacinths for the rest of the winter.

Why do I say these are the only ones worth forcing? Personal preference is part of it. But once they bloom, there is often a second bud as well so there’s an exceptional bloom time. And they’re fragrant. So it’s all good.

All of that adds up to a win for me!

What’s Wrong with My Fiddle Leaf Fig?

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When I first came upon my ficus lyrata–the botanical name for the fiddle leaf fig–looking like this, I thought that I had underwatered it and my own neglect was responsible for this ugliness.

But after I watered it–and leaves started falling off–I thought “uh-oh. Something else is going on here.” I actually had to get a hand lens to see the spider mites on it–and they didn’t pass my usual test of “shake the plant over a white piece of paper and study the moving dots.” Nothing was moving but there were clearly mites all over it.

So I took it to the shower for a quick bath of insecticidal soap.

What’s interesting–if you remember my post about the web building spider mites covering the mums in my office–last week this plant was fine. And it’s about 3′ tall–you can see that these are not the leaves of a small plant.

Oh well. It will recover or it won’t. I will just have to watch the other plants around it. I am not sure if snake plants get affected. I suspect not, but you never know.

Shamrock Plant

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Do you grow the shamrock plant? They are usually readily available, although not often at this time of year. You will find them most often being sold in March, in cute green containers, for St. Patrick’s day.

That’s not how or why I acquired this one. I had used it as a quasi-spiller in a container planting (of indoor plants) about 3 years ago. This autumn when I finally divided up the container, I potted this separately and it took off.

Shamrock plants are actually bulbs (oxalis is their botanical name) so you don’t want to let them dry out completely. If bulbs dry out completely, it often triggers them to go dormant–not what you want.

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Since I potted this up, it has not stopped blooming–even in my cold gray winter–with these little white flowers. They’re charming.

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A caution though: if you tend to be neat and not to like messy plants, skip this one. I am forever sweeping the little white flowers up (for me, that’s a happy problem, but I know it would make some people crazy). And every couple of weeks, I have to go around the plant pulling out dead leaves. Again, I don’t care but this is a tendency of this plant–the older leaves die very quickly.

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But any plant that blooms for me from September into January–and shows no sign of stopping–and has such pretty leaf coloring as well is fine with me. This is the back of the leaf.

There are purple leafed varieties as well but I think the green with this reverse is almost more interesting.

Next time you see one of these plants–most likely in March–give it a try.

A Lazarus Plant?

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This, supposedly, is a yellow clivia miniata. It’s definitely a clivia. It’s the “yellow ” part that I am questioning. I just acquired the plant last year and while it is very healthy, it hasn’t yet bloomed for me.

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Here’s my orange clivia. It’s probably 5 years old and it probably blooms every other year. Clivia questions are one of my biggest house plant questions–to the extent folks know what they are. But with house plants coming back into “fashion,” it’s only a matter of time before this long lived, attractive plant becomes popular.

Why is my post called the Lazarus Plant? Because I haven’t watered either of these plants since mid-October. That, supposedly, is the protocol for blooming.

The actual instructions are to stop watering in mid October. Chill the plant to 40 degrees and hold it there (now I have really cold places in my house, but none are that cold!). Resume watering January 21, after bringing the plant to a warmer (and by warmer, they mean low 60s, which is about where I have it now) place.

If you can manage to achieve that, bloom should follow in February. Since even I can’t, I will often get blooms in May or so. That’s fine. Blooming is blooming, so far as I am concerned.

And the plants did look pretty with the Christmas wreaths around them. I finally have a good use for those!

Rebirth

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This little succulent spent the summer out on my enclosed porch. It wasn’t its first year out there.

But for some reason, at the end of the summer, it started to lose its foliage (if that’s the correct term for these sort of stick like succulent limbs).

I just stopped all moisture for about a month and brought it into the house, unsure if excess water, humidity, or some combination had gotten to it.

As you can see by new growth, whatever affected it has stopped. It is putting on new growth–even in our winter.

The last couple of years, it has flowered in early spring. We’ll see if it can recover enough to do that.

Do You Know Princettia?

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On Monday I talked about the un-poinsettia or the anti-poinsettia. Today I am going to talk about a new cultivar called Princettia.https://princettia.eu/shop/compact/Princettia

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What are Princettia poinsettias? They are trademarked poinsettias developed by Suntory of Japan. But basically they have been developed to be shorter, with more compact stems but much more floriflorous bracts (the colorful things that look like flowers.)

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Right now they come in a few heights of white (yes, you read that correctly–not colors of white, but varying heights), a six different shades of pink (from pale pink through a more true pink to a deeper dark pink that’s almost fuchsia) and of course, a red.

If you remember the “rose” poinsettias from the last decade, these are probably comparable to those in number of petals–but of course, those were still like regular poinsettias in that they were tall–maybe even taller and narrower than some of the other varieties.

These are compact plants just covered in blooms–as one look at the web site reveals–and in person, they are stunning (as my unfortunate photography just doesn’t do them justice!)

They have been in cultivation for a few years but are just becoming readily available for gardeners. This holiday season, since we now know that poinsettias are not poisonous, perhaps you might like to try one?