Last Year’s Media Darling

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This is the fiddle leaf fig (ficus lyrata). Last year, it was everywhere. This year, it’s still popular, but not quite so much as last year. My theory on that in a moment.

Just “google” fiddle leaf fig care. The first thing you’ll see is the amazing number of contradictory instructions. So that’s trouble right there. If even the so-called experts can’t tell us how to take care of it, what hope do folks who are growing this thing for the first time stand?

I am actually trying it for the second time. My first one made it through 2 winters in my chilly New England house. What it didn’t do was grow–at all. Not one inch or one leaf, not even when I put it outdoors in a protected location for the summer (in between my 2 chilly winters).

I finally gave up with that one, composted it and am starting over. This may turn into “how many fiddle leaf figs can one person kill….”

What I can tell you is that the plant is native to tropical parts of Africa–so about as far from New England as you can be. It’s going to hate the next 6 months around here. Perhaps I can redeem things and make it up to it next summer. If not, there’s always the compost pile.

More Trendy House Plants

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I know that few people can imagine that the humble snake plant–or mothers-in-law tongue–or what ever it is that you might call sansevieria–is “trendy.” But believe it or not, designers adore them!

How on earth can this be? Well there are several reasons for this. First, they have that wonderful, upright, vertical shape that makes them great for accent pieces or I have even seen them used in trough planters as room dividers.

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Next, they are wonderful plants for cleaning the air, so along with your accent piece/statement plant/room dividing screen, you get a double duty plant that is actually doing the work of taking toxins from the air.

What sort of toxins? Formaldehyde, benzene and toluene are at least some of them, making this the perfect plant for home, office or dorm.

Formaldehyde is in all sorts of things from paper bags, furniture, flooring, indoor heating and even air fresheners–and even more things! Benzene is a by-product of household heating. And toluene can be found in copiers, printers, nail polish and beauty products.

Suddenly these plants are looking pretty darn trendy, aren’t they?

Caring for Trendy House Plants

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Every year one plant or other steals the spotlight on Instagram as the “trendy” house plant. This year, it’s this plant, pilea peperomiodes. It has so many common names I scarcely know where to begin–I have seen it called the money plant, coin plant, UFO plant, pancake plant–all for obvious reasons because the leaves do resemble these things (at least if you have some imagination).

What I particularly wanted to show with this photo was the yellow leaf, because if you own these plants for awhile it is perfectly normal for them to lose their lower leaves and get a bit leggy. It’s not a habit that I am fond of–as a general rule, I am not fond of leggy plants at all–so I am letting my plant make offspring and just letting them grow up in the pot around the plant to hide the legginess. Some people share the little plants at the base. I can’t do it. I have to use them to hide the stem.

As for light and watering requirements, bright light but no full or direct sun. As with most things in my house, this plant dries down pretty completely before it gets watered again and it seems to be just fine with that treatment. It’s not one of those “fussy” plants that needs to be evenly moist.

Just do remember that as it grows, it IS going to shed its lower leaves on you so decide on a strategy for that. Or perhaps you’re someone who likes the leggy look. We can’t all like the same things, after all. How boring would that be?

Do House Plants Experience Seasons?

My title may seem like a silly question, particularly if you haven’t taken your plants outdoors or if you live in a place that has relatively similar temperatures year round. But bear with me a moment and I think you’ll find that there is more to this and that yes, even if you never take your plants outdoors or if your climate is almost the same year round, your plants will still experience “seasons.”

How can this be? The first reason is the changing levels of light. All of us, no matter where we live, are undergoing dramatic light changes right now, whether we lose light in the northern hemisphere or gain it in the southern hemisphere. Even indoors, our plants notice this and react to it by needing less water (where we lose light) or needing more water (where we gain it).

Next, there are temperature changes. And again, while these may be more–or less–dramatic depending on where you live, they still happen. Even in more temperate climates, the outdoor air gets less humid and air conditioning runs less. That changes plant watering requirements as well.

For those of us about to go into the heating season, that is perhaps one of the most dramatic changes for a plant. Depending on the type of heat in the home, your indoor air can literally become as dry as a desert.

Since most of out “house plants” come from humid tropical rain forests (with the exception of cacti and succulents, of course), this dry environment just invites all sorts of issues: leaf troubles, spider mites and just a general struggle to survive.

So what to do? As winter (or summer, depending on your hemisphere) approaches, be alert to the changes in your plants. Notice if they are staying moist longer, or drying more quickly. Be especially alert for any insect pests so that you can catch and treat if necessary before they get out of hand and spread.

In this way, you’ll have your plants for many years to come.

Do Plants Have a Natural Lifespan?

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This is an image of a begonia x giganticum. Needless to say, it looks a little sad. It, along with a “sister” plant that I have that thankfully is still doing well, are my oldest house plants. I have had them since 1978 (yes, that’s 40 years–that’s not a typo).

This particular plant started to do this “thing” I will call it (for lack of the more precise technical term–it’s here that you realize that I have no background in horticulture) in mid-2017. I gave up on it in August of this year. I took cuttings, but I am not sure that the cuttings have survived.

If you look at the spot where the stem meets the leaf, it’s rotting. That’s the “thing.” I don’t know why it’s happening and clearly I don’t know how to stop it. I let the whole plant dry to the point of wilting several times and that didn’t help. If I had to guess, I would say this is some sort of bacterial of fungal wilt.

So that plant is now compost. I just hope my poor other specimen survives. There’s a lot of history in these plants!

Sure the Citrus Looks Nice Now….

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These are my citrus plants. There are 3 lemons, a lime, an orange, and the large variegated one at the end is a kumquat.

I regularly get lemons. Everything else flowers and that’s good enough for me. If you grow citrus, you know that they flower sometime between January and March.

The fragrance is absolutely wonderful. It’s sweet without being overwhelming (in other words, unlike with my snake plants, I don’t have to leave the room because the scent is so over-powering).

I suspect I might be able to get fruit if I “played the bee” and tried to pollinate some of the lime or orange flowers, but really, life if complicated enough as it is for me to worry about that. Maybe someday.

What I can’t seem to stop is the leaf loss. I wonder, again, if I added grow lights, if that might solve the problem? But I would need to figure out a spot for those–that’s another “maybe someday” issue.

Besides, once they are down to basically just twigs, watering is easy. I need some easy plants in the winter.

Indoor Plant Leaf Loss?

If you have put your plants outdoors for the summer–or even perhaps if you haven’t but you start to see something like this, what do you do?

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When I lecture, I often say that we are far too quick to discard plants that “look” like they’re dying. I know more ficus plants end up in the trash than ever should because a weeping fig’s (ficus benjaminii) unfortunate habit is to lose many of its leaves once it’s moved.

So if you buy one in a nice humid greenhouse and bring it home to your house–especially as we get into the drier heating season–you can bet it’s going to lose most, if not all of its leaves. That’s the point that new plant growers think they’ve killed it, not realizing that this is just the unfortunate habit of the plant.

So patience! Patience is sometimes required (and let’s face it–who has patience and wants to look at a bunch of sticks in a pot?) But do try not to discard a weeping fig before it’s really dead.

My geranium (pelargonium, actually)(the plant in the above photo) is another story. What’s happening?
Well, a bunch of things. First of all, it’s pot bound (which you can’t tell by looking, of course, but I know from my experience with this plant) so it goes through cycles of “wet” and “dry.”

When it was outside and in full leaf all summer, it was fine with this. Now that it’s indoors and in a sunny window, it’s not so happy about this. I tried to cut it back a little to prevent some of the transpiration from the leaves, but obviously I didn’t succeed enough.

Should I worry? Not as long as I can see that my leaves are burning (as they are) and that I am still losing older leaves from the bottom of the plant (as I am–it may not be apparent from this photo).

I don’t want to do anymore cutting back right now–there’s not a lot to cut. I would rather let it defoliate, if need be and then trim up in the spring.

But I hope that this shows you that it’s okay to let a plant lose leaves. On Friday I will show you my citrus. They have come in in full leaf. But mid-winter, they’ll be sticks in my climate, even though they are in a full sun south window. Do I worry? No. Do I hate it. Yes. We’ll talk more Friday.