We Pause Our Scheduled House Plant Posts…

Henri rain total

Many of you know that I know that I live in the northeast–or as I uncharitably refer to it, the frozen north.

As a general rule, we have much worse winter storms than summer storms. This last week, however, has been a bit of an exception. On Thursday, tropical storm Fred roared through in the pre-dawn hours. We received 5 inches of rain in a very brief period of time and there was flash flooding all over my town.

So Hurricane Henri was quite a threat, with its winds and rain.

Leafy mess

I just have this to deal with this this time. I got lucky.

Pine tree down

This, however, is directly across the street. I have talked to my neighbor. She is fine–other than the fact that she can’t get out of her garage.

So things seem pretty good in the immediate vicinity. I haven’t ventured much farther from my house than this because of the conditions. Tomorrow will tell the larger story. But at least power and cable are still on–the basics.

Foliage is Forever

Calathea Rattlesnake

Calatheas are one of my favorite houseplants for interesting, unusual foliage, but I must tell you that in my cooler, New England home, they struggle a little. Basically these are rainforest understory plants and my dry, cold house is about as far from a rainforest as you can get in say, February.

So, occasionally I give up and toss the sadder looking of my plants. But I find that if I start with large, robust specimens going into the fall, most of them will get through the winter just fine. You don’t want to see many of these plants when I first bring them outside for their “summer vacation.”

Calathea Zebrina

Luckily, they don’t need much of a summer vacation to revive and grow new leaves. This year I tucked them underneath a Japanese maple. Last year they summered underneath a dogwood–you know, typical rainforest plants, right? But the deep shade and humid conditions seemed to be what they needed to re-foliate to get through another long New England winter.

Calathea ornata

When I bring them inside, I do sit them on a humidity tray, altogether in one spot. I think that helps them somewhat. And of course they look lovely for a couple of months, until it really starts to get dry in my house and gray outside–but by then, I have forced bulbs for color to tide me over.

Calathea Maui Queen

There’s a significant discrepancy about growing instructions for these plants. Some growers say to let them dry a bit before watering while others suggest consistent moisture will lead to success.

Maui Queen’s leaves–the “other” side

As for light, bright indirect light is best, however you manage to achieve that. Last year, that meant that I grew these below a south window–on the floor. This year, I will bring them inside to a different room–I am hoping for more natural humidity–and I will set them on a table about 3 feet back from a west window. We’ll see how that goes.

I have seen the recommendation to grow them in the kitchen, again for the humidity. My kitchen faces east, but I think it would be too much sun. Perhaps if the other room doesn’t work out, I will try the kitchen. It’s nice to have options.

Flowers Fade but Foliage is Forever

Collection of foliage plants

I was typing a description for a house plant lecture that I will be giving later this fall and I used the line that is the title of this post.

Now technically of course it’s not true. Leaves die too. But the point I was making–as shown in the photo above–is that colorful house plants are colorful all year; whereas a blooming plant blooms for a short period of time and then you simply have green leaves generally (unless you have a variegated kind).

In fact that’s generally what I recommend: unless a variegated plant is a weak variety (or unless you don’t like the color of the variegation with the flower color), buy the variegated plant so that you have something interesting to look at once the flowering is done.

As for these plants, if they flower at all, you don’t really notice. The flowers are completely unremarkable.

For the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some of the more interesting house plants with great foliage. Because as we start thinking about shorter days, it’s nice to have something bright to look forward to.

A Gardening Gadget that I Didn’t Know I Needed

Moisture Meter–obviously

Do not ask me why I decided that I needed this gadget. I think it was my ficuses. They are finicky enough as it is–I mean, let’s face it, they drop leaves for just about any reason: it’s too sunny; it’s not sunny enough; it’s too wet; it’s too dry; and of course the dreaded “you moved them” to fix any of the aforementioned conditions.

So since my oldest plant is a ficus benjaminii–the weeping fig–in a huge pot that I could never determine whether it’s appropriately wet or dry, I decided that this might be useful.

At first, I thought that the thing was ridiculous. The first 15 plants I put it in–no exaggeration–it read exactly as you see above. I put it in indoor plants and outdoor containers, many of which felt plenty moist on the surface. So I ignored the thing for a few day days.

Then I decided to try it on the large container plants that I had originally bought it for. Aha! That’s where I started getting some readings in the “moist” to even “wet” range. So not only does this meter work, but clearly I am overwatering those plants!

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am not into gadgets or tech much when I garden. But this particular little item is useful. Maybe I need to rethink some of my stances on things. We’ll see.

Vines in Trees?

Clematis growing up a dogwood

There’s so much going on in this photo that’s it a bit difficult to see what is going on. You might have to take my word for it that there are 3 different clematis growing up this half dead dogwood tree.

You can see all the clematis vines snaking up the trunk right at the base of the photo. And just before the large branch forks off to the right, there’s another cluster of vines shooting straight up into the air, heading for the crown of the tree.

What on earth made me do this? This tree was supposed to die. It’s been dying since 1996. I even planted the Japanese maple next to it to replace it, so to speak.

Well, the branches on the Japanese maple are now up to the second story and the dogwood is still hanging on. You can see the seedlings from the maples coming up under the dogwood. They give the clematis a hand (a leaf?) up on their way to the light and tree canopy so they can stay.

And meanwhile, the dogwood hangs on. I pruned the maple back a bit this year, thinking that maybe I would give the dogwood a fighting chance. I probably will kill it with kindness now.

As for the idea of growing vines in trees, I am not sure where I got that from. I suspect I read it in in British gardening book. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

A Rose of Sharon that Won’t Self-Sow

Hibiscus Sugar Tip

Remember the close up of those lovely pink flowers on Wednesday? That was this plant, hibiscus syriacus ‘Sugar Tip.’ Anyone who has grown Rose of Sharon knows that they have a terrible tendency to self sow everywhere unless somehow they are shorn of every last seedling before it falls. I am not sure about you, but I do have other things going on, so I am constantly weeding out or whacking back forests of hibiscus seedling trees.

Sugar Tip close up

But this lovely plant is sterile, meaning it drops no seedlings. Because I have mine planted over lawn, this didn’t occur to me right away. I thought perhaps that the mower was mowing them all down (don’t ask me why I didn’t think that they weren’t coming up in the garden bed either).

I did, however, notice that while the plant attracted bees, they never left with any pollen. Odd. So I reached out to Proven Winners who indeed confirmed that the plant is sterile. So no worries about seedlings everywhere.

Since I have planted mine, they have come out with a newer cultivar called Sugar Tip Gold with even more variegation and a yellower edge. I am happy with this variety. And I am really happy about not having to weed out forests of seedlings!