A Little Plant Help

Yes, that is a canister vacuum. No, I am not suggesting that you vacuum your plants.

But I find that each week, as I clean up the house, I use either the wand on my vacuum, or just the hose, as shown here, to clean up around my plants.

Do I have that many messy plants? Oh yes!

This is just one example. This is my pittosporum tobira variegata. It’s a lovely plant and in mid-to-late spring for me it blooms with lovely small white flowers that have a wonderful fragrance.

But by this point in the season, it wants to be back outside. It’s a shrub. It really doesn’t want to be a houseplant, except that it’s not hardy in my region. So it gets finicky and starts dropping leaves. Sometimes a lot of leaves all over the place and on top of those other plants.

So once I clean the plants off (I repeat, I don’t vacuum plants–vacuums have too much suction for delicate leaves), I vacuum all the leaves up.

Then there’s my osmanthus fragrans–another plant that would be a shrub someplace else.

It’s a fairly good houseplant for me and it’s almost continually in bloom all winter with those tiny white flowers. They can perfume the whole room.

They can also make quite a mess of the windowsills, nearby plants, and anywhere else that they fall. But the vacuum keeps things neat and tidy with very little work.

Of course as you can see from the pittosporum photo, my plants are placed fairly close together so this technique is not for the faint of heart. If I am not careful, I can make more mess than I am trying to clean. But that hasn’t happened lately. I am becoming a pro at this technique.

Seeing Double Ficus?

After I lost my grandmother’s ficus, I was happy to find this sort of substitute. This is a benjaminii type but obviously it’s variegated. We’ll see how that works out.

Generally benjaminii types were known to be finicky. In fact, what used to happen when you moved the plant at all was that it would lose a good portion of its leaves. So far, I have brought this from a nice toasty greenhouse to my cool home, and then moved it within my home and it’s doing just fine–very little leaf loss. Maybe the breeders have somehow figured out a way to improve on these.

Yes, this looks just like the plant above but it’s a different plant, I promise. This is a ficus triangularus, and I can tell you that the breeders haven’t managed to improve much on this one!

Actually, I am not being fair. I got this in December so it has had to put up with nothing but low light and cold temperatures in my house since it arrived. It looks good but it has lost a decent number of leaves.

It has much thicker, leathery leaves than the benjaminii type.

I had been keeping both of these where they were getting light from my hydroponic garden. I just moved them into bright indirect light at the other end of the house.

With any luck, none of the plants in that area will turn out to have been infested with the scale from the discarded plants and all will be well. But I am going to have to maintain careful vigilance for quite some time, especially as it warms up. Generally, as the days grow longer and the sun gets stronger, all sorts of pests start to appear. I have learned that from years’ past.

Frustration with Ficus

This is how my 2022 ended–I said goodbye to a plant that had been with me since 1990, my grandmother’s ficus.

The fact that it went quickly was of some consolation, I suppose. But the 6 weeks or so that I watched it decline were still pretty painful.

This year is beginning with more parting with ficus. This past weekend I said goodbye to 2 ficus Audrey and a ficus lyrata that were too scale infested to save.

This is the bright spot. This little ficus elastica could be cleaned off.

Luckily February is a short month. I am hoping for better luck going forward.

Late Winter Succulent Window Revamp

This is the small, south double hung window where my succulents spend the winter.

These are what just came out of that window. You can see that they’re pretty content there. The echiveria in the bowl in the middle left is just about to bloom. And the aloe on the desk is blooming–that’s one of the reasons I didn’t move it.

A few things that normally bloom haven’t done so yet. I wondering if it’s a result of my late repotting (September instead of May). Or, who knows? Maybe they just need a year to settle into their new containers.

A redo of the window lets me groom plants like this scilla peruviana, which tends to get untidy every so often.

And now they are all back in place, ready for more sun!

Do You–or Should You–Divide Your House Plants?

Before I begin the discussion about dividing plants, let’s talk about this lovely plant. It’s one that I have had, most likely for about 8 years or so. I just got a smaller identical one (labeled foliage plant, of course), and then one with slightly different colors labeled as a calathea.

This plant is one that I have always known as stromanthe tricolor. I have also seen it as stromanthe triostar. But I have never seen it called a calathea, despite the fact that its leaves do move in relationship to light.

But I had my other calathea/stromanthe with me at my most recent house plant lectures, as well as 2 aglaeonema. I got asked about dividing plants at each lecture.

Both times my answer was the same: generally, I don’t divide plants. I like my plants to look full. Certainly there’s no reason not to, particularly if there are multiple plants in a container.

But this brings me to a different issue. When you have had a plant for several years, and you have re-potted it a few times, you probably want to “renovate” it.

What do I mean by that? I mean that you want to carefully groom the plant (usually this can be done without taking it out of its pot), removing old stems, and even old dead plant parts if you find them. I did that with this stromanthe before I took the above photo.

This is the crud that I pulled out of it. Notice all the dead stems.

There was even this little bit of dead plant stem in there.

By the way, all of this is on a glass-topped table. The signed poster underneath is from several years ago when Allen Smith came to Hartford for our Hort. Society. I was lucky enough to be one of the ones to be selected to record a radio show with him and he gave us all posters as souvenirs.

So, if you choose not to divide your plants–as I do–it’s just fine. Just be sure to renovate them every so often. They will thank you!

The Perfect Plant for Valentine’s Day

I am lucky, as you saw by Wednesday’s post, that the Spoiler has a romantic nature. But he’s not entirely romantic, of course–he buys the roses early because they don’t cost a fortune that way. That’s the practical, New England Yankee, side of him.

And frankly, for cut flowers, that’s a reasonable approach. There’s no reason to pay a ridiculous premium because of a certain day or date.

But I of course, think there’s perhaps an even better way to approach the day altogether for those who enjoy house plants (as I do) and those who know about them. You can’t just try this with anyone–not every person would appreciate a plant instead of flowers.

But if you know that your sweetheart would, the aglaeonema (a plant with an unlovely name) makes a lovely gift.

Its “common” name isn’t any better–it’s commonly known as the Chinese Evergreen, but I think it’s best if we avoid plant names that have any reference to locale, for obvious reasons. So Aglaeonema it is. The one pictured above is called ‘Wishes.’

These are very easy-care plants. They like bright light, but no direct sun. They are not fussy about watering–they can dry a bit before needing water, unlike some that need the nearly impossible conditions of “evenly moist,” (which I have never figured out how to achieve without somehow rotting the plant!). They even tolerate my cooler than normal home conditions of about 60 degrees with no problem.

And they are slow-growing, so they won’t need re-potting in any hurry. Particularly in winter, their lower leaves may yellow, so you’ll want to remove those before they become unsightly but that’s the only real “problem” that they have. In my 8 years or so experience with these plants, they have never gotten any insects or diseases.

Of course, these plants are great for more than just Valentine’s Day. There are red-stemmed and red-leafed varieties that I use around Christmas time instead of poinsettias in my cold house. And their cheery color is just great for brightening up a room through the long winter–or anytime. I can’t recommend them highly enough!

A Most Problematic Plant

When I lecture on house plants, this is one of the plants that I often get asked about–clivia miniata.

Generally, despite the title of my post, it is an undemanding plant. It doesn’t need a lot of light. As I will explain in a moment, it can take a ridiculous amount of dryness.

Where the problem comes in is in getting it to bloom. This plant only blooms once a year with this lovely umbel of flowers–and that’s if you are lucky, apparently.

But here’s the trick–if you can call it that. First, you need to subject it to some fairly exacting conditions to stimulate this bloom. While I don’t put this plant outdoors in the summer, I do put it onto my enclosed sun porch. And I leave it there, at least until mid to late November or so. What the plant needs is chill, and a lot of it. I let the temperature on the porch get down to about 40 degrees before I bring the plant inside.

The second part of making this plant bloom is withholding water. This is a tip I learned from Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, which has a fabulous collection of tropical plants. From October 21 until January 21, don’t water the plant, at all, not event a drop.

It sounds nuts–and this plant has gotten so dry that it’s actually started tipping out of the pot–but clearly you can see that it hasn’t died–and it’s blooming–so it’s hard to argue with that formula.

So if you are having trouble getting your clivia to bloom, you know what to do need year: get it so cold that it’s near to, but not freezing, and then stop watering it for 3 months. It’ sounds absolutely barbaric–but again, the plants bloom, (and clearly are healthy) so who am I to argue with success?