Use This, Not That


I get a lot of questions about watering house plants when I lecture and I have heard some heart breaking stories of wonderful pieces of furniture–& even a grand piano top–ruined by water from house plants. Yikes!

At my last lecture, someone told me that she has banned plants from the house just to avoid this sort of incident. That’s one approach,  of course,  but I do like to think that plants bring far more to the home than the watering accidents they cause.

So, what to do? Well, to the extent possible,  try to keep plants on glass.  You will save a lot of heartbreak and expensive refinishing that way. I have even had glass pieces made to cover some wood furniture so that I can use them as plant tables. It’s not perfect, but it helps a lot.

You see the saucer, above, that, I prefer.  It’s heavy plastic, with little “feet.” Why is that better? First,  the heavy plastic is less likely crack or leak.

Next, if you do water as you are supposed to,  so that water comes out the bottom of the pot, there are those indentations (the feet) that catch the water and drain it away so the plant’s roots aren’t sitting in water. That’s nice.

And because it’s less likely to crack like the older version, shown below, no water is going to spill out onto your table, windowsill or where ever.


I do still have some of these flimsy plastic ones. I use them under ceramic cache pots on rare occasion, but only on glass tables.

I use them on my sun porch on wire plant shelves. But I wouldn’t dream of using them on anything wood.

With any luck,  some of these ideas will help those of you who are worried about water damage in the house.  Because truly,  house plants,  with their air cleaning abilities,  do give back so much more than they might damage.


Unwelcome Guests


This photo–which appears to show just a jumble of plants–actually shows an invasive brown marmorated stink bug on the orchid spike in the photo.  Since the new year, I have been having a mini invasion of sorts. They have never been a problem before for me,  either in the house or the garden.

I know enough not to kill them. If they are somewhere where I can catch them and toss them outside,  that’s what I do. Otherwise,  they seem to die rather quickly on their own. Problem solved.

On the same day that I took this photo,  I heard the unmistakable calls of grackles. Sure enough,  the next morning,  I saw one strutting around on my neighbor’s lawn.

That may not seem strange where you live,  but they’re a full 3 weeks earlier than usual here. Is spring really on its way?

Wordless Wednesday

20180218_083216Surprise! After days of unseasonable (or as I sometimes like to think of it, unreasonable) weather with temperatures in the upper 40s and even mid 50s, this happened!


But, no worries. We’re soon going back to “unreasonable.” It’s supposed to be even warmer by the time you read this–maybe mid-60s, or even 70!–so all this will be just a memory.


But this strange weather is never a good thing–not for plants, which start breaking dormancy early, not for animals, which get confused about breaking torpor, and not for people, who don’t know what to wear on a given day. Very unsettling.


Don’t Kill A Plant With Kindness

I’ve been doing a bit of lecturing lately and I will be doing a lot more as spring begins. Some years, I am so busy lecturing, I can barely find time to get into the garden (isn’t that a happy problem to have?)

One topic that almost always comes up–regardless of what I might be speaking about–is sustainability. That’s a word that gets thrown a round an awful lot but the title of this post pretty much sums it up for me. Another way to put it, particularly for outdoor plants (because remember, I speak a lot on house plants too!) would be “right plant, right place.” How often have we heard that one in our gardening years?

But really, it works. What am I telling you? Am I saying only grow native plants? Oh dear, no! I’d be a terrible hypocrite if I did that! Natives are wonderful, but so are many other types of plants.

What you need to do is to learn what works for you, in your soil and on your site. I have horrible, wet clay that remains wet long into the spring–way too long into the spring. I can rarely work in it before May unless we have an unusually warm spring (and that too is problematic for other reasons). I have learned this over many years of gardening in the same place.

This presents challenges–no early spring pruning or weeding–and opportunities–the beneficial insects and native bees always get their chance to over-winter and emerge from my gardens without being disturbed.

But one thing I don’t do–and never do–is give my plants any “extras” after they get established. Yes, when a plant is first planted, it needs water to help it get settled in. That’s all it needs–water (and that is a post for another day–how to water–and why you don’t want to over-amend your soil.)

But once that plant is established, you’re all set. Some of my plants have been in my gardens for 10, 15 or 25 years or more. Some are original to when the house was built, so that’s almost 60 years. Do you think I run out and water those? Or feed them? Why on earth would I?


It’s the same thing with roses. Look at this plant. Can you tell where it’s growing? I’ll bet you can. It’s literally a foot away from the road. We’ve had a lot of heavy snow and ice this winter. You can see what the plows have done to it. What am I going to do about it? Nothing, except prune off anything that’s broken in the spring.

Can you see why I am calling this post “don’t kill a plant with kindness?” This rose garden has been here for 22 years. It once got plowed into oblivion when my snow plow guy didn’t realize there was anything around the mailbox. These are own-root roses so it’s all good (but you can imagine my anguish when I came home from work and saw my rose canes dragged down the street by the plow-that’s a little too much tough love, even for me!)

Over-feeding and over-watering encourages insects and disease. As we inch ever closer to spring in the northern hemisphere, why not try a little “tough love” (otherwise known as “sustainable gardening”) this year? See if your plants can do with a little less fertilizer and supplemental watering. You might be pleasantly surprised!

A Tale of Two Lavenders

Herbs are notoriously finicky in the house in the winter. It’s not their fault. There’s not enough light for them, and it’s either too dry (for some) or too wet (since many of us tend to over-water and therefore love our plants to death!)

Lavenders can take the dryness, being bred for exactly that sort of condition. Both their silvery leaves and the places they might normally grow “in the wild:” the Mediterranean with its sandy soils and salty air show that it is a tough plant that can take a lot of abuse.

So why then, does it struggle in conditions that gardeners usually give it? Good soil and abundant water? Well, that’s perhaps why–we are loving it to death–we are spoiling it too much, drowning it and probably over-feeding it too. Not good.

So what is that gardener to do? Well, short of neglecting the plant completely, because that isn’t necessarily a recipe for success either, the trick to succeeding with any plant is always the old saying “right plant, right place.” Most of us don’t live in climates anything like what lavender is used to–but we can help it along quite a bit with some easy tricks.


First of all, to get it through winter as a house plant, choose the right variety. I don’t know the names of either of these for sure, but I am guessing the one on the right is french  lavender (lavendula dentata). It’s not a hardy one for me.  I am guessing this based on the “leaf” shape.

It tends to say nice and compact in the pot indoors because it is a tropical lavender in my zone. But don’t attempt to plant it outdoors unless you are in a zone 8 climate.

The one on the left? No guesses. It was originally bought as a nice little “Christmas tree” shaped plant in December. You can see it’s very happy because it’s no longer shaped like anything but a mop. The instructions say to prune it hard to keep its shape but I do no pruning on plants in the winter. Once it gets a little more temperate–maybe mid-March–I may take the shears to it. Right now I call it “Cousin It.”

But what’s keeping both these lavenders healthy and mildew free in my house in the winter is just the bare minimum of watering and a south window. They’ll go outside for their “summer vacation,” of course, perhaps as early as April depending on what temperatures do here. After that, we’ll see how they fare–particularly “Cousin It.”

Wordless Wednesday


It might be a little hard to see what this photo is. It’s a cylindrical snake plant with what I think is a flower stalk (the white thing) coming up in it.

This has never bloomed for me. And I am amazed that it might be doing so in February?!


Here’s the whole plant (obviously with other snake plants near it). You can just barely see the little white stalk in this photo.

It’s going to be interesting.