Bird of Paradise Plant

If you have been with me for awhile, you may remember this image from last February. It was from a post that I called “It’s NOT Growing,” to gently poke fun at all those internet videos of every leaf unfurling.

I had said that I had no expectation of my plants growing in winter in very little sunlight in my cold home but that I was quite convinced that once the warm weather came and the sunlight returned, the plant would grow nicely and that the very tightly curled leaf–which had been in that suspended state of animation for 3 months–would unfurl.

So here’s the plant after its summer outside. Obviously more than one of those leaves unfurled. I needed to put it into a larger pot.

The Spoiler keeps remarking about how much he likes it–which alone is astonishing because he rarely comments on the house plants.

I have told him that by next summer I won’t be able to bring it back in–it will be a floor plant, probably touching the ceiling at that point.

And there’s where we may have a problem. Clearly there’s something delicious in my soil that the dog likes. I will need to find a solution for that. At least I know that it’s all organic–unless something has crawled in there that is tasty. Ick.

Calatheas Are Temperamental Houseplants

Mixed group of Calatheas

I absolutely adore calatheas. I find them so appealing that I keep them clustered together on trays to help maintain humidity around them.

If that isn’t enough, in the dead of winter in my cold, dark climate, I have been known to take these trays into the bathroom with me when I shower so that the plants can get some extra humidity.

Another of my calathea trays, with a stray alocasia

If I tell you that I am buying a humidifier for the room that they are in, you will know that I have officially gone over the edge.

Calathea Maui Queen

But just because I baby them doesn’t mean they cooperate. You may remember the above calathea, Maui Queen, from last year. Last year this time it was already spider mite infested.

This year, so far, no infestation, but it’s decided that it still isn’t happy. You can see a bit of that here. But it’s more evident in the photo below.

An unhappy calathea

And speaking of unhappy–remember last season’s post where I said that I had some calatheas that lost more leaves than they retained in the winter?

A very unhappy calathea

If this keeps up, there will be no plant left to put back outside next spring. Ugh! Talk about tempermental!

So this is why I brought the plants in early. I can only imagine what it would be like if I were bringing them in now!

When to Bring in House Plants

Just one of my overcrowded windows

As with many things, there are a lot of theories about bringing house plants that have spent time out of doors back inside in the cooler months. For some of you, it still isn’t cool outside. In other places, you may already have had a frost or freeze. So what is the best rule to follow?

For me, rather than trying to guess what the nighttime temperatures are going to do, I rely on length of daylight. I’m not sure about you, but by mid-August, I can already tell that the days are significantly shortening. And if I can tell, you can be sure that your plants are noticing too.

To be honest, if it weren’t so heart-breaking, that’s the point at which I should probably start bringing in my plants. Those of you at different latitudes obviously have different points when you notice this change, but whenever you begin to notice the changing light, that’s the point at which you should begin to transition your plants indoors.

If that’s far too early for you, there’s another option for you to try. This isn’t something I have done, but I have heard it recommended by a grower from Costa Farms (one of the huge commercial house plant growers) as something he does with his own plants.

He says that when he begins to transition his plants back indoors, he moves them first into a shady place for about 2 weeks to simulate the lower light in his home–then he moves them indoors. Why does he do this? He says he gets far less leaf loss this way.

This is exactly the reason I begin to move my plants in when I notice the days getting shorter. If I leave them out too much longer, once I bring them in, they do lose a lot of leaves–or as I joke, I need the leaf blower inside the house!

So keep this in mind now that the autumnal equinox is just past–and if you still have plants outside enjoying the lovely fall weather–perhaps it is time for a move!

More Philodendron Craziness

Philodendron ‘Prince of Orange ‘

As you can see, this philodendron ‘Prince of Orange,’ really enjoyed its time outside.

It put on many new leaves, its leaves took on the lovely color that gives it its name, and it didn’t do any sort of ungainly growth “thing” that made me want to say “away with you to compost!”

Philodendron ‘Dark Knight ‘

And then there’s this philodendron, ‘Dark Knight’ which didn’t have the same great summer vacation as the rest of my plants, or even, as ‘Prince of Orange.’

You’ll notice that the two are in identical pots. They sat next to one another on my stone wall–and yet, you see the result. One plant is flourishing. The other is just about ready for compost.

It’s hard to say why this sort of thing happens. I will try to nurture ‘Dark Knight’ along and get it back to health. We’ll see.

I can tell you that it didn’t have any incidents with wildlife–those are generally more obvious.

I have staked ‘Dark Knight’ up to get it through our long, dark winter. With any luck, next summer will be kinder to it.

Ragin’ Philodendrons

Philodendron Birkin

As I continue to bring my houseplants indoors, I started to wonder about this one, Birkin.

I’ve had it about 2 years now and I am beginning to wonder about it. I have a couple of choices: my favorite choice is always the easiest–just turn it into compost. Life is too short to put up with bad plants inside or out. (Remember, I am the one who famously composted everybody’s darling philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ when it got too ungainly).

I could also try to divide it. I think–based on its growth habit–that it’s sort of crying out to be divided. But I am not sure about that, and the last thing I want are two ugly philodendron lying around. We’ll see.

Birkin trying to revert

Then there’s this. See this cute little plant at the base? That’s the plant that Birkin sported from, so to speak. That’s philodendron Rojo Congo (sometimes sold as Red Congo).

Philodendron Rojo Congo

Here’s last year’s version, happily growing after I scissored it off and gave it its own pot. Birkin is really a 2-fer plant because it seems that it almost always attempts to revert in this manner. You need to catch it and prune out the reversions before they take over the main plant. As a nifty bonus, you get a second plant–if you want one.

But that doesn’t tell me what to do with my ungainly Birkin. Some folks say “moss pole.” I am not going there. I will leave it be for the winter (since this is not an optimal propagating time) and see what I think come springtime–if I can stand to look at this for this long!

It’s House Plant Moving Time

The east bay window–before

Yes, it’s that annual ritual–the migration of the house plants. For me, it’s as regular as the return of the catbirds, and it occurs just about the same time–early to mid-May. In my frozen part of the world, the catbirds return right around Mother’s Day (which is the second Sunday in May) and I begin transitioning the house plants outside shortly thereafter.

What are my requirements? The main requirement is that evening temperatures have to be above 50 degrees. I have already mentioned that for plants that might live as perennials in other parts of the world but be just a bit too tender for me to leave outdoors year-round–things like bay, rosemary, gardenia, citrus–if I choose, I can put them out a bit earlier. Sometimes I do and other years not.

But most true tropical plants will really get set back if the temperatures fall below 50 degrees at night. So you want to watch the 10 day forecast to ensure that predicted temperatures are well within your safe range.

Something else that folks don’t realize is that the actual “moving” of the plants is just the beginning of the work. First the plants have to go outside, of course.

And the East bay window–after

And then I usually take this opportunity to transplant them to new containers. I may have transplanted a few during the year, but the majority will get new homes either during this move or shortly thereafter.

Just some of the saucers that need cleaning

Finally, all of the saucers and cachepots need to be cleaned for the season and for the next time they will be used. This can be almost as big a job as moving the plants!

What’s left behind when the plants are gone

And sometimes cleaning off the windowsills can also be an undertaking. This is the window where the yellow flowering maple was. You may remember seeing a photo of that plant about a week ago. I mentioned it was a messy plant. This is some of the detritus it left behind. This windowsill–and the floor beneath it–got a good vacuuming!

And by the way, the surface of this windowsill was not primarily damaged by the plants. This window used to be a little “schnauzer stage,” used by our first two rescue dogs, Buffi and Trixie. Once I cleared the plants out, they would jump into the windows to bark at passers-by. Thankfully none of my other dogs have done this–but the scraped-up finish was caused by their paws!

This whole plant move took well over a week this year. I am trying to work smarter as I get older–or perhaps as I acquire more plants. Still, all the work is worth it. The plants definitely benefit–and I enjoy seeing them outside. And I save on buying annuals as well.

The Only House Plants That You Can’t Kill Are Plastic or Silk

Dying ZZ Plant

I recently have read a few articles about house plants that are hard or impossible to kill.

A few things: first, no plant is impossible to kill, not even an air plant. Trust me on this. I can tell you this from experience. I have done it. I have even managed to kill air plants. And of course, for further evidence, see the above.

The next recommendation is cactus. Surprisingly, for a beginner, these plants can also be quite easy to kill. Why? Because the way most plants are killed is by over-watering and so cactus are generally watered too much and are drowned. I too have killed cactus, although not by over-watering. I have done the opposite: I haven’t watered them enough. The plant literally was powder when I went back to touch it. Oopsie. So believe me, yes, cactus can be killed and more easily than you think. The best thing to do with cactus, generally (and this doesn’t hold true for succulents, necessarily) is to keep them in a sunny window and to water them sparingly every 3-4 weeks, depending on how warm it is in your home.

The next recommendation is that crazy ZZ plant. I’ve already killed 1 of those and am well on my way to killing a second. I suspect they don’t like my cold house. But I am sure not going to call them easy, needless to say! The photo at the top of the post is my second ZZ plant, wasting away. Sad, very sad.

Succulents, as a group, are generally supposed to be easy. Some are very easy. And some are not. It pays to know what type of succulent you have and how it should be treated. Some like full sun, others do not. Some will put up with weekly watering, others will rot with this kind of treatment. So again, to just recommend a whole group of plants as “easy,” is quite frankly, irresponsible.

I have seen ferns recommended as easy. Don’t go there unless you live in a greenhouse.

I have seen fiddle leaf figs recommended as easy. They are not. They are finicky about temperature, light and water. If you can satisfy them, then they are easy. Otherwise, they are going to lose leaves and be prone to insects. They’re not worth that heartache.

The upshot of all of this, I guess, is do not believe what you read in “lifestyle” publications. You need to go to reliable plant sources to get the true facts about plants and their needs. Once you have that information, you can decide what plants will do best for you in your home, apartment or condo.

Fall Containers

Heuchera, viola and dusty miller

There’s such a difference between container gardening in spring and in the fall–at least in my climate.

And yes, there are perfectly lovely combinations that are possible with cabbages, ornamental kale, asters and mums–but somehow, I just can’t bring myself to do those. I am not quite sure why. I like asters and the ornamental cruciferous stuff. But I think that they all (with the exception of asters) seem to have too short a season.

Autumn (or fall, if you prefer) can be very finicky in New England. This year it has been long and lovely–so much so that our impatiens and geraniums (pelargoniums) are blooming with the pumpkins!

But many years, I remember frosts and even freezes by this time. And I am not one to go running out with bedsheets or towels to cover up everything. When things are done, they’re done. We move on–isn’t that why we have seasons?

So if I am asked to give a container garden lecture–as I have been the last two falls –it’s a challenge to decide what to bring. First of all, as in any garden club, not everyone has a garden (something that has always amused me, but of course, there are flower arrangers and conservationists, and people who have been members since they once had gardens–you get the idea). So I try to bring something that appeals to those who may have smaller gardens or indoor gardens or patio gardens as well.

Golden sage, silver thyme, rosemary

And while it’s not immediately intuitive, fall is a great time for an herb planter, because this is something that can be moved closer to the house for soups and stews and roasts–or perhaps even brought indoors.

Begonia, croton, ornamental pepper
Alocasia, calathea, anthurium

Fall is also a great time for house plant planters, whether you are just refreshing your own planters, combining plants to save space on your windowsills, or trying out new combinations. Just try to ensure that whatever you plant together needs the same cultural requirements of sun and water.

Notice also in my first photo, above, that I tucked an annual–or maybe you’d consider it an edible–into that “house plant” container. Those small “ornamental” peppers that are sold this time of year grow quite nicely indoors–just be sure to watch them later in the season for insects–as you should with all house plants!