Wait, What? This Plant is Trendy Too?

Because I write this blog (and columns here and there for other publications) I get a lot of things sent to me. Most come via email but occasionally I will actually get an old-fashioned press release in the snail mail.

Just recently I got an email newsletter about how we all ought to be ramping up our house plant design for the holidays (oh my. Even I am not quite ready to think about house plants for the holidays, but then again, I don’t get paid the big bucks for this).

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Interestingly enough, the newsletter had things like rex begonias, variegated and green dracenas paired, side by side, the ubiquitous ZZ plant and this plant–the Ponytail Palm (beaucarnea recurvata).

First thing to know–of course this is not a palm. It is native to Mexico, so for those of us growing in colder climates, we are doomed to grow the poor things in pots.

I have read that proper culture says that we are not to snip off the ends of the leaves as they grow. That may be fine for these plants “in the wild” but in our “over-heated” (or under humidified) homes, the ends of the leaves get quite messy and brown. I snip away with abandon once a year on mine–I can’t stand the look of a half dead leaf. The rest eventually dies off and is then removed anyway.

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The other important thing to know is that these plants prefer to be grown on the dry side. The swollen caudex (or caudices–in this instance, I have about 5 in this pot!) actually stores water so it is possible to over-water them and kill them.

Finally, I have not found that mine are particularly fussy about light–they grow in fairly dark conditions quite nicely. The photos I have seen of them “in the wild” show them in bright light and flowering. Mine haven’t done that, but I expect it’s a light issue (or maybe a light and warmth issue.

You can see that the one above is on a coffee table in the middle of a room. Granted, it’s an extremely bright room–the room has two bay windows that face south and east–but it’s still no where near a window!

As for the trendy part, I suspect it’s the sculptural aspect of these plants that makes them trendy. While I can’t see them being used in the way that the snake plants are–as room dividers, in a row–these are definitely funky accent plants (provided the tips of the leaves aren’t brown, of course.)

And since they’re very easy care, this is definitely a “trend” that could be appealing, especially at the holidays!

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?

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.

Proper House Plant Watering

A chance comment I made in my post on Calatheas 2 weeks ago has led to this post.

One of my faithful commenters pointed out that my watering practices could lead some of you astray because watering from the bottom could lead to toxins from the water accumulating in the soil. He has a valid point.

It’s not that I so much worry about soil “toxins” per se–I think what he was getting at is the build-up of excess salts and minerals that accumulate when you (or I, in this case) exclusively water a plant only from the bottom. I think most of you probably know what this looks like or have seen it somewhere. It looks like a white, crusty ring on the edge of your pot, or white, crusty deposits on tops of the plant soil. Here is an example–although a minor one–of some of that mineral deposit.

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It is not perlite, which is a soil additive that loosens soil. This is what perlite looks like.

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Normally, setting a plant outside will flush all the mineral deposits from tap water from the soil because it will be watered naturally (and in my case, quite abundantly this summer) by rainwater. You can also avoid this by watering with collected rainwater, if that’s practical for you. If you have a large collection of plants, clearly, that’s not practical.

Over-fertilization with synthetic fertilizers can also cause this problem. Again, flushing the soil–in that case, even with tap water, can be helpful.

And of course, upon re-potting, scraping the pot rim to remove the build-up of deposits is always recommended.

In the case of the Jade plant–the plant I showed with the deposits of minerals–that plant is watered very lightly and not from the bottom. That just shows that any plant that stays in its pot for some time can be prone to this issue.

Ferns–or Not?

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I will guess that these 2 plants are not what you were thinking of when I said “fern.” But with the lifestyle I have–and that many of us have–these are two of the easiest care ferns around.

The two on the right–the bright greener plants–are called bird’s nests ferns. There’s a reason for that. If you look down into the center of these plants–where the new growth comes from–it looks like a little nest.

These plants are small so the effect isn’t really pronounced. On a larger plant–one in a 6 or 8 inch pot–it’s much easier to see. But the plants are great in any size.

The plant on the left is a staghorn fern. Many plant “purists” will say that this needs to be out of a pot and mounted on a piece of cork or bark to be grown properly. The reason for that is that “in the wild,” or where the grow naturally, they would grow on a tree bark.

Knowing my propensity for disaster, I haven’t mounted my fern. I will leave it up to you to decide how to grow yours. I can control the moisture requirements far beter in a traditional pot/cachepot arrangement.

Either way, I do recommend both these plants. No sun, low light and fairly moist is the way I grow mine.

Philodendron

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On Friday I talked about pothos. Today it’s philodendron.

These two plants are often confused because they are both green, often variegated vining plants that are sold just about everywhere. And there are a lot of similarities. Both are easy care. Both are great at cleaning the air.
Philodendrons are known for removing formaldehyde from the air.

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But of course they do look a little different. Here are two variegated types that have recently come into vogue. The one at the top–the heart leafed type with the interesting striped leaf is a variety called ‘Brasil.’

Philodendron will grow in bright light but no direct sun. They will take “regular” watering, which for my house means about once a week, (so they can dry a little in between, unlike the calatheas we saw last week which like it evenly moist).

In their native habitat (or the “wild,” as I like to think of it) some of them actually are semi-epiphytic, which means that they use their long roots to attach themselves to pockets in trees branches–almost the way an orchid would. They live in tropical rain forests where they are drenched and then dry–so remember that.

And if they are languishing in your warm, dry home, increase the humidity around them. I am never a fan of misting. I prefer putting small saucers of water around to evaporate. It’s less work and less mess.