Gardening Resolutions #1

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Remember this photo of my citrus from early October? I said that in a few months they would lose their leaves.

So when the large variegated one on the end began to do so about 2 weeks ago, I really didn’t even pay attention. All the citrus get scale every winter and I could see it recurring. So I figured between the scale and the unbelievably dim light that we have been having because of all the rain (but it’s still rain, not ice and not much snow, so I will take it, thank you very much!) it was just normal leaf loss.

This is a warning about what happens when you assume. Needless to say, it wasn’t normal leaf loss, nor was it due to the scale alone.

I am not even sure how I noticed: it might have happened in a rare sunny moment (because we don’t get whole sunny days).

I was watering and I noticed that the variegated plant was covered in webbing. Spider mites. So not only was that plant infested, but every other plant on the windowsill was infested–because spider mites get out of control very quickly.

Luckily I had a warm day to take everything outside to spray it off with an organic oil. I also washed the whole windowsill down and washed all the trays out.

But for the rest of the winter now,I will need to be vigilant about watching–& probably treating for spider mites.

Oh well. At least I won’t be bored.

Another Holiday Worthy Plant

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This stunner unfortunately doesn’t have one good common name. Its botanical is stromanthe sanguinea ‘Triostar’ (or sometimes variegata). I have seen it called Persian Shield, but not often, and I have also seen it called Tricolor Prayer Plant, which is even more misleading, because it does not belong to the calathea/maranta genus which are usually called “prayer plants.” So feel free to come up with some good common name yourself.

I say it’s “holiday worthy” of course because of the colorations in the leaves. I suppose it could easily be be gifted around Valentine’s Day as well for the same reason. This photo shows the nice maroon stems fairly well. I didn’t capture the maroon undersides of the leaves though. It really is a stunner of a plant!

For me, I grow it in an east or west exposure–where ever I have more room in a given season. I have had this plant for several years and it hasn’t grown very much (and I like that in a plant sometimes)–many of my plants are outgrowing my house!

In the summer, I put it outside under a dogwood that throws fairly dense shade. Despite the outside/inside routine for at least 3 or 4 years, it has never had an insect problem.

In my cooler house, it only needs water once a week. Outside, it might get watered every day, depending on temperatures.

I definitely can recommend this as a plant. As I often say–what’s not to like?

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.