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?

More Non-traditional Holiday Plants

Talk about non-traditional! And yet, when I saw this one I thought, yes, it will blend right in with the aglaeonema ‘Red Valentine’ and the next plant that I am going to show you.

And the nice thing about bromeliads is that this bloom spike will last quite some time. This one is a tilllandsia (it may have recently changed names like the snake plant has, but I am not quite sure).

That bloom spike consists of pink bracts which may (but probably not in my cooler house) send out purple flowers from the sides.

And once the blooming has finished, the plant slowly dies, but it may make little “pups” at the base which can be re-potted to begin the cycle over again.

Or, if you don’t have that patience, at least compost the plant.

This is one of my favorite plants. I have a large one upstairs but it’s too large to bring with me to house plant lectures. So when I saw this small one, I grabbed it.

This is stromanthe tricolor. It is a relative of marantas and calatheas. With my large one, when I am reading in my den in the evening I can hear the the leaves move as they “settle down” for the night, because, just like the other prayer plants, their leaves move at night. They don’t fold up, exactly, but they do, settle, as I have said. It’s actually audible.

The other lovely thing about this plant is the color. It’s green and white on top and magenta on the underside. It’s so unusual.

This plant takes quite low light and is a slow grower. And unlike the maranta and calathea plants, it doesn’t need a lot of humidity. It doesn’t seem to be subject to the insects that they are either. And it can dry a bit between watering, which they hate!

You can see why I am anxious to bring this plant with me for “show and tell.” Any plant this pretty and this easy is something that I want to share.

Plants for the Holidays

My house is my too cold for the traditional poinsettias so I need to think about other plants at the holidays.

The advantage of this approach, of course, is that once Christmas is over and I have packed away the decorations, the plants can go right back where they came from and nothing is a reminder of the “out of season ” holiday.”

The plant above is an aglaeonema, also known as a Chinese evergreen. There are many varieties of these, so if this variety is a bit too Christmasy for you, there are other that will suit. Ironically, this variety is ‘Red Valentine.’

Here’s another aglaeonema that in no way has any Christmas colors. This one is called ‘Madonna,’ and it’s perfect for celebrating New Year’s–or whatever holiday you choose–with its white and gold variegation. And note the lovely white stems!

There are many other aglaeonema varieties as well–I have 6 of them. These are versatile, easy to grow plants that like bright light (no full sun) and can stand to dry a little between watering. They are relatively slow growing–I have had Madonna, above, for 3 years, and it is still in the same 6″ pot.

These are great, easy care plants and are generally readily available. Even if you don’t think of them as a holiday plant alternative, definitely check them out for your house plant collection!

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.