Gardening Resolutions #5

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This resolution is sort of an offshoot of Monday’s resolution to stop falling in love with shrubs. This is not the plant I wanted. I wanted a Norfolk Island Pine. In retrospect, it’s better that I didn’t find one in a size that I wanted to buy (I won’t even go into the reasons for that!)

But I did this same thing last year. I bought a little evergreen–which, by the way, is not intended to live indoors, even in my chilly house. I nursed it all the way through the winter. And then we got into March and the thing promptly succumbed to something. I think it was shortly after I had re-potted it because it was woefully pot-bound but I never re-pot in the dead of winter.

In any event, I have done the same thing–I have bought a completely inappropriate plant for the house. The tag says it will grow to 8-15 feet! So that indicates it’s definitely it’s an outdoor plant–but not in my climate. However, I suspect that just like last year it will succumb to something–perhaps the mites that seem to be affecting some other things in my collection this year–well before I can re-pot it and get it outdoors for the summer.

Perhaps next year, I will just content myself with my bulbs!

Gardening Resolutions #4

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The large plant in the center of the photo is what’s prompted this “resolution.” I seem to be full of them this year, most of them which I am sure that I will never be able to keep, of course!

This is a variegated pittosporum. It’s not a house plant. It’s a shrub that grows in warm climates. I saw it on my trip to Italy in 1999 and fell in love with it. I’ve also seen it, as well as its non-variegated cousin, on my trips to Texas.

My “resolution,” if you will, is to try not to fall in love with these huge plants that were never intended to be house plants. As I just mentioned, this is a shrub. The only reason it’s in my house in a pot is that I can’t grow it outside in my cold climate.

So why am I growing it at all? Well, because, as I mentioned, I saw a lovely hedge of it in Italy, outside of Rome, at a restaurant where I enjoyed a lovely open-air dinner on a warm, late summer night. My chair backed up tot this hedge and the foliage is slightly fragrant. That was all it took. When I saw a small plant offered for sale, it brought back that wonderful memory of that open air dinner and the rest is history.

I didn’t realize that this plant flowered and had lovely fragrant flowers int he spring. It won’t do it for me every spring–but that’s part of its charm too. But still–if I keep falling in love with shrubs, I’ll have to move out of my house!

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?