Putting the Container Plants to Bed

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Remember my post about fall container planting? It’s already time to bring those plants inside or to compost them.

Certainly I could have left this lovely grass outside longer. But with containers this time of year, it’s a question of annoyance: do I want to listen to the Spoiler whining about having to blow leaves around them or do I just want to compost a week or two early and not deal with it?

After many years, I just compost early. I have tried other compromises–I would sweep around the containers for example (honestly, the use of a broom in autumn is vastly under-rated. It’s quiet, and environmentally friendly and you get a gentle workout.) But this year, I have too many lectures and articles at the same time. So no time to listen to whining.


So here are the plants that I saved. I was able to save half of them, so that’s something. The potted ones will go onto my porch, although I think the cordyline has to come in for the winter. Everything else can winter there.

The oregano is going into my edibles garden and the coral bells is going into a container on my stairs with others like it. They do winter over in containers outdoors for me.

And that container is large enough that at least I don’t have to listen to whining from the Spoiler about blowing leaves!

Be Ever Vigitant….


Remember this lovely euphorbia from Wednesday? It’s relatively new to me. I acquired it when I was getting the plants for my container lecture.

I have never been particularly attracted to this type of plant but the coloring was so pretty on this one that I succumbed. This is euphorbia trigona rubra.

About a week ago I was getting dressed and I happened to glance over to the window where this is. The sun was coming in just right. And I thought that I saw something odd on the “thorns.” So I resolved to check it out when I watered later that day.

I am a huge believer in trying to water and tend to your house plants in as much natural light as you can. Here in the northern hemisphere, that’s getting harder to do as we approach the winter solstice. I try to pick a weekend day, mid-afternoon, when the light is good. I discover a lot of things that way.


In this case, I discovered these: whitefly eggs and larvae. So the plant is now isolated and I will have to treat it with something organic to remove the eggs.

And the quote at the top of this post? It’s one of my favorites from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Dogberry, the ineffective sheriff, is the one who speaks it, about trying to catch miscreants.

The whole thing is “be ever vigitant, I beseech you.” Of course he means vigilant. And if we are to outsmart house plant pests, that’s what we will need to be!

Succulents Care versus Cacti Care


For those of you lucky enough to live where you can grow these outdoors in the ground, just skip this post altogether. This is for those of us who resort to growing these little plants (which quite naturally would grow in arid and semi arid parts of the world) in little dishes, pots and trays.

What took me aback the other day was when a frequent commenter on my blog remarked on the fact that my “house plants” actually do live in the house for 9 months of the year.

I have remarked here before that the Spoiler has told me that I live in the wrong climate. He usually says this after we have taken a trip to somewhere much more temperate than our own “frozen north” climate (as I uncharitably refer to Connecticut, which is actually quite mild by comparison to say, Buffalo, New York, or any part of Minnesota). While on that trip I will have undoubtedly pointed to any number of plants and remarked “oh we have this” and “we have that,” and when he asks where, I will tell him which particular window of our house it’s residing in–in other words, all those plants are not in our garden, but are house plants! So I really need to live in a climate where I can grow more of what I love outside!

But I digress. You see my little bowl of succulents, above. All of the plants in that bowl are succulents. What, exactly is a succulent? It is a plant with fleshy leaves  for  water storage.

Therefore, because these leaves store water, you don’t need to water the plants as often as you might a plant with “regular” leaves that just lose moisture through transpiration. You’ll also want to ensure that these plants are planted in a potting mix that is drains quickly–often cacti and succulent mix is specifically sold for this type of plant.

So that’s what a succulent is. What is a cactus?

At first, you might be confused because the definition sounds remarkably similar to a succulent. A cactus is usually defined as a plant with succulent stems or branches with sharp spines or points and single flowers. Basically the difference between succulents and cacti are the absence (or presence) or spines and the type of flowering.

I’ve included photos of some of my cacti, above, so you can see the “spines versus just just fleshy leaves” difference. Sometimes photos make all the difference in explaining these ideas.

It can be more complicated than that, of course. Succulents and cacti grow in different regions of the world, often; they do belong to different genuses; and some succulents will have single flowers as well (but not the sharp spines of the cactus so that you won’t be confused).

But the most important difference is in care. Because cacti are from an arid region, they will generally want water less often than a succulent (although be careful about this–I have been known to kill cacti from too little water! Most people over-water their cacti. I am probably one of the few that starve them for water!)

While cacti love full sun, they can sunburn next to a window if they get too dry.

And they too want very fast draining potting mix.

So with these basic (and they are basic!) definitions in mind, perhaps you’ll be able to better care for your succulents and cacti.



Fall Containers


In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.

But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.

In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.


This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.


And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.

All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).

I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!

The New House Plant Pet Rock?


Remember this photo from Wednesday? Did you recognize it as a marimo moss ball?

Depending on your point of view, these are some of the coolest things going, or they are the house plant equivalent of the “pet rock” from a few decades back.

I have the one above on my desk at home. It’s actually kind of nice to look at. There are surprising variations in it, and little air bubbles form–it’s not quite as static as one would believe.


These are some others. You can see that they come in various sizes. You can get them from plant companies or aquarium suppliers. That’s where these came from. I thought that I would try them with my fish but no. All she does is make a mess of her tank with them. So they are now my plant pet rocks,

These balls of moss are harvested from different lakes in northern parts of the world. Try to find a supplier that claims yours is sustainably harvested because–with this suddenly becoming a “thing”–these moss balls are declining.

They are slow growing–the smaller ones that you see are supposedly 6-8 years old, so you can see why sustainability might become an issue.

And like most moss, they do not want to be in direct sunlight. Bright indirect light only for these guys.

If, however, you want a plant that has proven harder than an air plant to kill, (at least for me) this might be right for you.