Not ‘Gram Worthy

5 year old poinsettia

I was having an email exchange with a friend about my plants and I remarked, about the above plant, that it was getting so large that it was getting in the way of my printer, so clearly I was going to have to move my printer. Moving the plant is out of the question. If a plant is happy, it gets to stay where it is. Something inanimate like a printer can easily be moved somewhere else.

Now, looking at that plant, it’s really nothing special–in fact, a lot of people might say it’s even ugly. It’s certainly nothing I would ever post on Twitter or any of the other social media sites because it’s definitely not “eye candy.” It’s not that kind of plant.

Office redo–to accommodate the plant

But it has a lot of sentimental value. It’s almost 5 years old–in fact, it’s probably older, but I have had it for 5 years, or almost, this Christmas season. Like many of my holdover “Christmas” plants, it now blooms out of season, but that’s okay–that’s part of the charm. So it definitely deserves the extra room that I have now given it. And as a bonus, my printer is actually closer to my desk so I have made my workspace a bit more efficient too.

Close up

I did a close-up of its leaves and stems earlier this summer–they’re quite lovely by themselves.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have plants that aren’t just showy. Sometimes it’s nice to have plants with some longevity too.

Make Your Summer Exotic

Variegated lemon tree–with lemons

I am famous for saying that Connecticut doesn’t have seasons–just Winter and July. So needless to say, when “July” arrives–or whatever passes for warm weather here–I am very anxious to make the most of it! I suspect that’s why I grow all manner of tropical plants that really have no business growing here in Connecticut.

Of course, I grow lemons so that when winter really gets bad (as in this past winter, which was so icy that I had to park at a neighbor’s at the bottom of the hill and hike up my lawn!) I can say that I will just make lemonade!

Olive tree

And something else that I grow, which is a very fun and undemanding plant is a little olive tree. I am probably stunting its growth horribly by keeping it in this tiny pot, but as you can see, it even fruited for me last year!

Here’s a great infographic all about olive trees if you would like to know more from the folks at Trees.com

Croton

I also love these croton plants–nothing exotic for most people, but here in the frozen north, their color is like a tropical party, especially when they are inside in the winter and the snow is falling behind them outside!

Flowering maple (and croton)

Even this flowering maple (abutilon) which I over-wintered for the first time last winter is really colorful with its drooping yellow bells. A warning to those of you who don’t like “messy” plants, however–this one drops leaves and flowers quite a bit. Some people don’t want to put up with that!

So these are just a few common–but “fun”–choices to liven up your summer. Try one–or all of them!

Let’s Get Tropical!

Herbs and evergreens

According to our meteorologists, it’s going to be in the 70s or perhaps even 80 this week here in the frozen north! That’s the point where I start thinking “tropical plants,” and what will I grow outside this year and “can I really bring my house plants (aka tropical plants) outside for the season?

Those are really a bunch of different questions of course, with several different answers. So let’s start with the most important one: what do tropical plants need to live outdoors in a climate where they might not normally do so (in other words, when is it safe to bring your house plants–or plants you purchase from a greenhouse–outside) and how do you do it?

Generally what you want to keep your eye on are the night-time temperatures. The lowest night-time temperature that a tropical plant will generally tolerate for any period of time is 50 degrees. Yes, certain plants–some annuals, for example, and citrus, and some plants that might be grown as outdoor trees or shrubs in other parts of the world (bay, rosemary, and olive are some that I have that come to mind immediately) can tolerate temperatures lower than 50)–but as a general rule, I try to keep to the 50 degree temperature rule so that everything pretty easy to remember.

Next, you will need to transition whatever plants you are bringing out from the inside to the outside. If you are familiar with hardening off seedlings, think of it like that. Or, as I tell the Spoiler, we certainly cannot go stand in the sun, after a winter indoors, all day without any sunscreen and just think that everything is going to be fine. Why do you think I can just plunk the plants outside in the sun like that?

An easy way to transition the plants is to set them outside in the shade of a large tree, if you are lucky enough to have one. I generally set all the house plants out under trees for a couple of days, and then gradually move them into the sun (for those that like sun).

Those that like shade, I generally leave under the shade of a large dogwood. That works pretty well. They might get a little early morning sun, but generally the tree provides dappled shade all day for them.

Honestly, it’s harder for me to find sunny spots for the plants than shady spots–but even outdoor shade is brighter than indoor light for the plants so I don’t feel too sad for them coming outside.

And for those of you that say “aren’t you worried about bringing in bugs when you bring the plants back in?” let me ask you about your homes. I am not sure about you, but I always have spiders and a few creepy crawlies around inside–so no, I am not worried about bringing bugs inside! The bugs are already inside! I just give the plants a nice wash off with a hose and that’s that!

On Friday I will talk more about specific tropical plants.

Unwelcome Pest

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I acquired two little tropical hibiscus plants early this season–on the same trip that I bought the “invisible” impatiens that I talked about on Monday. One is sort of a red-orange color and the other a orange-yellow color–you know, the tropical bright colors that hibiscus come in!

They haven’t bloomed as much as I would like despite the heat and humidity that we have been having but when they do bloom they make me unreasonably happy. I think it’s just that I can count on one hand the number of trips I have made to the garden center this year so anything blooming in my yard is really making me happy.

I also situated them right next to my door–in among my herbs–so I see them several times a day when I come in and out of the house with the dog. So there’s a splash of color with the herbs when they bloom.

I especially like the yellow one. Yellow is one of my favorite colors in the garden. So I watch the buds as the unfurl.

But last Saturday I noticed something amiss with the buds. They would get to a particular stage–almost open–and then stop. I leaned in closer and reached for one and it came off in my hand.

That’s just not typical–hibiscus aren’t THAT fragile–so I sat right down, picked up the pot and took a closer look. I saw two things that troubled me.

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This was the first. If it weren’t for the presence of the ant on the bud, I might have thought it was mealy bugs. But I didn’t see any full grown mealies–just this sort of white cottony stuff.

So I looked a little more and sure enough, there was a little green wedge shaped bug–a green plant hopper. So the white mess is the wax hiding its nymphs.

My first choice–always–when dealing with any pest–is a sharp blast from the hose, which seems to have worked well and gotten rid of the nymphs. We are in moderate drought so I am trying to be judicious about water use, but at the same time, hibiscus are very sensitive to any sort of insecticide, even organics, so the hose seemed the best choice here.

And so far, so good. No more plant hoppers or nymphs. We shall see if the remaining buds open properly. Fingers crossed.

Happy Accident

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This all looks so nicely composed, doesn’t it? The hanging impatiens above the ferns and the container below, with all sorts of nice contrasting textures from the ferns and the Japanese maple.

You can see by the title of my post that very little of it was planned. Lately, my best gardening just seems to “happen,” (although perhaps that is my imagination and my perfectionism talking).

But I will tell you that I didn’t plant any of those ferns. Nature sowed them for me. I just encourage them by watering (which is a feat, some years, like this one, when I am getting precious little help from nature!)

There is one spot where they don’t want to grow so I put a planter there. It has an impatiens plant the same color as the one in the hanging basket but you can’t tell. It’s been completely overrun by the oxalis. Oh well.

The color of the oxalis at least picks up the foliage of the Japanese maple leaves, and the cordyline. So you don’t miss the impatiens much.

And after I went out to get the impatiens plant, the Spoiler said, “oh. I thought you were going to plant a pot for the lawn.”

So I had to make a second trip to the garden center–not generally a hardship except in a pandemic–for more plants.

And that’s why he’s called the Spoiler.

Unexpected II

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I caught sight of this across the room last weekend. It startled me because this plant hasn’t grown in several years.

I haven’t changed anything–pot or soil–and I don’t fertilize so that’s not it.

Certain plants sense things like when they are going to die and they put out seed. Other plants, like oak and pine, have heavy mast years and lighter ones. This leads to abundant years for small mammals like chipmunks and squirrels. In leaner years, fewer chipmunks and squirrels (although most gardeners will tell you that there’s always too many).

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But I really have no explanation for this sago palm deciding that it will do this now.

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Maybe it decided that I needed something to cheer me up.

Dreaming of Tuscany

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I have a U-shaped area of bluestone and brownstone that serve as my entryway access. Two steps go up to a bluestone landing, facing a low brownstone wall. At that point, if you turn left, you have a short two steps and a walkway to the front door (which, in typical New England fashion, we don’t use).

If you noticed the second photo on Wednesday, I was taking it in the direction of the enclosed porch, mentioned below. The landing is clearly visible.

Turn left and there are 4 steps, a longer bluestone walk, and there’s an enclosed porch that we use for access to the home.

I like to sit on the steps in early morning or late afternoon and just enjoy the plants.

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This quite often is the view that I have seen in the past. It’s very cooling and soothing so no matter how warm it is out, I have the illusion of coolness, especially if I have just watered the containers.

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This year, I have staged my containers on the steps leading to the front door so that the ferns are far less visible. My view, instead, is of citrus, a fig, an olive tree, and if I turn to look behind me, herbs. It’s much more Tuscan than New England woodland.

We’ll have to see if I get the same cooling effect as summer warms up.

Yes, There Will Be Lemons

I talked last Friday about lecturing on house plants and how I always talk about the importance of interesting leaves in a house plant collection.

Another thing I mention–although it’s not as important as colorful leaves–and it’s much more elusive–is fragrance.

Fragrance can be tricky. The classic example of this is paperwhite narcissus. I’ve mentioned that I like the smell of those, but many people don’t. In fact, many people find the scent downright objectionable.

Jasmine is another one (Jasminum officinale). In small doses, it’s a heavenly scent. But once the whole plant starts blooming, it can be so overwhelming, it can actually give me a headache.

There’s a whole science to what goes on behind scent–I won’t get into it because I am not qualified and would make a muddle of it. I’ll simply repeat what I said at the beginning–scent is probably our most visceral sense. We know immediately what we like and what we don’t.

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One of these small flowers–a lemon blossom, but it’s true for other blossoms in the citrus family as well–perfumes a whole room in my home. I need only to walk into a room and I can tell when this plant–or my other citrus–is in bloom.

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This plant has bloomed quite a bit this winter–winter is the normal bloom time for many citrus–and already you can see small lemons beginning to form at the end of the branches. So long as I transition this plant gently outside in the spring–and gently back inside this fall–by next winder I should have edible lemons.

All of this is accomplished with no additional pollination from me. I have heard of folks who hand-pollinate their citrus with paintbrushes and I have seen small mechanized devices sold for such purpose.

As I have repeated many a time, in my house, it’s every plant for itself–and clearly this lemon is doing just fine. Bring on the lemonade.