Tag Archives: houseplants

Colorful Houseplants

My birthday falls in February and Valentine's Day does, too. The weather this month can be a bit gloomy some years. That's why I'm always thrilled to receive a flowering indoor plant to brighten things up. Many bloom for a very long time making them a good investment. They are easier than you think to take care. Color inside the house is like seeing a rainbow. Flowering plants make you smile.

My mother used to love anthuriums so I always think of her whenever I see them. Found in wet tropical mountain forests of Central and South America some varieties have the unique ability to swivel their leaves toward the sun. Anthurium andraeanum is the common variety grown mainly in Florida and the Netherlands as an indoor house plant.

anthurium_closeup_rrAnthuriums are durable and will survive for a remarkable period of time, even under adverse conditions. The beautiful waxy flowers along with large, heart-shaped glossy leaves are able to handle dryness around the root ball but then need to be watered thoroughly and allowed to dry slightly between waterings. They can take as much indirect light as you can provide. Lower levels of light will slow down flower production but the plant will survive just about anything. They make me think I'm in Hawaii again.

The amazing bromeliad family includes Spanish moss and the edible pineapple. Bromeliads are commonly called "air plants" but really they are epiphytes growing up in the air on tree limbs and crotches or in rock crevices, free of any connection to the ground. There are just a few species which grow on the ground and are rooted in soil. Bromeliads are distinctive as they have so many forms, textures, colorful leaves and long-lasting blooms. That's why I like them. They are among the easiest of indoor plants to grow and maintain.

I have a collection of tillandsias also in the bromeliad family. Some grow in shells, some on drift wood, some in terrariums. These are what most people think of as air plants but really they do need a lukewarm shower now and again like they would get in the tropics.

Then there are the bromeliads with bright, colorful bracts or modified leaves surrounding a tiny bromeliad_rflower. Bromeliads flower only once, then send out new young offsets. All bromeliads share a common characteristic: trichomes which are tiny scales on their leaves. These scales serve as a very efficient absorption system. Bromeliads are very tolerant of drought conditions. In a normal house, it's not necessary to keep the central cup filled with water. If your plant is growing in a lot of light and you do fill the cup with water, make sure to flush it every so often to remove any salt build up.

Bromeliads are not heavy feeders and normally live on the scanty nutrients their roots obtain from rotting leaves. During the growing season you can use a liquid fertilizer at half or quarter strength. There are so many types of bromeliads to choose from. All are beautiful and provide color for a very long time.

There a several other blooming houseplants that are also personal favorites. We all have a couple of African violets happily blooming in a windowsill. Phalaenopsis orchids are pretty easy to bring into bloom in the average house. And one of the best houseplants for a hanging basket that takes lower light levels and dry conditions is the Lipstick plant. Free-flowering in shades of orange or red, the Lipstick plant is a relative of African violet and Streptocarpus. With showy flowers they are also related to "Goldfish plants". They prefer a well-drained potting mix since they are accustomed to surviving on rainwater running off the trees in the wild.

Remember that hanging plants that are closer to the ceiling where the air is warmer will dry out faster and need to be watered more frequently.

Living plants bring the outside in, clean the air and provide color when the sky is grey.

March Gardening Tips

The rain last week was welcomed by all of us who like to watch things grow. There's a patch of grass growing beside a creek where I live that is the brightest neon green I've ever seen. Whether you call it apple green or lime green or chartreuse it shouts spring officially started on March 20th, the vernal equinox.

Spring weather here in the Santa Cruz Mountains can be warm and sunny one day, gray and rainy the next. Strong winds often blow last years crop of oak leaves all over the deck you've just swept but none of us would  live anywhere else.

Now that daylight savings time has started we have more time to spend out in the garden. One simple addition that makes being outside in the cooler evenings more enjoyable is a fire pit. For ideas search Google images to be inspired. You can install a simple metal fire pit for burning wood or get fancy with a stone pit surrounded with gravel and stone seat walls. I guarantee you'll be happy you set aside a space for this addition to your garden.

What other to-do's are there in the garden in March?

Fertilize – Take advantage of the moist soil to fertilize your garden.  Lawns and groundcovers are beginning their spring growth spurt and new leaves on trees, shrubs and perennials are starting to emerge. Spread compost, manure, or organic fertilizer to help plants get off to a strong start. Your citrus may be looking yellow from lack of nitrogen which has leached out of the soil through the rainy season and they may be lacking in iron.  Feed them with citrus and fruit tree fertilizer. I like to put out a granular or time release fetilizer before a storm and let the rains water it in for me.  Make sure you keep fertilizer off the foliage and crown of the plants. Wait to feed azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons until after they bloom.

Prune – Clean up winter damage on perennials, vines and shrubs.

Transplant –  If you need to move any plants in the garden, now is a good time.  Plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock.

Divide perennials –  To increase your plantings, lift and divide black-eyed Susan, gaillardia, catmint, coreopsis, daylily, diascia, geranium, ground morning glory, lamb's ears, penstemon, shasta daisy, society garlic and yarrow.  Also I see my hostas are just beginning to come up so dividing them or transplanting them at this time is easy and you don't risk ruining their georgous leaves later after they unfurl.

Weed – Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Think of weeding as free gym time.

Houseplants – Now that the days are getting longer and temperatures are inching up your houseplants can be repotted if roots are poking out of the bottom or are matted on the surface.  Houseplants rest in the winter and don't require much fertilizing.  You can resume feeding now with a balanced fertilizer. Your plants will benefit also from leaching the accumulated salts from the soil. Take them to the sink and run room temperature water through them several times.  Houseplants clean the air.

Our last estimated hard frost of the season is approximately March 15th. Sometimes we get light frosts into April so have frost blankets or any blanket or towel ready to protect seedlings. Even a cardboard box over frost tender new growth will work fine.

Happy Holidays in the Santa Cruz Mountains

If my plants could talk they’d have a long list of requests for Christmas. A lot of people tell me they talk to their plants but I don’t. Hopefully we are in sync without any words spoken by either of us.  I  do know they have some needs and wants so here are few of what made it to their .

From the fruit trees:  All I want for Christmas are my two prunings per year, my two prunings per year, my two prunings per year. Gee, if I could have one each summer and winter, I’d produce lots of fruit each year. And Santa, I’d also like some nitrogen from composted manure or an organic fertilizer in March, then after I’ve set fruit in June and again after harvest. Also don’t forget to water me regularly and deeply during the dry months.

From the California native plants:  All I want for Christmas is a place in the landscape. Here in California we are blessed with thousands of plant species, many found nowhere else on Earth, that have evolved with our unique climates, soils and fauna. Renew and rediscover the value we provide to conservation and habitats. Plant some of us to connect you to the land. And remember we need water and pruning, too, just on our own schedule.

From the houseplants:  All I want for Christmas is a little light in the winter, not much fertilizer, if any and to dry out a bit between waterings. Also who likes cold drafts from the front door? Dust my leaves occasionally and don’t repot me during the winter and in return I’ll keep your indoor air cleaner and healthier.

From the birds in the garden: Please Santa, send me some berries to eat.  I like redtwig dogwood fruits and also elderberries, toyon, wax myrtle, mahonia and coffeeberries. My hummingbird friends would like some flowering currants, manzanita blossoms and any salvias you happen to have in the workshop.

From the perennials: All I want for Christmas is the right growing conditions for me. If I’m a sun lover don’t try to grow me under the trees and if I like it cool and moist put me where I’ll be happy winter and summer. I’ll thrive and bloom and be happy and healthy and you won’t waste valuable time and money. If I could talk I’d also ask for some fresh compost in the spring and a light haircut would be nice, too.

From the spiders among the plants: We’re in all healthy gardens and we’re good for them.  As important predators of pests we reduce insect damage on plants.  We eat more insects and other invertebrates annually than the weight of all humans combined. All we want for Christmas is a pesticide-free garden so we can do our work.

From me to you: All I want for Christmas is for everyone to have a Happy Holiday.

 

Fall Tips for Gardeners

Halloween is just around the corner and besides deciding what your or the kids are going to be this year, it’s time to bring in any plants that you plan to overwinter in the house. Whether they’re the houseplants that you put out on the patio for the summer or frost tender plants that you want to save, this is the .

 Although our nights are still well above freezing,  plants need to acclimate to the indoor environment before you start turning on the heater regularly. Be sure to wash them thoroughly and inspect them for any insects that may have taken up residence while they were vacationing outside. Usually you can dislodge any hitchhikers with a strong spray of water but if that doesn’t do the trick, spray them with a mild insecticidal soap or one of the other mild organic herbal sprays like oil of thyme.

If you want to decorate for Halloween there is a lot of plant material you can harvest from your own garden or nearby woods. Manzanita branches can often be found on the ground and make great arrangements combined with nandina or other berries. Some of the trees have started to turn color and their leaves can also be used for wreaths.  The leaves of New Zealand flax last a long time and add fall color in bouquets.

Mums are the classic fall flower.  They come in nearly every color except blue and the flowers have many shapes from daisy to spider mums.  They are perennials and make good additions to the garden. Best of all they make excellent cut flowers.

This October has had the perfect weather  allowing fall color to develop in our trees, shrubs and perennials.  Warm days, cool nights, not a lot of wind or heavy rain all help plants to attain and keep those bright reds, oranges and yellow colors we love. Here’s a short list of small plants that you can easily find space for even in the smaller garden.

Japanese barberry turn yellow, orange or red. They get red berries and are deer resistant.
Blueberries not only are good for you and their foliage turns beautiful yellow-orange in the fall.
Oakleaf hydrangea leaves take on burgundy hues.
Crape myrtle shrubs explode with brilliant red and orange color.
Pomegranate bushes turn bright yellow
Spirea foliage varies from red, orange to yellow.

Squirrel wars
If you are at odds like me with squirrels that dig up everything while burying acorns for the winter, delay planting your bulbs until Thanksgiving when they’ve finished stocking the pantry.  Store you bulbs in the frig or a cool place until then.  If you just have to plant some on a beautiful autumn day, cover the area with flat stones or chicken wire.

Don’t prune now
One last thing and you’ll be happy to hear this.   Fall is not a good time to prune.  Wounds heal slowly, leaving them more susceptible to disease.  As a general rule, don’t prune when leaves are falling or forming.  Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or  late spring after leaves and needles form.  To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature. 

Houseplants that are Good for You

As summer comes to a close, students are back in school and all of us are spending more time indoors. Time to spruce up our homes with houseplants. Whether you have a home office, small desk for studying or just a chair where you like to read, adding a few houseplants to clean the air and bring a touch of nature inside is a great idea. There are plants that thrive with little care and are   I know, my house is quite dark and my plants are happy and healthy.

Plain green leafy types do best where the light is low.   My favorite upright plants include schefflera, Hawaiian arboricola,  philodendrons like selloum and split-leafed, Chinese evergreen, spathiphyllum (peace lily),cast iron plant (aspidistra), parlor palm, snake plant and ferns .  They are native to the jungle understory, under the canopy,  and grow naturally in low-light areas.   Hanging plants that I grow in these same conditions are heart-shaped philodrendron, pathos, and grape ivy. 

Many common houseplants  help fight pollution indoors.  They’re reportedly able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air, through the everyday processes of photosynthesis. Some pollutants are also absorbed and rendered harmless in the soil.  Plant physiologists already knew that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process. Researchers have found many common houseplants absorb benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene, as well.

Most of the plants  evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests, where they received light filtered through the branches of taller trees. Because of this, their leaf composition allows them to photosynthesize efficiently under relatively low light conditions, which in turn allows them to process gasses in the air efficiently.

Some houseplants are better at removing formaldehyde from the air, while others do a better job on benzene; none is much help when it comes to tobacco smoke. But there are enough known plants that do a good job of removing pollutants from the air we breathe to cause us to view houseplants as more than just an attractive feature to decorate our homes.

One is the common succulent, Aloe vera (now renamed Aloe barbadensis), also known as "medicine plant." Many people already have one in a bright kitchen window because of the soothing, healing properties its viscous inner tissue has on burns, bites and skin irritations.

Soil and roots were also found to play an important role in removing air-borne pollutants. Micro-organisms in the soil become more adept at using trace amounts of these materials as a food source, as they were exposed to them for longer periods of time. Their effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that cover the soil surface are removed, so there is as much soil contact with the air as possible.

NASA studies generated the recommendation that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more vigorously they grow, the better job they’ll do for you.

The best indoor pollution fighters are:

    * Hedera helix  – English ivy
    * Chlorophytum comosum  – spider plant
    * Epipiremnum aureum  – golden pothos
    * Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’  –  peace lily
    * Aglaonema modestum  – Chinese evergreen
    * Chamaedorea sefritzii  – bamboo or reed palm
    * Sansevieria trifasciata   – snake plant
    * Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’ –  heartleaf philodendron
    * Philodendron selloum  – selloum philodendron
    * Philodendron domesticum  –  elephant ear philodendron
    * Dracaena marginata –  red-edged dracaena
    * Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’  – cornstalk dracaena
    * Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’   -Janet Craig dracaena
    * Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’ –  Warneck dracaena
    * Ficus benjamina – weeping fig    

 

Benefits of House Plants

That beautiful Christmas tree is now a pleasant memory and you’ve put your houseplants back in front of the windows and on the end table under the reading light.   Do they look a little tired?  Dusty?  Yellow and leggy?

How can you make  houseplants thrive in the winter when the level of light is lower and our houses are dry and heated by wood burning stoves or central heaters?  What are the easiest plants to grow inside?  Can they really remove pollutants from the air inside my home?

If these questions and more have you up nights in a quandry,  this column is for you.  You can have the interior of your house looking like the tropics in just a few easy steps.
 
Allow your plants to absorb as much precious light as possible by dusting off the leaves.  You can do this by using a moist cloth or paper towel to wipe each leaf or place the entire plant under lukewarm water in the sink. Running water through the soil a couple of times will leach out accumulated fertilizer salts, too.  Although you do want to reduce water and fertilizer during the winter months, your plant will enjoy their bath.

If you’ve had a regular watering plan, scale back.  Water just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry.  Poke your finger about an inch down into the soil for a typical six inch houseplant.  If it’s dry,  water.  Be sure to dump excess water out of saucers  after 15 minutes to keep roots from rotting.   If your plant is in a larger pot,  allow the soil to dry two inches down from the surface before watering.  It’s not unusual for a plant of this size, if in a cool room, to go 2-4 weeks between waterings.  Plants that need water once a month or less in winter include anything resembling a succulent  ( jade plants,   echiums, cactus).  I water mine lightly every six weeks
.
Here in the Santa Cruz mountains many of us live under trees that block available light during the winter and  cloudy days can further lower the amount of light your plants receive.   Move plants into the best light. you have.   If a plant  is sitting in a dark corner, move it closer to the window.  You may have to choose how many plants to overwinter based on available window light.  To avoid unnecessary trauma, don’t repot a plant in winter. If you’ve acquired a new plant, it’s best to put it inside the next size pot for the time being and replant it when the growing season resumes in March or April.  Most plants grow happily for years in the same pot and soil with proper fertilizing during the growing season.

Plain green leafy types do best when there’s less light.   Scheffleras, arboricola,  philodendrons like heart-leafed , selloum and split-leafed,  pothos, Chinese evergreen, peace lily  and ferns look good even in dreary conditions.  They come from the under-story of jungles and grow naturally in low-light areas. 

Fertilize less often.  Some houseplant growers skip fertilizing in December and January, starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February.  Think of your houseplants as essentially dormant in winter.  They need fertilizer only when active growth resumes.

Avoid cold drafts.  Most houseplants can handle slightly cooler temperatures at night but detest blasts of chilly air.  Avoid placing most plants near drafty, high-traffic areas such as a foyer or hallway.  Ficus trees are famous for dropping leaves when exposed to temperature changes.

Many common houseplants  help fight pollution indoors. They’re reportedly able to scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air, through the everyday processes of photosynthesis. Some pollutants are also absorbed and rendered harmless in the soil.  Plant physiologists already knew that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process. Now researchers have found many common houseplants absorb benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene, as well.

Some houseplants are better at removing from the air, while others do a better job on benzene; none is much help when it comes to tobacco smoke. But there are enough known plants that do a good job of removing pollutants from the air we breathe to cause us to view houseplants as more than just an attractive feature in decorating the interior environment.

If your home is old enough to be leaky and drafty, you may not need to worry about "sick-building syndrome."  But if you live in a newer, energy-efficient home with windows and doors tightly sealed, or you work in a building where the air feels stale and circulation seems poor, the liberal use of houseplants seems like an easy way to help make a dent in the problem.

One is the common succulent, Aloe vera (now renamed Aloe barbadensis), also known as "medicine plant." Many people already have one in a bright kitchen window because of the soothing, healing properties its viscous inner tissue has on burns, bites and skin irritations.

Most of the plants  evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests, where they received light filtered through the branches of taller trees. Because of this, their leaf composition allows them to photosynthesize efficiently under relatively low light conditions, which in turn allows them to process gasses in the air efficiently.

Soil and roots were also found to play an important role in removing air-borne pollutants. Micro-organisms in the soil become more adept at using trace amounts of these materials as a food source, as they were exposed to them for longer periods of time. Their effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that cover the soil surface are removed, so there is as much soil contact with the air as possible.

NASA studies generated the recommendation that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more vigorously they grow, the better job they’ll do for you.

The best indoor pollution fighters are:

    * Hedera helix   English ivy
    * Chlorophytum comosum   spider plant
    * Epipiremnum aureum   golden pothos
    * Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’    peace lily
    * Aglaonema modestum   Chinese evergreen
    * Chamaedorea sefritzii   bamboo or reed palm
    * Sansevieria trifasciata    snake plant
    * Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’   heartleaf philodendron
    * Philodendron selloum   selloum philodendron
    * Philodendron domesticum    elephant ear philodendron
    * Dracaena marginata   red-edged dracaena
    * Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’   cornstalk dracaena
    * Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’   Janet Craig dracaena
    * Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’   Warneck dracaena
    * Ficus benjamina  weeping fig