Category Archives: houseplants

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    


Christmas cactus

Every year I’m amazed how many flowers appear almost overnight on my They bloom their heads off despite little care on my part. The show will continue for a month or more. They are the perfect plant in my opinion.

What’s my secret? Well, I don’t do any heroic moves some garden books recommend like giving them 12-14 hours of total darkness each night from September through November. Nor do I lower the temperature of my house to a brisk 55 degrees or lower each evening.  I do fertilize them every couple of weeks during the summer with a liquid fertilizer high in phosphorus ( the middle number ).  I use one of those fertilizers with a dropper. It’s easy and I don’t have to drag out a spoon to measure.  I’m all for convenience.

I grow mine under a small florescent plant light but a bright window would also be good.  Let the soil dry a bit between waterings from spring though September. They thrive on neglect.

Christmas cactus and their relatives, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus, live in trees in their native Brazil.  They are true cactus but the spine are so tiny and soft you never notice them. They prefer rich, porous soil like what may accumulate in the crevices of tree branches. Repotting is only necessary if plants become top heavy. Use a course, fast draining mix, such as one that’s suitable for orchids. I haven’t transplanted any of mine for many years. Nearly every outer leaf makes a flowers, so the bigger the plant, the heavier the bloom. Next spring I’m going to transplant mine to the next size pot, I promise.

Now that the plants have set flower buds, though, I don’t let them get too dry. This could cause them to drop their buds. Use room temperature water for all your houseplants.  Don’t put Christmas cactus near ripening fruit, the ethylene gas could cause bud drop.

Christmas cactus are incredibly forgiving. They can live for 25 years or more. Pick one up this season an you’ll see why gardeners often treat them like a favorite pet.


Fall Gardening Tips

Someone asked me the other day  " What’s good to plant this time of year "?  It’s a good question.  I often receive emails asking for advice or ideas for solving all sorts of gardening problems and landscaping situations.  You may be wondering about some of these yourself.  Hopefully, they will solve your problem, too.

What is good to plant at this time of year ?
Fall is a good time to plant just about anything in this area. If you want an ornamental tree with spring flowers or a shade tree to keep the house cool in the summer, now is the time to plant.  The ground is moist now so digging is much easier and the warm soil will encourage root growth.  Shrubs of all types as well as perennials settle in nicely when planted in October and November.  Don’t have color in your garden from fall foliage like you see in other yards when driving around?  Take advantage of fall sales at local nurseries.  There are tons of plants now in fall color to choose from.

Why do trees turn colors in the fall?
The shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn cause trees to switch into energy-storage mode, at which point their leaves stop producing chlorophyll.  For the few weeks before the leave fall to the ground, they are colored only by their natural pigments.  It’s these colors – red and purple anthocyanins,  yellow  and orange carotenoids –  that make fall foliage  so glorious. Some years the show is more dramatic than others.  The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool ( but not freezing ) nights. 
A warm, wet autumn will almost surely result in less-than-spectacular foliage because the process of chlorophyll loss will be less consistent.   Freezing temperature, meanwhile can cause leaves to drop suddenly, denying the opportunity to enter their slow, colorful dormancy. 


When do we usually get the first frost here? 
I have kept a weather calendar since 1992 and based on my records there was a light frost on Oct. 29, 2002.  I’ve seen an early hard frost as early as November 7th but more commonly, frost comes later in November.   In "97-’99 frost didn’t occur until the first week of December.  Be prepared.

How long can I leave my houseplants outside? 
Halloween is a good time to bring them in.  We don’t have the heater on full blast usually this early so they don’t suffer  shock going from a cold environment to a heated one.  Be sure to inspect them for insect pests and wash them off before bringing them inside. I have to confess, I roll the dice and leave spider plants, wandering jew, Hawaiian shefflera and creeping charleys outside under the overhang. I’ve been pretty lucky most winters.

Some winters my tree ferns and bananas suffer.  How can I protect them if we have a really cold spell?  
Many subtropical plants benefit from extra mulch to help them survive a hard frost.  People from the east coast know all about this.  Just be sure to take it away from the stem or trunk come spring or the mulch can cause rotting.