Monday, July 21, 2014

More Astrocities Done to Plants

Money tree glued down

How many of you have bought plants that have pebbles glued on top of the soil? I hate this. I realize it is done for ease of shipping. The soil stays put, the plant stays upright. It's all good. And to add insult to injury, the containers they are in are usually without a drainage hole. I  recently bought a Pachira or money tree after Father's Day.  It was 1/2 off -I couldn't pass it up!

Pachira out of the pot with stones still attached

So my question is-how would you know your plant needs water. You certainly can't stick your finger in the soil to check for the plant's water needs. Or how would you know if it has too much? You can't look inside the pot.
So, where to begin? First, I chiseled the plant out of its pot. As you can see above, the stones are still intact on top of the root ball and around the stem.

Second, I pulled the glued stones from around the stem. I was as careful as I could be, but as you can see in the above picture some of the bark of the Pachira tree was also removed from around the stem.

After removing the stones, I realized how much soil was around the stems. The soil was way too high up the trunk. After removing the superfluous soil, I found a tie around the stems. When they braid the stems, they need to be tied to stay and grow that way. That is necessary, but as you can see in the pictures below, the tie was cutting into the stem. I'm not sure how long it would have been before this tie girdled the tree and killed it. Would we think out plant just died, or think we had done something wrong? When all along, it is being slowly strangled. Had I not removed the rocks and the soil that were too high on the stems, I would never have know the tie was on there, slowly killing my plant.

So, to help the plant live, I cut the tie so it could "breathe". I think it felt like I do when I take my belt off at the end of the day.

As you can see in the pictures above and below, this plant already has damage from the too tight band.

Even the tag is glued into the rocks.

Lastly, I drilled a hole in the container it came in, added new soil and replanted it. I know it is going to be a much happier plant! So if you see one of these plants and really want it, it isn't a terrible job to get the glued rocks off and re-pot the plant. You may just be saving the plant!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Houseplant Bonsai


I recently (yesterday) went on a garden walk. I love garden walks as I have stated before in a previous post. I especially love seeing people's houseplants which they've placed outside for the summer. One of the gardens we visited had tropical bonsai on the deck. Some of them were protected from the harsh West sun by a latticed area. The ones that could take the sun were in the full exposure, such as the above bougainvillea. It was blooming beautifully.

Ficus grove
I loved this ficus grove. It was beautifully landscaped with bridges and rock outcrops. The details in the landscape made all the difference. The sedum and golden baby tears added additional color and there was even a man boating under the bridge. An overall beautiful vignette and as you can see, a ribbon winner.

The above bonsai is a crested form of a Euphorbia. It is a succulent which is nice when considering bonsai, as watering is a crucial part of growing bonsai. Because of their small root systems, they dry out quickly. Using a succulent means the watering practices are much reduced compared to other varieties of bonsai.

Portulacaria afra
This bonsai above, Portulacaria afra,  is also a succulent and is called elephant bush and dwarf jade. This plant is native to South Africa and is very important to browsing animals, such as the elephant, because of its ability to thrive in dry areas. It can grow 8-12' tall in its native habitat.

Fukien Tea
The Fukien tea, Ehretia microphylla, is a common bonsai plant. It has very attractive leaves and bark and is relatively easy to grow. It is named after its native habitat which is the Fukien or Fujien Province in Southern China. It has an abundance of small white flowers a lot of the time, which adds to its popularity. 

Natal Plum

This cascading bonsai is very attractive and the Natal plum is well suited to this form. It is native to South Africa, and blooms with fragrant white flowers. The fruit formed can be eaten or made into pies, jams, and sauces. It has shiny, deep green leaves and makes a very attractive bonsai.

I love the work and imagination these small plants take to make them look like old, full grown trees. Using houseplants is much easier than using outdoor trees which need a cold dormant season. This means a place to keep them in the winter is essential. With the houseplant bonsai, they are beautiful year round and can be kept in the house. I'd like to try one, and with my schedule, I think the succulent form would be my only choice.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Baby Making Onion

This is the pregnant onion or Ornithogalum longibracteatum,  an unusual plant and a real conversation starter. First of all, its not an onion, it just resembles one. It is in the same family, Liliaceae, though. This houseplant should never be eaten, it is poisonous. It may actually cause a rash on your skin from handling it, but I haven't had that problem. Make sure your pet doesn't chew on it, either. 
 It is so amazing how the little bulblets form on the "Mom's" side. You can peel back the skin and reveal the green underneath and the babies growing. These eventually start growing themselves, sending up little green spikes. At this point it is easy to share them with your friends and family. It is an indestructible houseplant and easy to grow. They'll thank you. 
Definitely looks like the skin on an onion.

Baby bump.
This bulb originates in South Africa.  It does flower, but it really isn't anything to write home about. Then again, I appreciate any flowers my plants produce, no matter how insignificant. It sends up a long shoot and the little white flowers with a green stripe are borne on the end.

 The leaves can grow very long. Mine are about 3' long.They twist and twirl and undulate as they hang down from the plant. I have had to trim the ends because they turn brown. Don't ask me why. I don't know why. It may be the water with chlorine and fluoride or low humidity, I'm just not sure. Besides this small glitch, the plant is easy and certainly not your "run of the mill" houseplant. This is a great plant for the beginner and collector alike.

Babies in the making.
New foliage coming up from a bulblet

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Iron Cross Begonia

Leaves with the sun shining through

I love the iron cross begonia, or Begonia masoniana. I love it so much, I keep killing it and trying again! I swear I'm not going to fail this time. What keeps pulling me back in? Look at that foliage! Who needs flowers?! Iron cross is one of the beautiful foliage plants called Rex begonias, and is named after the German iron cross which it resembles.
Why do mine keep dying? Well, they probably didn't die. They went into a resting period and I thought I had killed them. Now I know that if they "die" in the late fall or early winter, they will probably come back in the Spring. Good to know. Or, I might have kept them too wet, or not humid enough..... All of these are possibilities. They need extra humidity, but also good air circulation, or they may get a bad case of powdery mildew, which can also kill the plant. Letting water set on the leaves can also cause powdery mildew.

The surface of the iron cross begonia leaf

Plant your begonias in a porous, slightly acidic potting mix that contains peat moss and leaf mold. African violet potting mix is good for begonias. Some sources say to fill the bottom of the pot with half-decayed leaves. Also, Rex begonias like a shallow pot, keeping their roots snug in the pot, never over potting them.

The leaves from underneath

Notice the hairs on the outer edge of this leaf

Hopefully you have had better luck with your iron cross than I have had in the past, but if not, try it again.

You can also see the hairs on all the bumps on the top of this leaf

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thrips are Microscopic Insects but Big Problems

Thrip on a flower
I never knew thrips existed until I started growing African violets. I don't have a picture of them on violets, but most likely if you've ever bought an African violet at a grocery store or big box, you've seen the signs of them. Their larvae love to eat the pollen of the violets, and when they do it falls onto the petals, making it obvious. It is always noticed more on dark colored violets, as the yellow shows up best against the dark color. If you see pollen on the petals, do not buy the violet. You are bringing home trouble. When I come home from an African violet show, if I've purchased plants, the first thing I do is take all the flowers off the plant. This is not an easy thing to do. Heartbreaking, in fact. It is necessary, though to get rid of any pests, such as thrips that may be lurking in the flowers. I also quarantine my plants for a few weeks to make sure they don't have any other insects or diseases.
The pollen sacs are the yellow in the middle of the flower
 Thrips are very small insects, almost impossible to see with the naked eye. The most common on greenhouse plants are the Western Flower Thrip, Frankliniella occidentalis. These pictures are enlarged quite a bit. If you breathe on flowers that you suspect have thrips, you can see them run, if you have good eyesight. Thrips have piercing, sucking mouth parts. The biggest problem that thrips cause is damaged areas that disease can then enter. They are vectors for virus to enter the plant. You will notice the damage before you see the microscopic insect. On flowers the damage may appear as streaked or discolored areas, on leaves they will be dried out and have a silvery appearance. They attack plants inside and out, but we are going to deal with indoor plants, of course.
The best way to deal with thrips is to not allow them to enter your plant area. They are so small, they can fly through most window screens. They can also come in on cut flowers, either from the florist or from your own yard. I know people who would never open a window in their plant room.
If you have them, how do you remove them? Systemic insecticides may not work well, as the systemic does not easily pass into the flowers of the plant where the thrips are feeding. Also, thrips feed on cell content, not the xylem or phloem where the systemic is contained. The amount that does go into the flowers may not be enough to kill the thrips. Also, flowers do not last as long as leaves, so there is less time for the insecticide to accumulate. Spinosad and neem oil also work on thrips and are less toxic than other chemicals. Removing the flowers is a good way to rid yourselves of thrips, especially if growing African violets. Keep the flowers removed for quite some time. Using sticky traps to monitor thrips works, but use blue sticky traps instead of the usual yellow.

Thrip on a streptocarpus flower
If you want to rid yourselves of these pests with biological controls, there is more than one that will work. Predatory nematodes, Steinernema carpocapsae help control thrips, as well as Steinernema feltiae, Orius insidiosis, the pirate bug, and the thrip  predatory mite, Amblyseius cucumeris. These are all biological controls that could be used to eat the larvae and/or adults. Once again, I'm listing these biological controls, knowing that it may not be practical  for many people to use them. That being said, I wanted to list all the ways that one could control thrips. 
Once again, I can't stress enough, that a healthy plant is the best way to deter pests. Check your plants every time you water for pests and disease. Keep your plants well watered, fertilized and in the correct light to keep them healthy and happy. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Orchids in Miniature

Frame for my mounted orchids

I have many orchids, but most of them fit on 4 frames like the one above. I have so many houseplants that when it came to orchids, I decided to collect the miniature varieties. 
I made the frames when I started ruining the cupboards with water damage. The frames keep the orchids from touching the woodwork, and I thought they were a cute idea. My daughter keeps her earrings on hers. Most are mounted on cork bark which comes from the cork oak tree, Quercus suber. The tree does not have to be cut down to harvest the cork, nor does it hurt the tree. It will grow back and can be harvested again, usually up to 9 times in the life of the tree. Some are also mounted on tree fern stem pieces. They come from the tree fern Dicksonia fibrosa, native to New Zealand.
Leptotes pohlitinocoi
Blooming today, I have a Leptotes (Lep-TOH-teez) pohlitinocoi. It hails from the rainforests of Bahia, Brazil. It needs medium to bright light with cool to warm temperatures. It is best mounted, which mine is. It is mounted on cork bark and its roots are surrounded with sphagnum moss. While reading about it, I learned a new work. It has terete leaves, which means cylindrical, which you can see in the pictures.

Closeup of the flower
All 0f my mounted orchids are hanging on the sides of the cupboards in my west kitchen window. I haven't had all of them bloom, or re-bloom, but I also buy some of them for their interesting foliage, so I'm not too bummed. They are just so small and cute!
I do soak them once a week in the sink and then hang them back up. They probably would like to be soaked more often, but they are right above the sink, so they get quite a bit of extra humidity.

Baptistonia echinata flowers

A reliable bloomer for me is the orchid above.  It is Baptistonia echinata and is also known as the bumble bee orchid because of the flowers' resemblance to that insect. It hasn't bloomed this year because I took it out of the pot and mounted it on a piece of cork. It also hails from Brazil.
Baptistonia echinata

Haraella odorata

This is by far my most reliable bloomer. It has bloomed every year since I bought it. It reminds me of a pansy flower.  It's name odorata lets you know the flowers have a scent, but as small as it is, I've not noticed it. This comes from Taiwan.

Dendrobium lichenastrum

Dendrobium lichenastrum

The Dendrobium lichenastrum was blooming when I purchased it, but hasn't bloomed since. I think it is such a cute little plant, I don't care. It would be nice, but its fine without flowers. This orchid is native to Australia and its common name there is the button orchid.

These diminutive orchids certainly aren't going to give you the wow you get from the Cattleya, Phalaenopsis, and other large flowered orchids, but they do have a place in my home. I love those big flowered orchids as well, but there is just something special about these little plants. Next time you are at an orchid show, don't ignore these small bloomers. Remember, "Good things come in small packages!"

Friday, April 25, 2014

Put Plant Health First

 So, I've had some controversy on my last post about insects on your houseplants. First, the use of imidicloprid was brought into question. Of course, I am not telling you to run out and  buy an insecticide and use it on every plant you have to kill everything in sight and out of sight. I always try the least toxic solution first. This includes using soap and alcohol, or neem oil in the form of Rose Rx. Now, if that doesn't work, I will use a houseplant insecticide. Some of my plants are over 30 years old and belonged to my great-grandma. I am not going to lose those plants to scale or mealybug.  I have also listed the biological controls that one could choose to use in their home. Whereas this may seem contradictory to some, these bugs are the good guys. They destroy the bad guys and the plus is that you don't have to use insecticides in your home.  After those good bugs have eradicated the bad bugs, they won't take over your home. In fact, without something to eat, they will probably die.

A well grown crown of thorns
The number one thing to remember is that a healthy houseplant is a happy houseplant. A healthy houseplant also is much better able to ward off insect pests and disease. That being said, everyone is going to deal with pests at one time or another. Bringing houseplants home from a store or even a  friend's house can bring unwanted visitors into your home. Even if a plant looks pest free, quarantining your plant from your other plants is very important. Four to six weeks should be long enough to allow any pest or pest eggs that are lurking to show themselves. Checking your plants on a regular basis for insects can help prevent them from becoming a problem. Every time you water, take time to inspect your plants. Look under the leaves and in the areas where the leaf petiole meets the plant stem. Insects love to hide in these areas. Keeping them clean is extremely important. A dusty, dirty plant is blocked from photosynthesizing, preventing the production of  food they must have to live and grow. I like to put my plants in the shower on occasion. Of course, this only works for the ones I can lift. The other plants are washed with a sponge and mildly soapy water. I like to use Ivory dish soap or Murphy's Oil Soap. Using a de-greasing dish soap can mar the foliage of some plants.
Refreshing their soil, or re-potting them on a regular basis is also beneficial. The growing media your plant is growing in can break down and disintegrate over time. Giving them new soil can be like fertilizing the plant. It gives them renewed vigor and strength. 
Another way to ensure your houseplant stays happy and healthy is to place your plant in the right light for the plant you are growing. A high light plant growing in low light is a stressed plant. And just as stressful is a low light plant growing in high light.

Watering your houseplant correctly is also a huge factor in the health of your plant. Too much water can suffocate your plant and rot the roots. Not enough water can shrivel your roots and your plant will wilt. It may come back from being under watered, but it still takes its toll on the plant's health. 
And lastly, air circulation is a plus. I have a ceiling fan running 24/7 in my greenhouse and in my African violet room. Pests do not like wind and by running a fan, the stems of your plants are strengthened. This also helps prevent diseases such as powdery mildew and fungal diseases that can result from wet leaves.
Just remember, healthy plants are pest and disease resistant plants. Try to nip those problems and pests in the bud before they negatively affect your plants.