Friday, October 28, 2011

Frozen Plants?

Poor, cold brugmansia.
Well, we had our first frost last night, here at my house. Where are some of my houseplants? Outside, freezing. I've been procrastinating bringing my plants in. Why? I'm a procrastinator. There you have it. Yes, they are coming in today. It barely froze, so they should be okay, as most are on the front porch and the others are on the back patio, in protected areas.
I've been so busy and I really wanted to treat them with a systemic insecticide before I brought them in. I know there are differing opinions on this practice.  I have a lot of plants in the house that never see the outdoors, and I'd like them to stay healthy, so the plants coming in are treated. I don't normally recommend treating a plant that does not have an obvious insect infestation. Yet, I'm not taking any chances with my plants inside. Only my brugmansia, plumeria, hibiscus, passion vine, and ixora are taken outside for the summer.  I also have to bring in the new plants I've acquired over the summer. These include a staghorn fern, a jatropha, and some succulents. I just can't throw them away, much to my husband's chagrin. I think he is the procrastinator, hoping I will forget about them, since I count on him to carry them in. Well, today is the day and they are on their way in.
One of my favorite sayings, "Do as I say, not as I do", applies in this case. I'm saying, houseplants should be brought in at the beginning of September, before the heat comes on and of course, before it freezes. The plants need to get acclimated to being in the house, before the heater comes on. So, bringing in my plants at this late date, is not something I recommend, but obviously something I'm doing.
Steptocarpella doesn't like freezing weather.

This streptocarpella wasn't going to come in, anyway, but it really doesn't like the cold. In the African violet family, it likes warm temperatures, and is easily damaged by cold. The brugmansia looks sad, but can be cut back, and will be fine.
My recommendations for moving plants inside, includes washing them off well with the hose, hopefully washing away any unwanted guests above the soil. You could also spray them with an insecticidal soap, making sure to wet the undersides of the leaves, as well.  To discourage under soil visitors, you can soak your plants in a bucket of water for a while and usually all the inhabitants will exit the soil. (Never leave the plants in the water longer than overnight~drowning them is not the goal.) Let them drain well and dry out some before bringing them in.
Acclimate your plants first. This process helps the plant get used to a lower light level gradually. Just as we shouldn't take a plant outside in the spring and place it in the full sun, we shouldn't bring a plant from the full sun, directly into the house. Placing your plant in a semi-shady spot, such as under a tree, or under a deck for a week or more, will help it become accustomed to being in less light, before you bring it into your home. It doesn't matter where you put your plant in your house, washing the windows can make a huge difference. Dirty windows don't allow the light through as well as sparkling, clean windows. Your plants will love you for it.
I personally treat my plants with a systemic insecticide, such as Bonide Systemic Houseplant Insecticide. It contains imidicloprid, an insecticide that works very well on the insects that attack houseplants. It lasts for a long time and seems to knock out even mealybugs. I've been burned before by mealybugs, and will go to great measures to avoid them. I do not let any of my kitties near a plant that has been treated, though. The same could be said of small children. (I do not have any of those.) The insecticide spreads throughout the plant and if an animal or child chewed on a leaf, they would be ingesting the insecticide, also.  Always follow the directions on the container and use precautions around your pets and children.
Prepare the spot they are moving to in the house. A saucer is a must, to protect your floors and windowsill from water damage. Do some research, and decide which exposure is best for each plant. With a little preparation, your plants can do very well coming in from their summer vacation.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Amaryllis Care

Have you bought an amaryllis bulb, had it bloom beautifully the first year, and then never see a bloom again? I have. I've learned it is the post-blooming care that makes the difference. Let's start from the beginning.
Buy a large, firm bulb. By this I mean, buy the largest bulb you can afford.The larger the bulb, the more bloom stalks and blooms you will have.  Amaryllis bulbs can be found almost anywhere at holiday time. Ones pre-packaged in boxes with the pot and soil included, usually aren't the biggest or best bulbs. Purchase your amaryllis where they are loose in a box, usually at an independent garden center. By purchasing your bulb like this, there will be more varieties to choose from. Maybe even unusual ones. Buy appropriate soil. The bag of soil that comes in the pre-packaged ones is  mostly peat, and is too heavy and holds too much water. Quite often the bulb will bloom in that soil, but  doesn't grow after that. It may even get moldy and rot. A well-drained soil is a must. Never waste your money on cheap soil! The soil in any plant makes ALL the difference! Secondly, check the bulb for any soft spots or mold.
Pot only an inch larger all around than the bulb.

Okay, now for the pot. Amaryllis bulbs like to be snug in their pots. With that in mind, choose one that is only 1' or so bigger than the bulb itself. It goes without saying, make sure there is a drainage hole in the pot. 
Next, soak the roots in water for a few hours before planting, not immersing the whole bulb, just the roots. This will give the bulb a head start, as they've been stored and are quite dry.  Now, the bulb is ready to be planted. When potting it up, keep part of the bulb above the soil line, as in the picture above. Usually 1/4-1/3 of the bulb is adequate.
Amaryllis papillo
Water well once, and place in a bright, warm spot. Once the green flower stalk appears, water regularly when needed. Sit back and wait for the show. In 6-8 weeks, there should be a fabulous display of flowers. If you start this process in the beginning of November, you will be enjoying flowers in time for the Christmas holiday. This makes a beautiful hostess gift, or the perfect gift for a gardener, or shut-in. I've given one to a friend in a nursing home, and they loved watching it grow and bloom. 
Let the leaves grow, fertilizing regularly
Now, for the post-bloom care. When the last flower fades on the flower stalk, cut it off near the bulb top. The leaves may already be growing. These leaves are replenishing the bulb's energy. By encouraging these leaves to be as healthy as possible, you are ensuring that it will flower the next year. Many people place them outside for the summer. This is fine, or you could just keep it in a nice sunny window. Make sure it is fertilized on a regular basis, at least once a month from March-August. On or near Labor Day, discontinue watering and let the foliage die down naturally, or just cut it off. I cut mine off. Now, keep it dry. Check it every so often to make sure the bulb isn't shriveling. If it is, add a small amount of water. The bulb is resting.
Resting bulb.
Decide when you would like it to bloom again, and 6-8 weeks before that date, you can start watering again. If you want Christmas blooms, start the process over again in November. I also like to scrape an inch or so of the old soil off the top and replenish it with fresh soil.

I've found a little care is all that's needed to have beautiful blooms on your amaryllis. As the years go by, your bulb will multiply. You can plant the "babies" up by themselves, or just keep potting the whole "family" up into a slightly bigger pot. In a few years, you will have a pot full of bulbs and blooms

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pets and Our Plants

Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)
A few days ago I received a call regarding a family who had  lost their puppy when it ate parts of a sago palm. My brother had seen the story on his local news.  Please see the following link: The dog in the story ate leaves and roots of the sago palm and died. Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) contain a toxin called cycasin that is deadly. These plants have become very popular in the last few years, sold as bonsai in the big box stores. They are relatively easy to grow and the foliage is very architectural.
I obviously am a big fan of houseplants and hope that incidents such as this do not prevent pet owners from having plants in their homes. Plants are very good for your health and should not be avoided because of pets. More tragedies like this can be prevented with a little knowledge.
Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata)
African violet (Saintpaulia)
Pony tail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)

Grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia)
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)
Rabbit's foot fern (Davallia)

Pellionia repens
If you find a plant you are interested in, research it to make sure it is non-toxic to your pet.  There are many plants that aren't poisonous and can safely coexist with your pets. A few poplar, easily obtained plants that are safe, include African violet (Saintpaulia), boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata), pony tail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura), pellionia repens, and  rabbit's foot fern (Davallia). I have all these plants in my home and I also have 3 cats. The cats have occasionally eaten my plants, especially the pony tail palm and the spider plant. They then proceed to  throw up, but have never had any other adverse effects from eating them. I do try to keep them away from the plants, but in my house, they are surrounded. Everywhere they turn, there is a plant. I think they are bored by them, because there are so many, and so they mostly leave my plants alone. I have no experience with puppies, but have heard they are a little more rambunctious and eat everything.
Rex begonia
Other safe plants include: Echeveria, areca palm, Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera), hoyas, yucca, gerber daisies, swedish ivy (Plectranthus australis), peperomia, and rex begonias. Remember to research the plant you are bringing into your home and you and your pets can be safe and happy.