Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter is for Houseplants

I am tired of hearing gardeners say they have nothing to do until Spring. They can't garden. What about houseplants, people? I love winter, because I have time to spend with my houseplants. Of course, I have more than most and taking care of them could be a full time job, but this is a good time to concentrate on your houseplants. I painted some plant stands this week,  put some African violets on wick watering resevoirs, moved some plants around, etc. But, the best thing about winter and early Spring is the orchid and African violet shows and sales. This is the place to buy the unusual plants, ones you can't find anywhere else. I love the miniature orchids and violets, because I have so many other plants, and space is at a premium. Plus, they are easier to sneak into my already huge collection of plants! Yes, my husband will probably read this.....of course, I'm not really fooling him.
The best thing about going to plant society shows and sales is the amount of free information available. There are flyers, classes, and the best part, a whole bunch of people that are very knowledgeable about their chosen plant. These people love their plants and are so willing to share  expertise and personal experiences with a particular plant. Okay, let's face it-they are plant geeks and so am I!
Following are some pictures of the plants found at the show I went to last weekend in Grand Rapids, MI at the Frederick Meijer Gardens. This show was hosted by the Grand Valley Orchid Society.

One of the displays at the show.
The displays are the "show" part of the event. The businesses that are selling orchids, put together these displays which are then judged and awarded ribbons. They allow you to see the orchid flowers and then you can go to the sales room and buy the ones you can't live without.

Epicattleya Rene Marques 'Flame Thrower'
I loved this Epicattleya and it actually might be residing in my home right now. Anything that is green and pink is a "must have". 
Monnierara Millenium Magic 'Witchcraft'
This black orchid is very unusual. Not my cup of tea, but interesting. It did draw a crowd. 

Potinara Dick Smith 'Aloha Spirit'

 Sometimes we wonder where hybridizers come up with the names of their plants, but this plant does say Hawaii to me. Absolutely gorgeous!

Miltonopsis Herr Alexandre

I love pansies so these orchids are my favorites, but I haven't as yet tried to grow one. Why, you ask? Because the experts always say they aren't the easiest orchid to grow. That usually doesn't deter me, but orchids can be expensive and, like I said before, I try to stick to the miniatures.

Trichopilia suavis

Potinara Mount Yellowthorne 'Sun Peak'
Paphiopedilum  Star Stone
The slipper orchids are unusual and many people only collect this type of orchid. Quite a few varieties are so shiny, they  look unreal, like plastic.
Phragmipedium 'Cape Sunset'


Cymbidium Lamp Lighter

 It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or an expert, there is an orchid that will work for you. The moth orchid, or phalaenopsis is one you see everywhere and I find them easy to grow and they flower reliably every year for me. Go to one of these shows, sit in on a class and learn as much as you can about the plants you are interested in.
 There are four more orchid show/sales coming up, I know you'll want to attend. These shows are in Michigan, as that is where I live. Check your local orchid societies and other plant societies for the show/sales near you. 
The first is February 23 and 24 in Lansing, put on by the Greater Lansing Orchid Society. For more information go to . 
The next show is put on by the Ann Arbor Orchid Society on April 20-21. The website is .
The third show is the Michigan Orchid Society show and sale in Madison Heights March 23-24. The website is 
The fourth show is a little further North in Michigan. It is put on by the Northwestern Michigan Orchid Society in Traverse City. The dates are May 25-26. The website is 
Another show going on, unfortunately at the same time as the Michigan Orchid Society, is the Michigan African Violet Society show and sale in Ann Arbor on March 23. If you like African violets, this is the place to be. These aren't your Grandma's violets! I'm sure her violets were lovely, but the varieties that are out there now are astounding. There are also many other kinds of gesneriads to see and purchase, as well.
Here are some pictures of the types of plants you might see (and buy, of course): 

Variegated foliage is gorgeous.

Streptocarpus 'Silvia'

Episcia 'Cleopatra'


The Michigan Cactus and Succulent sale and the Michigan Bromeliad sale are in the fall. Go to their respective web sites to find the dates. 
See, there is lots of "gardening" to do in the winter. It's called indoor gardening, and it is my favorite kind of gardening. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Day for Houseplants

We love our houseplants!
 Today is Houseplant Appreciation Day. I think every day is Houseplant Appreciation Day, but I realize that people who aren't obsessed with them like I am, probably could use a day like this. I have researched this day and found that Bob Matthews of came up with this day. Why? Because he felt that after the holiday rush our plants could use some attention. The decorations are down and put away and its time to turn our attention back to our neglected houseplants. What a great idea! Thank-you Bob!
Why do we need to appreciate our houseplants? Because, they are cleaning our air, giving us life-sustaining oxygen, and making us happy. So we need to show them how much we appreciate them by taking care of them. Today is a day to show our plants how much we love them. How do we do that? Here a few ways you can show your houseplants some love and also some things not to do. 
First, give them a shower in the sink or in the bathtub if you can get them there. Dust is a huge detriment to plant growth, (as are dirty windows!). Hopefully you washed your windows last fall when you brought any houseplants in that were summering outside. So, back to showering your houseplants......
Nothing is more unattractive than dirty, dusty houseplants. Plants get their food from light, sun or artificial. When plants are dirty, the light can't get through to the leaves, so they need to be kept clean. If your plant is too big or heavy to be moved to the shower or sink, a sponge and a bucket of warm water is the next best thing. Washing your plants also helps get rid of any unwanted visitors that may be lurking, as well. 
After washing your plants, do we spray some nice plant shine on them to make them pretty? Absolutely not! I am NOT a proponent of gooping up plants with shine. It is not natural, unless you use Neem oil, which is also a wonderful pest control product, by the way. Anyway, I have never used plant shine and do not plan on starting. A natural clean plant is the best way to go.
Another practice that should not be done, is fertilizing your plants at this time of year. At least here in the frozen north, our plants aren't actively growing at this time of year, and so do not need fertilizer. I normally start fertilizing my houseplants in early March, or late February. I wait to see some new growth before adding any nutrients.
Some people think you should talk to your plants. That's up to you. I don't talk to my plants, but when washing them and grooming them, you are breathing on them, which gives them the carbon dioxide they need. So if you talk to them while you are near them you will provide them with even more CO2, so start talking. 
Remove any dead or yellowing leaves. These leaves may have a fungus or disease, so by removing them you will be helping stop the further spread of any diseases.  

Make sure your plants are watered, clean, and have any yellowing leaves removed and it will be Houseplant Owner Appreciation Day.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Amazing Helpful Houseplants

Pachira aquatica

 I have touted  the air cleaning and therapeutic properties of plants. I have never seen plants used for the purpose I witnessed on HGTV last week. I was watching Extreme Homes and they were in Japan at a very unique home. The homeowners are deaf parents and have 2 hearing children. This obviously is a challenge for them. They wanted a home that would make it possible for them to be able to interact with their children better. What the architect came up with was ingenious. They have 8' holes cut in the floor between the first and second floor. There is protective netting so the kids can't fall through, but can drop small things down to get their parent's attention. That was very inovativer, but the next idea is even better. They have pachira trees growing in pots on the first floor which then grow through the holes between the floors so that their canopies are on the second floor. When the parents want the children's attention or the other way around, they shake the tree and the kids can hear the leaves rustling or the parents can see the canopy moving. They then know they are being "paged". How fabulous is that?! I think it is amazing that the architect thought of it. Isn't it great what plants can do for us? 

I took a picture of this pachira flower on a huge tree in the New York Botanical Garden.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Real Thing

Aunt Gloria's Christmas cactus.
Most people aren't aware there is a difference between Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus. I had only seen the latter, until last December.  I saw one at the Winn, MI antique store and then the same week, at my Aunt Gloria's home. Of course, usually everyone just calls both Christmas cactus, but that isn't correct. How can you tell the difference, you ask? The true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) blooms later in the year than the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata). The easiest way to tell them apart, though, is the shape of their stem segments or phylloclades (cladodes). The Latin for leaf is phyllo- and for branch is -clade. They both have these flattened stem segments, but the Thanksgiving cactus has segments with small pointed appendages, whereas the Christmas cactus has rounded edges. By the way, they really are cactus. Epiphytic cactus, as they grow in Brazilian rainforests in trees, but cactus none the less. 

Christmas cactus segments
Thanksgiving cactus segments.
I immediately asked for cuttings from my Aunt and received them. I let them dry for a few days and potted them up in a well-drained soil. Of course, December isn't the best time to start cuttings, but I have them under lights, and dipped them in rooting gel. If they don't take, I know where to get more. It is best to trim your cactus after blooming, in the Spring and propagate the cuttings at that time. Every time you take a cutting, two segments will grow from that point, thus ensuring twice the amount of flowers next year. So, even if you don't want to propagate your plant, trim your plant lightly to stimulate more segments to grow.
  I discovered the cactus came from my Grandma Elnore Eldred, who received her plant from my Great-Grandma Alice Eldred, so this cactus has been in our family for a very long time. I wish I could find out where it came from before that, but no one is still alive who would know.  I am so excited to have a plant that has been in my family for so long. 

Family Christmas cactus
Christmas cactus segments and flower
Christmas cactus
 I have a picture of my Great- Grandma Christina Baldwin on my Mom's side, who is photographed in front of a huge cactus,  but alas, no one has a piece of it left. The picture was taken in March of 1949. Quite often, these plants will bloom more than once and this one definitely has buds and blooms.

Great-Grandma Baldwin with Christmas cactus 1949
The owner of the Winn antique shop said his cactus was very old, and very big until last year, when he noticed it was dropping a lot of its stems. When he investigated the container, he found that the drainage hole had become blocked and the plant was waterlogged. This was a hard lesson to learn. This can happen because the roots fill the hole, or because the salt buildup from fertilizer can accumulate and block it. It is always a good idea, especially with very old plants, to check the drainage hole occasionally and make sure it is free of roots and salt build up.  Luckily, after letting it dry out and re-potting, he saved his plant.

Christmas cactus at antique store in Winn, MI
Whether you have a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus, keeping it growing and passing it down through the generations is a great family tradition and one your kids and grand kids will appreciate.

Pink and Red Thanksgiving cacti in full bloom

Orange Thanksgiving cactus