Tags Posts tagged with "Houseplants"

Houseplants

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Above, Begonia ‘Pink Minx,’ with its constant bloom of bright pink flowers and unique Angel Wing leaves, is easy to grow, making it a top contender for the title of perfect houseplant. Photo courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden

By Kyrnan Harvey

As a plantsman and gardener, I have always been more generalist than specialist. There are avid collectors of day-lilies or hostas, roses or rhododendrons, Japanese maples or dwarf conifers, snowdrops, dahlias and peonies. There are rock garden enthusiasts who have to grow every Saxifraga and Primula and Penstemon. In the U.K. and Ireland there are 630 National Plant Collections in which special-interest plant groups are identified, documented and conserved in private gardens, nurseries, local parks, botanic gardens and historic estates.

I love all these plants. Phases of zeal come and go for me, but of paramount importance to the garden designer is the creation and sustaining of harmonious environments, keyed in to the genius loci, pleasing to our senses and attractive to wildlife too — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Houseplants too can inspire passions. Cacti and succulents are ideal objects for homes with plenty of bright light but excessively dry heat. If you are not one to turn your thermostat down to 60 at night, but keep your home uniformly cozy at 72, then you can have a dozen or more different African violets featuring delightful colors on extremely compact plants. Following International Aroid Society on Instagram has been an eye-opener for me: stunning foliage in unbelievable variety. I would collect these Philodendron and Anthurium and Monstera and Alocasia if I had a large airy home or lived in the tropics.

Above, Begonia ‘Potpouri’ is the perfect houseplant for winter months, covering itself with fragrant rose-pink blooms from January to June. Photo courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden

But I must say, if I were to amass a small collection of a single plant group of houseplants, it would be begonias. There was a great bookstore back in the aughts on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg. The owner Miles kept a solitary cane begonia in a glazed Oriental jardiniere in the center display table a good distance from the storefront window. I donated an old jade plant for the window and neither it nor the begonia ever received water. When my brother was moving last summer, I adopted two cane begonias. They hadn’t been watered in months. I cut the woody stems down to a few inches; then repotted and watered the plant. A few weeks later it was gorgeous.

The wax begonias that we plant as annuals are dead easy to grow, and cane begonias (these are the old-fashioned “angel-wing” begonias, now also called “fibrous”) are nearly so. They are very resilient and tolerant of neglect. Let them dry between waterings indoors, cut the canes hard at the end of winter, and move outdoors in bright — but indirect — light from May to October. The leaves can be reddish or green and mottled or spotted in white or silver. Logee’s catalog has a couple dozen varieties, and in the summer they will outdo themselves with the most charming sprays of pendant flowers in varying shades of pink. Such dignified plants, begonias give much more than they require.

The leaves of rhizomatous begonias are even more stunning, a limitless variety of color, texture and form. More compact than cane begonias, they also will be covered in flowers. Be sure to let them dry between waterings, but then water until it reaches the saucer.

Rex begonias are a type of rhizomatous (creeping rootstocks) begonia, in the prima donna class: showboats with their psychedelic leaves but demanding more accurate watering, humidity and temperature. Even then, they go dormant in winter for two or three months. A well-grown rex is spectacular, but their flowers are inconspicuous.

Any and all houseplants should summer outdoors. Indeed, this is crucial to their prosperity. Best to resist the temptation of moving them outside too early; wait until well into May and acclimate them by moving them during a forecast of two or three mild, sunless days. I like soft rain on warm days.

Do not leave them, in the first week or two, exposed to full sun, even for a couple hours, or desiccating wind. Situate them in bright, filtered light, and you will treasure your begonias when, in October, you can cut the exuberant growth and bring them indoors.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Begonia

By Kyrnan Harvey

I follow Logee’s Plants on Instagram and the other day photos of some of their old catalogs, a 1962-63, a damp-stained 1988-90 and a 1997, were posted. These latter sure looked familiar, oblong, tall-and-narrow, staple-bound. Logees’s greenhouses have been in existence since 1892, in northeast Connecticut, their first catalog in the 1930’s. They offered scores of different cultivars of geraniums, and of begonias,  and the old catalogs are great reference sources as well as interesting horticultural ephemera.

My mother was — and still is! — an amateur horticulturist. My architect father designed and built a house in the 70’s that was ahead of its time with open floorplan, cathedral ceiling, and a lot of glass. Plants flourished and a heated lean-to greenhouse was almost redundant. Through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s my mother was active in a L.I. chapter of Hobby Greenhouse, as well as in the garden club. She and her friend Annette grew many orchids and begonias.

Above, the dancing bones cactus, aka drunkard’s dream prefers certain locations in the house to thrive. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

I have my hands full March through November with my horticulture business, so it’s better to not accumulate many potted plants that require watering while summering outdoors. Unfortunatly I don’t heed my own advice. There is a 15-year-old Ficus benjamina ‘Variegata,’ grown as a standard (tree-form, not bushy), hugging a north-facing dining room window. In the kitchen a large drunkard’s dream (Hatiora salicornioides) cascades from open shelving, a poinsettia with white bracts recently purchased at Home Depot nestles against the espresso machine, and a pair of the very diminutive Sansevieria ‘Fernwood,’ spotted at Ikea, are on the sill with a tiny venus-flytrap.

A Stop&Shop Kalanchoe, over-summered a couple years and now large, is in full bloom on a stand in a south-facing living room window. At another drafty, albeit historically correct, window a flowering spike of a Phalaenopsis orchid, as yet unopened, is expanding.

Upstairs are a very old, dwarfed, jade plant, crammed into a square cinnabar-glazed ceramic container; my wife’s Kaffir lime tree, from Logee’s; a wild banana (Strelitzia nicolai) and an Alocasia ‘Polly’ that I bought, also at Ikea, to stage the open house for the sale of our Bushwick condo three years ago; a Sansevieria ‘Bantel’s Sensation,’ with vertically white-variegated leaves sourced at Hick’s a few years ago for a client’s wrought-iron urn; a lovely maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum) which is an offspring from mom’s defunct greenhouse; two agaves, one that is the straight-species of the century plant (Agave americana), an offset that Richie at Half Hollow Nursery gave me, and the other is A. americana ‘Mediopicta Alba,’ propagated by the legendary Mattituck plantsmen at Landcraft Environments.

Above, a vigorous fibrous begonia. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

Also upstairs is a variegated myrtle, Myrtus communis ‘Variegata.’ This is the myrtle of ancient Mediterranean lore and has aromatic leaves, but it, like my agaves, gets scale, which I spray with insecticidal soap once or twice a year. There is a bonsai ficus in the north-facing upstairs bathroom window and a rooted cutting of the common heart-leaf Philodendron cordatum, tolerant of low-light, in an antique highball of water in the bathroom below.

Likewise, a neon pothos, with chartreuse leaves, grows downward from a vase I bought on the pottery island (Ko Kret) in the Chao Phrya river in Bangkok. This has grown in just water for about a decade, presumably nourished by the minerals in the clay.

There is a poorly heated wing to our house, a converted porch, in which I stubbornly overwinter a dwarfed lemon verbena, delightfully scented in summer, woody and gnarly at 20 years, and another true myrtle, M. communis ‘Boetica,’ also inherited from mom’s collection. Rounding out the census, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 20 lantanas potted up from the garden and left dormant in the 50 degree basement.

But I still haven’t mentioned the begonias, the pictures of which in Logee’s old plant lists is what got me started today. Logee’s still mails out catalogs, now 8×10 and full-color glossy, but their website has many more rare, fruiting, and tropical plants listed.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

A Christmas cactus blooms best when slightly root bound. Stock photo

By Ellen Barcel

With the need to complete outdoor chores and the excitement of a new gardening season, many people may be neglecting the houseplants that served them so well during the winter months. Even though some of these plants may look worse for wear, summer can be the ideal time to bring them back to their full potential. Here are some ideas for rejuvenating your houseplants.

Repotting plants into the next largest pot is always a possibility if the plant has outgrown its home. To check, slip your plant out of its pot, and if all you see are roots — no soil — the plant is definitely root bound. But be careful here, however. Progressively larger pots can easily outgrow the gardener’s ability to move them. Yes, I know from past experience.

Few houseplants are as eager to climb as a heartleaf philodendron, one of the easiest houseplants to grow. Stock photo

Many large plants, like the asparagus fern, can be divided to make a number of smaller ones instead. Sterilize a gardening knife and cut through the plant’s root system to divide it into several smaller plants. Always use a good quality and suitable potting soil for their new homes.

Another way of keeping your beautiful but large houseplant in check is by root pruning. We usually think of root pruning as something that is done to help create bonsai, the miniature ornamental Japanese trees and shrubs, but it can be done to houseplants to keep them from growing too large. Don’t be surprised if it takes a growing season for the plant to really flourish again.

Note that some houseplants do best by being slightly root bound. For example, African violets don’t really like to be transplanted. This is true of a number of plants. Another reason is that some bloom well only under slight stress. Plants that do better slightly root bound include peace lilies, spider plants, and Christmas cactus. Check out each plant in a good plant encyclopedia before tackling it.

If you’re tired of wrapping your indoor vines round and round the pot, they can easily be cut way back. You can then take the cuttings and root some in the same pot, making the plant nice and bushy. Extra cuttings can be rooted in other pots, shared with friends and relatives and even given as hostess gifts.

Plants in this category include philodendron, pothos (looks like philodendron but variegated), Swedish ivy and wandering Jew. They can also be rooted in a vase of water. Prune them back before new growth has emerged in late winter or early spring. The baby “spiders” from a spider plant can also be used to fill out the mother plant or used to start new plants.

Cactus are another popular houseplant. One of the things that easily happens to cacti is that pieces of the plant break off. These can easily be rooted again in the same pot to make a bushier plant or in separate pots. One of my most cherished retirement gifts is a Christmas cactus, rooted from a co-worker’s original plant. It’s rewarded me each year with beautiful flowers, reminding me of her thoughtfulness.

While watering your houseplants is a must over the winter (possibly in a more limited way), don’t start fertilizing until you see new growth.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Small, colorful vases are perfect to use in rooting cuttings. The purple vase, back right, was from the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Once a gardener finds a really special plant, one that he or she wants more of, lots more of, the gardener begins to think about how to propagate that plant. Seeds are always a possibility — it’s worth a try — but many seeds do not breed true especially if the mother plant is a hybrid.

If you want a genetic clone — that is, an exact duplicate — you need to propagate the plant vegetatively. Wood cuttings are possible but require some work and care. Isn’t there an easier way to get more of what you have already?

Rooting cuttings in water is truly the easiest way to propagate plants. However, not all plants can be rooted in water.

The houseplants that can be propagated in water include philodendron, pothos and other viney plants. Herbs such as pineapple sage and all variety of mints can also be rooted in water. When the weather gets cold outside consider taking cuttings from begonias, coleus, impatiens, sweet potato vine and even geraniums to overwinter them in water inside. I’ve been told, though can’t verify myself, that African violet leaves will also root in water.

Shrubs hat need a lot of water, such as willows, including pussy willow, will also root easily in water. Some plants, like euonymous, will root just about anywhere. I even had one root behind the shutter on my house against the cedar shakes. Removing it carefully, I was able to plant it in the soil where it is still growing.

Some general guidelines include:
* Select a small container to hold the cuttings. A small colorful vase is particularly attractive when the sun hits the glass.
* Use room temperature water.
* Change the water periodically, say once a week or sooner if it becomes cloudy.
* Keep the water level at the same height from week to week.
* Do not add fertilizer to the water.
* Set the rooting container where it will get partial sun but not get excessively hot if its summer.
* If the end of the cutting turns brown or mushy, it’s beginning to rot. Discard this cutting and try again.
* When enough roots have formed and you move the plant to soil, make sure you use good quality potting soil appropriate for the type of plant if it’s going to be a container plant.
* Use a completely clean planter to help prevent the spread of disease to the new plant.
* Make sure you keep the new plant’s soil wet enough during the transition period. Remember, it’s been growing in pure water for weeks or even months.

Woody stems are more difficult to root in water. You usually need to use rooting hormone and put them in soil. But, if you notice tiny roots forming along the stem of a woody plant, gently bend the stem over to the ground or a pot of soil. Keep the stem pressed against the soil by weighting it down with a rock or brick. This works very well with hydrangeas. If I do this in the spring or summer, I leave the new plant attached to the mother plant until the following spring when I cut it free of the mother plant and dig it up and move it to its new home.

Cactus plants are particularly easy to propagate, but not in water. Take a broken piece, put the end in potting soil designed for cacti, water periodically but not excessively and soon you’ll have a new plant.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.