Posts Tagged ‘houseplants.’

There’s a huge hand-blown bottle sitting under a table in my living room. My late husband Hank bought it for me at a garage sale and for more than a decade it sat empty, waiting to be turned into a terrarium. Its time has come.

A terrarium is a glass-enclosed collection of small plants that’s self-contained. Once established, it’s sustainable, needing water only on rare occasions. Because they require little to no maintenance, these little gardens are great for offices as well as homes.

Terrariums date back to the Greeks in 500 B.C. In 1827, a London physician developed decorative containers made of glass and metal known as Wardian cases, and terrariums became the rage in the Victorian era. They were also big back in the ’70s.

Decorative glass containers and houseplants are both in vogue today, so terrariums are again hot items. And they’re perfect indoor gardens for those with busy lifestyles who don’t have time to fuss over plants.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a glass vessel. Old fish bowls, large canning jars or glass storage containers work nicely. A glass plate makes a great cover for bowls and other topless vessels. Glass cloches become classy covers for orchids and other plants of stature.

Terrariums can be made in all sizes and look stunning when grouped together. The larger the vessel, the more room to add accoutrements. A charming woodland scene may include a stone path, a moss-covered stump and a toad statue. A tiny mirror edged with moss becomes a pond. The options are endless.

To take the mystery out of choosing plants and planting, pick up a copy of “The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays” by Tovah Martin (Clarkston Potter, $25). It’s chock full of gorgeous photos of completed gardens that are sure to inspire you.

Best known for her wonderful book “Tasha Tudor’s Garden,” Martin is also a houseplant guru. But she doesn’t limit her plant selection to traditional houseplants. Thanks to one of Martin’s tips, as soon as the snow melts I will be taking cuttings from my colorful shade garden heucheras to color up my new terrarium.


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Every time I write about houseplants I get e-mails from readers asking how to care for their sick plants. Problem is, I’m not an expert on caring for houseplants. I have trouble keeping them alive because I forget to water them.

However, when Al H. e-mailed me asking how to care for his sick gardenia, I was pretty sure I knew what the problems were.

I have experience with gardenias because they were my mom’s favorite plant. Unfortunately, gardenias are not easy plants to grow indoors in Michigan because they’re pretty fussy about their surroundings. And if they don’t get what they want, they drop their leaves and flower buds. Bummer.

Daytime temperatures of 70 degrees and 60-degree nights are preferred, and they like bright filtered light. In Michigan in winter, a room with south-facing windows is best. But place the plant too close to a window and it may suffer from a chill when the temps dip or from a sunburn on those times when the sun shines all day. Mom kept hers on a table about four feet from the windows.

Gardenias like moderate humidity, but in winter, forced hot-air heat sucks out the humidity, and the air is often dry as a desert. Regular misting, often recommended, does little to help because the water dries in a matter of minutes. Also, continually wetting the leaves sets the plants up for fungal disease. The recommended method of increasing humidity around the plant is to place the pot on a tray of pebbles filled with water, making sure the base of the plant pot is above the water line. A small humidifier is also a good idea.

The black spots on the leaves of Al’s gardenia are probably sooty mold growing on the sugary residue from white flies. Spraying with a pesticide every three days till the bugs are gone will cure that ill.

My mom’s secret to enjoying her favorite flowers was to buy a gardenia that was in flower and sporting lots of buds. She watered often enough to keep the soil moderately moist and fertilized with an acid-based fertilizer every four weeks. Mom enjoyed the fragrant flowers that persisted for several weeks, and when the plant bloomed out she thanked it for the lovely display and tossed it.

If you have other houseplant questions, call my plant guru Lisa Steinkopf, who grows some 400 houseplants in her home greenhouse. Lisa is more than happy to help you out, so call her at Steinkopf Nursery in Farmington Hills, (248) 474-2925, or better yet, e-mail her at steinkopfnursery@gmail.com.

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While it is not a major problem, each year some children and some pets get sick because they munched on a houseplant that looked like it need to be munched.  If you have lots of houseplants in the home, you should be at least certain none of your plants are poisonous; or if they are they are located where children and pets cannot reach them.

Poison Houseplants

Poison Houseplants
Caladium All plant parts Same as Dieffenbachia
Christmas rose Seed and young plants Gastric, nervous system, depression
Crown-of-thorns Milky sap Gastric
Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane), Elephant Ear All parts Intense burning and irritation of the mouth and tongue. Death can occur if base of the tongue swells enough to block the air passage of the throat.
Hyacinth, Narcissus, Daffodil Bulbs Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. May be fatal.
Oleander Leaves, branches Extremely poisonous. Affects the heart, produces severe digestive upset and has caused death.
Rosary Pea, Castor Bean Seeds Fatal. A single Rosary Pea seed has caused death. One or two Castor Bean seeds are near the lethal dose for adults.

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Winter is the perfect time to start an indoor garden. And for inspiration and tips on how to choose and use the right plants, check out Julia Hofley’s houseplant article in the January/February edition of Fine Gardening magazine, www.finegardening.com, now on sale at newsstands.

Hofley, a confessed houseplant-a-holic, spent almost a decade overseeing a large tropical greenhouse stuffed with houseplants during her tenure as the greenhouse manager at Goldner Walsh Nursery in Pontiac.

Julia Hofley never saw a houseplant she didn’t love and started combining, or as she calls it “layering,” plants together in single pots when she ran out of room to house her large collection. This technique allows her to create stunning combos rich in color and texture. Hofley says plants thrive when planted together in pots because of the extra humidity. Also, just like outdoors, the larger the pot, the more moisture it holds, the longer it takes to dry out.

The secret to combining plants is choosing varieties that have similar needs regarding light and moisture. “Astral Gem” Asplenium fern, “Florida Beauty” Dracaena, Prayer plant “Marisela,” Philodendron “Golden Erubescens” and Philodendrim “Aureum” make great plant partners because they look fantastic together and all require bright, indirect light. Typically, in winter that would be a room with a south-facing window.

For most of us, when it comes to caring for houseplants, watering as needed is a prescription for plant death. A better method is to water the plant well and then monitor the soil moisture daily to see how fast it dries out. An inexpensive moisture meter will help you get an accurate reading of the soil condition at the center of a large pot. Then plan to water on the same day of the week, whether it’s weekly, semi-weekly or bi-weekly.

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Choosing the right method of watering and the right watering tool can make a difference in how your indoor garden grows.

Our dendrobem Orchid is potted up in chunky bark, so every week or so I take it to the kitchen sink, set the pot in a dish of water and let it sit for an hour or two. Next its placed on rack for a couple of hours to drain.

A small watering can with a long thin spout is the best for those who grow African violets or other house plants in small pots. The thin spout controls the water flow preventing gushing that floods and overflows the pots. The tiny diameter of the spout also makes it easy to reach under the leaves of African violets and water at soil level. Water splashed on the leaves disfigures the plants by leaving behind permenant water marks.

For those who water larger plants the new Pour and Store watering can from OXO is a real winner. Made of lightweight plastic and available in six colors this OXO watering can is both well balanced and handsomely styled. But what really sets it apart from others is its 360-degree swiveling spout that makes it easy to fill and store because there is no protrusion to get in the way.  Also, facing the spout inward prevents water from sloshing out of container when carrying a full can of water from sink to plant.

Available in three sizes, priced from $9.99 to $24.99, they can be purchased at most independent garden centers or at OXO International (800) 545-44ll : www.oxo.com.

If you’re on the go, consider investing in an Oasis, the self watering system by Claber  (www.Claber.com) that waters your plants automatically for up to 40 days and takes just minutes to set up.

This drip irrigation system is a freestanding unit with a built in pump that runs for an entire year on a single 9-volt battery, so there are no worries should there be a power outage.

This versatile product offers 4 different irrigation programs that, depending on the size, will water up to twenty plants.  Plan to be gone a long time?  Simply have a friend or relative refill the reservoir and your good for another month and a half.

The Oasis is also be the perfect solution for folks who love indoor plants but can’t keep up with the chore of watering. The 6.6-gallon capacity container, will not stick out like a sore thumb. With a suggested retail price of $120, the Oasis is available at English Gardens, Plymouth Nursery and Van Atas.  It can also be ordered online from the Rittenhouse garden catalog: www.rittenhouse.ca (877) 488-1914.

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It’s orchid season, and today you’ll find them in almost any store that sells flowers, be it a garden center, a grocery store, a super store, a hardware big box or a department store. I’m sure somewhere there’s a gas station somewhere selling these exotic lovlies.

Last weekend my friend Julia Dingle and I hit some local malls to score some after season markdowns and Julia came away with a real treasure, a gorgeous Paphiopedilum Lady Slipper Orchid.  Much to our surprise this stunning lady was bargained priced at just $20. I would have expected it to go for $50 bucks or more. But thanks new growing methods tropical orchids are now easy to come by and reasonably priced.

Even better news is orchids may look exotic, but most are easy to grow. They do well in a south or east facing window or under the 14 to 16 hour glow of one or two  40-watt florescent lights. Their bloom periods vary, so careful selection can result in flowering year around.

For those who are space challenged and/ or plantaholics,  minature orchids are the perfect choice. In his new book Minature Orchids (Timber Press $29.95) orchaholic Steven Frowine  profiles 300 miniature dwarf and compact orchids .  For beginners who want to cut to the chase he includes a list of easy to grow varieties and cultivars.

These dainties range in size from under an inch or two in height to a maximium of 12 inches,  so even if your growing space is limited you can still enjoy the exotic beauty of these captivating plants.

Frowine does an excellent job covering the cultivation of these fascinating plants. Along with the basics he includes advice garnered from years of growing experience.   This book is a great book of anyone interested in growing orchids.

If you have friend that’s mad about orchids, the new Timber Press release Tropical Slipper Orchids: Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium Species and Hybrids by Harold Koopowitz ($59.95 www.timberpress.com)  would make a great Valentine gift.

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Winter and early spring are ideal times to look for areas in your yard where problems may be brewing.

Rainwater and snowmelt accumulation can spell real trouble for you and the environment. Some low spots where puddling occurs after a heavy rain, like the one that has developed just in front of my perennial garden should be filled in, but others, those located in areas where the land is below grade may be just the spot to plant a rain garden.

Rain gardens are designed to direct runoff water into a low, vegetated area, where it can be captured and filtered by Mother Nature. The gardens are planted with attractive flowering plants that tolerate the extremes of wet soils and very dry periods.

Ideally rain gardens are best located near impervious surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and down spouts to capture the rain as close as possible to the location where it falls. Areas adjacent to ditches that flood when it rains are another option.  Commercial architects are beginning to incorporate these vegetated infiltration strips and into parking lot designs.

Storm water run off is a huge problem in developed areas where natural vegetative growth has been replaced by hardscape such as buildings, roads, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. Rainwater has no place to go and gushes into sewers and drainage ditches taking the express route, smack into our lakes and streams.

Rainwater picks up pollutants in the air and as it flows over the landscape it picks up the residue of grease, and toxic chemicals from vehicles; viruses and bacteria from failing septic systems, road de-icing salts; heavy metals; and water-soluble fertilizers and pesticides from turf management.

This heavily polluted runoff water becomes a water quality issue when it flows directly into our lakes and streams. The pollutants, harm fish and wildlife populations, kill native vegetation, foul drinking water supplies, and make recreational areas unsafe.

Rain gardens consist of native vegetation plantings strategically located to intercept this runoff.  They are natural biofilters that that have the ability to clean and purify contaminated water and allow it to filter back into the ground water supply the way Mother Nature intended

Building a rain garden in not difficult, but there are some important considerations that should be addressed including watershed hydrology, existing drainage patterns, and aesthetics. The good news is, it’s not rocket science and you don’t need to be a landscape architect to install one.

Plant selection is key to success when making a rain garden. Most perennials need well-drained soil and cannot survive in areas that remain wet for any length of time. So it’s important to choose those that thrive in damp soils and tolerate standing water for short periods of time. Choosing native plants has several advantages, they are adapted to the local climate and, once established, seldom need watering or fertilizing and they tolerate drought. They are also attractive to diverse native butterflies and provide habitats for wildlife, especially birds.

Rain gardens are not intended to detain water for long periods, so mosquitoes should not be a problem. Ideally, runoff will not be detained for longer than four days. It takes 10 to 14 days for a mosquito to go from egg to adult.

African violet tip

Cindy Merritt of Troy e-mailed with valuable advice regarding watering African violets. She’s been growing them for over thirty years and attributes much of her success to her watering techniques.

She fills a clean gallon milk jug with warm tap water. (Cindy lives in Troy, so this is city water.) She then inserts 2 tea bags into the jug, draping the strings over the side and lets the potion sit and brew for two days. This trick acidifies the water.  Merritt then adds liquid African violet fertilizer according to the package directions and waters her plants.

Merritt uses ceramic self-watering pots that are especially designed for growing African violets. The 2 part ceramic pots contain an inner pot onto which the plant is planted and it fits into a second pot that holds the supply of liquid.  The water is wicked through the inner pot to the plant. As long as the container is filled with water the plant will receive the right amount of moisture. That takes the mystery out of when and how much to water.

I have seen these pots, priced between $4 and $12, at Wal-mart, Home Depot and English Gardens.

Merritt keeps one of her beauties blooming on her desk at work because

She has a work light directly overhead. She says she is always

surprised by how many men love gardening and comment

on her plants.

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