Sneak Peak at New, Unique Houseplants from Costa Farms

Philodendron ‘Golden Crocodile’

In the beginning of March, I spent a few days in Miami attending Costa Farms’ Season Premiere event. This was at their trial gardens and for me as a garden communicator, this was an opportunity to see how plants performed as well as learn about new plant introductions and meet the plant breeders. Costa Farms is one of the largest horticultural growers in the world. It is a fourth generation, family-run company that employees more than 6,000 people and grows plants on 5,000 acres. The company started in 1961 when Jose Costa Senior purchased 30 acres to grow tomatoes in the winter and calamondin citrus in the summer. Soon he was growing houseplants and now the company has expanded into annuals, perennials, and tropical plants for the garden.

Philodendron ‘Ring of Fire’

I attended the event with several other GardenComm members. Justin Hancock, senior horticulturist at Costa Farms, treated us to a sneak preview of the 2023 and 2024 introductions for Costa Farms’ Trending Tropicals® collection. He also gave us a tour of the packing and shipping facility where orders are carefully wrapped, packaged, and put on trucks to deliver across the country. Each plant order comes with a postcard providing light, water, and fertilizer requirements as well as growing tips. They have a staff dedicated to answering the customers’ plant questions and a very informative website.

Although you can see their houseplants at Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, and other retail locations, you can also buy direct via their shop costa website.

Most of the Trending Tropicals® collection of houseplants are selected by their plant hunters (yes, that really is a profession) who travel to other countries to look for unique plants that can be grown here. Once they identify possibilities, they bring them back to Costa Farms to propagate and trial before they are sold to the public. Some of the plants Justin showed us were discovered by staff at Costa Farms as “sports” (natural mutations) from their current inventory.

Dieffenbachia ‘Crocodile’

Justin showed us 19 new plants for 2023 and 2024 in one of the production warehouses. In my descriptions below, I hyperlinked to those varieties that are in stock and ready to be ordered directly from their website at the time of this writing.

Of the 19, there are three 2024 introductions that are not available yet and not on the Costa Farms’ website but here is a sneak peek at these fascinating plants. All are large houseplants, perfect for living room décor, and easy to grow in bright light. Philodendron ‘Golden Crocodile’ has large, serrated leaves that first appear as golden yellow maturing to light green. Philodendron ‘Ring of Fire’ has variegated foliage with splashes of white, cream, and yellow. Dieffenbachia ‘Crocodile’ has large green leaves speckled white or light green. The back of the leaves’ midrib has “scales” – like a crocodile’s back.

In the photo above, from left to right in the back:  Epipremnum ‘Lemon Meringue’, Aglonema ‘Solar Flare’, Spathiphyllum ‘Sophia’. Two in front from left to right: Alocasia azlanii and Cordyline ‘Mini Me’.

Epipremnum Lemon Meringue is a pothos or devil’s ivy with gold leaf margins. It is very easy to grow and can tolerate low light. Aglonema ‘Solar Flare’ also is easy to grow and can take low light and a bit of dryness — perfect for those who forget to water plants or travel frequently. ‘Solar Flare’ is variegated with white petioles (stems), almost like a bok choi Chinese cabbage. Spathiphyllum ‘Sophia’ (also known as peace lily) has variegated green leaves. Cordyline ‘Mini Me’ is a great tabletop houseplant. Given its small stature, it packs a punch of pink foliage, especially if given bright light. Alocasia azlanii has very dark purple, almost metallic colored leaves. It too is a small plant, perfect for tables or even terrariums.

In the photo above, from left to right in the back: Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’, Philodendron ‘Pink Lady’, and Epipremnum amplissimum ‘Silver Streak’. The two in front from left to right: Philodendron ‘White King’ and Philodendron ‘Golden Violin’.

Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ is a climbing vine with bronze-green leaves splashed with pink. ‘Pink Lady’ has gold green foliage with pink petioles (stems). Epipremnum amplissimum ‘Silver Streak’ is an unusual pothos in that it has narrow, long green leaves. To me, its branching habit makes it look like an orchid. White Knight has white markings on green leaves. Philodendron ‘Golden Violin’ is coming soon; you may not see it on the website now. The new growth is golden yellow, changing to chartreuse. This is a climber that needs bright light, and the leaves get larger if grown vertically.


In the photo above, from left to right in the back:  Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Chameleon’, Aglonema spathomena, and Monstera standleyana albo-variegata. In front center is Tradescantia ‘Roxxo’.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a mouthful; most people just say “ZZ plant.” With ‘Chameleon’, the new foliage is bright yellow because the leaves do not have chlorophyll. This plant can survive in low light plant but you want to give it as much light as possible to encourage new growth, thus new yellow leaves. As the leaves age, the chlorophyll develops and the foliage becomes green. Aglonema spathomena looks like a spathiphyllum but there are no flowers. The foliage is variegated with dark and light green colors. Monstera standleyana albo-variegata is a creamy white variegated monstera plant. Unlike other monstera plants, the leaves do not have the Swiss cheese effect of holes in the foliage. Tradescantia ‘Roxxo’ is an upright form of tradescantia. The thick foliage is dark green with purple undersides.

Dieffenbachia ‘Cool Beauty’

For a fuller, bushy Dieffenbachia, try ‘Cool Beauty’ with green and white variegated leaves and white margins. This plant suckers (puts forth new stems) from the base. It can reach a foot tall — still a good height for a table.

Another new introduction that will appear on Costa Farms’ website soon is Alocasia ‘Jacklyn’. Jacklyn has very large, dark green, fuzzy leaves with reticulated stems (big word for color changes). This unusually hairy alocasia plant just screams ‘Amazon River’!

All of these plants would be great houseplants for your home. Explore their other plant collections on their website and sign up for their newsletter to learn of new plant introductions.

Alocasia ‘Jacklyn’




Free, Local Monthly Gardening Newsletter for the DC Metro Area

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter, a free monthly newsletter about gardening in the DC metro area. Enter your e-mail here to subscribe. Each monthly issue lists at least 50 if not 100 local gardening events, recently published gardening books, articles, tips, and news specific to this area. Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter always has a giveaway, an opportunity to win a free plant or gardening-related product. For the upcoming April 2023 issue of Pegplant’s Post, the giveaway is one pump pressure water sprayer bottle from True Leaf Market.

The pump pressure water spray bottle has a 2 liter capacity and an adjustable nozzle, from mist to stream. It is ideal for watering microgreens and seeds; applying fertilizer; or increasing humidity for tropical houseplants and ferns. Based in Utah, True Leaf Market is an independent, non-GMO seed company offering everything from flower, herb, and garden seeds to microgreens, sprouts, wheat grass, and grains. They also have growing kits, juicers, pet products, fermentation products, and hydroponic and gardening supplies. Their website provides a range of resources and information including videos and FAQs on topics such as starting seeds, winter gardening success, shade vegetables, sprouting, wheat grass, mushrooms, and microgreens. True Leaf Market has a loyalty rewards program, a free newsletter, and a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If you don’t already subscribe, subscribe now to the free Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter to be eligible to win this fantastic giveaway!

Beware the Bradford Pear Tree!

Spring is in the air and so is the white flowering Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana). You have probably seen tons of them in the Washington DC metro area. Right now in March, they are really pretty with so many small white flowers – like puffs of white clouds. But then you begin to see them everywhere: along the highway, in vacated lots, and in every industrial park – like weeds.

The Bradford pear was originally thought to be a sterile tree. As new cultivars were created, the cultivars were able to cross pollinate, resulting in small fruit favored by birds (thus spreading the seed). As time has gone by and the trees have matured, we have learned that they are structurally weak. They develop such a steep V-shaped branching structure, they can easily split in half.

In addition to their invasive nature and their ability to break, the white blossoms have a foul, fish-like odor. If you stand near them in full bloom, the odor is very strong! Fortunately this goes away when the blooming season is over in the spring.

Contrary to the name, there are no “pear” fruit on the tree. This is an ornamental tree, not a fruit tree. But of all the ornamental trees you can plant on your property, this is probably the worst choice. There are so many other better choices, including native trees, that you should not even consider this one. And if you just purchased a home that has been landscaped with a small Bradford pear, pull it out immediately!

Virginia Bluebell Season Is Almost Here!

Virginia bluebell season is around the corner so plan now to see carpets of this ephemeral wildflower here in Virginia. Although mid-April has been the peak time in the past, it may come earlier since we had such a mild winter. Here are a few places in Northern Virginia to view colonies of bluebells; some places are already reporting blossoms now in March.

Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are synonymous with early spring. Their blue trumpet-shaped flowers bloom above the green foliage in deciduous woodlands before the trees leaf out. These perennials emerge early in the year, bloom for a few weeks in March or April, and then die back to become dormant in the summer. The plants like the moist soil of the forest, high in organic matter. They self-seed and create colonies which is why you will see carpets of blue in the parks below. If you look closely, you will see that the buds are pink opening up to blue but the overall effect is a blue haze. These are native wildflowers, but you can purchase the plants from nurseries.

Balls Bluff Regional Battlefield Park (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority), Balls Bluff Road, Leesburg.

Bull Run Regional Park (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority), 7700 Bull Run Drive, Centerville. This park has a Bluebell Trail just off the Bull Run Occoquan Trail near the Atlantis Waterpark.

Great Falls Park (National Park Service), 9200 Old Dominion Drive, McLean.

Manassas National Battlefield Park (National Park Service), 6511 Sudley Road, Manassas. Best view is from the Stone Bridge.

Merrimac Farm (Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), 15014 Deepwood Lane, Nokesville.

Riverbend Park (Fairfax County Park Authority), 8700 Potomac Hills Street, Great Falls. Riverbend Park is celebrating bluebells on Saturday, April 8, 2023, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. There is a fee for attending this family event; however, the public can visit anytime to view the bluebells.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve (Fairfax County Park Authority). 7400 Georgetown Park, McLean.

Turkey Run Park (National Park Service), George Washington Memorial Parkway, McLean.

Sixteen Indoor Seed Starting Tips

marigoldsGardeners like to start seeds indoors to get a jump start on warm season plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and melons. They also start seeds indoors to be able to grow plants that have a longer growing season than the season in which they live. Before you begin to sow seeds indoors, read these sixteen seed starting tips to have as much success as possible. If you haven’t ordered your seeds yet, here is a list of seed companies. Continue reading

Powdery Mildew Resistant Zinnias

Mexican zinnia

I grow zinnias every year in my Northern Virginia garden. Zinnias are probably one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed in this area. These warm season annuals can be sown directly into a container or on the ground after the last frost. They need full sun, good air circulation, and they are not particular about the soil. The flowers attract butterflies and bees; deer do not bother the plants.

The only hitch is that some species are prone to powdery mildew. Our hot and humid summer is an ideal environment for this fungal disease that creates a white coating on the plants. It does not kill the plants but makes the foliage unsightly. However, there are some zinnias that are resistant to powdery mildew.

Narrow-leaf zinnia, Zinnia angustifolia or Z. linearis, is a foot tall, bushy plant with narrow leaves and small, single, daisy-like flowers. The flowers are about an inch wide with single-colored petals such as orange, red, pink, white, or yellow. Because of its compact size, it makes an excellent window box or container plant and can be used in the garden as a border plant. These are small but you cut a bunch and put in a small vase.

Zinnia angustifolia

Mexican zinnia (Z. haageana) is like narrow-leaf zinnia in shape, size, and foliage. The flowers are a little larger and can be single, semi-double, or double petals. Each flower has more than one color – usually a spectrum of sunset colors: red, orange, burgundy, yellow, and cream. I discovered them when I purchased Renee’s Garden Persian Carpet mix, which I love. There are other flower blends such as Aztec Sunset, Jazzy Mix, Old Mexico, and Soleado. Again, small flowers but a bunch can be cut for small vases. These are excellent for containers and as border plants.

There are two series of zinnias that have been bred specifically for powdery mildew resistance:  Z. marylandica, also called Zahara, and the Profusion series. Zahara has flowers that are larger than the two previously mentioned species, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. There is a wider flower color range too. The plants are taller, about 18 inches high, which is better for floral arrangements. Profusion is pretty much the same as Zahara, a taller zinnia with larger flowers. Zahara and Profusion give you a wide range of colors to pick from, these are easy to find in seed catalogs.

All of these are going to be easier to find if you look for the seed instead of a plant in a garden center. The companies below have these varieties and here is a list of more than 100 seed companies if you want to look for more zinnias.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Park Seed
Renee’s Garden

Mexican zinnias in a vase


Subscribe to Free, Local Gardening Newsletter

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter, a free monthly newsletter about gardening in the DC metro area. Enter your e-mail here to subscribe. Each monthly issue lists at least 50 if not 100 local gardening events, recently published gardening books, articles, tips, and news specific to this area. Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter always has a giveaway, an opportunity to win a free plant or gardening-related product. For the upcoming March 2023 issue of Pegplant’s Post, the giveaway is a GardenWall Kit for 10 containers! This giveaway is for subscribers only.

AgroSci Garden Products has produced the AgroSci GardenWall Kit. The kits come in three different count options: 5, 10, or 20 pots. The giveaway is one 10-pot kit. These are easy, do it yourself assembly kits. Each kit contains the frames, pots, pot components, and installation hardware. The 10 pots can be arranged horizontally with five above and five below or vertically, five alongside five. These are intended to be installed outside along a wall, banister, or mailbox and have a unique, easy watering system. The 10 pots are ideal for plants that are 4 to 6 inches in size. There is a video on the website as well as a pdf instruction manual to show you how to install the kits. GardenWall kits come with a 3-year warranty. If you don’t already subscribe, subscribe now to the free Pegplant’s Post Gardening Newsletter to be eligible to win this fantastic giveaway!

Morning Glories: Easy-to-grow-from-seed Flowering Vines

Heavenly Blue

Morning Glories are so popular, they need little description. I plant them every year on a wooden banister. Their brightly colored faces greet me in the morning. By summer’s end, they have become close friends with the other plants, clasping their thin tendrils around branches of neighboring shrubs and perennials.

Growing morning glories from seed is easy if you bypass that hard seed coat. Either soak the seeds in water overnight before planting or nick the seed coat with a file to allow water to permeate. I start my seeds by soaking in water the night before. The next day, I sow them in small plastic containers with seed starting mix, under lights in my house. I do this in late April and transplant after last frost, typically Mother’s Day here in Northern Virginia. Morning glory seeds can be direct sown after Mother’s Day as well. They do need support so make sure they are planted in a place where the tendrils can clasp on to something.

Morning glories must be grown in full sun for the flowers to open up in the morning. Each flower only lasts one day but the vines produce many flowers. The vines prefer well-drained soil, not too rich or one gets more foliage than flowers. There is no need to deadhead or fertilizer.

Grandpa Ott’s

These annuals produce large seeds, many large seeds so it is easy to find them and save for next year. When the seeds develop in the fall, they are black with a papery brown coat. I cut the stem and drop the cluster of seedheads in a paper bag. Later, in the winter, I separate the seeds. One vine can produce many so this is a perfect plant to grow for seed exchanges.

For a while I have been growing Heavenly Blue from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Heavenly Blue is an heirloom with bright blue flowers and a white throat. This year I got Glacier Star from Renee’s Garden which is light blue with dark blue strips, creating a pinwheel effect. This is an heirloom so if I save the seeds, the resulting plants will look the same as the parents. If you want to save seeds, look for heirlooms or open pollinated, not hybrids.

Usually, morning glories have five fused petals in pink, white, magenta, or purple colors. For something different, check out Botanical Interests’ Chocolate which is salmon brown, or the Flying Saucer which is white with broad light blue streaks and a yellow throat. Or try Japanese morning glories from Baker Creek — the Kikyozaki mixed has pointed petals and the Imperial Japanese mix has a wide variety of markings on the blossoms. Kitchen Garden Seeds has a frilly pink called Split Second and a double purple one called Sunrise Serenade.

Try growing this easy annual vine this year. Morning glories are a great investment — one packet of seeds can reward you with flowers every year..

Mix of blue and pink

Parsley: Easy to Grow Culinary Herb


parsley in January

Parsley is one of those easy to grow culinary herbs that adds beauty to your garden and flavor to your cooking. Here in Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground in mild winters.

Parsley is a biennial, it produces foliage the first year and flowers the second year. I have set aside a small area in the ground I call the parsley patch. There are enough plants so that some are in the first year (when I want to harvest foliage for the kitchen) and some are in the second year (when I want them to flower and develop seed). For extra luck, I also scatter seeds every spring. This way I can harvest fresh parsley year round.

Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. My plants are in the ground but parsley can be grown in containers and window boxes for the summer. I grow flat leaf or Italian parsley, which is best for culinary purposes. There is a curly leaf type that is best used as a garnish.

curly parsley in summer

To harvest parsley, cut outer, older leaves at the base, leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.  Cut with scissors (don’t pull) and put in a large bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes (to wash the foliage and drown any bugs). Pat dry and cut the leaves and stems into small pieces with scissors or a knife.

I use parsley for my bean stew, roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes, pasta, and salads. I also use the foliage for garnish for holiday dinners and plates of fruit. I have heard of folks using it in smoothies. In addition to its flavor, parsley has high levels of vitamins A, C, and K, plus a high level of chlorophyll that freshens your breath!

Try growing parsley from seed this year to create your own parsley patch. Here is a list of more than 100 seed companies.  Or, you can always find a small plant in the spring in local garden centers and either plant in the ground or in a container.

Streptocarpus: A Mouthful but Easy-to-Grow Flowering Houseplant

flowerIf you are looking for the perfect houseplant, try a streptocarpus. A mouthful I know but it is a beautiful flowering plant, cousin to the African violet but with more drama. These are easy to find now in the winter at local garden centers with houseplants.  It is unique, festive, and great gift for Valentine’s Day.houseplant

Native to Africa, streptocarpus is commonly called a Cape primrose. There are more than 135 species, and the size varies. The plants you see in the garden centers will have long, strap-like leaves with tubular flowers high above the plant. There are some though with only a single leaf that can range from a few inches to a few feet in length.

Grow these plants like you would grow an African violet. They need strong indirect sunlight by the window or fluorescent tubes. They grow best with day temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees and night temperatures between 65 and 68 degrees. They do not like heat so if you put them outdoors in the summer with your other houseplants, they may perish.streptocarpus

The soil should be evenly moist, but not wet. If you let the soil begin to dry out just a little bit between waterings, that would be ideal. Do not let water get on the leaves. There is specially formulated African violet soil which will work well for streptocarpus plants. They need to be fertilized with diluted balanced fertilizer. A balanced fertilizer has the same proportion of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, the three numbers below the name of the fertilizer. To prevent a build up of fertilizer salts, periodically leach the plant by letting water run through the soil and out the drainage holes.

A streptocarpus is a type of a gesneriad, member of the Gesneriaceae family. These include the African violet, espiscia, columnea, sinningia, and aeschynanthus to name a few. If you really enjoy growing streptocarpus, try your hand at growing other gesneriads and consider joining the local National Capital Area Chapter of the Gesneriad Society. 

cape primrose