If you are looking for the perfect houseplant gift, try a streptocarpus. A mouthful I know but it is a beautiful flowering houseplant — cousin to the African violet but with more drama. I came across several at Merrifield Garden Center this weekend. What a perfect hostess gift for a holiday party. It is unique, festive, and will last longer than a poinsettia.
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. Merrifield has the Greenfuse Botanicals (California-based breeding company) line called Lady Slippers. 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 along with your other houseplants, they may perish.
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. In our area, gesneriads are greenhouse or house plants and 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.
When we think of gingerbread, we think of breads, cakes, and little edible men. But what is gingerbread really? Where does the “ginger” come from?
The term “gingerbread” is from Latin “zingiber” via Old French “gingebras,” referring to preserved ginger. The term “Zingiber” is derived from Greek “zingiberis” which comes from Sanskrit name of the spice “singabera.” Continue reading
Thanksgiving cactus with yellow anthers and sharp leaf edges
A popular blooming holiday plant is the “Holiday Cactus” which is an umbrella term to include the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and the Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata). These are not cacti at all but epiphytes from the Brazilian rainforest. In their native environment, they grow among tree branches, in the humid, shady jungles. Continue reading
The first time I forced bulbs to bloom indoors was when I attended a horticulture class at Northern Virginia Community College in the 1970s. We were given paperwhite bulbs (Narcissus tazetta) that we placed in a shallow dish of water and pebbles. Continue reading
Recently an article appeared in FFXNow.com (Fairfax County local news) with the headline “One of the world’s most wanted insects has landed in Fairfax County.” I immediately contacted Adria Bordas, Fairfax County’s Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) agent for horticulture. Spotted lanternfly is one insect I do not want in my garden. If you think a downpour of 17-year cicadas is gross, try looking at a tree dripping with spotted lanternfly. Continue reading
Red Pearl amaryllis, photo courtesy of Longfield Gardens.
Growing an amaryllis is easy, just plant and water. Unlike the spring blooming bulbs, an amaryllis bulb does not need a chilling period. It is a tropical plant, hardy to Zones 9-12. Once planted, these large bulbs can bloom in time for the holidays, depending on the bulb. They are pricey, but you can coax the bulb to rebloom the following year.
This fall I planted camassia bulbs in honor of the Meriwether Lewis and William Clark historic expedition that started in 1804. I always think of them when I see a field of the blue flowers so I thought I would try growing them this year. Mine is a cultivar called ‘Blue Melody’ but of course they were dealing with the wild species Camassia quamash. Continue reading
Now that winter is coming, you can still grow your greens, just indoors. Growing microgreens is a fun, cheap way to grow nutritious vegetable seedlings for sandwiches, wraps, soup, and salads. Microgreens are the shoots of edible plants, requiring very little space and minimal cost. Microgreens differ from sprouts. Microgreen seeds germinate in a growing medium and after one or two weeks, the “micro” stems and leaves are cut to the soil level and eaten. Sprouts are seeds grown in a moist container—no soil. After a few days, the root and seed are harvested and eaten. Continue reading
The first time I grew roselle in my Virginia garden, I was full of angst as the summer ended with no flowers in sight. Although I know roselle is a tropical plant, I did not know it is photoperiodic. In other words, roselle is a short-day plant which means that fall’s short days and long nights encourage the flowers to form. However, here in the DC metro area, the October frosts will truncate this tropical plant’s life. That year I only had a few flowers in September and the plant died in October before I could get a good harvest. I have since learned that it is best to grow an early maturing strain in order to get a good harvest. Continue reading