Category Archives: houseplants

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Shamrock Plants

Although it looks like a three-leaf clover because of its trifoliate leaf structure, a shamrock plant is actually a species of Oxalis. These green or burgundy foliage plants are often sold as novelty houseplants, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. The small flowers rise high above the leaves with five white or pink to white petals. Most people grow them as houseplants but they can be grown outdoors in the summer here in Virginia. Because they are small, it is best to grow them in containers (off the ground level) for better viewing. Shamrock plants grow from rhizomes called pips which can rot if overwatered so it is best to let the soil dry out a little between watering. Eventually the plant will go through a dormant period and produce more pips that can be dug up for more plants.

The plant is best grown in indirect light with cool temperatures. Usually it is only after you purchase the plant that you learn of its charm:  the leaves move up and down every day. In the daytime, at maximum light, the leaves are horizontal or open. By nightfall, when light levels are reduced, the leaves bend down almost as if the plant is wilting. Don’t worry, this is normal and does not mean that you have to water.

Shamrocks are beautiful houseplants but there is one caveat: they do not combine well with pets. Oxalis contains a high level of oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.

U.S. Botanic Garden’s New Exhibit: Mediterranean Room

pelargonium (2)

Pelargonium

The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG), in Washington DC, has just opened a new exhibit: the Mediterranean room. Part of the Conservatory, this room is full of plants native to or commonly cultivated in Mediterranean climates, characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters with only occasional frost. Five areas have a Mediterranean climate: the Mediterranean Basin, California, Chile, South Africa, and Australia. These areas produce a wide range of foods reflected in Mediterranean cuisines: fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and unsaturated plant-based fats. Eating a Mediterranean diet has been associated with health benefits such as longer life spans, lower average body weights, and reduction of risks of heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers.

“We are thrilled to showcase the amazing flora of Mediterranean regions, which are some of the most diverse habitats in the world,” said Ari Novy, executive director. “Beyond their ecological value, the Mediterranean regions have given us some of nature’s most enjoyable bounty including olives, figs, and wine. The fruits of the Mediterranean have truly enhanced both our health and cuisines.”

kale lettuce thyme viola

Kale, Lettuce, Thyme, and Violets

fig tree

Fig Tree (Ficus carica)

This particular conservatory room has not had a new thematic exhibit in 15 years. The idea germinated several years ago when staff horticulturist Adam Pyle suggested that many of our foods and edible plants come from the Mediterranean region. Additionally, this cuisine has the highest number of foods that people recognize today. In an era where the number of people who produce food has reduced dramatically while the number of people who live in urban areas has increased, most people are not connected to food production, agriculture, and gardening. However, there is a high degree of “relatability” with Mediterranean foods–many people recognize citruses, pomegranates, olives, grapes, and figs, and culinary herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

The Mediterranean room is bright but not hot, colored in soft yellows and blues to complement the yellow and blue tiles of the fountain. On one side is an urn modified to be a fountain and a tiled basin of water and on the opposite side is a 53-foot mural painted in hues of blue against a yellow wall.  Rolling pastures, fields of grain, tall cypress trees, and ribbons of blue and purple flowers evoke images of a sunny Mediterranean country.

Arbutus 'Marina'

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus ‘Marina’)

Visitors may recognize common culinary herbs in terracotta pots: rosemary, sage, thyme, fennel, parsley, and cilantro. More unusual herbs include rue, absinthe (Artemisia absinthium), golden feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium aureum), and fern leaf lavender (Lavandula pinnata). Edibles such as lettuce, kale, and spinach are grouped together in shallow containers. In the ground are fava bean plants, pineapple-guava (Acca sellowiana), bay laurel, fig, pomegranate, olives, and several different types of citruses.

To highlight the yellow and blue tiles in the fountain, flowering plants are strategically placed across the room from the purple-flowered pelargoniums, light lavender heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens ‘Marine’), yellow and peach snapdragons, and pendulous yellow blossoms of the tall flowering maples (Abutilon). One arch is covered with bougainvillea not yet in bloom but the other arch is covered by a black coral pea vine (Kennedia nigricans) blooming with slender black flowers. The sweet pea shrub (Polygala x dalmaisiana) has beautiful purple blossoms and the strawberry tree (Arbutus ‘Marina’) has bunches of cream flowers, very similar to a Pieris.

black coral pea (4)

Black Coral Pea (Kennedia nigricans)

sweet pea shrub (2)

Sweet Pea Shrub (Polygala x dalmaisiana)

The Mediterranean room is only the beginning of USBG’s next foray into communicating the importance of food production and agriculture. Devin Dotson, public affairs and exhibits specialist, envisions many activities this year from additional signs highlighting specific plants, special tours, food programs, storytelling, and cooking classes. This new exhibit builds upon and continues USBG’s interest in reconnecting the public with food production and agriculture and the pivotal role all botanical gardens can play in educating people about agricultural and the future of food. USBG has had several exhibits in the past communicating the importance of plants through food such as its Food for Thought exhibit, Amber Waves of Grain, and Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots. The USBG is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10:00 am to 5:00 p.m. The Conservatory is located at 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, on the southwest side of the Capitol. More information is available at http://www.usbg.gov.

Abutilon 'Canary Bird'

 

Keep that Poinsettia after the Holidays!

Odecember2015poinsettia 007dds are you have a poinsettia in your home for the holidays. In the United States, poinsettias are grown in greenhouses and programmed to bloom in time for Christmas. Try to emulate the bright light and balmy 70 degrees the greenhouse has to offer in your home so your poinsettia will survive the holidays. Keep the soil moist but don’t let the roots sit in water and make sure the pot it came in has drainage holes. After the holidays, grow it as if it were a houseplant. With luck, you may be able to see colored bracts (the “flowers”) again next year. Keep the plant in bright light and 70 degree temperature. In the spring, cut the stems back about half the length and either keep indoors or put outdoors in the warm summer months. Apply a houseplant fertilizer and make sure the plant does not dry out. In June, transfer into a slightly bigger pot and in September bring the plant back indoors. To induce flowering, give the plant bright light each day and fourteen hours of uninterrupted dark each night beginning in early October (as in cover with a box or put in a closet). Keep the soil moist but stop fertilizing. The color should form on the bracts in six to eight weeks.december2015poinsettia 010

Discovering New Plants and Gardening Products at IGC East Trade Show

Last week, I visited IGC East in Baltimore and was impressed with several new gardening products as well as plants. IGC is a trade show where staff from Independent Garden Centers gather to learn and possibly order new plants and products from wholesale vendors to sell at their garden center. They also have the opportunity to attend lectures designed to help them in their nursery business. I attended as press and visited hundreds of vendor booths to see what new items might appear in the garden centers next year.

Medinilla on left and Dolce Vita on the right

Medinilla on left and Dolce Vita on the right

I think the biggest “Wow!” plant was the Medinilla and the double bloom variety called Dolce Vita. Native to the Philippines, these large-leaved plants are grown as houseplants year round or outdoors in the summer here in our Mid-Atlantic area. They have incredibly large pink flowers that last for months. I originally thought “banana” when I first saw them because of their pendulous shape but the spokesperson from Northend Gardens said the two varieties are related to the tibouchina plant, another tropical plant that is commonly sold in the summer here for its purple flowers. A series of Medinilla plants on a rafter with the pink blossoms hanging down would be such an eye catching “Wow!” for customers in a nursery but also in any public area such as restaurant or store.

Succulent Combos

Lil’ Cuties

For me, the second “Wow!” plant was a red-stemmed, green-leaved succulent that I spotted in the Overdevest Nurseries’ booth. This particular plant stood out for me as unique but it was part of their line of “Lil’ Cuties,” arrangements of succulents in small containers. Drought-resistant, these succulent combinations offer a lot of color for minimal effort; perfect for decks and patios.

Overdevest’s new line of “Chick Charms” was cute and would make a nice gift. Chick Charms are hens and chicks in small containers, each with a novelty name. This particular collection of hens and chicks were selected from an evaluation of over 400 varieties of sempervivums; who knew there could be so many!ChickCharms

In the world of edibles, I thought 2 Plant International had an exciting idea: The “Seeds are Easy” line of cleverly designed burlap bags of seeds would entice anyone to start growing herbs or vegetables.

Seeds are Easy

Seeds are Easy

These bags are easy to pick up by the handles, making them a clean, no mess gift–easy to drop into the shopping cart. All one has to do is water and watch the seeds germinate and grow. Perfect for windowsills. Distributed by Bloom Pad North America, there are bags of tea herbs, culinary herbs, and vegetables. They also sell a sprouts glass jar with sprout seeds such as radish, mustard, and alfalfa.

Lake Valley Seed packages of sprouts

Lake Valley Seed packages of sprouts

Speaking of sprouts, Lake Valley Seed has increased their line of sprouts and I love the design of the seed packets. You should be able to find their rack of seed packets in your local garden center – look for alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean, radish, rainbow mix, salad mix, and sandwich mix. My family would be particularly interested in eating the sandwich mix and the salad mix, which I know are easy to grow indoors.

And for the upcoming holidays, gardeners may be interested in the new line of soaps by Garden Voyage Botanicals. These are all natural, shea butter enriched soaps made in the U.S.A. Of particular interest is the Gardener’s soap with cranberry seeds and walnut shell powder and a special Noel holiday line of peppermint, bayberry, and evergreen soaps. I am always looking for a good soap to use after gardening, I hope Santa puts some of these in my stocking this year.

Gardener's, Peppermint, and Lavender soaps

Gardener’s, Peppermint, and Lavender soaps

Flexzilla Garden Hose

Flexzilla Garden Hose

But really Santa, try fitting a Flexzilla garden hose in the stocking this year. I had seen these kink-resistant garden hoses on the P. Allen Smith Facebook page but at IGC East I was able to see a demonstration of the swivel grip connections that make them easy to fit onto the spigot and garden attachment – really ingenious!  Plus these hoses have extreme all weather flexibility making them easy to bend around trees and bushes and are drinking water safe. Flexzilla markets its products in its signature lime green color and its garden hoses come in various lengths. P. Allen Smith introduced the “water colors” collection of blue, green, coral, and brown in 50-feet lengths.  I don’t care if Santa gets me a water colors shade or the lime green — a kink-free hose with swivel grip is a must for every gardener!

Two other new items for veggie gardeners like me: Neptune’s Harvest, a well-known line of organic fertilizers, will introduce a liquid tomato and vegetable fertilizer next year with a 2-4-2 formula. Made with hydrolyzed fish, molasses, seaweed, yucca extract and humic acid, this all natural fertilizer is supposed to repel deer. That’s what I need for those few times I accidentally left the garden gate open only to discover in the morning that my pepper plants have been decapitated.

EarthBox Root & Veg Garden Kit, photo courtesy of EarthBox by Novelty Mfg.

EarthBox Root & Veg Garden Kit, photo courtesy of EarthBox by Novelty Mfg.

The second new item hails from my favorite self-watering system, EarthBox, which will introduce a root and veggie box  in 2016 designed to be deeper for root vegetables. I have several of the original EarthBoxes on my deck that I use specifically for tomatoes and I never have a tomato disease problem so I am most interested in trying the new design for root crops. These boxes are taller than the original EarthBox and square instead of rectangle but with the same tube, screen, fertilizer, and black plastic wrap.

These are just a few highlights from spending a day at IGC East. If you don’t see these items at your independent garden center next year, contact the dealer directly (click on the hyperlink) to locate a local retailer in your area.

Hyacinths: Easy, Indoor Winter Blooms

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Box of hyacinth bulb/vase, Merrifield Garden Center

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Assortment of single bulbs at Merrifield Garden Center

Forcing hyacinths to bloom indoors is easy. Although hyacinths need a chilling period, keeping them in a paper bag in the fridge for 8 to 10 weeks will achieve this effect.  Make sure you label the bag so your family does not mistake them for onions. When the chilling period is over, put the bulbs in glass forcing vases or wide-mouth jars with pebbles so the roots are in water and the bulbs are not. Place in indirect light. As they grow, give more light, but avoid direct sun. After flowering, plant the bulbs in the garden in late spring/early summer for flowers in the garden next spring.  Hyacinths are deer resistant and will come back in the garden year after year in our area. Compared to other bulbs, hyacinth bulbs are cheap, less than two dollars for high quality, individual bulbs or six or seven dollars for a package of three. Traditionally, hyacinth vases or forcing vases are used to hold the bulbs.  These are pinched vases that allow the bulbs to sit above the water. I have had mine for so many years I don’t know where they came from but you can buy them at large independent garden centers, through online garden supply stores, or sometimes as a boxed combo of bulb and vase. It is not necessary to use these; you can place the bulb on a layer of pebbles or marbles in a wide-mouthed jar, like a jam or Mason jar.

my forcing vases

my forcing vases

Mine will go into the fridge tonight and 10 weeks later, on January 22, (mark it on the calendar) I will take place them in the forcing vases. I look forward to enjoying the beauty and fragrance for weeks, way before my garden hyacinths bloom outside!

Amaryllis: Perfect Holiday Gift and Decor

Growing an amaryllis for holiday blooms is so easy, just plant and water. Unlike the spring blooming bulbs, an amaryllis bulb does not need a chilling period. Once planted, these large bulbs can grow and bloom in 7-10 weeks. The flowers last for a long time and the plant can be coaxed to re bloom again the following year. You can buy amaryllis bulbs now as hostess gifts for Thanksgiving, give the bulbs to friends for Christmas so they can enjoy the blooms during winter, start the bulbs now to give the blooming plants to friends for Christmas, or start the bulbs now to decorate your own home for the holidays.November2014hyacinthamaryllis 123

This past week, I took a quick look at a Virginia independent garden center and the local Home Depot to see what types of amaryllis bulbs and packages they offered. I discovered that amaryllis can be bought as a single, large bulb, for you to pot up; as a gift box of a “pre-planted” bulb (in a plastic container); already planted in a ceramic container as a gift; and as a gift box of a glass container with a bulb and pebbles (without soil). If you buy only the bulb, you can plant it in soil or place it in a glass vase of water with pebbles. If you plant it in soil, make sure the container has drainage holes or put in plastic pots with drainage holes into decorative containers/lined baskets. Pick a pot 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. Use a well drained potting soil, not the soil from your garden. The upper half of the bulb should remain above the soil surface. Water and put in a warm place, around 70 to 75 degrees. When growth appears, place in a sunny window and watch the flower stalks. If they lean, give more light or rotate pot to balance or stake so does not topple over.  Once flower buds appear, move the plant out of direct sun and into a slightly cooler location.

If you want to grow the plant in a vase of water, place about 3-4 inches of pebbles, marbles, or glass rocks in the glass and place the bulb on top so that the top third is exposed. Water enough so the water line is below the base of the bulb. You don’t want the bulb to sit in water but the roots need to be in water. Follow the same directions as above concerning light and temperature.

I have seen only one coamaryllisandsnapdragonOctober2014 002mpany that has capitalized on growing amaryllis in water. Home Depot is selling Bloomaker’s amaryllis in glass jars, complete with pebbles, in a very attractive gift box. If you scan the code on the box, you can see a video of how the plant will grow and bloom in the glass vase. I am already asking Santa for one.

For a variety of color selection, though, buy individual bulbs from the largest independent garden center in your area. I visited Merrifield Garden Center and they have an entire area dedicated to bulbs. You can pick your colors and show them off in pots or in glass vases. If you have time, it pays to look around and stock up on amaryllis for gifts as well as for your own home.November2014hyacinthamaryllis 160

 

 

 

Glowee: Glow-in-the-Dark Houseplant

When my kids were young, we caught fireflies in the summer. As the sun descended, the lawn glittered and we madly rushed about capturing as many as we could by hand. I truly believe that gardening organically led to our bounty of fireflies; I never applied any chemicals to the lawn. When the sunlight diminished our plastic containers were so full they were blinking. The kids put the containers on their nightstands to serve as nightlights but after they fell asleep, I retrieved the containers and released the fireflies back into the yard. The memories of these magical “firefly” nightlights has my kids, now teenagers, excited about trying Glowee, “Glow-in-the-Dark Plant That Light the Night.” The first glow-in-the-dark houseplant, Glowee is a snake plant (Sansevieria) whose long, green leaves glow after being exposed to light.

The Glowee snake plants are grown in 4-inch wide pots by Costa Farms, a Florida-based, wholesale producer of indoor and outdoor tropical plants, houseplants, bedding plants, annuals, and perennials. Glowee will be available for sale at Home Depot stores in Florida in October and at Home Depot stores across the country by the end of November. Currently, they are available in Canada at WalMart.

Although they make perfect kid gifts, (what a great Christmas present!) adults will find them useful in many ways. They are perfect for:

  • Reminding people what time it is. For coworkers or bosses who work too much, they will see the glow as the sun sets, reminding them to knock it off and go home.
  • Serving as outdoor landscape light fixtures. Simply pot them up in large containers along the walkway to the front door during the warm months; the rain won’t wash off the “glow.”
  • Illuminating your summer parties. Place a few on the deck, on your patio table, or in the windows to add a romantic glow during your party after the sun sets.
  • Serving as a “get well” gift that offers more. Imagine giving these as get well gifts to people who are in the hospital, home bound, or bed bound. The glow would put a smile on their face!
  • Holiday gift giving time. Give one for Valentine’s Day with a small, heart-shaped, mylar balloon attached and a card that reads “you really make me glow.”
  • Decorating for Halloween. Although Glowee will be introduced after Halloween, they will be available for Halloween next year. Put these glow in the dark houseplants in haunted houses or use as centerpieces for Halloween parties!

When I asked how they glowed, Justin Hancock, Consumer Marketing and Digital Specialist, Costa Farms, explained that it is propriety information but he assured me that the plants are not toxic and are not genetically modified. The Glowee plants will glow with different intensity and for varying amounts of time based on the brightness, duration, and type of light to which they are exposed. He said the more or longer the light exposure, the better and longer the glow. Justin explained that his own Glowee plant at home is in a west-facing window, gets direct sun, and glows for 3 to 4 hours after the sun sets. There is a stronger, longer lasting glow with direct sunlight while fluorescent lights work better than incandescent lights in rooms without windows. The leaves of Glowee should retain the glowing capability for years. New growth will not have this capability; however, this particular species is so slow growing there will be very little new growth. Snake plants in general are popular, low maintenance houseplants.

photo of Glowee courtesy of Costa Farms, left image in daylight, right image in dark to illustrate glow

Glowee photo courtesy of Costa Farms. Left image in daylight; right image at night.