Tag Archives: houseplant

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy Your Shamrock Plants

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Although the shamrock plant looks like a three-leaf clover it is actually a species of Oxalis. These are commonly sold as St. Patrick’s Day gift plants but they make great houseplants and garden plants. Continue reading

Year of the Peperomia Houseplant

houseplant

Peperomia ‘Hope’

This year is the year of the peperomia, a tropical houseplant. Actually, it is an “old-fashioned” houseplant, one that has been around for many years. What is new are the many types available now, each uniquely different. In fact, there is such variation in foliage color and structure, if there wasn’t a label on the container, you might not know it is a peperomia. There are only two things each plant has in common: thick, fleshy leaves and flowers that look like rat tails. Grown for its foliage, peperomia is relatively easy to grow, a great houseplant for beginners. Continue reading

Easy-to-Grow Flowering Houseplant: Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus)

flowerIf 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.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. 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.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. 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. 

cape primrose

Taking Care of Your Holiday Cactus

holiday cactus

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy Your Shamrock Plants

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Although the shamrock plant looks like a three-leaf clover it is actually a species of Oxalis. These are commonly sold as St. Patrick’s Day gift plants but they make great houseplants and garden plants. Continue reading

Poinsettia Pointers to Prolong Healthy Plants

Odds 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. To keep your plant healthy for as long as possible, try to emulate the greenhouse conditions in your own home: bright light and balmy 70 degrees. Keep the soil moist but don’t let the roots sit in water. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. If it is in that decorative foil, either remove the foil or cut the bottom out of the foil so excess water drains out.

Continue reading

Taking Care of Your Holiday Cactus

holiday cactus

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

Marimo: “Houseplant” for the New Generation

one small Marimo to take home, with googly eyes attached

Usually when I see or hear of something three times in a row, it peaks my interest. Recently I had seen images of Marimo on Facebook – green, moss-like balls in water. Last week, City Planter, a local plant business, was selling them at the Philadelphia Flower Show in water-filled plastic pouches. I did not buy one but I thought it would be a great gift for my kids as they move into college dorms this fall. This week, I received an e-mail from The Sill announcing they have Marimo as a “houseplant” in stock again.

Marimo are balls made up of green algae (Aegagropila linnaei). The algae is a filamentous form where the filaments grow out from the center in many directions. The rolling nature of the water in the lakes in which they are found mold the algae into spheres. This filamentous algae is found only in a few lakes, one of which is Lake Akan in Japan. Marimo is the Japanese word for the balls.

Marimo grows slowly, just a few millimeters per year. They are long lived in their natural environments, lasting over a hundred years and reaching a foot in diameter. The Marimo balls that are sold as “houseplants” are juveniles, only a few inches in diameter.

Marimo can be kept in glass bowls by themselves or in aquariums. However, some fish such as goldfish eat the balls so check with your pet store first. The balls photosynthesize just like a houseplant and prefer indirect light or aquarium lights. If separated or torn apart, they will not die. However, you may have to hand-mold them into balls again. They cannot be allowed to dry out or they will die.

individual glass container of one Marimo to bring home

In nature, Marimo are spherical because of the lake’s rolling water but in a glass tank they may lose this shape because the water is still. Simply hand roll the Marimo to retain the shape. This also allows other sides to receive light evenly. Because they come from cold lakes, they prefer cool, clean water which means the water in the glass bowl cannot be allowed to heat up (which will happen with sun or direct light) and has to be changed every two weeks.

Theoretically, Marimo balls will outlive you if you treat them right. Not like the goldfish I got for my kids when they were in elementary school. In the fall, as my twins head for college, I will buy them glass bowls of green Marimo balls, the low-maintenance “houseplant” for the next generation.

holding tank of many Marimo for people to purchase individually

Poinsettia Pointers: Before and After the Holidays

Odds 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. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. If it is in that decorative foil, either remove foil or cut bottom out of foil so excess water drains out.

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. 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. 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.

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.