Sunday, May 31, 2009

Staghorn Fern

Staghorn Ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) were once a rarity, but they have seen a tremendous surge in popularity. Also known as Elkhorn Fern, the Staghorn is interesting because it has a very different appearance from other ferns. Most ferns have delicate, lacy fronds. Staghorn ferns have two types of fronds: one type is a flat, branched frond, resembling the horn of an elk, and the other type is a flat, round one that grows around the other fronds like a collar.

It’s not just appearance that makes the Staghorn different from other ferns. Most ferns grow in soil, but the Staghorn Fern is an epiphyte. Epiphytes prefer to attach themselves to some object for support, such as a tree, and catch water when it rains. Staghorn Ferns can be grown in a hanging basket but are more commonly seen mounted on slabs of cork, redwood, or some other material. Sphagnum moss and peat moss can be mixed together or used alone and placed between the flat, round fronds and the mount. The fern should be wired on to the mount by its flat, round (basal) fronds.

Mounted Staghorn Ferns require a little bit of special care for them to thrive indoors. For one thing, they need fairly high humidity and do not like to be misted. Some people do mist their Staghorns, but usually they have a fan going to help the water evaporate quickly. Water should not sit on the fronds for extended periods of time without air movement. Keep your Staghorn away from drafty windows, doors to the outside and heating vents. Sudden temperature changes can cause the plant to wilt.

To water a mounted Staghorn, place the whole slab in mild water for about 10 minutes twice a week. Adjust according to the seasons and how quickly the plant is growing. Ideally, the moss should never get completely dry all the way through, but you don’t want the moss to be wet all the time, either. You can add some dilute fertilizer to the water when you are irrigating, but these plants don’t require much in the way of nutrients. A weak fertilization once a month is sufficient.

Staghorn Ferns are pretty tolerant of a wide range of lighting conditions, but bright, filtered light is the best. If you summer your plants outdoors, remember to keep the plant protected from the sun. These plants average two feet in diameter at maturity, but are known to get much larger than that if they are cared for carefully.

If you see silvery scales lined up along the backs of the fronds, have no fear: they are spores. Ferns do not grow from seeds. They propagate themselves from the neat and orderly little dots you may see on the back of your fern. As interesting as this sounds, you will probably not be able to reproduce your plant from spores. More likely, you will be able to propagate little Staghorns from plantlets generated by the original plant. Plantlets develop at the base of the fern, and when they are big enough can be given their own slabs.

If you’ve been yearning to try a Staghorn Fern but have held back for fear of killing it, I hope that you now have the confidence to give it a go. The best way to learn to grow a new plant is to grow it. You can always start with a little one for practice, and work your way up!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chinese Evergreen

If you’re looking for an understated, easy to care for foliage plant, you’ll find that there are a lot of choices in the Aglaonema genus. Aglaonemas are often seen in malls, restaurants and offices in mixed planters. They are most commonly green with light green, white, or yellow markings although breeders have come up with some pretty reds and pinks as well.

Aglaonemas prefer moderate light. Avoid direct sun or deep shade and your plant will be quite happy. Light levels can affect the coloration of the leaves. Leaves will be deeper green in low light and variegation will become more pronounced if the plant receives higher light.

Use a potting mix that retains moisture but drains easily. Cheap potting mix isn’t worth the money you save if the plant doesn’t thrive in it. Keep the potting mix slightly moist, allowing it to dry out fairly well between waterings. If the soil is dry about an inch down, it is time to water. Fertilize Aglaonemas once a month during active growth with a complete fertilizer.

It is rare for Aglaonemas to have problems with insects. They don’t attract pests, although mealy bugs will occasionally take advantage of a neglected plant. Mealy bugs look like small fluffs of cotton and are usually found in crevices and creases of plants: where leaves are connected to the plant or where new leaves are emerging, for instance. If you check the plant over thoroughly before purchasing it is unlikely that you will have pest problems.

Aglaonemas are very easy to propagate. Cuttings can be taken and rooted in water or stuck directly in moist potting mix and covered with plastic wrap to keep the humidity up. Plants can also be divided. This is best done in the spring when the plant is beginning to actively grow and put out new roots. If the plant is already growing new roots it will take to a new pot nicely. Take special care not to over-water the new plants until they have become established.

Aglaonemas are in the Araceae plant family, alongside Elephant Ears, Philodendron and Dumb Cane. This means that they contain calcium oxalate crystals which can cause skin irritation and are extremely painful if eaten. Keep these plants away from nibbling pets and curious children to be safe. Like other Arums, Aglaonemas also flower. They have the typical spadix and spathe flower like the popular Peace Lily. Most Aglaonemas do not have an attractive flower and it can be removed if so desired.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Urban Homesteading

I came across this article tonight when I should have been getting ready for bed. This is the kind of thing I'm really looking forward to someday when I actually have a yard; using it to its full potential! Of course, I love my ornamentals far too much to ignore their important place in the landscape, but it would be great to garden an entire yard edge to edge.

It seems like Denver is really helping people make a shift to greater self-sufficiency by including drip irrigation and root cellars in new developments. That's awesome! I would love to see a developer here in Michigan doing something similar. Aside from the obvious benefits of growing your own food there would be residual perks like more interaction with your neighbors. Trading veggies and tips to help increase our sense of community; I think they're on to something.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Unhappy Catt and happy cat

I must admit that I've really been slacking with my own personal collection, lately. It has a lot to do with having just graduated from Michigan State's Horticulture program (as in 2 weeks ago!) and everything to do with being 8.999 months pregnant.

I brought this gorgeous Cattleya home about a month ago. It was in serious need of division, but time was the last thing I had. I finally got time to do the division two weeks ago and pretty much destroyed the whole plant. I did get three good-sized pieces out of it, though. Unfortunately, I didn't pot them up right away. What can I say; I've been distracted! I'm hoping the bare-root divisions are still viable!

I potted one up today. Yes, one. So very ambitious of me, I know, but I kind of don't really want three of these orchids. I was up to about 50 orchids last year. That was until I brought home Sully the giant kitten you see here. He was a greenhouse kitten abandoned by his mother and I couldn't watch him starve to death...and with the salad bar once known as my houseplant collection, that will never happen!

So, here's the final result. One potted-up Cattleya (who's tag I've temporarily misplaced). I hope that new shoot, there, does something. Actually, I just hope the plant lives. Those were some very unhappy roots!

I've seen worse survive and make a glorious comeback! I suppose I'll keep my fingers crossed. ...just need to keep those cat lips off of it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Dracaena is one of the first plants I learned about when I was shopping for my very first houseplant. They are found at nearly every store that carries plants and seem to be a staple plant for interiorscapers. I’ve seen them in offices, malls, hair salons and dorm rooms. Virtually anywhere there are people, there are Dracaenas.

The most popular Dracaenas grown as houseplants are D. fragrans, D. marginata, and D. sanderiana. Dracaena fragrans has many common names including Corn Plant and it has very fragrant flowers, though it rarely flowers indoors. There are several popular cultivars of this species available, including "Janet Craig Compacta", "Warneckii" and "Massangeana". Dracaena marginata is also known as Madagascar Dragon Tree and Dracaena sanderiana is better known as "Lucky Bamboo". D. sanderiana is usually seen growing in a glass of water.

These plants are popular because they are easy to care for and they can become very large. If you would like your Dracaena to be happy and healthy provide it with bright shade and temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The average room temperature in most homes is suitable. Dracaenas need excellent drainage, so be sure there are holes in the bottom of the pot you plant it in. You can add extra perlite to the potting mix, if you like, and allow the plant to dry out somewhat between waterings.

If you find that your Dracaena is getting too tall, simply chop its top. Assuming the plant is healthy, the bottom portion of the plant will send out new shoots or branches from where it was cut. The top portion can be placed in water until roots have formed or treated with a rooting hormone and placed directly in soil. Air layering can be done with larger plants, but is not really necessary.

Dracaenas don’t often have trouble with pests, but occasionally spider mites, mealy bugs or scale can infest the plant. Take care to inspect the plant before you purchase it and ensure that it isn’t carrying any bugs. Once the plant is established in your home, it is unlikely that you will ever find new bugs on it.

An extra tip for happy Dracaenas is to avoid Fluoride, if possible. Fluoride is found in tap water and Dracaenas hate it. It can cause the leaf tips to turn brown, and if levels are too high it may even kill the plant. Rain is a great source of Fluoride-free water if you would like to spoil your Dracaena a little bit. Fertilization isn’t necessary; in fact, Dracaenas would prefer if you didn’t.

There are many different species of Dracaena that are grown as houseplants, and if you don’t already own one, you should look into obtaining one. Dracaenas are one of several plants known to filter the air of toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene. There are lots of reasons that Dracaenas are everywhere – they’ve earned it! Try one out and you’ll wonder why you haven’t grown one before. If you already have one, I wish you continued success and enjoyment of your beautiful Dracaena.

Arrowhead Plant

Nephthytis, the Arrowhead plant, is a popular houseplant for those who have shadier spaces or maybe lack special talent in the care of plants. I love this plant: it is so easy to grow and always looks great! I have a beautiful variety that has pale pink and green leaves, but it is more often seen in green or green and white, and occasionally can be found with silver markings, or even red.

This plant is a vine, but it is most often seen it its juvenile form. The juvenile form is what gives this plant the common name Arrowhead Plant, because that is when you will see it having arrowhead shaped leaves. When the plant is immature, the leaves grow in a kind of rosette form, clustered loosely together. The mature Nephthytis is a vine with palmate, compound leaves.

Arrowhead Plant is very easy to grow. Like most houseplants, the light optimum is bright, but filtered sun. I have had success with the pink variety in full shade. It is 8 feet away from a northern window and is partially blocked by my television, but it is thriving, nonetheless. I chose a shady spot because all the sunnier ones were taken, and it has worked well. Place this plant anywhere in your home where it will get some light, but no direct sun, and you should be fine. You can always relocate a few feet in either direction until you find the perfect spot for your plant.

Nephthytis love water, but don’t over-do it. Water them when the top of the soil is dry to an inch down. They also really enjoy humidity. You can mist them occasionally or place them on a humidity tray. Another way to provide humidity is by growing it in your bathroom. Also, fertilize this plant regularly. I fertilize mine at every watering, spring through fall, at about 125ppm Nitrogen. If you use Miracle-Gro, this is one small scoop to a gallon of water.

Arrowhead Plant doesn’t often have pest problems, but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out. The most likely invaders you will see are mealy bugs or spider mites. Mealy bugs look like tiny little cotton balls and can be killed by swabbing them with alcohol. Spider mites are most easily detected by the damage they do, such as pitting or stippling of the leaves, and later on by their webs. If you do find something, be sure to treat it right away. Both mealy bugs and spider mites are extremely difficult to completely eradicate.

Propagation of Arrowhead Plant couldn’t be easier. It can be done using pretty much any method you like. Cuttings will root easily, either in water or in potting mix. You can layer, divide, or even collect seeds, depending on how hard you want to make it on yourself.

Give the Arrowhead Plant a try. I had to find out for myself if Nephthytis is as forgiving as they say, and you really should, too! It always makes me feel good to see a plant doing well: it brings a nice feeling of well-being to a room, and when it comes so easily, it’s so hard to resist!


Why grow begonias? There are so many good reasons why someone might want to grow begonias as houseplants, not the least of which is their beautiful flowers and simple care requirements. With so few choices when it comes to plants that will bloom indoors, it is fortunate that begonias are easy to come by, inexpensive and forgiving of forgetful watering.

There are lots of different kinds of begonias. The most common begonias grown as houseplants are tuberous begonias (Begonia x tuberhybrida), such as the Non-Stop variety, Reiger Begonias (Begonia x hiemalis), rhizomatous begonias, and Rex Begonias which are grown for their attractive foliage. Flower colors vary widely and are often very brilliant. Scarlet begonias make a bold statement while some of the more delicate pinks and whites are more elegant. I am particularly fond of some of the Reiger Begonias that have dark, ruffled petals and the Apricot Non-Stop Begonia. They really put on a show!

Begonias are ideal for use as houseplants because they actually prefer lower light levels than most flowering plants. They will thrive in bright shade to full shade which makes them pretty versatile. Rooms with a northern or eastern exposure are often difficult to grow plants in, but begonias love it. When light levels are too high, the leaves will scorch and the plant will begin to deteriorate pretty rapidly so don’t try to force sun on them. It will not be appreciated!

Begonias also like the indoor environment because of the warm temperatures it provides. Begonias are rated for USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11, so they can only be grown as annuals outdoors. For this reason, if you decide to put your begonias outside for a while be aware of the temperatures they will be exposed to at night. This is when they are most likely to be damaged by low temperatures, and they can’t handle frost.

Caring for begonias is really easy. They prefer a potting mix that allows for good drainage. Be sure that there is a hole in the bottom of the pot, as begonias should never be allowed to sit in water. They are very intolerant of excessive moisture. I let my begonias stay on the dryer side, watering them thoroughly only when they have gotten fairly dry.

Some deadheading may be required for many varieties. Usually this isn’t a big deal and is done for aesthetic purposes. Also, avoid letting spent blooms sit on the soil surface. Good plant hygiene will help keep away bugs and fungal diseases.

Almost any type of fertilizer will work well for begonias. Look for one that supplies both macronutrients and micronutrients. They are all essential for good plant health. I use a water soluble type fertilizer at every watering. If you are going to fertilize at every watering, it is a good idea to dilute the mix to half strength or occasionally water with plain water to flush out the salts that accumulate in the pot.

Begonias are very easy to care for and some of the most beautiful varieties can be found in good independent garden centers. If color and ease of care is what you are looking for, look no further. Try adding a begonia to your collection. Choose a natural-colored pot that allows the natural radiance of the plant to shine and you will have a gorgeous, living focal point in any room.

Dwarf Umbrella Plant

Schefflera arboricola is a nice, easy to care for plant. It is one of those plants that a lot of people enjoy growing because it is tolerant of a wide range of horticultural skill. I have seen it for sale in the most common places over the last several years; at florist’s shops, grocery stores, big-box stores and of course the specialty greenhouses. The most popular varieties of Schefflera arboricola include ‘Gold Capella’, ‘Dazzle’, ‘Samoa Snow’ and ‘Trinette’. Its wide availability combined with its forgiving nature has made it a plant that a lot of people are growing, and have occasional concerns about.

Schefflera will be happy with any level of light, so long as it doesn’t get the scorching mid-day sun. Higher light is preferable, especially if you would like to see this plant bloom. Schefflera will still grow in very low light, just not as rapidly or densely. If your Umbrella Plant is thin and spindly, it may be telling you that it would like more sun.

Also, remember that the more sun your Schefflera gets the more water it will use. Schefflera like moist soil, but never leave it sitting in a saucer of water. This is another plant with which you can err on the side of dryness. Some people go a whole month sometimes without watering their Schefflera. It may not die, but it sure won’t be as healthy as if would be with more frequent watering. Whenever possible, water when the top inch of potting mix is dry.

Scheffleras don’t need much in the way of fertilizer, but you can give it some. I recommend weakly fertilizing at half the recommended dosage every two weeks while the plant is in active growth.

Something you should watch for is spider mites and scale. Spider mites are more common than scale, and of course other pests are possible, but these two are most often found on Schefflera. Spider mites will cause yellow stippling on the leaves, followed by webbing, and ending with brown, tented leaves. Scale can often go unnoticed until the plant really begins to suffer and die back, but if you keep an eye out for these scab-like, motionless insects, you should be able to eradicate them before your plant kicks off.

One last thing you should know about Umbrella Plant is that pruning is a must. Schefflera arboricola can grow to more than 10 feet tall if allowed, but you will achieve the most attractive plant if you regularly prune it to a nice form. Lending itself nicely to pruning, Schefflera arboricola is sometimes used in bonsai, so don’t be afraid to get out the pruners.

Keep and eye on your plant; it will let you know how you are doing. Your Schefflera will tell you if you are neglecting its water requirements. If the foliage appears to be crinkled, you aren’t providing sufficient water. If the leaves are yellowing or black and falling off, you are probably letting it sit in soil that is too moist. You will also be able to tell if you are providing too sunny a spot if brown patches develop on the leaves, especially around the edges. Pay attention, and you will be rewarded for many years to come!


Kalanchoe daigremontiana goes by a couple of common names. The most familiar of those is Mother-of-Thousands, or Mother-of-Millions, but some call it the Mexican Hat Plant. There are also other plants in the same genus Kalanchoe that are also referred to as Mother of Thousands such as Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi. The name Mother-of-Thousands refers to the fact that these plants are viviparous; seedlings develop directly on the mother plant, eventually dropping off and taking root on their own. This is great if you like to share plants with friends and family or if you want to get a lot of plants for yourself from one original plant. However you look at it, this plant is pretty interesting.

The Mother-of-Thousands plant likes sun. Indoors, the brightest window you have is best. Go for a southern exposure if you can, but western or eastern windows work as well. If you live in the south you may want to protect this plant from direct sun around midday; the sun coming through the window may be too hot and scorch the plant or simply stress it out.

Plant your Mother-of-Thousands in a well-drained potting mix in a pot that has holes in the bottom for drainage. If you tend to over-water your plants, it may be a good idea to mix in some extra perlite. Water when the soil is getting pretty dry but has not quite dried out all the way for best results. Fertilize weakly during the active growing season, spring through fall.

The Mother-of-Thousands does flower, though some plants never do. The flowers are usually a bright candy-pink but are sometimes seen in more of a coral or light orange. They are not fragrant and sometimes the mother plant will die after flowering. If your plant appears to be about to flower and you are concerned about the mother plant dying, it is extremely simple to start some new plants.

To propagate from your Mother-of-Thousands (if it doesn’t do so prolifically on its own) simply place some of the baby plantlets onto a moistened potting mix and lightly cover with plastic wrap to keep the humidity up. Leave them in bright indirect light until they take root and begin to grow on their own. It is not necessary to be this careful in propagation of these plants as the mother plant is pretty good at taking care of it all by itself. These are just some tips to increase your chances of success.

Purple Passion Plant

Gynura aurantiaca is one of those plants that when you’ve seen it, you absolutely must have it. Purple Passion, Purple Velvet, Royal Velvet and Velvet Plant are all names for the same gorgeous plant and each one gives a wonderful idea of how special this plant is. The lush purple fuzz of the deeply colored leaves is very unique and the plant itself is so easy to grow that it would almost be a shame not to give one a home.

Lighting is pretty important for the Purple Passion plant. The more sun this plant receives the more brilliant its coloration will be. Full sun is desirable but anything part shade and brighter will work. Sun is also needed if flowers are desired. The flowers of Purple Passion plant are very pretty to look at: they are bright orange puff-balls that appear near the end of spring. However, the flowers have an atrocious smell. The leaves of this plant are spectacular all on their own, so don’t feel bad about snipping off the flowers before they open.

Purple Passion likes to have its soil a little moist, but will tolerate some drying out. Watering every seven to ten days will generally suffice, but water more frequently if the plant’s roots fill the pot completely. Water with a water-soluble fertilizer at every watering during the growing season to get thick, healthy growth.

Aphids and spider mites are big fans of Purple Passion. Practice good preventative medicine: don’t bring infested plants into your home if you can avoid it. Check new plants out carefully before purchasing and quarantine them before putting them near your existing plants. If these unwanted guests show up at some later time, neem oil based products or insecticidal soaps are your best weapons.

Propagation of Purple Passion is extremely easy. Cuttings can be rooted in water or directly in potting mix. This can be done any time of year, although it is smart to do it when the plant needs pruning anyway. It doesn’t make sense to toss out those clippings; start some new plants for your friends. Pruning your Purple Passion plant will make it fuller and bushier in the long run, so don’t be afraid to go for it. Make your cuts at the third or fourth nodes from the base of the plant. If left alone to grow, this plant’s vines will get very long (making for a nice hanging basket), but the attractive coloring doesn’t last on the older growth.

Gynura aurantiaca is not known to be toxic. It can be considered safe to grow in a home with children or curious cats like mine.

Indoor Banana Trees

I love plants that really make a splash in a room, and banana trees do it well. Tropical plants are gaining popularity again, not just for indoor gardeners like me, but as annual plants in the garden or patio containers for those in cooler regions.

I’m really excited about this because it means that more and more varieties of tropical plants are becoming available. With banana trees, this is beneficial because it means that shorter varieties are easier to find. While a banana tree looks good in your living room or foyer, it won’t make you very happy when it starts to become smashed against your ceiling.

For homes with higher ceilings, commercial variety banana trees can be a good way to go. Varieties such as Musa acuminata ‘Grand Nain’, better known as a ‘Chiquita banana’ grow to about eight feet tall. This is kind of a fun option if you want to get some edible, full sized fruit.

There are several types of dwarf banana trees, including the Super Dwarf Cavendish and the Dwarf Red that are suitable for indoor growing. There is even a Super Dwarf that grows to only 3 feet tall, if you are really cramped on space. Like most plants, if you want to keep it on the small side and stunt its growth a bit, you can grow it on the dry side and don’t fertilize. You can also keep it in a small pot. Restricting root growth and nutrients will help you keep your banana tree in check.

Chinese Yellow Banana (Musella lasiocarpa) is also an attractive option. This plant is thought by some to be extinct in the wild, but is fairly easy to find for purchase. It has large yellow flowers resembling lotus blossoms, and the flowers last for months. This banana tree grows between 3 and 6 feet tall.

Be sure to look for the height listed or ask someone before purchasing a “dwarf” banana tree. Height is all relative, here. Dwarf varieties are merely shorter versions of the normal varieties, and that doesn’t always mean that it will be short.

In order to successfully choose the banana tree that is right for your home, you should first decide where you will put it. Ideally, the plant should get bright, but filtered sunlight. Consider how high your ceilings are and picture how tall you want your banana tree to grow. Avoid choosing a plant that will become too tall for the area you have selected. You will be much happier in the long run if the plant is a good fit.

When you have decided where you will place your tree and what kind of tree it will be, pick out a planter that adds that finishing touch. Remember to keep it simple: a large tropical plant is an eye-catcher all on its own and you don’t want to overdo it. A tasteful planter will help your exotic new friend fit in nicely.


Some very interesting and attractive succulent plants are found in the Haworthia genus. There are as many as 90 identified plants in the genus, each with its own unique appearance. These plants are close relatives of Aloe vera, and many of them resemble aloe closely. Haworthias are small and compact making for nice windowsill specimens or residents in a mixed container. When you start to delve into the numerous individual plants that make up Haworthia, a mixed container may start to look like the best choice. Haworthias are so enjoyable to grow its unlikely that one will be enough.

One of the best things about Haworthias is that they demand very little attention. Set them up in a sunny spot, either in a south facing window (north if you’re south of the equator) or on a coffee table near a door-wall or in a sunroom. East or west windows will work as well, but for the healthiest, happiest plant, lots of sun is required.

Haworthias are sensitive to being over-watered. Some symptoms that they have been over-watered are mold growing on the potting mix surface, fungus gnats circling the pot, and mushy and shriveled leaves. Shriveled leaves may also be a symptom of under-watering. In the case of over-watering the shriveling would be a result of the roots having rotted off rendering the plant incapable of taking up any water. Taking the plant out of the pot for a look may be in order if the leaves are shriveled but you are sure you have been watering.

To prevent over-watering, plant your Haworthia in a clay pot. This will help the potting mix breathe. Use a potting mix that is well-drained, such as a cacti- and succulent-specific type. Adding perlite and pumice to your regular potting mix is another option. When watering, add water until you see it run out the hole in the bottom of the pot. Dump any excess water; leaving the pot to sit in a tray holding water will invite root rot. Do not water again until the potting mix is nearly dry. If possible, water on sunny days when there are several more sunny days in the forecast and avoid watering on rainy days.

Fertilizer is not really necessary for Haworthias to do well. If you would like to fertilize, apply a liquid fertilizer once a month at half- to quarter-strength. Avoid fertilizing more often than that, as it may actually do more harm than good, especially if salts build up in the pot. Do not fertilize in the winter months.

Propagation of Haworthias is best done by offsets. Small pups can be separated from the mother plant when they have developed several roots of their own. Haworthias can also be grown from seed, if hybridizing is something you’d like to try. Whenever two Haworthias are in flower you can use a soft paintbrush to dab the pollen from one to another. Sow the seeds on the surface of the potting mix and provide a humid environment until the little plants have established. A clear plastic lid or plastic wrap works great.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Money Tree

Pachira aquatica, or Money Tree, is popular among those wishing to increase their fortunes. Money Tree is used often in Feng Shui design to increase “Chi” or positive energy flow, and is rich in symbolism. These plants are usually sold in a braided form, with several “trunks” intertwined. There are often 3 or 5 trunks, but if you are interested in the plant for Feng Shui do not purchase a Money Tree with 4 braided trunks. The number 4 is considered by the Chinese to be very unlucky, so will not fit in with Feng Shui.

The leaves of Money Tree are palmate, that is, resembling an outstretched hand. This is also believed to draw in luck and money. A leaf should have at least 5 “fingers” to be considered lucky, but can have as many as 7 or 8. The more fingers a leaf has, the luckier the plant is considered.

Money Tree is often used in bonsai, as well. If you are interested in keeping your plant very short, you should read up on how to care for a bonsai. It will require root pruning and leaf pruning which can be seen as either a lot of work or as a relaxing hobby.

If you plan to let your Money Tree grow more naturally (that is, without extensive pruning) expect it to grow very large. You can keep your plant from hitting your ceiling too rapidly if you prune the bottom quarter to third of the root system once a year when re-potting. Always prune a few leaves from the top when you prune from the bottom to give the plant balance. I have managed to keep mine small by watering infrequently and fertilizing minimally. Also, keeping the plant in the smallest pot possible will help to keep its size in check.

Money Tree is really simple to care for, and is a great plant for beginners. It will grow in almost any light conditions, from full shade to nearly full sun. It is best if you can give your Money Tree a little bit of both: either near a window that gets the sun for a couple of hours and is then shady, or in an area that gets bright indirect light.

Water your Money Tree about once a week, but let the potting mix dry out pretty well in between waterings. Don’t let it sit immersed in water. Some people do this and don’t notice problems for a while, but the trunks of your plant will eventually rot. When re-potting, use a potting mix that is very coarse or add some perlite or pine bark to improve the drainage. This will help prevent an accidental over-watering.

Money Tree doesn’t need much fertilizer. You can provide a diluted dose of fertilizer at every other watering, or even just once a month. There is no need to fertilize in the winter when the plant isn’t actively growing.

If you are looking for a nice house-warming or office-warming gift, Money Tree is a great choice. It is easy to care for and its lore is sure to charm the recipient. Plus, who doesn’t love having a little green around? I know I do!

Non-toxic Houseplants

One thing it is always nice to know when purchasing houseplants is whether or not the plant is dangerous to children or pets. There are many different ways a plant can be dangerous. They can have poisonous compounds that will sicken small children or pets to varying degrees. Plants can contain oxalates that would make you think you’re eating fiberglass. Some plants can cause skin reactions, called dermatitis. These are the types of dangers you can avoid by sticking with the plants listed here. Remember that there are always special cases where one may be allergic to a plant and have an unusual reaction. To be safe, it’s not a bad idea to keep houseplants out of reach of children and pets at all times.

African Violet – Saintpaulia species

Aluminum Plant – Pilea cadierei

Air Plant – Tillandsia species

Airplane Plant – Chlorophytum comosum (a.k.a. Spider Plant)

Aralia – Aralia japonica (a.k.a. Fatsia)

Artillery Plant – Pilea microphylla

Baby Tears – Soleirolia soleirolii

Banana Tree- Musa species

Bear’s Paw – Cotyledon tomentosa

Begonia – Begonia species

Boston Fern – Nephrolepis exaltata (a.k.a. Sword Fern)

Bridal Veil – Gibasis geniculata

Bromeliads – Guzmania species

Cabbage Palm – Cordyline species

Calathea – Calathea zebrina (a.k.a. Zebra Plant)

Cast Iron Plant – Aspidistra elatior

Cat Grass – Avena sativa (a.k.a. Common Oat)

Catnip – Nepeta cataria (a.k.a. Catmint)

Cattleya orchid – Cattleya species and cultivars

Christmas Cactus – Schlumbergera species

Coleus – Coleus species

Cordyline – Cordyline species (a.k.a. Spike Plant)

Creeping Jenny – Lysimachia nummularia (a.k.a. Gold Moneywort)

Cymbidium orchid – Cymbidium species and cultivars

Donkey’s Tail – Sedum morganianum

False Aralias – Schefflera elegantissima

False Banana Tree – Ensete species

Fatsia – Aralia japonica

Ferns – All houseplant types

Friendship Plant – Billbergia nutans (a.k.a. Queen’s Tears)

Gardenia – Gardenia jasminoides

Gloxinia – Gloxinia slyvatica

Goldfish Plant – Nematanthus gregarious (Handling plant may irritate skin)

Hens and Chicks – Sempervivum tectorum

Hindu Rope Plant – Hoya species

Hoya – Hoya species (a.k.a. Wax Plant, Hindu Rope Plant)

Irish Moss – Sagina subulata

Jade Plant – Crassula ovata

Lipstick Plant – Aeschynanthus species

Living Stones – Lithops aucampiae

Moneywort – Lysimachia nummularia (a.k.a. Creeping Jenny)

Money Tree – Pachira aquatica

Mother-Of-Thousands – Tolmiea menziesii

Moth Orchid – Phalaenopsis species and cultivars

Odontoglossum orchid– Odontoglossum species and cultivars

Orchid Cactus – Epiphyllum species

Peperomia – Peperomia species

Phalaenopsis orchid – Phalaenopsis species and cultivars

Piggyback Plant – Tolmiea menziesii (a.k.a. Mother-Of-Thousands)

Poinsettia – Euphorbia pulcherrima

Ponytail Palm – Beaucarnea recurvata (a.k.a. Bottle Palm)

Prayer Plant – Maranta leuconeura

Purple Heart – Tradescantia pallida (Handling plant may irritate skin)

Spider Plant – Chlorophytum comosum

Swedish Ivy – Plectranthus coleoides

Tahitian Bridal Veil – Gibasis geniculata

Ti Plant – Cordyline species

Wandering Jew – Tradescantia species (Handling plant may irritate skin)

Wax Plant – Hoya species

Zebra Plant – Calathea zebrine

Zygocactus – Schlumbergera species

Some plants may not be listed because it is not known with certainty how toxic the plant is. Plants with conflicting opinions have been omitted, for the sake of a reliable list. Of course, if new information arises, additions can be made. Enjoy, and try out a new plant. I recommend the Living Stones, if you are not familiar with them!

ZZ Plant

If you aren’t immersed in plants twenty-four hours a day like I am, you may not yet have heard about the ZZ Plant. If you haven’t, then you should definitely read on and consider purchasing a ZZ Plant, arguably the easiest to care for and most attractive foliage houseplant out there.

ZZ is short for the plant’s Latin name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia. It is the only known species in the genus Zamioculcas. ZZ Plant is a tropical perennial plant native to Eastern Africa and is in the Arum plant family. Other Arums include Calla Lilies, Caladiums, Elephant Ears, Arrowhead Plant, Peace Lilies, and Philodendrons. Arums are distinctive in that their flowers consist of a spadix and spathe.

There is a multitude of reasons why the ZZ Plant is a favorite of mine. First off, the ZZ Plant always looks like you just polished it with a leaf shiner. The leaves are a brilliant waxy green and appear to be plastic. I have seen this plant in malls and stores and had to actually touch it to see whether it was real or not.

ZZ Plant needs almost no water, and that makes it a nice pick for a forgetful waterer. I give my ZZ a slight soil moistening every other week and it rewards me with a new shoot every couple of months. Good drainage is extremely important with ZZ Plants. It can’t be stressed enough: over-watering is probably the only way to kill this plant. Make sure the pot has several decent sized holes and that the potting mix has plenty of perlite. It is a good idea to keep your ZZ in the smallest pot that will hold it. This will help the potting mix to dry out quickly. I keep mine in a plastic pot so that I can leave the plant in it until the sides of the pot split.

Fertilizer is optional with ZZ Plant. I provide mine with approximately 125 ppm N with a standard multipurpose fertilizer at every watering, and it’s doing great. I have seen diluted dosing of fertilizer recommended, but I have used full strength without any adverse effects. If you would like to play it safe, adjust to quarter- or half-strength.

Insect pests seem to take no interest in ZZ Plant, probably due to the thick, waxy cuticle on the plant. A friend of mine told me that she actually PUT different kinds of insects on a ZZ Plant to see whether they would damage the plant, and the bugs left without doing any damage. Apparently Zamioculcas isn’t on the menu.

Propagation of ZZ Plant is typically done by sticking leaflets. Using a sharp, sterile blade, cut a leaflet from the mother plant. The leaflet may then be stuck into moist perlite or sand. It may take a VERY long time for any visible growth to occur, as the leaflet must first develop a bulb. High temperatures and humidity help speed the process along, but be prepared to wait many months, maybe even a year!

Of all the green plants I own, my ZZ is by far my favorite. It’s always beautiful and demands no attention. I keep it out of direct sunlight and provide only filtered light or bright shade. If you can provide the right light, then a ZZ Plant should definitely be in your home.

Chenille Plant

One plant that I heard repeatedly requested around the garden center this summer is the Chenille Plant. This lovely plant is named for its beautiful flowers that look like strands of chenille yarn hanging over the side of its pot. I think they look a bit like fuzzy caterpillars, and that’s why kids love this plant, too! The flowers are most often seen in red, but can sometimes be found in white.

The fuzzy catkin flowers can become very long, sometimes as long as 18 inches! To nicely display your Chenille Plant, hanging baskets are best. If a hanging basket doesn’t work for your situation, you can try placing the plant on a plant stand so that it has room to gracefully cascade down a bit.

Chenille Plant requires lots of sunshine to fuel those flowers. This would be the plant you give the prime sun-shiny real estate to. The more light you can give this plant, the better, but it will also do okay in partial sun. If your plant isn’t flowering for you, the first thing I would check is how much sunlight it gets a day.

Try not to let this plant get too dry. It is always tricky to keep a plant moist without over-watering, but if you pay close attention while you are getting to know the needs of your new plant you will quickly learn how much water it would like. If you let this plant wilt, the flowers will suffer. Don’t ever let it get completely dry, or it will die.

Chenille Plant also appreciates plenty of fertilizer to keep it going. Fertilize at every watering while it is actively growing and while flowers are forming. If the plant slows down for the winter, cut back on the fertilizer. The further away you are from the equator, the less light your plant will get indoors in the winter. If you are like me, your best bet is to give your Chenille Plant a summer vacation outdoors to rejuvenate it.

Spider mites are the main pest you might encounter if you grow this plant indoors. If you see leaves turning slightly yellow with a stippling pattern, you may have these invaders. Check also for the tell-tale webs the spider mites spin. Once you see webbing, you need to treat the plant right away in order to save your plant.

It is very easy to propagate Chenille Plant, so when you are giving it a routine trim (which it will probably need fairly often) use the pieces you cut off to start new plants for yourself or friends. Use pieces that have a two leaves on them and a short stem. Stick these cuttings in a 50/50 mix of potting soil and perlite. Keep the cuttings moist and out of direct sun until you have roots on them. When the roots are a few inches long and full you can plant them into their own pots!

Chenille Plant is toxic, which is another great reason to grow your plant in a hanging basket or on a plant stand. The catkins are very tempting for kids to play with and cats to swat at. Handling the plant excessively can cause skin irritation and ingesting it can cause minor stomach upset. Chenille Plant won’t seriously hurt anyone, but it really is more fun to look at than eat.


There are several types of Scheffleras that make great houseplants. Brassaia actinophylla is the standard Schefflera known as the Umbrella Plant. This version of the Schefflera is a large one, and may have to be kept in line with regular prunings. Outdoors, Scheffleras can grow up to 20 feet tall! It can be very satisfying to purchase a little plant and watch it grow into something big, green, and leafy.

In order to be successful getting that little plant to grow into something big and impressive, you need to know a few simple things about it. For starters, Scheffleras love light! Some can handle full sun, but it is best to go with bright but indirect light. They can handle less than this, but for the best results, more is better. Lower light levels can cause your Schefflera to get “leggy” and thin.

Like most other houseplants, Scheffleras hate to be left sitting in water. Do not over-water this plant. Let it go fairly dry in between waterings, and then give it plenty of water. The soil should be dry about an inch down when you water. After you have watered leave the pot in its tray to soak up water for about an hour and then dump any remaining liquid. If you have your Schefflera in a pot without drainage, you will have to be more cautious about how much water you use, and how often you water. Trial and error will have to suffice here, so err on the side of caution.

Scheffleras are somewhat sensitive to temperature and humidity. They are native to regions that are warm and wet, so it is good to try and replicate this for your plant. It is best if temperatures stay around 70F during the day and don’t go below 60F at night. Keep the plant away from drafty areas like doorways and radiator vents. Humidity can be supplemented my misting or by using a humidity tray. You can also try grouping several plants together.

You won’t need to fertilize your Schefflera often, as they are not usually meant to flower indoors. You can fertilize once a month with a water soluble fertilizer and your plant will be perfectly happy. If you’d like to use a slow release fertilizer go light on the application.

Scheffleras need pruning from time to time. This will help keep them looking healthy and vigorous while keeping their size in check. Scheffleras can be propagated from stem cuttings, so a pruning session is the perfect time to start some new plants.

Spider mites are fond of Schefflera, so check for them before you purchase one and examine the plant on a regular basis to see if they have turned up. You will probably need a magnifying glass to see them, but their damage is hard to miss. Leaves will begin to turn yellow and then brown, and will have a stippled pattern all over them. There will also be webbing under the leaves and where the leaves meet their stems. Use a systemic pesticide to ward off potential invaders, or you can treat the plant when an infestation occurs. Wash the plant with soapy water or an insecticidal soap. There are lots of great options when it comes to pest control.

Having a Schefflera can be very rewarding, especially when you’ve grown it from a very small plant. Pay attention to it, and it will pay you back many times over. Good luck!

Crassula ovata, better known as the Jade plant, is popular as a houseplant because of its easy care and interesting appearance. Jade plant is a succulent, meaning that its leaves are swollen and fleshy from the water they store. The stem can become woody with time, giving the plant a shrubby appearance. Crassula ovata is a very popular plant for bonsai. It is also referred to as Money Tree, Dollar Plant and Friendship Tree.

There are several different varieties of Jade. The most common type of Crassula ovata is a bright to medium green, with the leaves darkening as they mature. There is also a variegated cultivar with white and pale to dark green streaking. Crassula ovata arborescens has leaves that have a lovely red edge and comes in a “Large Jade” and “Baby Jade” form.

Trailing Jade resembles Crassula ovata, but it is actually in a completely different order of plants. In other words, they aren’t even in the same plant family! Trailing Jade’s scientific name has recently been changed to Kleinia petraea from Senecio jacobsenii. Trailing Jade is great for hanging baskets and has a pretty purple hue to the leaves.

Jade plants are simple to care for. Being succulents, they don’t need a lot of water. Watering should be done only when the soil is dry. Succulents are susceptible to rotting if they are left to sit in a saucer of water or soggy soil for very long, so pay attention to how you are watering. Fertilize regularly during the warmer months when the plant is actively growing. If you are careful about providing the right amount of moisture and plenty of sunshine, you may get flowers on your Jade. On the Crassula types, the flowers are small, white, and star shaped. The Kleinia have bright orange flowers.

Branching is desirable in a Jade plant. It will help to prevent the plant from growing too tall and becoming top heavy, eventually breaking under its own weight. If your plant begins to get too tall and has not started to branch, go ahead and pinch it. Continue to do this any time the plant looks spindly to encourage more branching.

Another great feature of Jade plant is the simple way in which it is propagated. Remove a leaf from the parent plant and place the end that was attached to the original plant in some moist soil. A soil mixed with plenty of perlite for drainage is best, but not necessary.

Jade plant is pretty happy in small pots. It helps keep the plant from remaining moist for too long. Don’t worry too much about re-potting your Jade. It needs only to be done every few years. This is great if you are like me and have 50 other plants that need re-potting every year.

Overall, Jade is a fun and easy plant to care for. Most people find Jade plant rewarding to grow and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it. Buy one for yourself and a second to propagate from for friends and family!

Yellow Leaves on Houseplants

When your once beautiful houseplant begins to have yellow leaves, are you at a loss about why or what to do about it? Here are some clues to help you solve the mystery.

Does panic set in when the leaves on your houseplants begin to yellow? It does for me! Yellowing leaves are a very good sign that something is wrong with your plant, but unfortunately it can be a sign of almost anything. Yellow leaves can be a symptom of drought or over-watering, over- or under-fertilization, low light conditions, pests, and more. How do you figure out what the problem is and save your beloved plant? A little detective work should do the trick.

Has the plant recently been moved? Plants will often shed leaves if they are moved from a location of high humidity to one with low humidity. Even a new temperature range can cause some stress. Plants need time to acclimate to new environments, and the loss of leaves is their way of readjusting to their surroundings. This type of yellowing and leaf loss usually occurs on the lower, older leaves.

Leaves may yellow if the plant is exposed to a cold draft, so pay attention to plants you keep near windows. When the seasons change and cool weather arrives, your plants will let you know if you have leaky windows or doors. This may cause a lot of leaves all over the plant to go yellow and fall off.

If your plant inhabits the same place it always has and the yellow leaves are new, you need to investigate a little further. Watering practices are usually suspect in this case, since symptoms of poor watering can take a little time to show up. Pick the plant up: is it heavy or light? If it is very light, then under-watering is a possible cause of the leaves yellowing. If it is very heavy and soggy, especially if you haven’t recently watered, over-watering is likely.

Very high light levels can cause yellowing on plants that aren’t suited for it. Very low light levels can cause the entire plant to go yellow if the plant is one that requires higher light levels. Get informed about the light requirements of your houseplant, if you haven’t already, and you will find yourself becoming a more successful grower.

Sometimes yellowing is caused by insect pests, so you may want to look your plant over thoroughly if you still haven’t discovered the cause of its decline. Look on stems and leaves, especially the undersides, for webbing and stippling from spider mites, honeydew from aphids, or even the actual insects themselves. A magnifying glass can be helpful in spotting pests, but most of them can be seen with the naked eye.

If nothing else makes sense, fertilization practices should be considered as a possible cause of leaf yellowing. If an entire plant has taken on a light green to yellow cast and the newest leaves are very small, the plant is lacking in Nitrogen. Yellowing between the veins on a leaf is also an excellent sign that your plant is starving, and you should look into some good fertilizer.

There are a few other odd reasons why a plant’s leaves may go yellow, but these are the reasons that it usually happens. Over-watering is the most common mistake and people often love their plants to death…literally. Hopefully, this guide will make it a lot easier to nurture the leafy members of your family.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rubber Tree

Ficus elastica goes by several common names, including Rubber Tree, Rubber Plant, and Indian Rubber Bush. It is in the fig family and is native to northeast India, the eastern Himalayas, and south down through Malaysia and Indonesia. It is hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11 but can be grown outdoors during the warmer months in many other zones, as well as grown indoors.

Ficus elastica is popular because it is very easy to grow and care for. They can get big pretty quickly, as they are vigorous growers and don’t ask for much attention. If all of their needs are met, Rubber Trees can be a long-lived addition to your family’s home and help provide a pleasant atmosphere.

Rubber tree is a great choice for one of those shadier corners in your home. Try to avoid really dark places, as this will cause the plant to become weak and spindly. Light to full shade is recommended, but some light is still desirable. Brown, dead spots on leaves are usually scorching, a sign that your plant is getting too much light. These plants can grow ten or more feet high indoors, so pruning is advisable to keep it in an attractive form and acceptable size.

Ficus elastica does best in a well-drained soil. Avoid over-watering, but don’t let it dry out either. It is a good idea to observe the plant and its soil to determine when you should water. Symptoms of over-watering and under-watering are similar, such as leaf yellowing and leaves falling off. You should be able to tell which one is the issue if you consider how often you have been watering. Watering once a week is a good place to start, but adjust your schedule depending on how quickly the soil dries out. You should also water slightly less often in the cooler months when the plant slows down its growth.

Fertilization is not really necessary, but can be done once a month with a water soluble fertilizer, if you like. Slow release fertilizers are also nice and when applied at the beginning of the growing season, you should only need to use it once a year.

Propagation of Ficus elastica is usually done by cuttings or air layering. It is common for people to propagate new Rubber Trees from the leftover scraps after a pruning session. It is quick and simple to do, and you would then be able to share your plant with others. Be aware that the milky sap of Ficus elastica is toxic if ingested and that handling of the plant may cause an allergic reaction, for some. If you don’t know how you will react to Rubber tree, it is advisable to use gloves when handling it. Also, this plant is not a good idea if you have pets that like to chew on your houseplants or small children who may put things in their mouth.

Rubber trees are pretty tough as far as diseases go. You rarely, if ever, see them. Insects aren’t particularly attracted to Ficus elastica, either, but it’s always good to keep an eye out. Some of the more likely invaders you might find are mealy bugs and spider mites, with an occasional visit from aphids or scale.

Some other stresses your Rubber tree might encounter are a change of location (such as a move from the outside to the inside) or temperature stress. Both of these things could cause yellowing of leaves or leaf drop. The problem with a move from the outside is often related to a drop in humidity, and the plant will recover eventually. You can ease this transition by placing the plant on a humidity try or misting it lightly every other day, or so. Cold drafts can cause leaf drop, so take note of the placement of your plant.

Ficus elastica is a great plant for anyone that doesn’t have pets or small children to worry about, and wants an easy to care for plant. This plant can be an attractive focal point in a room, or just a bit of ambiance.