Tag Archive | houseplants

Orchid Cactus

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

untitledI started this plant from a leaf cutting 8+ years ago. It loves the indoor south exposure where it has been since I got it. I really don’t pay much attention to it. It is a vining plant and needs support. When I gets to be 10 or 12 feet long, I hack it back. It is a plant the makes a very bold statement via its foliage. This leaf is 22 inches long.I had pretty much given up on seeing it bloom until a couple days ago – then I noticed the flower buds.

untitledThese were quite a surprise and I was hoping that they would be open the following day. That night I thought I would take another peak at them. WOW!

Even the internal structure is extraordinary.
After seeing the flower, I was able to determine that the variety is most likely “Queen of the Night”. That certainly is an appropriate name. The flowers last only one night. Looking more closely at the plant, I found four other spent blossoms that I had missed. There are two more buds developing. This plant is well worth having in your collection just for the foliage. The flowers put it over the top. It is very easy to grow.

untitled

Other members of this family bloom during the day with individual flowers lasting a week or so. Colors tend to be in the red/pink end of the spectrum and the plants can be quite a bit smaller, lending themselves to hanging baskets.

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Kalanchoe can rebloom!

kalanchoe-blossfeldianaThe ubiquitous Kalanchoe (pronounced kal-an-KO-ee) is at almost every grocery store that has a floral department, and getting one as part of a get-well or birthday celebration is as common as getting a card! However, the plants are always blooming beautifully upon receipt, but when the blooms begin to fade the plant tends to look straggly and is often discarded.  Not necessary! There is nothing quite like coming in from a bitter winter’s day and seeing the mass of bright red flowers. Even the variations on red that are available — the softer apricot, deeper magenta, or singular yellow — brighten both the room and your soul. Compact, bushy, and about a foot tall, kalanchoe is common in winter, but once the flowers disappear, many people abandon them. That’s a shame, because with very little effort, they can be forced to bloom whenever you want.

Kalanchoe is what is known as a short-day plant, but it is really the length of the night that matters. For kalanchoe to set flower buds, it needs six to eight weeks of days with 14 to 16 hours of uninterrupted darkness. And uninterrupted means exactly that, so you’ll have to put it in the closet every afternoon — over in the corner where your poinsettia spends the fall, as it needs the same treatment. Pick the right closet because anything in it you might need won’t be available until morning. About a month after the dark period ends, color should be showing as the buds begin to break.

Other than that, kalanchoe is a cinch to grow when given lots of sun (except when it’s in the closet). It thrives in warmth, 65ºF or more, although it tolerates temperatures just above freezing. It should have the chance to go a bit dry between waterings, and it likes a general fertilizer every two or three weeks when new leaves are growing.

When it gets too big it can be cut back pretty hard, leaving only three leaves on each branch. If you do cut it back, wait until it has at least three pairs of new leaves on each branch (about two to three months) before tossing it back in the closet to initiate flowering.

Pharmacy in your Garden?

Xi'an_traditionnal_medecine_market_(20)

Traditional Medicine Market in China

There is no doubt that many plants are useful medicinally, just as there is equal certainty that many of them are poisonous. The problem is that these are often the same plants. The vast array of widely available herbal supplements and the equally huge assortment of books on herbal healing reinforce a general sense that natural products are safer than manufactured ones. But the truth is a resounding “sometimes yes and sometimes no.” Herbal medicine is a huge and complicated subject, well worth investigating but by no means something to plunge into incautiously. Things to bear in mind:

  • Very few scientifically rigorous studies have been done, largely because almost all such studies are underwritten by drug companies, and herbs, which cannot be patented, could never return the investment involved.
  • There is no way for the home gardener to standardize dosage: plants produce different amounts of active chemical agents depending on how and where they are grown, when they are harvested, and the variety characteristics of the particular plant.
  • Herbs may interact badly with other drugs, rendering them less effective or more toxic, in unpredictable ways.
  • Like other drugs, many herbal toxins are cumulative. Small doses may produce no adverse symptoms but become dangerous in the aggregate.

The don’t-mess-with-in list. A sampling of herbs that have historic reputations as medicinals but are potentially deadly: aconite (Aconitum napellus), deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), lobelia (Lobelia inflata), May apple (Podophyllum peltatum), and pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides and Mentha pulegium both go by this common name, and the oils of both are toxic). Note: for an interesting literary exploration of some of these poisonous plants, check out our upcoming August 9, 2016 blogpost on the natural poisons found in Agatha Christie’s books.

In addition, many well-known herbs appear to be carcinogenic (sassafras, coltsfoot, and comfrey); cause abnormal heart rhythms and/or violent gastrointestinal symptoms (tansy, broom, and blood root); or have other downsides that make freelance experimentation unwise.

The give-it-a-whirl list. A sampling of herbs that are very unlikely to hurt you and may well do some good, assuming you use only small amounts: agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), catnip (Nepeta cataria), chamomile (Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile), echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium), garlic (Allium sativum), hops (Humulus lupulus), peppermint (Mentha x piperita), and valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Be careful with Borage as it absolutely deserves its reputation as a natural laxative; a few leaves go a long way!

In addition, there are herbs that emphatically should NOT be ingested but do have strong healing properties when used externally. First and foremost is aloe, most commonly Aloe vera, which deserves its high reputation as a healer of burns. [Personal side note: I incurred a really, really bad sunburn on my lips in late June of this year — I’m talking second degree burns. Since I have a lovely pot of Aloe growing in my house, I thought I’d smear a little on my lips to make them heal. I have NEVER tasted anything worse in my whole life!! I couldn’t wipe it off fast enough and it took forever for the taste to go away.]

Another healing herb to be used externally is arnica (Arnica montana) which is right up there as an easer of aching muscles, and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) does seem to promote the healing of wounds when applied as a poultice.

Easter Lilies

by aggie horticulture (Texas A&M University)

Along a few miles of the Pacific Coast at the Oregon and California border lies a unique area where the ideal combination of climate, soil, water and man has developed a product of deep meaning, beauty and tradition – the Easter Lily.

The Harbor-Brookings bench of Southwest Curry County, Oregon and the Smith River area of Northwest Del Norte County, California, is known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World. Here, lily growers toil year-round in their fields to produce nearly all the bulbs from which the large trumpet-shaped flowers bloom.

easter-lily-1-1Uniquely suited for the production of superior quality Easter Lily bulbs, the area offers a climate of year-round mild temperatures afforded by a protective bay, deep, rich, alluvial soils and abundant rainfall – the exact measure of ingredients needed to produce a consistently high quality bulb crop. The lily-perfect conditions combined with the ingenuity and dedication of the area’s growers are why over 95% of the world’s potted Easter Lilies originate from this narrow coastal strip.

The Easter Lily Capital is accessible only by a narrow and winding coastal highway banked by magnificent Redwood forests, overlooking the spectacularly scenic Pacific Ocean. It seems only fitting that the symbolic flower of Easter, which adds beauty, grace and fragrance to millions of homes, businesses and churches, has its roots in such a pristine and beautiful corner of the world.

The Easter Lily — the Latin name is Lilium longiforum – is native to the southern islands of Japan. In the 1880’s, it was widely cultivated in Bermuda and bulbs were shipped to this country. Around the turn of the century, the Japanese took over the annual growing exportation of Easter Lilies to the United States, and continued to dominate the U. S. export market until the start of World War II.

Precise growing conditions are necessary since the Easter Lily bulbs must be cultivated in the fields for three, and sometimes four years, before they are ready to be shipped to commercial greenhouse growers. Those years, however, are not a carefree time for the bulbs nor for the growers. The bulbs are never dormant and require constant care and attention to assure superior quality and cleanliness. Each bulb is handled up to 40 times before it is ready to be shipped.

A commercial- sized bulb often starts as a small, baby bulblet growing underground on the stem of its mother plant. When the mother plant is harvested, the bulblet is carefully removed and planted in another field. One year later, the bulblet, now called a yearling, is dug up again. The yearling is planted in a new field for another full year of cultivation and specialized care to allow it to grow into its full potential, maturity and status as a commercial bulb.

Bulb harvesting takes place each year in the fall, during late September and early October. At harvest time, the lily fields become a bustle of hectic activity as the growers orchestrate a 3-ring circus. Commercial-sized bulbs are dug, cleaned, graded, sorted, packed and cooled. Yearling bulbs are dug, treated and re-planted in newly-prepared fields for the following year’s commercial crop. And, baby bulblets are stripped from the mother plants and tenderly placed in the ground to start them on the road to becoming commercials in 2 or 3 years.

Easter-LilyThe commercial bulbs are shipped to greenhouse growers throughout the United States and Canada who force the plants under controlled conditions to flower in time for Easter. This is a very tricky process since Easter falls on a different day each year, dependent upon celestial bodies. The first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter can be any day between March 22 and April 25. Crop scheduling and timing is critical – another reason why the bulbs have to be of such a consistent high quality with reliable vigor and performance. The flowers must bloom exactly when they’re supposed to, with no margin for error.

From the fields to the greenhouse to your home, the Easter Lily remains the traditional, time-honored flower of Easter. Symbolic of a resurrection, Easter Lilies rise from earthy graves as scaly bulbs, and bloom into majestic flowers that embody the beauty, grace and tranquillity of the special region from which they originate.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR EASTER LILIES KEEP ON GIVING

The Easter Lily, the traditional time-honored flower of Easter, is highly regarded as a joyful symbol of beauty, hope and life. The large, trumpet-shaped, fragrant white flowers make a meaningful gift that embodies the very essence of the celebration of Easter. Whether you plan to give the potted plants as a gift or use them to decorate your own home, the following tips will help make your Easter Lilies keep on giving.

Two of the greatest charms of the Easter Lily are form and fragrance, so look for high quality plants that are aesthetically pleasing from all angles. Select medium-to-compact plants that are well-balanced and proportional in size – not too tall and not too short.

For the longest possible period of enjoyment in your home, look for plants with flowers in various stages of ripeness. For example, the best selection would be a plant with just one or two open or partly open blooms, and three or more puffy, unopened buds of different sizes. The ripe puffy buds will open up within a few days, while the tighter ones will bloom over the next several days.

As the flowers mature, remove the yellow anthers before the pollen starts to shed. This gives longer flower life and prevents the pollen from staining the white flowers. When a mature flower starts to wither after its prime, cut it off to make the plant more attractive while you still enjoy the fresher, newly-opened blooms.

When selecting plants, be sure to also cheek out the foliage: an abundance of dark, rich green foliage is not only attractive, but a vital sign of good plant health. The foliage should appear dense and plentiful, all the way down to the soil line, a good indicator of an active, healthy root system.

Be wary of Easter Lilies displayed in paper, plastic or mesh sleeves. The protective sleeves are used for shipping and should be removed immediately upon arrival at the store. While the packaging may seem convenient, the quality of the plants will deteriorate if they are left sleeved too long. Also avoid waterlogged plants, especially if the plant looks wilted. This could be a sign of root rot.

In the home, Easter Lilies prefer moderately cool temperatures. Recommended daytime temperatures are 60o to 65o F. with slightly cooler night temperatures. Avoid placing plants near drafts, and avoid exposure to excess heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or heating ducts. The lily will thrive near a window in bright, indirect natural daylight, but avoid glaring, direct sunlight.

Easter Lilies prefer moderately moist, well-drained soil. Water the plant thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to a light touch, but avoid over-watering. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, be careful not to let the plant sit in trapped, standing water. For best results, remove the plant from decorative pots or covers, take it over the sink and water thoroughly until water seeps out of the pot’s drain holes to completely saturate the soil. Allow the plant to air for a few minutes and discard the excess water before replacing it back into its decorative pot cover.

After the last bloom has withered and has been cut away, you can continue to grow your Easter Lilies, and even plant them outside in your garden to enjoy them for years to come. Once the lilies have finished flowering, place the potted plants in a sunny location. Continue to water thoroughly as needed, and add one teaspoon of slow-release Osmocote fertilizer every 6 weeks. You can move the pots to a sunny location outdoors after the danger of frost has passed.

To plant your Easter Lilies outside, prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location with rich, organic matter. Use a well- drained planting mix, or a mix of one part soil, one part peat moss and one part perlite. Good drainage is the key for success with lilies. To ensure adequate drainage, raise the garden bed by adding good soil to the top of the bed, thus obtaining a deeper topsoil and a rise to the planting area.

Plant the Easter Lily bulbs 3 inches below ground level, and mound up an additional 3 inches of topsoil over the bulb. Plant bulbs at least 12 to 18 inches apart in a hole sufficiently deep so that the bulbs can be placed in it with the roots spread out and down, as they naturally grow. Spread the roots and work the prepared soil in around the bulbs and the roots, leaving no air pockets. Water in immediately and thoroughly after planting. Try not to allow the soil to heave or shift after planting.

As the original plants begin to die back, cut the stems back to the soil surface. New growth will soon emerge. The Easter Lilies, which were forced to bloom under controlled greenhouse conditions in March, bloom naturally in the summer. You may be rewarded with a second bloom later this summer, but most likely you will have to wait until next June or July to see your Easter Lilies bloom again.

Another planting tip to consider is that lilies like their roots in shade and their heads in the sun. Mulching helps conserve moisture in between waterings, keeps the soil cool and loose, and provides a fluffy, nutritious medium for the stem roots. Or, a more attractive alternative would be to plant a “living mulch,” or a low ground cover of shallow-rooted, complementary annuals or perennials. The stately Easter Lilies rising above lacy violas or primulas is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also sound gardening.

The Easter Lily bulbs are surprisingly hardy even in cold climates. Just be sure to provide winter protection by mulching the ground with a thick, generous layer of straw, pine needles, leaves, ground corncob, pieces of boxes or bags. Carefully remove the mulch in the spring to allow new shoots to come up, as your Easter Lilies will keep on giving beauty, grace and fragrance in years to come.

Jade Plant

by Tom Wentzel

Jade (Crassula ovata)

This succulent is native to South Africa.

Tom's beautiful jade plant

Tom’s beautiful jade plant

I received this plant as a gift several years ago and have managed to keep it alive and, apparently, thriving.  For the first few years it was kept outside and brought in when the night temperatures.  Recently I have been keeping it indoors throughout the year.  It is a fairly forgiving plant.  Moderate amounts of a balanced fertilizer and water.  Overwatering will lead to root rot and be the end of the plant.  Make sure is doesn’t dry out for too long.  It must be one of the easiest plants to propagate.  Even leaves that drop off will root in soil.  The branches of the jade plant are fragile.  Be careful when moving or working around the plants.  If branches break off, just put them in some potting soil and you have a new plant.

According to the literature, getting a jade to bloom is a daunting task.  Withhold water and fertilizer in the fall and early winter.  Keep the plant and cool temperatures and limit light to 4 hours.  COMPLETE darkness for 20 hours.  I have never done this.   My jade is kept in a south facing kitchen window all year.  It starts blooming around Christmas and will continue to bloom for a couple months.  I believe that is it the decreasing amount of daylight and a day/night temperature change are what cause the plant to but on a display.

Norfolk Island Pine

Norfolk Island Pine growing among the palm trees in Florida

Norfolk Island Pine growing among the palm trees in Florida

I was on a vacation in Florida recently and enjoyed, once again, seeing my favorite tree in an environment where it could really stand out: the Norfolk Island Pine. Where we live in the north, the Norfolk Island Pine is a wonderful potted plant that is particularly popular at Christmas (decorated with glitter and miniature ornaments), but cannot survive as a true tree outdoors. It is native to Norfolk Island, located between New Zealand and Australia.

The tree grows 200 feet tall in its natural habitat, but rarely exceeds 6-8 feet tall as a houseplant. While this conifer is a true evergreen, it is not a pine.  Indoor care requires that the soil be kept evenly moist. If the soil dries out or if the humidity level is too low, the bottom branches will turn brown and fall off. [This is, sadly, the fate of the Norfolk Island Pine that I had as a houseplant for many years. Unfortunately, 2015 was the year of it’s demise.] Keep the plant on a tray of pebbles with water to maintain the necessary level of humidity.

 

Norfolk Island Pine as a popular houseplant

Norfolk Island Pine as a popular houseplant plantDry, hot air — common in the winter where we live — also makes this plant a magnet for spider mites. If possible, try to keep it in a cooler room, away from heat vents.

Unfortunately, no matter how beautiful and healthy the plant may be, it will never match the majesty of those dark green fronds rising straight up through the field of palm trees in Florida and parts of the Caribbean — which means that I’ll just have to keep going on vacations!

Creating the Tropics at Home

Master Gardener Tom Brinkman

Master Gardener Tom Brinkman

We’re always so thrilled when our members are spotlighted for their achievements or creativity. Recently, our resident house plant expert, Tom Brinkman, and his wife Sue were spotlighted by the Post-Crescent newspaper in an article that invites us to enjoy the tropics. This is especially inviting given the fact that we’re in Wisconsin — in February — where it snows a lot. Tom and Sue not only have a beautiful outdoor garden in the summer, they also have a huge greenhouse where hundreds of plants enjoy tropical weather even in our cold winter climate. As one of the instructors of our annual Master Gardener classes, students love the week where they get to visit Tom’s home and learn about the care of his amazing array of plants (including an astonishing number of bromeliads).

To read about Tom’s garden, follow the link to the article in the Post-Crescent, which was written by another of our members — David Calle.

http://www.postcrescent.com/story/opinion/columnists/2016/01/29/taste-tropics-neenah/79453518/