Organic House Plant Fertilizer

biosafe plant food

At my lecture Monday, I spoke about the wonderful organic plant food that I use for my houseplants.  Of course I had a “Bambi” moment and couldn’t recall the name so I promised to put the name up on my blog.

I’ll do better than that.  Here is the name, of course: BioSafe Plant food (all I could think of was Biofreeze, which I mentioned and said that I didn’t think the plants would benefit from muscle cream!) and the photo of my container.

I described all about how to use it: 1 oz to 2 gallons of water and said that I was using it monthly in the winter since I really shouldn’t be using it right now at all but that once the “season” picked up I would use it more often. I also mentioned that there was a larger, hose end sprayer size. I may order that size next time for when I move all the plants outside.

As the bottle shows, this is good for all types of plants–flowers, fruits, vegetables–there’s nothing you can’t use it on, unlike many of the other fertilizers (or there’s nothing you shouldn’t use it on).

I highly recommend it.  I mail order (or internet order) it directly from the company, which is right here in East Hartford.  I’ve added a link to their “Home and Garden” page.  Should you want to call them, their toll-free number is 1-888-273-3088.

A Great Read for Allergy Season

I’ve never been much of a fan of LinkedIn. I’m particularly prejudiced against it because they insist that you use a photo of yourself rather than something else. And in ham-handedly enforcing this policy, they deleted my “avatar” at the time, which was my sweet beloved late schnauzer, Buffi. I deleted my profile as well for a time in protest.  A simple “Hey, we don’t allow this anymore; you need to change your photo” would have sufficed.

But recently someone wanted to connect and because I thought his research sounded interested, I did connect. As a result, he very kindly sent me a review copy of his book, The Allergy Fighting Garden: Stop Asthma and Allergies with Smart Landscaping. The book is written by Thomas Leo Ogren and published by Ten Speed Press.

Honestly I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started reading but I was blown away by the research and science Tom put into the book. In his introduction, he says that he began the project because his wife has asthma and allergies so he tried to find books on landscaping his yard to help her and he couldn’t. He had to write his own.

And despite the science–sometimes a dreaded word to us gardeners!–the book is quite accessible! Yes, there are technical terms and quite a bit about plant sex (which sounds way more interesting than it actually is but Tom makes it as interesting as it can be!). If science really upsets you, you can gloss over this.

One of the most valuable parts of the book (other than the tricks on how to landscape the yard to help reduce the allergens–and there are some great tricks here, even if you don’t want to plant another plant or dig another hole. They include simple things like keeping ferns out of hanging baskets because the spores can be allergens and can, from their position in those baskets,  cover things that people will come into contact with. Ferns in the ground are rarely a problem) is Part Two which contains a rating of literally hundreds, if not thousands of plants on a scale that Ogren himself devised.

The scale is based upon numerous factors about the pollen, the amount of time the plant is in bloom, whether the plant has a fragrance and whether there is sap that causes a rash. The scale goes from 1-10 and is called OPALS. It covers all types of plants from trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, house plants, vegetables and fruits. This is an amazing body of work!

Best of all–as Tom says in his introduction, in re-landscaping his yard in armed with this knowledge, his wife does indeed feel better!


Wordless Wednesday–It’s Spring in the Desert

Blooming Cactus


How do you know when it’s too hot and dry in your house? When your cacti start blooming! Actually, all that means is that you’ve sited them properly in a sunny south window. So it’s spring in the desert of my south window.


Now if only the rest of my climate–out of doors–would warm up just a little!

Lecturing on House Plants

Today I am spending the day lecturing on house plants to a garden club. The actual lecture will take about an hour, with set up and break down, maybe an hour and a half. The drive is maybe an hour and 15 minutes without traffic. I’ll be lucky if I can make it one way without traffic. On the way home I’ll hit traffic so it will take me longer.

I travel with three or more crates of plants so before I leave, I carefully pack up those plants for travel. That probably takes an hour. When I return, I need to relocate all those plants back to their “homes” on my various windowsills on the two levels of my home. It may take several trips. It’s good aerobic exercise.

Then there are the books. I carry 5 or so books for demonstration and reference. They too have to be relocated. That’s another trip upstairs.

All told, from the time I leave my house to attend the lecture, to the time I “clean up and put away” the plants and books, it’s easily 5 hours of time, perhaps more. And that does not include the time I’ve put in developing the handout I’ve brought, or making copies of the handout.  I have taken vacation time to do this, although this is clearly no one’s idea of a “vacation.” It’s definitely hard work, although I love doing it, and I am getting paid.

Still, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, especially on a cold winter’s day, than to talk to a lovely group of gardeners about plants!

My Newest House Plant Obsession–Air Plants!

Air plants

Any time I wind up killing more than one of anything, I become obsessed. So when my tillandsia ball and another ball of mixed species of tillandsias suddenly up and died on me this winter, that was it–I was hooked. Clearly, I had to know what I was doing wrong and how to fix it.

air plant

Now in my defense, these two events happened months apart and I’m fairly sure I know exactly what happened in each case.  I have since confirmed it by reading Zenaida Sengo’s excellent book, Tillandsias: The Curious World of Air Plants.  Sorry there’s no photo, but I read it, as I read most things these days, on a device and not in paper.

I also talked to an air plant vendor at the Flower and Garden Show at the Convention Center a few weeks ago, specifically about my mixed ball of tillandsias, which I’d had less than a year.  The first one I’d had over five years and it literally bloomed itself to death, I think. So I’m not too concerned about that one.

air plant

His analysis was that the plants had dried out (and indeed, that pretty much seemed to be the case for at least one of the plants) because of my watering practices. So I’ve changed those up a bit–longer soakings–and I’m giving the plants a bit more light, although light in my house isn’t usually too much of an issue, particularly now that winter is over! The container of air plants shown above is one I purchased from him recently.

What I also learned from the book is that theses plants are epiphytes (like orchids, they like to hang on trees and absorb nutrition from the air–hence the name “air” plants) and they belong to the larger bromeliad family. Interesting.

The book also gives many fabulous suggestions for containers, for placements with other plants, and even for mounting (which I don’t think I’ll try, even after I’m sure I’m not going to kill them again, thanks so much!)

There are actually 3 different types of tillandsias, but this is a bit complicated. Some, which come from the desert regions, tend to be silvery in color and may be covered in a particular coating that helps them retain water more readily.

Bulbous air plant


Others are from more temperate regions. And then there are the bulbous types which look different from most of the others.

According to Sengo’s book, so long as the plants are receiving sufficient light, it’s really hard to over-water (within reason, of course) but they should never be left to sit in water.

And that’s the short course in air plant survival!

Wordless Wednesday–Be Ever Vigitant

That badly mangled partial quote, above, is from Much Ado About Nothing. A comic sheriff who confuses words badly tells a group of citizens to remain watchful by urging them to “Be ever vigitant, I beseech you!”

Somehow, the line stuck with me and I now use it all the time for everything. I refer to my little dog as “Miss Vigitant” when she’s on the hunt  for squirrels.

And I use the line in my lectures about checking house plants for insects.

Lime tree

This is the lime I referred to on Monday. Even in this photo you can see specks of aphids on the leaves (in the far left).

Aphids on leaves

Upon closer inspection, the aphids are pretty apparent. There are some tiny dark specks too–those are spider mites.

This is a plant under some pretty severe stress. I’ve been just washing the leaves off but it’s apparent that’s not enough. I think perhaps some insecticidal soap is in order.

Am I sorry I bought this plant? Nope. These are easily remedied problems and I have the plant isolated. And the fragrance far outweighs these minor issues.

Banishing the Bugs

On Friday, I talked about how the warmer temperatures and longer days were causing plants to put on new growth and tender new growth was likely to attract all kinds of insects. Today I’ll talk about how to cope with those pesky pests in a friendly way.

Interestingly enough, after I drafted that post (which I do ahead of time) I went to a garden center to see about adding a few new plants to my collection. You’ll see a lime that I picked up on Wednesday. It was the best looking lime in the garden center. It was also the one that had the fewest aphids on it. The rest were pretty much covered in almost every stage of aphid, from nymph to full-bodied creature.  I really didn’t want to call attention to the situation or I would have taken some photos, but I did mention it quietly to the cashier when I checked out. Needless to say, I have this plant in quarantine and I am showering it off every few days.

So that’s obviously one way to deal with insects (but again, you have to keep your eyes peeled for these pesky critters!). Take the plant to the sink (or shower) and wash it off.  It works best with spider mites and aphids and if the infestation is severe, you may wish to first treat the plant with an insecticidal soap and then hose it off to get the remaining stragglers.

Insecticidal soap is really a wonder treatment for mostly all the indoor pests. It will kill aphids, mealy bugs and spider mites. If you catch the infestation early, one treatment may be all you need. If not, repeated applications may be necessary.

Be aware that certain plants are more sensitive to treatment than others. Never spray when the plants are in the sun or when the temperatures are above 80 degrees (this is good advice for indoors or out!)

And if, for whatever reason, you see just one or two affected leaves, or an affected twig, sometimes the best practice can be just to prune those off. You can often stop an infestation in its tracks just by pulling off a few leaves.  This is especially true for scale, which is difficult to treat once it gets started.

Scale protects itself with a hard covering. So, as I’ve often described it, you could spray straight Raid on the plant and it would have no effect (but please do NOT try that!). Instead, what you have to do, if the plant is small, is to scrub off the leaves with a toothbrush dipped in insecticidal soap.

If it’s larger, that’s more of a problem. A lightweight horticultural oil will smother the scale, but most of us don’t want to be spraying that inside the house.  If you can hang on until you can get the plant out of doors, the wasps and hornets will eat the scale off the plant for you–or if you are not in an area where there are watering restrictions, you can blast it off with a sharp spray from the hose. Either way, locate the plant at a distance from the house so that you are not bothered if the wasps and hornets come to clean the plant for you! And vow not to think of these critters as pests in the future (or as less of a pest anyway!)

Organic houseplant insect control is very easy if you catch the infestations early. If not, sometimes the best control is what I call “triage”–I toss the plant before it infests the rest of my collection. Barring triage (a last resort, obviously), quarantine a badly infested plant until you determine whether it can be saved. But careful observation should help you avoid either of these steps!