House Plant Advice

I am a little bit shocked, I must say, by the fact that house plants are “in” again.

Of course, for me, they never went “out.” I’ve been growing house plants since I was a teenager–which means at least 4 decades. That’s okay. I’m glad that something that I like is suddenly “cool” again.

But of course now everyone is online giving “expert” advice about everything to do with house plants. One of the most amusing ones–to me anyway–is how to bring house plants–or tropicals if we’re being exotic–in for the winter.

First of all, if you’re in the northeastern united states and you haven’t done this yet, be prepared for a major mess on your hands. It’s surely not too late to try to save some of your plants–but the later you wait, the more they have trouble with the transition. I generally bring mine in around Labor Day just to avoid that.

On the other hand, you could take some of the so-called expert advice and slowly transition them inside over a period of two weeks, spraying them no less than three times with some sort of organic insecticide.

I’ve never heard of such nonsense in my life. Clearly these folks don’t realize that the insects are going to go dormant in the winter (for the most part) and won’t wake up again (if at all) until spring.

They also don’t realize that some of these insects have eggs that can live up to 2 years in the soil–so you can spray your durned fool heads off as many times as you like and you’re not going to solve that little problem!

So rather than weakening your plants by thrusting them into the dark and spraying them with insecticide (even organic insecticide!), why not just hose the plants down with a good hard spray of water to try to dislodge anything that you can and then bring the plants in?

I am also no fan of the advice I have seen that suggests that you take the entire plant and submerge it wholesale in a bucket of soapy water. Again, why? This is like killing a flea–or an imagined flea–with a sledgehammer. You are weakening the entire plant and damaging its natural leaf coatings and you don’t even know if there’s a problem. Just. Dont’. Do. It.

Once the plants are inside, do watch them carefully to assure that you didn’t bring in any insects. You have another good month or so before really cold weather sets in. If you need to take a plant or two outside to spot treat with an organic insecticide, that’s certainly do-able. But no need to treat everything willy-nilly if you see no problems.

And continue to monitor. That’s what a good house plant owner does. The sooner you catch any problems, the sooner you can solve them. Both you and your plants will be happier that way!


Transitioning Your Outdoor Palette to Fall


Remember this summery shot from Labor Day when I was bringing in the house plants?


This is the same shot, taken 2 days later. Notice the difference?

Yes, some of the same plants are still there. But I have brought in others to emphasize the  autumnal colors of fall–the dark purple of the sweet potato vine, the dark stripes on my two banana plants, the fall-like colors in the crotons.

It’s a subtle shift, but it helps pick up the burgundy stems of the begonias that are nearby, and the red Japanese maple.

As we transition into autumn, how can you move some plants around to take advantage of the changing seasons?

More Unusual Snake Plants

On Friday we talked about the more common “snake plant” types, the green and the variegated.

Today I want to show you some of the more unusual varieties, starting with some that are called “bird’s nest” varieties. So far as I can determine, the botanical on these is sansevieria trifasciata hahnii.  The  variegated one is either gold or golden hahnii.


These are low growing and slow growing. I acquired both of mine “by accident:” that is, in planter combinations with other succulents. You all know how I feel about succulents that get out of control by now–those are long gone. But these are still with me. I think the gold variety is at least 10 years old.


Then there is the unusual upright round variety. These are botanically called “cylindrica.” These are occasionally the darlings of the designer set if they remain upright.


In my house, however, I let them roam at will.  This is what happens. I don’t mind. I like them just the same (since I don’t have a designer showplace–more of a plant conservatory type of house!)


And finally there is this unusual, narrow-leafed highly variegated variety called ‘Bantel’s Sensation.’ I admit, even I have had a little trouble with this one. This is my second–my first succumbed to over-watering. That’s not usually a problem in my house! So be warned–they can be a little tricky about water.

So that’s our tour through my more unusual snake plants. I often take a few of these to my house plant lectures because when you say “snake plants” everyone rolls his or her eyes and thinks “oh those boring old things.” So this is just proof that these don’t have to be boring.

And as a bonus, they’re great air cleaning plants too.

Do You Know the Genus Sansevieria?


Most people are familiar with this common green variety of sansevieria, or snake plant. The plant also goes by the common name of mother in law’s tongue,  or, less commonly, vipers bowstring. It’s easy to obtain at box stores, grocery stores and garden centers.

Unless you grow the plant in higher light, you probably don’t know that it flowers. Snake plants are amazingly adaptable in terms of light.

While I have said that they practically will grow in a closet  (but I wouldn’t test that out–certainly not in a closet with a door!), they will also grow in East or west exposures.

All of mine grow inside in West windows.  I have grown them outdoors in eastern exposures as well. Depending on the amount of light,  you increase or decrease water accordingly  (and if you try the closet, I would withhold all water).


This is a close-up of the flower spike. It’s incredibly beautiful and incredibly fragrant. I have no doubt if this were outdoors,  some pollinator would love it, although these plants are native to Africa.


This is probably the most common variety,  although this variety with an outer leaf variegation, sansevieria triasciata, is also popular.

Both of these plants can get quite large,  although you can often buy them as 2.5″ starter plants. Both of my “monster” sized plants started in these small pots.

Give them bright light and water  (because in high light they will need more water) and watch out!

Happy Labor Day

This is a mosaic of some of the house plants that I will be bringing into the house today.  Happy Labor Day indeed.

I don’t usually bring the plants in quite this early  but we have been having  record low temperatures and more cool weather is predicted later week.

Add to that an unpredictable hurricane  (Irma) wandering around in the Atlantic,  and I am taking no chances.

So while I will miss the freedom of watering with a hose, I want my true house plants safely indoors.

The annuals, herbs and vegetables can stay–at least until I know about the hurricane’s path. Then I might have to rush those to safety too.

Easier Care “Figs”

20170819_084050Okay, first let’s get something out of the way: the darling of the designer world, the fiddle leaf fig, (ficus lyrata) is not easy care. In fact, after looking up care in several reputable places, mine is going to hit the compost heap because it is clear that my cold and drafty New England house is completely unsuitable for it. My bad.

In addition to liking temperatures well above the 62 degrees that we keep our winter temperature heated house at, it needs nearly perfect watering (the famous “not too wet and not too dry”). That never happens with me and 150-180 plants at a time. It’s survival of the fittest and it’s clear that this plant isn’t fit–at least for my home.  I’m sorry I have brought this plant in, only to kill it off. But, live and learn.


Something that is much easier care is the rubber plant or tree (ficus elastica). These once came only in green but they now come in several variations like my ‘variegata.’ There’s also a variety with a dark leaves called ‘burgundy’ which is very pretty.  These are so hardy and nearly impossible to kill–the Spoiler’s plant once survived a break in at his office in February which left it exposed to freezing temperatures for hours. It’s now almost 60 years old!


The mistletoe fig  (ficus deltoides) is similarly carefree. With enough light, this plant will actually produce small, edible figs (but I mean small–the size of peas or so!). And talk about adaptable! This plant will take sun or shade and will adapt to very dry conditions. This is clearly the perfect plant for my neglectful home!


And finally, there is the creeping fig, ficus pumila. This plant is actually grown outdoors in warmer climates and some states consider it an aggressive pest. Hard to think of a fig as aggressive, isn’t it?

It comes in both green and variegated varieties and makes a nice trailing plant for containers. It can also be trained as a topiary.

That concludes our tour through the world of figs as house plants. With any luck, one of these will suit your needs and become a beloved part of your home.

Wordless Wednesday


You may remember my post from the Hartford Bonsai show about a month ago. At the time,  I said that I had very few bonsai anymore because they limited my ability to travel.

This is one exception.  This is Eugenia myrtifolia, or myrtle-leafed Eugenia. Occasionally in my part of the country,  we see Eugenia sold as a tropical topiary.  I guess in warmer places, it is a year-round topiary plant.

In my house, it has defied everyone’s attempt to kill it, even mine. It gets scale every winter.  Sometimes, I clean the scale off; other times I wait until spring when it goes outside.

My erratic watering means it loses a lot of leaves once it comes inside.  That’s fine.  There’s less for the scale to attack.

If it gets too dry, it loses all its leaves. There are times when I have been sure that it has died. But in the spring,  it leafs back out, and once August comes, it blooms.

I can’t tell you when it was last repotted. And you know that I don’t feed my plants.

It simply defies explanation–unlike the fiddle leaf fig you’ll see on Friday!