Countryside Corner; Neighborly Garden News
Indoor gardening; houseplants are trendy now!
Flash forward to 2017, and welcome to the world-wide-web of the plant world. There is virtually no limit to what type of plants you may purchase on-line; the limit is what you may successfully grow in your home environment. Yet, in researching this article, there are work-arounds to plant un-unfriendly environments also. You can purchase wall garden kits that will create a completely self-contained, self-watering garden to function as a living ‘painting’ in your home. In one of the kits I looked at, the plants were held in removable ‘cassettes’; allowing you to swap out different planting themes for holiday decorating etc.
An interesting ‘houseplant’ that isn’t a plant at all, is the Marimo moss ball. It is actually a form of sea algae that naturally forms a ball shape. You can grow it in a fish tank, or a decorative container, out of direct light. It is a passive organism, it doesn’t grow very much or move; has very few cultural needs, but may be the perfect living green thing for somebody. You only need change the water periodically, and the moss ball would benefit from the addition of aquarium salt.
Did you know that some houseplants are very efficient at purifying the air? Sansevieria or the ‘Snake Plant’ can help remove formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, xylene and trichloroethylene gases from our indoor environments, and be decorative accents too. Most houseplants are considered tropical perennials, in their home ecosystems, and have varying light requirements. In general, though, most houseplants have low-medium light requirements, as befitting a plant suitable for growing indoors. Many will enjoy summering outdoors, but it is important to adhere to the light needs of the plant and not give them too much light, too quickly or they will get scorched leaves.
Tillandsias or ‘Air Plants’ are plants that can grow without soil. They are members of the Bromeliad family, and use their roots to attach to trees or rocks in their natural environment. Tillandsias absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves, and are classified as epiphytes. They obtain their water and nutrients from rain, and the debris that accumulates around them. Tillandsias prefer bright filtered light, and can actually be harmed by direct full sun. It is important to completely wet the plant 2-4 times per week, you may need to wet the plant more or less frequently depending upon the temperature and humidity of your home. Light misting can help with humidity, but it is not suitable for the main source of moisture. You should choose a fertilizer made for absorption through the leaves; such as Epiphyte’s Delight.
Miniature succulents, and succulents of all kinds have become very popular for indoor plants. The Haworthia attenuate, or Zebra Haworthia is a noteworthy member of the Aloe family, very easy to grow indoors. My grandmother had one in the same container on her shady windowsill, literally my whole childhood. Zebra Haworthia originate from South Africa, and normally will experience seasonal changes in light, water and temperature. Haworthia prefer cool (50’F), drier conditions in winter, and bright, indirect light and warmer temperatures in summer. During the summer water generously, letting the soil media dry out between watering. In winter, reduce watering to once every other month, making sure water does not accumulate in the rosette of leaves. Fertilize, using a formulation for cacti, in the summer months only.
For those of us with pets, having non-toxic plants is vital for their well-being. Two pet-friendly types of house plants, that are also easy to care for are; Hoya kerrii, the Valentine plant, and Calathea crocata, the Eternal Flame plant. Calathea have attractive, slightly wrinkled, metallic green and purple leaves that tend to fold up in the evening. It gets its common name from the long-lasting yellow-orange flowers held up above the leaves. It likes bright light, no direct sun, and consistently moist soil through the summer months. Calathea likes ‘soft’ water, and some sources suggest using distilled water for this plant. Grow Calathea on a tray of pebbles, to provide the high humidity it likes, or mist daily with tepid water.
February’s ‘to-do’ list:
Minimize winter burn damage by using an anti-desiccant application. Winter burn of susceptible evergreens is most likely to occur during February, more than any other month. The 3-way punch of strong winds, frozen soil, and bright late winter sun, sets up conditions that can lead to leaf burn or browning. Optimal results for anti-desiccants is when the first application occurs in November/December with a second application following during the February month when temperatures rise above freezing for 24 hours. If you missed the first application during November/December, it is not too late to benefit from an anti-desiccant application, and take advantage of the February thaw. Call our office to schedule (413.458.5586).
Inspect and prepare your garden tools. Nothing beats a sharp blade to speed up garden chores like dead-heading, pruning, and hoeing. Before your garden life becomes hectic, take a morning to lubricate and hone your hardworking tools. Inventory your garden essentials, and set reminders to order soil and compost, or mulch, and to schedule the ‘heavy jobs’ like gutter cleaning, spring clean ups, and lawn renovation.
Beat the late-winter doldrums by attending one of our premier local flower shows: Smith College spring bulb show, March 3-18th, an annual event, where the conservatories are filled with thousands of colorful, fragrant blooms. Amherst Orchid Society spring show, February 24-25th at Smith Vocational School in Northampton, MA offers breathtaking displays from orchid clubs all over New England, along with demonstrations and talks.
Late winter snow storms are often wet and icy. Remember to shake off evergreen branches weighed down by ice and snow. If you should happen to get some broken branches, be sure to prune off the stump cleanly. A ragged tear will inhibit proper healing, and invite infection from pathogenic organisms.
Force branches of spring flowering shrubs and trees for a beautiful pick-me-up. Snip branches on a 45’ angle, and submerge in water overnight. Place the branches in a sturdy vase and store in a cool location until the buds begin to open. Best candidates for forcing are: Forsythia, Crabapples, Cherries, Pussy Willows, and Quince.
Indoor plants need a little TLC, now that they have been cooped up since early fall. Dust your houseplants with a moist cloth to keep their pores open and free to breathe-they will thank you! Scout for pesky bugs; plants leaking sticky sap are a tell-tale sign of sucking insects. Aphids, mealy bugs, and scale insects are the most common pests, easily removed with a strong stream of water at the kitchen sink.
Need help remembering monthly tasks and services? Visit our website: countrysidelandscape.net and click on the Service Calendar to see what services should be considered for each month of the year. February is the month for dormant pruning, fruit and ornamental tree pruning, storm damage amendment, tree removal and stump grinding. Give us a call! 413.458.5586.
Understanding fertilizer numbers; what does N-P-K mean?
Every fertilizer label is imprinted with 3 numbers that stand for the ratio or proportion of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K) in the product. The numbers reflect the nutrients percentage by weight in the bagged fertilizer.This figure is handy to know if you’ve had a recommendation for a certain quantity of Nitrogen to apply to your soil. For instance a 12 lb bag of 10-5-10 (12 lbs x 0.10 = 1.2) would have 1.2 lbs of actual Nitrogen.
Of the 17 nutrients essential to all plant life these 3, N-P-K, are required in the greatest amounts. Because plants use larger quantities of these 3 nutrients, they have to be replenished. As Nitrogen moves freely through the soil, water can leach out this mineral through daily irrigation or heavy rains.
Nitrogen (N) is responsible for the lush vegetative growth and green color in lawn and leafy plants. Without enough Nitrogen plants will be stunted and have a yellowish cast to them. Too much Nitrogen will promote excess leafy growth, and no flowering.
Phosphorus (P) promotes strong root development and fruit, flower and seed production. Phosphorus also helps plants metabolize other nutrients efficiently. A lack of Phosphorus will cause poor root development, and scarce or no flower development.
Potassium (K) will enhance overall growth within the plant. It acts as a modulator; balancing the rate of top and root growth. Potassium acts like a general tonic; elevating cold and drought tolerance, and resistance to pests and diseases.
For best vegetables and tomatoes; look for higher second (P) and third (K) numbers. Flower bulbs need to root quickly, so look for products with a higher middle (P) number. The flower and leaves are already formed within the bulb for next year’s bloom.
Utilizing ground-cover type plants as living mulch can eliminate the need for yearly application of bark mulch or chips. The initial investment of time and money will pay off with years of beauty when the ground-cover becomes established. Many varieties produce flowers, and have nice fall coloration; so much more interesting than plain mulch.
Epimedium spp. is called ‘Barrenwort’ because it blooms before the leaves come out. The flowers remind me of helicopter wings and come in shades of pink, purple, yellow or white. It’s a vigorous, deer resistant, plant suitable for dry shade. Grows 10-20” tall depending on the species.
Lamium galeobdolon; common name: ‘Yellow Archangel’, the cultivar ‘Hermann’s Pride’ has silver and green metallic-like leaves that get more intensely colored in the shade. The butter-yellow tubular flowers are held on 12” spikes during mid-summer. This groundcover is very adaptable; good for sun or part shade, and deer resistant.
Sedum kamtschaticum or ‘Russian stonecrop’ is great for hot and dry, full sun areas. Only 6” tall the bright gold flowers are held on candy red stems, its leaves turn purple in the fall. Sedums are generally very rugged, deer resistant, and suitable for rocky areas and banks.
Phlox subulata or ‘Moss Phlox’ is also called creeping phlox; a welcome sight in May. Sometimes covering whole slopes; it can form a very dense carpet. Moss Phlox likes sandy, well-drained soil, tolerant of low fertility, needs full sun. Shades of blue, pink purple and white, and bicolor. Moss Phlox grows to 6” tall, and is considered deer resistant.
Tiarella cordifolia; the ‘Allegheny Foamflower’ is a hardy native to our moist woodlands. The white or pink flowers look like frothy stars held up above the foliage on slender spikes. Tiarella blooms for 6 weeks through mid to late spring. Grows 12-15” tall, deer resistant.