Archive for December, 2012

Houseplants are easy to care for and many clean the air in your house as seen on KDKA’s PTL

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

English ivy spills over the edge of a container at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It’s one of the plants that help clean toxins from the air.


It’s time to take a close look at all my houseplants and take stock of how they are doing.
Look carefully at the leaves, if there are yellow or brown foliage, remove them. Any part of a plant that’s looking worse for wear should be cut off and put in the compost (you do compost don’t you?). Look at the plants closely. If there are discolored leaves, maybe a purple tint, that’s a clue they are not getting what they need, so hit them with some organic fertilizer. There are a couple ways to do that. One is to use a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion, but I also love a granular type from TerraCycle.

If the tips of the leaves are turning brown there might be a salt build up from chemical fertilizers. Be sure your pot has good drainage to flush those salts out.

The leaves of houseplants are more important than the flowers — they need to be kept clean so they can stay healthy. My house is old and often dusty, so I let the houseplants dry out and then place them all in the bathtub and run the shower over them once or twice a year. This is also a great way to flush out the soil. With plants that have big sturdy leaves, I wipe them down as they go back near the window.

Most houseplants should be kept on the dry side, over watering and over fertilizing kills them.

It’s great to have something to take care of inside during the winter, and neglect is actually a good thing. As the days get longer, the birds begin to sing, the air smell different and it won’t be long until the crocus poke through the soil. When that happens there’s nothing left to stop us.
I’ve written about clean air plants in the Post-Gazette before. I also produced this video, it’s an interview with Kelly Ogrodnik, former Phipps’ sustainable design and programs manager. She’s done a lot of research about what’s in our air and how plants can filter the bad stuff.
Here’s a list of plants grown indoors that will help take toxins out of our indoor air-

English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Golden pothos (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata‘Laurentii’)
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium, syn. Philodendron cordatum)
Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum, syn. Philodendron selloum)
Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragans ‘Massangeana’)
Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’)
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Pot Mum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

Holiday plants are the perfect gift. As seen on KDKA PTL

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

There isn’t much prettier than a amaryllis blooming on the windowsill.


I love to give plants as gifts during the holidays. My favorites are amaryllis, Christmas cactus, cyclamen, rosemary plants trimmed like trees and paperwhites.
There’s not much out there prettier than an amaryllis.
Amaryllis offer some of the most beautiful flowers for the holiday season. For the first season the bulb has everything in it that the flower needs. The job of the gardener is to treat the plant right to get blooms next season. I’ve got about a 50/50 record for re-blooming. I never throw them away and they will bloom when they are happy. Sometimes that’s every year, sometimes it takes three.
After the plant is done blooming remove the flower stalk leaving the tall, floppy foliage. Grow it as a houseplant all winter and start fertilizing in March. Mid-May it goes outside in the shade. Sometimes transplanting to a pot one size bigger will help. Keep feeding the plant every couple weeks through the season.
In August stop all watering and fertilization and bring the amaryllis back inside. I put mine down in the basement for six to eight weeks until they go into dormancy. The leaves will turn brown, which feeds the bulb. Then bring the plant back to the windowsill add a little water and hope for buds to emerge.
I rarely get them to bloom at Christmas, but anytime they flower, it’s wonderful. Usually it’s about being too busy at the end of the season and not getting them into dormancy fast enough. Others never make it outside, are forgotten about and bloom after given a little water.

The Christmas cactus is a perennial favorite gift for gardeners. It’s indestructible, usually killed with kindness. It’s not really a cactus, so it’s watered like any other houseplant, but prefers dry over wet. I like to grow them in eight inch and bigger pots so they don’t need watered as often and they get nice and big.
They are triggered to bloom in the same way poinsettias are. That means when growing on the windowsill they are often turned into an Easter or Thanksgiving cactus.

I forgot about one out in my unheated greenhouse and it received the perfect light to be in full bloom on Christmas day.

For many gardeners a Christmas cactus becomes a family heirloom passed down for generations. I’ve done stories on plants that were 100 years old.

The rosemary tree is easy to find and a great gift for gardeners who cook. Give them a haircut here and there and use the trimming for cooking. The trick to keeping the alive over the winter is to make sure they stay moist, but do not over water.
Cyclamen needs constant moisture too, if they are allowed to dry out, they will die. They will bloom for months if given the right amount of water.
Not everyone loves the fragrance of paperwhites, but I do. They are white indoor daffodils which go to the compost after blooming since they are not hardy and tough to make rebloom.

Enjoy your holiday plants now and for years to come.

Poinsettias are the queen of the holiday plants. As seen on Pittsburgh Today Live.

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

I love ‘Winter Rose” poinsettia.


I love poinsettias, especially some of the “weirder” varieties. My favorite is a double called “Winter Rose.” But there’s certainly nothing wrong with the more traditional varieties.
Poinsettias can live for years both inside and outside.
Don’t throw your poinsettias away after the season. Not only will they keep their color for months, they are a cool garden plant too. By the way they are technically poison, but taste so awful, no child or animal would take more than a bite. They would have to eat a a plate full just to get a stomach ache.
I like all the weird ones, different colors and forms, but they all have similar growing requirements.
The first job is to remove the foil, place the plant on a saucer, you can use the plastic ones they sell at the garden center or old plates from the thrift store. This will allow water to go through the soil, flush out the bad stuff and the plant can drain properly. They like it a little on the dry side, just poke your finger into the soil. If it’s dry a couple inches down, add some water. Depending on the temperature of the house and the amount of light it gets, that might mean once a week.

Poinsettias need some light, and will only last a couple weeks if used as decorations up a dark staircase. Move them onto a table near a window.

There’s no reason to fertilize any indoor plants this time of the year, there isn’t enough light for them to process the nutrients. Wait until March to add some liquid organic fertilizer.

When there’s no chance of frost (around May 15 in our area), poinsettias can go outside and will make a handsome plant in the garden. Some folks will bring them in and out for years. There’s a giant one in the back of the greenhouse at Janoski’s in Clinton, Pa. It’s not that old and is over six feet tall.

Getting them to bloom again is tough, requiring exactly 12 hours of light and the same time in the dark. That’s really hard to do unless you have a greenhouse. Back in the day gardeners would put the plant in the closet at night, then bring it back out into the daylight. What a pain, I wouldn’t bother. They will color up when they the light is right, but usually not as nicely as the plants from a good greenhouse.