Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Growing African Violets


The African Violet (saintpaulia) is the most popular member of the Gesnariad family because of its ease of culture, continuous flowering habit, variety of blossom forms, range of colors and leaf patterns.

If there is any magic formula for culture, it is faithfully following a program of care.  Watering, fertilizing, and repotting must be done with regularity to obtain beautiful flowering plants year round.  "Hit-or-miss" attention will give only mediocre results.

LIGHT:  Protect the plant from hot sun.   During the dark days of January and February, direct mild winter sunshine will promote flowering.  For symmetrical foliage, window grown plants need to be turned regularly so that the entire plant will get equal amounts of light.

ARTIFICIAL LIGHT:  Artificial light  is a satisfactory way to grow African violets if it is evenly balanced.  Lights should be placed approximately 10-14 inches over the plant table and kept on from 12-14 hours per day.

WATER:  Check soil daily and water when soil feels slightly dry to the touch.  Always use warm or room temperature water, never cold.  They will grow best if soil is kept slightly moist at all times.  They do not like soggy soil and shouldn't be left standing in water.  Water from bottom, or on top of the soil (under the leaves).  Never run water over the leaves.

SOIL:  African Violets do best in soils which are loose in texture, porous and well drained, with a high percentage of organic matter.  Because of their fine hair roots they need a substance that can be easily penetrated.  

TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY:  Best temperatures range from 65 to 75°F. with 50 to 60% relative humidity.  They can endure higher or lower temperatures but they will not prosper if the air is excessively dry.  If the temperature is too low, growth slows down, flowers will be sparse and of poor quality, and the foliage will curl down around the rim of the pot instead of lying flat and neat. Air that is too hot and dry can cause the buds to fall off or the blossoms to drop soon after opening.

Maintaining adequate humidity during winter without the aid of a humidifier is difficult.  Otherwise, grouping the plants close together, placing them on a surface of moist pebbles in shallow tray, placing open containers of water among them will heighten the humidity.

FERTILIZING:  It is better to feed very small amounts of plant food each time the plant is watered.  Use a complete water-soluable fertilizer recommended for African Violetss and read the manufacturer's instructions printed on the label before applying.  Do not over-fertilize and always be sure the soil is not too dry before using plant food.

PROPAGATION:  African violets are easily grown by three different methods: 
leaf cuttings, plant division and seeds.

√Scorching and yellowing of leaf edges
This is due to too much direct sun in summer.  Filter the light with a curtain or move to a less bright spot.

√Yellowing of foliage.  
Often caused by excess fertilizer, or lack of humidity.  In clay pots, salts build up on pots and the plant should be drenched once or twice to flush away as many salts as possible.  Look at roots; if they are brown it could mean severe salt build-up and re-potting will be necessary.  Violets are not heavy feeders so don't overfeed.  To raise the humidity follow above directions.

√Irregular, yellow mottling on leaves, called chlorosis.  
This is caused by the soil being too alkaline.  Use an acid-rich plant food to off-set the alkalinity.

√Spots, colored markings, yellow leaves.  
Caused by under-watering.  Remove any damaged foliage and water over the soil surface slowly until excess water drains out.  Don't let plants sit in a saucer of water more than an hour.

√Brown spots on leaves.
Caused by using cold water chilling the plant or splashed on foliage.  
Use room temperature water.

√Browned centers of the plant.
Caused by overfeeding.  Feed less.

√Wilted plants and rotting at main stem.  
This is a fungus disease (crown rot) aggravated by over watering, excess humidity or temperature extremes.  Cut off damaged foliage and re-pot.

√Jelly-like leaves which droop over the rim of the pot.  
Caused by excess fertilizer.  Flush out the roots and coat the rims of clay pots with paraffin.

√Flower buds that dry up.
Caused by lack of humidity, or a sudden shift in the plant's location.
Set the pots on a bed of moist pebbles in a tray.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Make Your Own Terrarium


Terrariums are great for people on the go because they are so easy to maintain.  They are self-contained, and they require very little care.  Terrariums can be designed with simple materials such as clear plastic containers, or they can be designed in elaborate containers made from stained glass.  Any clear, watertight container is sufficient for a terrarium.

Once you have chosen a container for your terrarium, it's time to choose the plants you will be using.  Start with plants that are small and slow growing.  When deciding the number of plants you need, keep in mind your plants should be spaced to allow room for growth.

Begin building your terrarium by putting approximately one inch of gravel in the bottom of the container.  On top of the gravel, spread a thin layer of activated charcoal.  Mix together equal parts of sterile potting soil and vermiculite.  this will help lighten the potting soil and improve drainage.  Approximately three to four inches of potting mixture is sufficient for the top layer.  Before planting, arrange your plants on top of the soil to see where they look the best.  A spoon makes a great tool for digging in small spaces.  Plant your selections just as you would in any container, by digging small holes and tamping down the soil around them.  When you are finished planting, you need to water your plants.

Cover your terrarium with a glass or clear plastic lid.  Take the lid off for several hours every couple of days to allow for air exchange and evaporation.

Maintaining your terrarium is simple since neglect is the best care you can give.  Your finished terrarium will not need additional watering for a few weeks.  A light misting every couple of weeks is sufficient between times of regular watering.  The biggest mistake people can make with a terrarium is overwatering.  If condensation builds up on the inside, it is probably due to overwatering and you can temporarily remove the lid.  It is not necessary to fertilize your plants.  The soil contains enough nutrients to sustain them.  Fertilizing would promote growth and in a terrarium you want your plants to remain small and manageable.  Some plants will grow faster than others and you may eventually need to thin them out.  You can encourage the plants to fill out by pinching off some of the new growth.  Once your terrarium is set up, it will begin taking care of itselt.  Find a location that that gets indirect sunlight.  Direct sunlight can make conditions too warm for your plants.

Terrariums are self-contained gardens that are very easy to maintain. 
They require very little care.

We actually place several layers of materials in the container to help it be 
self-contained.  The term "self-contained" means that they have everything they need to survive with little additional help from us.

Ingredients for a terrarium and why

1. Gravel for the bottom of the container - assists in drainage since there are no holes in the bottom of the container, like there are in pots.

2. Activated Charcoal - absorbs moisture and odors.

3. Potting soil and vermiculite - soil has the necessary nutrients to grow the plants (sterilized to kill any pre-existing bacteria) and vermiculite adds space to improve drainage and keep the soil from becoming compacted.

4. Plants that are slow growers or never get very large.  


A completely enclosed terrarium requires little or no watering. If it is not totally enclosed, you may have to water on a weekly or monthly basis (more often for completely open terrariums or dish gardens). The addition of water only becomes necessary if no condensation accumulates on the glass. When water is indeed needed, it should only be added a small amount at a time, since there is no place for the surplus water to run off. (Over watering increases the danger of fungus or mold). Recheck the next day, and if no condensation has appeared, more water may be added. 

When in doubt, always water less. Watch carefully so that plants do not become too dry and wilt.  Generally, terrariums should not need fertilizing, but if the plants start to appear malnourished, you may feed them using a very weak mixture (1/4 strength) of an all purpose house plant food.  Occasionally, it may become necessary to prune or to replace a dead plant. Diseased plants should be removed immediately. Although confined plants tend to grow very slowly, any plant that has outgrown its environment should be replaced. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Beautiful cymbidium blooming in our greenhouse.

On the West Coast of the United States, and in other cool summer areas that receive no severe frosts, cymbidiums are among the most popular of spring flowering orchids and are often grown as garden plants.  The striking sprays of long lasting blooms provide ideal home or patio accents and are often used as cut flowers.  Here on the East Coast of the US, we can grow them in the right conditions indoors.  There are both standard (large flowered) and miniature (smaller flowered) types grown.  The miniature types, often known as "novelties", are more heat tolerant but neither type is particularly good in warm summer areas.

LIGHT  Sufficient light is important for healthy growth and flower production.  Provide very bright light, up to 80% of full sun.   Leaves should be naturally erect and of a medium olive green color.  Dark green, limp foliage indicates too little light.  

TEMPERATURE  Mature plants need night temperatures in the low 60s or high 50s in late summer to initiate flowerspikes.  Provide nights of 55 to 60°F through temperatures into the 30s are tolerated; days of 70 to 85°F. Cymbidiums can tolerate temperatures up to 95 or 100°F if shading, humidity and air circulation are increased.

WATER  Mature plants must never dry out between waterings.

HUMIDITY  Cymbidiums need 50 to 60% humidity.  In the home, while in bloom, place on trays of moistened pebbles.  In greenhouse, use a humidifier if conditions are too dry.

FERTILIZER  Must be provided on a reqular basis because most potting medias have too little.  The exact fertilizer you use will depend on the mix in which your plant is growing.  A good general rule is to apply a balanced (10-10-10, 12-12-12 or similar ratio) fertilizer "weakly, weekly."  That is, fertilize every week at one quarter to one half of the recommended dilution. 

POTTING  Best done every two to three years in spring immediately after flowering to allow maximum time to re-establish before next flowering season.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Plants For Clean Air

During the winter months, most of us spend a lot more time indoors.
Some common indoor plants can clean up the polluted air we breathe inside our homes, offices and other buildings.  According to a 2 year study conducted by the National Aeronatics and Space Administration (NASA), indoor plants can drastically reduce toxic chemical levels inside buildings with poor ventilation.  To clean and refresh the air in an average 1800 square foot home, NASA recommends placing about 15 plants in areas where the air circulates well.  You can maximize the effectiveness of your natural air freshener by keeping your plants fresh.  When a plant no longer looks fresh, discard and replace with another vibrant plant.

According to NASA, plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are all important in removing toxins from indoor air.  Plants take in toxins and process them into "food" through a process called photosynthesis.  Then, they expel oxygen into the air for us to breathe.

The Air We Breathe Indoors May Be 100 Times More Polluted Than Outdoor Air
In fact, indoor air is often so polluted that it exceeds unhealthy levels for pollutions set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  An EPA report states that "indoor air pollution represents a major portion of the public's exposure to air pollution and may pose serious acute and chronic health risks."  The EPA also estimates the economic impact of indoor air pollution to be in the tens of billions of dollars per year.

Scientists have labeled the acute build-up of indoor air pollution "Sick Building Syndrome," since most Americans spent up to 90% of their time indoors, many are suffering health problems created and/or aggravated by Sick Building Syndrome.  One way to protect yourself from Sick Building Syndrome is to place several plants in your home or office.  They will breathe toxins for you and replace your air with fresh, healthy oxygen!

Indoor plants are particularly effective in filtering from the air three chemicals responsible for many health problems.  
Benzene is a common solvent and is present in gasoline, inks, oil, paints, plastic, rubber, detergents, pharmaceuticals and dyes.  It irritates the skin and eyes, and chronic exposure to relatively low levels of benzene causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, nervousness; psychological disturbances, and diseases of the blood system, including anemia and bone marrow disease.  Evidence also links benzene to cancer, leukemia, liver and kidney damage, paralysis and unconsciousness.

Formaldehyde is found in almost all indoor environments.  Major sources include urea-formaldehyde (UF) foam insulation, particle board and pressed wood products.  Consumer paper products, including grocery bags, waxed paper, facial tissue and paper towels are treated with UF resins.  Formaldehyde irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes and upper respiratory system.  Recent research also suggests it may cause a rare form of throat cancer in long-term occupants of mobile homes.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is used in metal de-greasers, dry cleaning agents, inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives.  The National Cancer Institute considers TCE a potent liver carcinogen.

Chinese Evergreen
Aglaonema 'Silver Queen'
EASE OF GROWING:  Very easy to grow
LIGHT:  Low light location is ideal
WATER:  Moderately moist soil is preferred
TEMPERATURE:  Warm - prefers 70-75°F daytimes and 65-70°F. nights
KEY FOR SUCCESS:  Remove overgrown shoots to encourage new growth and keep the plant bushy.  Possible problems include scale and mealybugs.

Spider Plant
Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum'
EASE OF GROWING:  Very easy to grow
LIGHT:  Indirect or bright-diffused light is best
WATER:  Moderately moist soil is preferred
TEMPERATURE:  Moderate - Prefers 65-70°F. daytimes and 60-65°F. nights.
KEY TIPS FOR SUCCESS:  Dry soil, over-fertilization, low light, flouride salts or excess boron could cause leaf tips to brown.  Watch for spider mites and provide good drainage.

English Ivy
Golden Pothos
Peace Lily
Bamboo Palm
Snake Plant
Heartleaf Philodendron
Selloum Philododendron
Elephant Ear Philodendron
Cornstalk Dracaena
Janet Craig Dracaena
Warnecki Dracaena
Ficus Benjamina