Archive: Jan 2019

  1. Bananas for Indoor Growing

    Banana plants (Musa spp.) are tropical, tree-like perennials that produce some of the world’s best-loved fruits.  In their native regions, they often soar high into the sky, crowned by giant paddle-shaped leaves, which can be 6- to 10-feet long, and pendulous bunches of fruit.  A mature plant bearing a bumper banana crop is an inspiring sight.

    But, bananas don’t have to reach the stratosphere or live in the tropics.  Dwarf and compact favorites can also do star turns as dramatic house plants, even in limited indoor spaces.  All you need to do is choose the right banana, the right spot, and provide a modest amount of care and feeding.  You may or may not harvest fruit, but you will have a fast-growing specimen that will bring a touch of the exotic to your indoor environment.

    Choose Your Indoor Banana

    The 4-6-foot pink velvet banana (Musa velutina ‘Pink Velvet’) grows well in large, indoor or outdoor pots.

    Some of the best bananas for indoor culture are varieties or hybrids of the Cavendish banana (Musa acuminata).  These are also the most likely to produce edible fruit if provided with optimal growing conditions.  In the wild, the species can reach 20 feet tall, but popular varieties like ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish’ and ‘Dwarf Lady Finger’ top out at 3 to 6 feet, respectively.

    If you are buying your banana for beautiful foliage, the range of choices is larger.  Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo), can survive outside in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5  to 10, but it is also happy grown as an indoor plant.  The large green leaves have the characteristic elongated profile, sprouting from thick stalks that can grow up to 8 feet tall indoors.  If your indoor space has high ceilings, Musa basjoo might be just right.

    Scarlet banana (Musa coccinea) has brilliant red ornamental spikes.

    The hybrid banana known as Musa ‘Dwarf Red’, ‘Dwarf Jamaican’ or ‘Macaboo’ bears green leaves with pink to red midribs.  The plant’s “trunk”, which is actually a thickened stem, is a dramatic dark red.  Confined to an indoor container, ‘Dwarf Red’ may reach up to 6 feet in height.

    On the smaller end of the banana spectrum is another hybrid, Musa ‘Truly Tiny’, which tops out at just 2 to 4 feet tall.  The plant makes up for its small size with big green leaves, occasionally splashed with red.  It is perfect for a corner, pedestal, or even a table accent.

    Scarlet banana (Musa coccinea) is another low grower that reaches about 4.5 feet tall, with large green leaves.  The “scarlet” in its name comes from the brilliant petal-like bracts that enclose the small, true flowers and provide maximum visual interest. Another compact beauty with red color is the 4- to 6-foot pink velvet banana (Musa velutina ‘Pink Velvet’), which quickly bears pinkish-red bananas. The fruits are very sweet but contain large, tough seeds.

    Growing Indoor Bananas

    Bananas need bright light to grow their best indoors.

    Like most other plants, bananas do best in conditions that match their native habitats.  Indoors a greenhouse is probably the best situation.  In the absence of a greenhouse, you can still grow banana plants in comfortable living situations with bright light.

    Start with cozy temperatures.  Bananas thrive at temperatures that are equally congenial to humans, 60 degrees Fahrenheit and above, but the warmer, the better, especially in the daytime.  High humidity is also helpful.  Place the plants in saucers filled with pebbles and water, or position shallow pans of water near the plant.  Mist regularly.

    Choose the right pot for your banana.  Online vendors often sell young plants in four-inch containers.  Transplant to a six or eight-inch container and watch for signs that the plant is becoming root-bound (roots emerging from drainage hole).  Installing your new banana in a very large container immediately is not a good idea, because the large amount of potting soil will retain water and potentially cause root rot.  Instead, increase the container width by two inches each time you repot.  Eventually your banana will need a roomy container—at least five gallon capacity and possibly larger for taller specimens–in order to thrive.

    Fill containers with a quality potting mix, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed or Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil combined with perlite in a ratio of four parts soil to one part perlite.  If you use a potting mix without built-in fertilizer, feed your banana every month with a balanced fertilizer following package directions.  Stop fertilizing in the winter months when the shorter days and somewhat cooler temperatures slow growth.

    Indoors, bananas need as much light as possible, and will do best in a south, east or west-facing window.  Position the plant away from drafts and rotate the container on a regular basis for even growth.  Water thoroughly whenever the top of the soil is dry to the touch.

    Bananas appreciate a summer vacation outside, provided the container is not too heavy or awkward to move.  Be sure to return the plant to its indoor home when night temperatures fall below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Getting Indoor Bananas to Fruit

    This ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish’ banana has produced a nice bunch of bananas indoors.

    Bananas grow fast, but fruiting is slow.  If you choose one of the varieties that produce edible fruit, you may have to wait two or three years for the pendulous flower stalk to appear.  When flowering happens, don’t worry about pollination.  Bananas don’t require pollination to set fruit.  The fruit bunches will not be as large or plentiful as those that hang from outdoor banana trees, but they will be a source of much greater satisfaction.

    And if you never get any fruit from your banana, take pleasure in its elegant leaves and the fact that with the addition of only one plant, you have established a little corner of the tropics in the temperate confines of your home.

  2. Organic Plant Protection with Improved Horticultural Oils

    Oil-based insecticides have come a long way in the last few decades.  Lighter and more versatile than the “dormant oils” of yesteryear, today’s horticultural oils can be used at most times of the year and are effective against a wide variety of insects.  They’re also among the most benign pesticides, decomposing within a few days …

    Read the full article →

  3. Growing Succulents and Cacti from Cuttings

    Got succulents and cacti? Then share them with your friends! These fleshy plants are some of the easiest to propagate from cuttings. So, if you have a special succulent house plant or garden succulent you want to propagate to swap or share, it’s easy to do.

    Plants from deserts and other arid lands rarely experience reproduction from seed because water is not plentiful. One common arid plant adaptation is quick rooting of stems and leaves as a means of spreading and reproducing without the need for seeds. For this reason, many dryland plants root quickly from leaf, stem, or tip cuttings. Here are some easy methods for propagating different succulent and cactus types at home.

    Leaf Cuttings

    These jade plant leaf cuttings show the progression of rooting and plantlet development.

    Common succulents with large leaves, such as aonium (Aeonium arboreum), jade plants (Crassula spp.), and kalanchoe (Kalanchoe  spp.), are all easily propagated from single leaves. The process is simple, and the needed materials are few. Here is what you will need and what to do:

    Materials

    1. Succulent leaf cuttings
    2. Sharp knife
    3. Shallow pots with bottom saucers/tray
    4. Perlite or porous growing mix
    5. Grow lights or a bright window
    6. Rooting hormone with an anti-fungal additive (optional)

    Method

    Succulents with large, fleshy leaves are perfect for leaf-cutting propagation.

    Use a sharp knife to gently cut healthy leaves from the stem. Dip the bases of the leaves into rooting hormone; rooting hormone hastens the rooting process and reduces rot but is not necessary. gently moisten the perlite or potting mix and nestle the bases of the leaves into the mix, making sure the bases are partially covered. Place the pots in a spot with bright, filtered light and keep the perlite or mix lightly moist to almost dry. Over a matter of weeks, the bases will root and small plantlets will appear. You can pot them up once they have several leaflets.

    Pups

    This Orostachys has developed stems of pups that can be cut from the mother plant and rooted.

    Many succulents with rosettes, like Agave, aloes (Aloe spp.), Dudleya, tender stonecrop (Echeveria spp.), Gasteria spp., Orostachys, and hens & chicks (Sempervivum spp.), reproduce by sending out stems of new rosettes, called “pups”. These are very easy to snip from the stem and root in fresh, porous mix. In this case, no rooting hormone is needed. Just a small pot of mix will do. Nestle the base of each pup in the mix, and keep the mix lightly moist to dry, and the pup will root in no time.  [Click here to read an article about starting agave pups.]

    Stem and Tip Cuttings

    The cut paddle stems of prickly pear will quickly root into whole new plants.

    Succulents with smaller leaves, like sedums, or no leaves, like cacti, are best propagated by tip or stem cuttings. Tip and stem cuttings require most of the same materials as leaf cuttings. With tip cuttings, you remove the very tip of a growing point. Simply cut or snip off the tip, remove several of the bottom leaves, dip in rooting hormone and nestle it in perlite or potting mix. Stem cuttings are comparable but you cut a larger stem for a larger, more robust start.

    When taking cuttings from cacti, always wear thick gloves. Cut a candle, side stem, or pad from the cactus, dip the cut base in rooting hormone and nestle it in a pot of perlite, which is faster draining and better for cactus starts. In a matter of weeks it should root.

    Potting Cacti and Succulent Starts

    Once your cuttings have rooted, you can transplant them into their own pots of mix.

    When your cuttings have set root and begun to grow, it’s time to plant them. Choose small pots that are the right size for each plant, and fill them with Black Gold Cactus Mix, or Fafard Professional Potting Mix amended with a 2:1 ratio of perlite. Both mixes are perfect for growing cactus and succulents. Cover the roots of your new starts, water them in, and keep them just moist to dry. During the winter months, water them very little to none to avoid root rot.

    Once you learn how to propagate succulents, swap them with other succulent lovers to add new, exciting plants to your collection. These easy-to-grow house plants are always welcome to any plant lover.