Tag Archive: Indoor Gardening

  1. Beautiful Indoor Begonias

    Begonia 'Irene Nuss' (Superba Group)

    There are so many begonias to choose from for indoor color, such as this Begonia ‘Irene Nuss’ (Superba Group). (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Begonias are so much more than summer bedding plants. This dizzyingly diverse genus encompasses more than 900 tropical and temperate species and 10,000 cultivars – most of which are not Semperflorens hybrids (the botanical name for the ubiquitous wax begonia). Growing in a wide range of forms and habits – from elfin perennials to cascading vines to large shrubs – they offer a myriad of possibilities for garden and greenhouse.

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontThey also offer something for every season. Winter, especially, is a great time to have some begonias around the house – including those types that bear splashy evergreen leaves in a range of fanciful shapes and colors.

    Cane begonias, for example, are a group of shrubby species and cultivars distinguished by their thick, fleshy, bamboo-like stems and typically large, flamboyantly marked leaves, often of “angel-wing” shape. Numerous varieties are available, including:

    Begonia maculata ‘Wightii’, whose elongated, olive-green “angel wings” are decorated with silvery-white dots and maroon undersides. Clusters of white flowers hover over the foliage in summer.

    Begonia aconitifolia ‘Metallica’, named for its shimmering deep green, purple-veined, hand-shaped leaves with red-purple reverses. Pink-flushed white flowers appear in fall.

    Begonia ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, with pleated, shiny, dark olive-green, pink-dotted leaves with maroon undersides. New leaves are suffused with copper.

    Begonia 'Silver Angel'

    ‘Silver Angel’ has striking silvered leaves with purple-red undersides that look great all year long. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Also noted for their flashy leaves are the prima donnas of the tribe, the Rex hybrids, which trace their lineage to the begonia species of that name (it arrived in Europe from Northeast India in the mid-nineteenth century). Most Rex begonias have heart-shaped leaves with brash silver splashings and unequal lobes that sometimes spiral at the base. Rather fussy in cultivation, they require high humidity and porous soil kept neither too wet nor too dry. Cultivars include ‘Raspberry Swirl’, with relatively jagged, red-purple, silver-edged leaves; and ‘Fireworks’, distinguished by its crisped silver-washed leaves with black-purple veins and purple margins.

    Numerous other begonias make great winter foliage plants. Among the many possibilities are ‘Caravan’, an easy-care, shrubby cultivar thickly clad with lime-green-veined, chocolate-suffused leaves that bring elephant ear (Colocasia) to mind; ‘Connee Boswell’, whose deeply lobed, maple-shaped, heavily silvered leaves have dark green, purple-flushed veins and rims; and ‘Madame Queen’, unique for its heavily ruffled, olive-green, red-backed leaves that have the look of an ornamental kale.

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    Fancifully swirled leaf bases distinguish the foliage of Begonia ‘Escargot’. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Perhaps most desirable for winter display are the begonias that go one better by flowering during this season. The cascading stems of the easy-to-grow Begonia solananthera are frothed with fragrant, white, sometimes pink-tinged flowers from early winter into spring. Fleshy, lettuce-green, heart-shaped leaves provide year-round display. The B. solananthera hybrid ‘Potpourri’ one-ups its parent by producing rosy-pink blooms over an even longer season, sometimes flowering into early summer. A few cane begonias add to their value by blooming on and off throughout the year (‘Paper Snowflake’ is among the best, with silver-flecked angel-wing leaves and heads of deep pink blooms). And some wax begonias excel not only for summer bedding, but also as year-round, ever-blooming pot plants. For bright, easy, four-season color, few house plants can match the endless succession of salmon-red blooms brought forth by the Semperflorens hybrid ‘Cotton Candy’.

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    Vibrant leaf colors are the mark of many Rex begonias. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Most indoor begonias thrive in a warm eastern exposure or other brightly lit but not overly sunny location. They also often benefit from relatively high humidity (which can sometimes be provided by placing the pot on gravel in a saucer half-filled with water). An airy, humus-rich, soil-free potting mix high in peat (such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE) works best. Water when the soil surface is dry, either from the top or by immersing the base of the pot in water. Then stop by the windowsill now and then to enjoy the winter show!

  2. Holiday Houseplant Hangover

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    Specialty poinsettias may offer more reason to care for the plants all season. (Image care of Jessie Keith)

    The holiday razzle-dazzle is over and it’s back to real life. Nothing symbolizes the banality of January more than Holiday Houseplant Hangover, a unique form of misery that comes from dealing with the remains of once-gorgeous amaryllis, paperwhites, Christmas cactus and poinsettias.

    Some people cure the condition with tough love, depositing the declining plants on the compost pile or in the trash and speeding to the nearest garden center for a few fresh-faced African violets or moth orchids. Then there are those die-hards who consider it a moral failing to discard a desiccated poinsettia. They devote themselves to the fading botanical belles, taking all the pains necessary to ensure eventual rebloom.

    611px-Schlumbergera_Buckleyi_GroupIf you are one of those two types, you already know what to do, but what if you are a fence-sitter, unable to decide if your flowerless Christmas cactus is worth lifting a weakened, post-holiday finger? The cure for your case of Holiday Houseplant Hangover depends on the type of plant and your level of commitment. Before making your decision, weigh the options below.

    Paperwhites

    For most people, paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta varieties) are one-shot wonders. They won’t survive outdoors in cold winter climates, so if that is your situation, make a guilt-free trip to the compost bin. Those basking in warmer environs can plant the paperwhites outside, where they may or may not prosper. Forced bulbs often take a year off before reblooming.

    Poinsettias

    fafard Ultra Container with Extended Feed RESILIENCE frontIs a poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) that you bought at a big-box store for $4.50 really worth many months of aftercare? If it is, it’s possible to keep it going. After the blooms fade, move it to a uniformly brightly lit spot, where the temperature hovers between 60 and 70 degrees
    Fahrenheit. Water thoroughly when the top of the soil feels dry, but don’t let water pool in the plant saucer. Apply a soluble houseplant fertilizer once a month, according to manufacturers’ directions. Lop the old flowering stems back to about four inches in early March, making sure a few leaves remain on each stem. This is also a good time to repot, if necessary, using a high-quality potting soil mixture, like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with extended feed with Resilience™.

    In spring, when night temperatures consistently hover above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, place the plant in a lightly shaded outdoor location. Prune the shoots back again in mid to late July to encourage branching. Around Labor Day, bring the poinsettia inside and place in a sunny spot. At the end of September, stimulate the bloom cycle by keeping the plant in total darkness from five pm to eight am every day, before returning it to its lighted position. Reduce water and fertilizer applications during this time. Continue this routine for about 13 weeks, by which time you should see the festive colored bracts we all associate with the holidays. The plant should be ready for its second turn in the spotlight.

    Amaryllis

    800px-Amaryllis-wikiAmaryllis (Hippeastrum hybrids) often flourish, though they may produce fewer blooms the second year. Clip off dead flowers, but don’t remove stalks until they begin to turn yellow. As the bulb sprouts new leaves, water when the top of the soil feels dry and fertilize every two weeks. Like poinsettias, amaryllis appreciate a summer vacation outdoors, but are happiest in a sunny location. Bring inside at Labor Day. If well cared-for and allowed to remain evergreen, the plant will eventually rebloom in its own time. To control the timing, stop watering and let the plant languish in the dark for eight to 12 weeks, returning it to a brightly lit place when new growth appears. Resume watering and fertilizing. Amaryllis like to be cozy in their pots, so only repot every three years, making sure that the new container is no more than two inches wider than the bulb’s diameter. Detach and pot any offshoot bulbs that have sprouted. They will grow on and may eventually flower.

    Holiday Cactus

    FF Cactus Potting Mix 8qt frontThanksgiving and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera bridgesii, respectively) often enjoy a healthy afterlife. Thankfully, the plants are relatively unfussy. Post-bloom, keep your cactus in a bright, sunny space for the remainder of the fall and winter. Like poinsettia, holiday cactus can vacation outdoors in semi-shaded comfort. Pinching back stems in June will result in more flowers later on. When it comes to flowering, these holiday favorites share poinsettia’s proclivity for long, dark spells. To control bloom time, the plants should spend six weeks on a regimen of fourteen hours a day in continuous darkness and ten hours of bright light, at an ideal temperature of about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Water holiday cactus when the soil surface is dry, except in the fall, after the plant has set buds, at which time the soil should be kept uniformly moist. Fertilize monthly from late winter through summer’s end with soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength. Every few years, repot in spring, using a mixture of six parts high quality potting mix, like Fafard® Cactus and Succulent Potting Mix.

    Whatever option you choose to cure Holiday Houseplant Hangover, don’t add guilt to the mix. Life is too short and houseplants too plentiful to mourn a poinsettia.

  3. Cacti and Succulent House Plants

    Kalanchoe blossfeldiana JaKMPM

    The colorful Kalanchoe blossfeldiana blooms for a long period in winter. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    If the ideal house plant existed, it would be a specimen that combined eye-catching good looks with the ability to survive on a diet of almost total neglect. That kind of perfection is unattainable, but succulent house plants come close.

    Native to dry climates and situations, succulents have evolved over the millennia into efficient water-storage vessels, hoarding precious moisture in fleshy leaves and stems. The sheer number of available species and varieties is enormous and includes sedum, aloe, euphorbia, sempervivum, jade plant, hens and chicks, kalanchoe, many types of desert and jungle cacti, aeonium and living stones. Shapes, sizes and colors vary widely, from the complex rosettes of “saucer” aeonium (Aeonium tabuliforme) to the statuesque beauty of a mature jade plant (Crassula ovata). Succulents practically beg to be shown off and grow equally well in standard containers, grouped in dish gardens or mounted as living wreaths.
    Some of the most interesting and colorful types are described below.

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    A suite of rosette forming succulents for indoor growing. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Thorns and Rosettes
    A relative of the common holiday poinsettia plant, crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii) is among the most popular of the many euphorbias. Evergreen, shrubby and succulent, it reaches about two feet tall as a houseplant. Crown of thorns is also true to its name, featuring intimidating thorn-covered stems. Rounded flower clusters with large, petal-like bracts in shades of red, yellow, orange, white or peach help compensate for the prickles.

    If you prefer rosettes to thorns, try tree houseleek (Aeonium) or hens and chicks (Echeveria), both of which bear flower-like rosettes of fleshy leaves in colors ranging from silvery gray-green to reddish bronze. Some species, such as Mexican snowball (Echeveria elegans) are also noted for their showy, bi-colored flowers

    A Cast of Many Cacti
    Not all succulents are cacti, but all cacti are succulents. True cacti are members of the Cactaceae family and many of the best known are covered with the protective prickles for which the clan is famed. Handle household cacti with care and keep them away from children and pets. Prickles aside, cactus family members boast interesting shapes, colorful flowers and undemanding natures, making them excellent houseplants. Traditional favorites include the shaggy “old man” cactus (Cephalocereus senilis), an erect, columnar plant covered with long white hairs. It has the potential to grow tall, but does so very slowly.

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    Succulent collections such as these need to be separated and repotted after a year or so, if each plant to grow successfully.

    Little Bolivian cactus (Rebutia puchella) is part of the genus sometimes known collectively as “crown cacti”. Growing only about six inches tall, it bears batches of vivid orange blooms in summer and succeeded handsomely in a small container. Another low grower with bright carmine-pink flowers is rose pincushion cactus (Mammillaria zeilmanniana), which features a rounded form and summer blooming habit. Like Bolivian cactus, it is small. A four year-old specimen is likely to be only four inches across.

    Many mammillarias, with their appealing rounded shapes, succeed as houseplants. In addition to the rose pincushion type, popular species include snowball or powder puff pincushion cactus (Mammillaria bocasana) and silver cluster cactus (Mammillaria prolifera), featuring a plethora of small, silvery globes sporting bright red blooms.

    Holiday Cacti
    Though they are part of the cactus family, holiday cacti (Schlumbergera spp.) are rain forest natives. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cacti are closely related species, distinguished from each other by bloom time and leaf shape. Many commercially available varieties are hybrids. All holiday cacti all feature sprawling, succulent “leaves” that are actually flattened stems. The bright flowers produced at the stem tips run the gamut of the color spectrum, with the exception of green and blue. In the fall and winter, holiday cacti are sold in bud, ready to bloom for the celebration season. They can easily be kept and nurtured for years afterwards.

    Holiday cacti need somewhat less light and more frequent watering than their prickly cactus cousins. Position away from direct sunlight and promote flowering by placing pots on trays filled with pebbles and water.

    Holiday Cactus

    Holiday cacti (Schlumbergera spp.) are some of the must colorful succulents for the holidays.

    Kudos for Kalanchoe
    Another succulent that lends color to the winter houseplant array is kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana). The upright plants are distinguished by fleshy, scalloped leaves that set off the clusters of small, bright flowers held above them. The flower color range is roughly the same as for holiday cacti and double-flowered kalanchoe varieties are widely available. Related to the jade plant, kalanchoe is a medium-size specimen, growing up to eighteen inches tall. Under normal home conditions, the blooms last up to six weeks.

    Succulent Care
    Good succulent care begins with a high quality, free-draining potting medium, like Fafard® Cactus & Succulent Potting Mix. With the exception of holiday cacti, most succulents thrive on at least four hours of sunlight per day and relish the low humidity of the average home in winter. Indoors, position the plants in your sunniest window. The quickest way to kill succulents is by overwatering, so let the potting mix dry out thoroughly between waterings. Feed only during the active growth period—spring and summer—and use either a specialty fertilizer according to package directions or general-purpose fertilizer diluted to one quarter strength.

  4. All About Amaryllis

    The bright, bold blooms of Amaryllis add to the holiday festivities. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    The bright, bold blooms of Amaryllis add to the holiday festivities. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Amaryllis are emblems of the winter holiday season, their bold, flamboyant flowers decorating everything from greeting cards to wrapping paper to the holiday table itself. Known botanically as Hippeastrum, they trace their origin to a number of Hippeastrum species that inhabit the anything-but-wintry forests and slopes of tropical South America. Plant hybridizers have interbred these species over the past 250 years, ultimately producing the showy-flowered, large-bulbed amaryllis hybrids that populate garden centers and bulb catalogs in fall.

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    Amaryllis, and other bulbs for forcing, can be found pre-forced or boxed for winter forcing.

    Purchased amaryllis bulbs put on a lavish display with ridiculous ease. Most come from overseas growers, who have conditioned the bulbs to provide immediate gratification upon planting. Take an amaryllis bulb, half-bury it in a free-draining potting mix (such as Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil with Resilience™), add water, and – voila – it happens. Plump, spear-shaped buds arise on thick fleshy stems, achieving spectacular full bloom within a few weeks after planting.

    Many amaryllis are sold pre-installed in a plastic pot. More satisfactory, however, is a deep clay pot, which provides ballast to counterbalance the weight of the huge blooms. Plant the bulb with its top half exposed, to give the roots maximum growing space. Bright light and relatively cool temperatures (60 to 65 degrees F) result in stockier growth, which also discourages toppling. An east-facing windowsill is ideal.

    Bringing a purchased amaryllis to bloom is a cinch. Coaxing it to repeat the performance is a trickier proposition. To rebloom, the bulb needs a period of dry rest, approximating what its ancestors experience in the wild. In their native habitats in eastern Brazil and in the foothills of the Andes, most Hippeastrum species produce flowers and foliage during the spring and summer rainy season, becoming quiescent when the weather turns drier in fall and winter. Amaryllis hybrids in cultivation require a similar wet/dry treatment. Regular watering and feeding after bloom, followed by withdrawal of water in summer, will typically trigger a new round of flowering when watering is gradually resumed in late fall. Many amaryllis fanciers move their plants to a partly shaded outdoor location after the last frost date, bringing them back inside for their dry rest period. Plants generally do best if left in their containers and repotted only when absolutely necessary (once every 4 or 5 years should do).

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    Amaryllis ‘Dancing Queen’ is a pretty double form. (photo by Pam Beck)

    Hybrid amaryllis bloom in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. Best known are the large-flowered Dutch hybrids, with immense, wide-flaring, six-petaled blooms that owe much of their form and coloration to the red-flowered Bolivian native Hippeastrum leopoldii. Old-time favorites from this group include ‘Red Lion’ (introduced in 1958), pink-striped ‘Apple Blossom’ (1954), and white, crimson-edged ‘Picotee’ (1958). More recent introductions – such as velvety burgundy-maroon ‘Red Pearl’ and tangerine ‘Naranja’ – are gradually supplanting some of the old standbys. Also relatively new to the scene are a race of Dutch Hybrids that bloom in 4 to 6 weeks from planting, rather than the typical 8 to 10. These “Christmas-Flowering” amaryllis come in the customary range of whites, pinks, and reds.

    Other hybrid groups include double-flowered Dutch Hybrids (such as purple-red-striped ‘Double Record’ and pure white ‘Ice Queen’) and miniature amaryllis. The latter have the appearance of scaled-down Dutch Hybrids, bearing 3- to 4-inch (rather than 8- to 10-inch) blooms on somewhat shorter stems (10 to 16 rather than 18 to 24 inches).

    Hippeastrum aficionados have many more groups of hybrids to explore, as well as the species themselves. Selections and hybrids of the butterfly amaryllis, Hippeastrum papilio, offer several takes on its curious green and maroon, asymmetrical flowers (look for ‘Grafitti’ and ‘Papilio Improved’). Hippeastrum cybister has lent its narrow-petaled, spidery form to a growing number of hybrids including ‘Chico, ‘La Paz’, and ‘Emerald’. And trumpet-flowered amaryllis such as raspberry-striped ‘Santiago’ and candy-pink ‘Estella’ – with elongated, funnel-shaped blooms – are becoming increasingly available from bulb sellers.

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    Amaryllis bulbs at different stages of forcing. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Gardeners in USDA zones 7 and warmer can even try amaryllis in the garden. Hardiest of all is St. Joseph’s lily, Hippeastrum x johnsonii, whose trumpet-shaped, crimson, white-starred flowers (on 2-foot stems) have ornamented Southeast U.S. gardens since the mid-nineteenth century. So, too, have the dazzling crimson blooms of oxblood lily, Rhodophiala bifida, which look for all the world like a dwarf amaryllis (indeed, the species was formerly included among the Hippeastrum). Both make wonderful subjects for gardens from the Mid-Atlantic southward, the trumpets of oxblood lily providing a late-summer echo of St. Joseph’s lily’s spring display. Dutch Hybrids (and many other Hippeastrum hybrids and species) are candidates for gardens in the lower South, where they’ll winter over with minimal protection.

    Whatever their season or place of bloom, few bulbs bring greater cheer than the members of the Hippeastrum tribe.