NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR JANUARY 17, 2015
HOUSEPLANTS PART #3
BY GLADYS JEURINK
Succulents are probably the easiest plants to grow. Over watering will be your worst sin. Most come from a hot dry area and have adapted by growing wide, spreading roots near the surface to pick up any available moisture. The skin is usually thick or leathery and able to store water. Some leaves may be covered with hairs to slow down evaporation or closely packed together to protect each other. All the garden centers have special Cactus mix that Succulents like and drains well. When you water make sure you do a good job, and then let it dry so the leaves or stems can store water but not remain wet.
Cacti are classified as succulents so the same rules apply. My Cacti live in the garage in winter so I do not water more than once a month. Cold, wet roots always means root rot. Plants need rest periods and winter in Nebraska is a good time for Succulents to rest. Neither of these groups needs or likes high humidity.
Our houseplants come from any of the plant types. Woody plants get hard stems and live longer than any of the other types. Shrubs and trees are the majority, usually growing too large for our houses, but we do have a number that we bring in. The Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is very popular, growing to several hundred feet in its native habitat. Over the years I have had a number until they approach the ceiling. They work well as a Christmas Tree with small light ornaments. Since they grow up under their mothers, they get very little direct sun in their native environment. They like an acid fertilizer and a good draining mix. Mine does well in the insulated garage with a 300 watt bulb overhead in the winter time. I take it out side to the East side of my house in summer.
Another tree that does well in houses is the Schefflera. It can also be a shrub with its leaves coming out in leaflets at the end of a stalk, numbering 4 to 12 depending upon its age. In the tropics it is called the “Octopus Tree” from the shape of its flowers. Here in Nebraska we will probably never see it bloom. Here in the United States it is called an “Umbrella Tree”. I have seen it growing in some very low light places, and had to trim down some very big ones for others. They do best if temperatures don’t go below 55 degrees F. or above 70 degrees F. I have a small version now with variegated leaves (Sarboricola called “Green Gold”). Part of it was frozen last winter but it leafed out this summer with a rather peculiar shape. It does like humidity. Some people are allergic to its sap.
Sub shrubs can develop woody stems and produce new shoots but here in Nebraska will die back in winter if outside. One of those you might have on your window sill is the Copper Leaf (Acalypha). Every Spring some of the nurseries will have Copper Leaf with various colors in its ruffled leaves as a specimen plant in a pot. Be careful as all parts are poisonous if eaten. Another Acalypha plant is the “Red Hot Cattail”. It is only 4 to 6 inches tall, spreading over the pot and down with the bright red fuzzy tails hanging down as much as a foot. Sometimes it is called the Chenille Plant. Not an easy plant to grow as it likes humidity.
The Philodendron genus has about 500 different species and is a native to tropical areas. All of them are grown for their leaves as they very seldom bloom as a houseplant. They vary a great deal. The small climber, also known as “Sweetheart Plant” with heart shaped leaves, will go up your window, across the top and down the other side. Or you can wind them around to cover a table top. This vine is listed as one of the easiest plant to grow. It likes partial shade, but watch that you do not give it too much water.
The bigger plants in this genus are shrubs and will grow as large as you will let it get. The leaves are huge, up to 30 inches long and 12 to 18 inches wide, when the plants are mature. I have a fairly new variety called the “Orange Prince”. Some of my leaves are orange and some are green. As a baby, it spent last summer on the East side of the house where it got sun only in the morning. Philodendron leaves will upset the stomach if eaten or the sap will irritate some people’s skin. Wash your hands as soon as possible after handling. Philodendrons can have root buds coming out most anywhere along the stems that will root into a moss covered pole to support the stem. Do not cut these roots off even if they do not have a place to grow.
My newest plant is a purple Pineapple Lily (Eucomis species) that I found in a grocery store. I have had white ones for years and cut them off after the first frost to keep them in their big pot until spring. These have been blooming for over a month with new 15 inch flower stems coming so I will keep them in a full light area to see when or if they go into a dormant mode. Books say never let it dry out. If it wilts, that leaf will not recover. They come from bulbs.
Have a Happy New Year and may your garden and houseplants grow the way you want!!!!