Now that winter and cold are closing in on us, the windows are all full of plants. My big South one is the best for most of my plants, even though they need to be watered twice as often as the north window.  In March when the days start getting longer, they will respond faster than now and need fertilizer.  I have two very different CROTONS there. One is striped yellow, red, and green, with thick leaves. The other has yellow dotted leaves. They will survive with less light but their colors will not be as bright.  The older they get the more they resent being moved and respond by dropping lower leaves, so bring home a small plant if you have a choice. They need to be turned to prevent them from getting lop-sided.  I generally give a half turn when I water.  Many times the leaves on the same plant will not match.  Spider mites like to make a home there so it is a good idea to put them in the shower now and then.  When happy they can grow to be a 6 foot shrub but they don’t like dry or wet feet or drafts.  Let the water run through and dump the extra water out.

          The DWARF POMGRANATE (Punica granatum nana) must have much light and likes humidity.  By surrounding it with other plants or putting it on top of a wet gravel pebble tray, will help this.  Even so, I think it requires a rest period.  Ever winter it becomes very “ratty” looking, drops its fruit, and waits for longer days.  The fruit is edible but very small. A big POMGRANATE is hard enough to eat let alone a small one.  Once or twice I have seen it as a bonsai which is quite spectacular with its bright red flowers and tiny fruit on such a small plant.  I have never tried to bonsai anything. They require a lot of attention and careful care as their roots occupy such a small space.  Bonsai almost requires a special set of tools.

          DRACAENA is a genus from which we get many different looking plants in the house. LUCKY BAMBOO, not a real bamboo, is a tiny twisted plant often sold in a vase of water and is suppose to bring good luck and will survive almost anywhere. Dracaena cincta, the tricolor RAINBOW PLANT is another member. As usual with most house plants, do not fertilize or water very often during winter.  A happy plant can get 5 feet tall.

          Since I like variegated plants whose bright leaves replace bloom in winter’s shortest day, I have several. Dracaena fragrans is slow growing and will reach 20 feet, has light green, dark green, and white stripes the full length of its leaves, coming directly out of the main trunk.  All of the Dracaena tend to drop their lower leaves. They can be cut off near the pot edge and will grow again or chunks of the stem, with the nodes present, will grow a new plant unless you put them in upside down. Some of the Dracaenas are called “SONG OF INDIA”, some are called “CORN PLANT”, and some are called “DRAGON TREE”.  Fragrans is so named because of the perfume of its blooms.  So far I have never had a bloom.     

          About three years ago I found a small, two leaf SAGO PALM (Cycas revolute) which is not actually a palm. I had one a number of years ago but had to give it away when it became five feet across. I put my new one on the top shelf in the greenhouse for now.  They only get one new leaf a year. The leaf is a compound one with leaflets arranged in rows along the stem.  A fully grown leaf after several years may be three feet long.  The second leaf will be opposite the first leaf which makes for a very short wide plant.  The leaves come up and arch over.  The center from which they rise looks like a fur covered pineapple.  At 3 years mine is about 3 inches to 4 inches high and enlarges as the new leaves come out.  The pineapple part contains water to help it survive drouth. Sometimes you can find a seed to buy.  It may take a year to germinate.  All of the Cyads need bright light year round with sand in their soil mix to speed up drainage. It won’t need a new pot for 3-5 years.  I have never seen one in bloom.  A plant is either male or female and considered toxic.

          In the same south window I have an AGAVE and an ALOE, both of which have wickedly sharp spines on the ends or sides of the leaf so I have them tucked against the window with another plant or two in front for protection.  AGAVES have a reputation for causing dermatitis. One of their by products is a steroid. On the other hand ALOES are known for their healing sap. Aloe vera is grown as a crop for its gel that is used in cosmetics and for skin irritations.  Both groups are not hardy here but do well in pots and are treated essentially the same.  My ALOE VERA lives on the east side of the house in summer and grows so fast I have to chop pieces off in the fall in order to bring them in.  Both like loose, well drained soil, bright light, and hate wet feet (root rot). Many of our AGAVE house plants come from Mexico and South America while the ALOES are from Africa.

          Another “weirdo” I have is Dioscorea elepantipes from South Africa. It has a base that resembles a turtles back that spreads slowly on top of well draining soil.  My books say it can get 3 feet across so I hope it is a slow grower.  Coming directly out of the center of the “shell” is a vining stem that has wound its way up a 2 ˝ foot trellis, fallen to the bottom, and climbed again.  The leaves are small but its now on its 3rd trip up so is filling in the trellis.  I think that skinny stem must be at least 10 feet long by now.  The shell grows very slowly.  They are in the same genus as ornamental YAMS. Remember we grow SWEET POTATOES (Ipomoea batetas) in the United States and not YAMS. I use a gravel mulch to keep moisture off the shell, and water very carefully. The soil is a desert mix.

Copyright 2012