One of the most common trees I see in the house is the Benjamin Fig, also call a Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamini). It is listed as one of the twelve best houseplants for reducing pollutants in the air of houses.  These plants absorb through their leaves and breakdown the chemicals. NASA was involved with much of the research to remove pollutants from the space ships.  In addition plants use the carbon dioxide that people breathe out and put oxygen and moisture into the air.

          In the South Pacific, Asia and Australia from which it comes, the Fig Tree grows to a 100 foot tree.  For us it is usually 2 to 18 feet tall.  It does not like to be moved and will shed its leaves when irritated, but have patience.  It will replace them shortly. You can prune it back if it gets too large for your space.  “Ben” is also likely to drop its leaves when you repot. Fertilize it during the long days of summer and let it dry slightly between waterings and don’t repot unless absolutely necessary.  Being a tropical plant, it is of course not frost hardy. It can be moved outside during the summer but be sure and bring back in before the night  time temperatures get below 45 or 50 degrees F.

          The Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) comes of course from Norfolk Island which is close to Australia.  Captain Cook found them and made new spars for his ship.  The islanders were using them for canoes as in their native habitat they grow two hundred feet high and ten feet thick. Over the years I have had several get too large for my house and other years let them freeze.  As a houseplant they usually grow only about 6 to 12 inches a year.

          The baby pines grow up under their parents so do well in a not so high light place. So each spring I put mine in a partially shaded area or the branches will burn. As they get between 5 and 6 feet tall and quite wide I put them in the insulated garage only bringing them out as a Christmas tree during December.  Here they do fine with barely damp soil and no fertilizer until the days start getting longer.

          If you try starting a new one from a branch, you may get a root but you will also get just a branch. You can cut the top out, put rooting hormone on it, and if you are lucky to have the right humidity, may have shortened your tree.  Where you cut the top off, you may get several new tops that may root for you.  An easy tree to grow once you get it started.

          Beaucarnea recurvater, also known as Ponytail Palm, Elephants Foot, or Bottle Palm, is not a palm, but an Agave. It is a native of semi-desert areas in Mexico, so it is one that can stand neglect as it stores water in the “foot”. The ponytail part comes from the long narrow leaves that hang down from the top of its long neck. The foot come from the swelling of the trunk at soil level and is used to store water for the dry season.  This gives us a clue that we should not water it too much.

          A mature jungle plant can be 30 foot tall with leaves over 10 foot long and its foot up to 6 feet around. But since we generally can only find small ones, and as it is a very slow grower, you need not worry about it going through your ceiling. You can cut the neck off when it hits the ceiling and very slowly it will probably send out babies along the foot.  Better yet, leave part of the neck on.  Not a hungry plant, you need to use only a diluted fertilizer, not very often and none in the winter.  Especially if it is in a cool place.  Mine will live in the insulated garage this winter as there is not a spot left in the house that is big enough.  This will slow its growth until next spring.  Some of the leaf tips turn brown but I cut the tips off with the scissors and life goes on!

          Mealy bugs and spider mites enjoy being on the leaves, but I just wash them off with the hose.  I paid 98 cents for my first one in Arizona many years ago. I then found a bigger home for it 10 years later, and gave it away.  No way was I about to cut the head off.  Now I have another as tall as I am. 

          Jade Tree (Crassula ovata) is a shrub rather than a tree.  Of all the house plants we have, this one has probably survived the most neglect and still lived. The one sure way to destroy it is too much water! As a house plant it generally gets about 3 to 4 feet high and wide.  A native of Africa it will bloom in the late fall or early winter and is stimulated to do so by the shortening days.  Blooms last about four weeks. It is almost as temperamental about flowering as the poinsettia if its long nights are disturbed.

          If the soil is too dry or doesn’t have enough light, it will drop some of its leaves.  Usually a plant will be about ten years old before it blooms.  They are heavy plants and will tip a plastic pot over.  If a leaf or an end “twig” drops into    your pot a new plant will grow.  Mealy bugs and scale enjoy living on a Jade.  They are happiest in a south window.  Both their branches and leaves are thick and juicy. Copyright Nov. 12, 2005



          In front of a packed tent at the Port Elgin (Ontario, Canada) Pumpkinfest on Saturday, October 1, 2005, Bob and Elaine MacKenzie watched the scale numbers climb to 1,063.5 pounds, giving them a World Record Squash. Bryan Dueck of St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, took home first place for his giant pumpkin weighing 1,327.5 pounds. To see pictures of these giants go to www.pumpkinfest.org.           Last year a world’s record pumpkin weighed in at 1,446 POUNDS.  

          Dan Carlson of Clinton, Iowa, who set an Iowa State Fair record with a 500.5 pound pumpkin in 2003, and has had the largest pumpkin a number of times at the Animosa (Iowa) Pumpkin Fest, said that only an Atlantic Giant pumpkin seed will create an enormous pumpkin. He also said that a large pumpkin needs a minimum of 500 square feet per plant. When his pumpkins are about 30 pounds or the size of a volleyball, he selects the two best and removes the rest. During the hot summer he even puts a tent over the pumpkins to keep them from getting sun scald.  He checks on them daily to make sure that no insects or borers get to them, and a friendly neighbor and competitor will watch them when he is on vacation.

          Some gardeners will do anything to be the first in the neighborhood to have a tomato, or to grow the largest vegetable or flower. The rest of us are happy to be able to keep our plants and lawns alive and healthy with a minimum of work. 

          May you have a good week in your garden as you put it to bed for the winter so you can start again next spring.

Copyright  Nov. 12, 2005