There are a number of us who have been labeled “plant crazy”. We snoop around constantly in logical and not so logical places to find a plant we have never had before. When we do find one it is likely to be only one of its kind (perhaps a mistaken delivery) and shoved to the back to become a reject as it looks so unreal. Some of my most interesting plants are in this category. Quite often there are no instructions about care or even where to put it such as high or low light, moist or dry soil.  It may or may not have a name.  If you are lucky there will be a scientific name so you can find it in a plant encyclopedia. Here are a few of my “finds” from over a number of years:

·        In my South window there is a Buddha’s Belly (Jatropha podagrica) or Nettle Bottle Plant Spurge. Its belly name comes from a thickened fat stem that stores moisture.  It comes from Central America where it is a succulent shrub.  The leaves may be round (juvenile) or lobed about 8 inches across with much variation on long slender stems that hold them away from the belly.  I have had mine for several years and it has bloomed almost constantly all that time. Now coming up in 2 pots close by are some new babies which I am sure will be Jatropha. This has happened since its been outside this summer.  The encyclopedia I found it in says the roots will rot if kept wet in winter, and calls it a bizarre plant.  I give it “Osmocote” during the summer but no fertilizer in the winter.

·        I found Stapelia variegata as a tiny (2 inch) cactus like looking plant.  It spends its summer in full sun outside only growing to about 4 inches tall but has spread to fill a six inch pot completely full.  The Stapelias are known as Carrion Flowers as they are pollinated by flies. Its cousin Stapelia gigantean has blooms 9 inches across so it’s big enough to “smell” but my little Stapelia variegata does not unless you put your nose into the bloom. The flowers of both cause them to be called Star Flowers with their 5 pointed petals and they tend to bloom at the pot edges and hang down outside. Stapelia variegata blooms are about 3 inches across with a yellowish background and purple-brown spots all over.  There is a center raised ring from which the star arises.  It started blooming for the first time in September and is still going.  A native of Africa, it must come in during the winter with water and fertilizer very scarce until days get longer.  Those in charge of classification are in the process of changing its classification so you may find it under Orbea, as some call it a “Toad Cactus”. Originally it was in the milkweed family.  All of my cactus-like plants are in a special desert mix of very coarse sand and soilless potting mix.

·        My dwarf Pomegranate Tree (Punica granatum) is only 12 inches high in the South window but its holding many 1 ½ inch Pomegranates that aren’t ripe yet.  It bloomed for several months this summer outside in full sun. The blossoms were in clusters of orange-red with about 1/3 of them setting fruit. I have another I started from seed last spring which is about 18 inches high but no blooms.  One author says it takes 3 to 5 years from seed to bloom. From a packet of seeds only 2 plants appeared. I hear they will also do well from cuttings.  Natives of Asia they must come in during the winter months and as like most plants, one needs to cut down on water and fertilizer. Both plants are doing well in general use potting soil.  I am curious to see if the tiny pomegranates are edible.  The plant is a solid red color when blooming.

·        In my South window there is a cutting of Variegated Pineapple (Ananas comosus). The leaf edges are so sharp and jagged that I have been cut several times. The one I have (variegatus) has white stripes full length of the leaves and originated from Brazil.  They prefer a slightly acid soil. A Bromeliad, it likes good light but not direct hot sun so it lives on the East side of the house in summer.  I have started several non-variegated Pineapples from the tuft of leaves at the top but it takes patience and time before it will bloom, with tiny fruit. Little water and fertilizer is needed during the winter months.

·        The Kangeroo paws, the desert rose, and the Flowering Maple must wait until next time.

          Have a Happy New Year and good gardening!!!

Copyright 2006





          Gladys and I get many questions about plants that are not blooming like the owner wants, or thinks it should. Almost always they ask, “Should I add fertilizer?”

          I respond, “Fertilizer will not help your plant bloom!!!  In fact, too much fertilizer may be the reason the flower is not blooming, or the vegetable or fruit tree is not setting fruit, or the carrots and beets are all tops. By Federal law, every container of fertilizer must have 3 numbers on the package. The first number tells you how much nitrogen (N) is in the package and expressed as a percentage. The second number is phosphate (P2O5) and the third number is potash (K2O). Nitrogen makes your foliage grow. Phosphate is good for cell and seed formation, cell division, blooming and root growth. Potash is good for hardiness, and drought resistance. Too much nitrogen in relation to phosphate on your roses, tomatoes, houseplants, or other blooming plants, trees or vegetables will encourage top growth and foliage rather than flowers and fruit. This is also true with radishes, carrots and other root crops like beets and turnips.

          Lawn fertilizer is high in nitrogen in order to make the grass blades (foliage) grow. Do not use in your flower bed or garden, or around flowering trees or fruit trees. It works fine in a compost pile if you do not have much “green stuff”.  A good granular rose, flower, shrub, tree, and vegetable fertilizer is balanced. That is, the middle number is at least the same or higher than the first number. Most balanced fertilizers are 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 and have slow release nitrogen. (Also make sure your lawn fertilizer is mostly slow release so it lasts longer and does not burn your grass.) Miracle-Gro and other water soluble fertilizers for plants are usually at 15-30-15, or balanced, and the nitrogen is not slow release so is used up within two to four weeks. This is fine if not used to excess and on house plants at a ¼ solution every month.

          Do not over fertilize your lawn or plants. This only weakens the plant as it struggles to use the nutrients, and makes the stems on flowers, and vegetables spindly and weak. Also, this stress invites disease problems and a weak plant invites insects.

          If you believe the TV ads you might think that Miracle-Gro is the answer to all your garden problems including a plant not blooming. But remember that fertilizer is not the answer for a sick plant, and is not the treatment of choice when a plant is under stress. In fact, fertilizer may make it worse. Application of fertilizer to a plant that has insect injury or looks sick will only put additional stress on the plant as it tries to use the food to grow. What the plant needs is the proper medicine. If you have a plant that is struggling, make sure you get an informed diagnosis from a plant specialist before applying a fungicide, an insecticide, or fertilizer. Or maybe it is under stress because of too much water or not enough water. After the proper diagnosis and treatment, and the plant is healthy, you can begin a fertilization schedule that is recommended by your plant specialist.

Copyright 2006