|A is for Adapted:
Plants can’t walk around. The key to beautiful house and office plants is putting the right plant in the right place. Plants live off of light. Different plants are adapted to live off of light in different ways. Plants adapted for full sun need to be put out in the sun and plants adapted for shade need to be put in the shade. Plants that will not grow under office lights need to be put in the window.
Plants need water but some plants need water much more or much less than others. Some plants need to have too much water and others need very little. Water fills up the spaces in the soil and prevents the roots from breathing. Plants that drown easily need to be watered very little.
Plants need different kinds of soil. Some plants need acid and others need base (alkaline). Some plants need humus and others need sand. Some plants like rocks and others don’t. Some plants are from the desert and others are from the rainforest. You need to know the needs of your plant and respect them. Some plants are very sensitive to temperature.
There are some plants that are very hard to kill. If you like tough guy plants here are some examples: Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen), Ardisia crispa (Coralberry), Aspidistra elatior (Cast-iron plant), Chlorophytum comosum (Spider plant), Coleus, Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake Plant), Chamaedorea elegans (Neanthe bella palm),
Dracaena deremensis, Pandanus veitchii (Screw pine).
B is for Bright Light:
Generally speaking bright light plants need to be grown in bright light. Bright light plants that will stand temperature around 80 degrees F. include: Agave, Aloe, Cactus, Succulents, Crassula argentia (Jade Plant), Diffenbachia (Dumbcane), Dizygotheca elegantissima (False aralia), Pandanus veitchii (Screw pine), Philodendron selloum, Phoenix roebelenii (Pigmy date palm), Polyscias fruticosa (Parsley aralia).
Plants that need bright light and cool conditions (around 70 degrees F.) include: Asplenium nidus (Bird’s nest fern),
Ficus diversifolia (Mistletoe fig), Cycas revoluta (Sago palm), Pittosporum tobira (Japanese pittosporum), Podocarpus macrohylla (Southern yew), Rhapis excelsia (Lady palm).
Trees for bright light include: Brassaia actinophylla (Schefflera), Ficus benjamina (Weeping fig), Veitchia merrillii (Manila palm), and Yucca elephantipes (Spineless yucca). The Ficus and the Yucca prefer cool (70 degrees).
Climbing plants for bright light include: Asparagus densiflorus (Asparagus fern), Hoya carnosa (Wax plant), and Tradescantia (Wandering jew). All three prefer cool.
Plants with color or with blooms for bright light include:
Aeschynanthus (Lipstick vine), Bouganivillea, Crossandra, Amaryllis, Impatiens, Geranium, Easter cactus, Pigmy rose, and Thunbergia alata (Black-eyed-Susan vine).
C is for Cats and Children:
Some plants are poisonous and should not be grown around pets and small children. The yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) produces yellow trumpets of flowers. Its roots, leaves, and flowers have chemicals that act similar to strychnine. The Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudo-capsicum) has red and orange berries that are attractive to children and very poisonous. Crown of thorns (Euphorbia splendens), Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), and other euphorbias contain poisonous juice. Children are reported to have died from eating the leaves. Other Euphorbia sometimes grown include: Scarlet plume, Candelabara tree, Candelabara catus, Elkhorn euphorb, Corncob catus, Indian corncob euphorb, Fish bone catus euphorb, Christ-thorn euphorb, and the Milk bush and Pencil cactus euphorbs.
Common English Ivy (Hedera helix) produces poisonous berries and leaves and children have been reported to have been poisoned by them. Many of the bulbs commonly grown as flowers are poisonous if eaten. Bulbs and tubers to be kept out of the reach of pets and children include those of: Crinum lilies, Nerine lilies, blood lilies (Haemanthus), autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), snowflake (Leucojum asestivum), Narcissus, daffodil, Amaryllis, and Glory Lily (Glorisa superba).
Other plants to avoid include: croton, Dieffenbachia, Chinese Evergreen, Monstera, Anthurium, Philodendron, pothos, cyclamen, night blooming cereus, and lantana.
D is for Dark:
Plants require light to grow. Plants cannot grow in complete darkness. There are a few plants that can grow on the forest floor where there is very little light. Some of these may be able to survive where the only light is a desk lamp or a distant window.
The amount of light from various exposures can vary greatly. A tree can make the light from a southern window darker than a northern one. A house in Arizona can get more sun in its northern windows than a southern window in Michigan.
Any place that receives two of three hours of sunlight in the summer will support partial shade plants. Sun loving plants will need a sunny south facing window with at least five hours of bright light in the summer. Shade plants can survive in the artificial light of offices.
Put the Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea erumpens) in a warm dim corner fairly distant from a window and keep the soil moist. Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) needs a skylight or a nearby window. Dracaenas need to be fairly close to a window. Put Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) in a window and also Kentia Palm (Howeia fosteriana) and Avocado (Persea americana) as well as Song of India (Pleome rekfexa). Manila palms (Veitchia merrillii) and Spineless Yucca (Yucca elephantipes) will thrive a few feet from a south window. Put Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria excelsa) in a northern window and keep it on the cool side.
E is for Environment:
The key to having healthy plants is finding the right environment, one that is close to the environment that the evolved in. You don’t want to put a desert plant in a spot where it will get over watered or put a shade loving plant in the sun.
Do not go moving Azalea, Camellia, Epiphyllum, and Zygocatus (Christmas Cactus), they don’t like it. If you have a really dark spot it may be possible to get Cissus antartica, Philodendron scandens, Rhaphiodophora aurea (Devil’s Ivy), or Syngonium (Goosefoot or Arrowhead Plant) to grow their, but they will still need some artificial light or indirect light from a window.
Agaves need south windows and weekly watering in spring and summer. Water in fall and winter only when the surface is dry. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) will survive in light bright enough to read by. Keep the soil moist and avoid drafts. Aloes need sunny windows, water weekly in the summer. Put the Coralberry (Adrdisia crispa) near a sunny window, mist daily, and keep the soil moist.
Put the Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidista elatior) in a cool corner in light bright enough to read by and water weekly.
You need to grow Bird’s-Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) in bright light and water once or twice a week. Put Ponytail (Beaucarnea recurvata) in a brightly lit window and water only when the surface is dry. Keep begonias evenly moist but not soggy and put them in warm bright windows.
F is for Ferns:
Sword fern (Boston Fern, Nephrolepis) likes moderate light and frequent watering. Button Fern (Pella) needs moderate light but no direct sun. Keep its soil moist. The same is true for Polystichum (Christmas Fern or Shield Fern), Pteris (Brake, Ribbon Fern, Sword Brake, Variegated Table Fern), Blechnum (Hard Fern or Rib Fern), and Adiantum (Maidenhair Fern).
In general ferns like filtered light but no direct sunlight and enough water to keep the soil moist. Moss fern (Selaginella, Creeping Moss, Spike Moss) needs lots of rainwater and frequent spraying.
Ferns like moist soil with good drainage. Cover the bottom of their pot with shards and fill with a mixture of topsoil, peat moss, and sand. Ferns don’t like too much fertilizer. They also don’t like insecticides. They don’t like to get too close to their neighbors.
The air is often too dry for ferns in heated areas in the winter. Indoor window boxes spread with damp moss on top of pebbles can help.
The Hen-and-Chicken or Mother Fern (Asplenium bulbiferum) develops little plantlets on its leaves. If you pin the plant and a piece of the attached leaf to the soil till it roots, you may get a new fern. Bird’s-Nest-Fern (Asplenium nidus) is a hard to kill fern. The trunks of tree ferns (Cibotium, Dicksonia) need to be misted daily.
G is for Garden:
A dish garden for a sunny window can be made from a container a foot or more across and more than three inches deep. Put pebbles on the bottom and cover with charcoal. Add in a dry soil mix of sand, soil, leaf mold, and some bone meal. Plant desert cactus dry. Do not water right away. Soak them every few months, just enough to keep them shriveling. Water less in winter.
Plant with stapelia, barrel cactus (Echinocactus), pinwheel (Aeonium), haworthia, Opuntia, Echinocerus, Lobivi, Cephalocerus, Cereus, Rebutia and other cacti and succulents.
A dish garden a few feet from a window that is regularly watered, but not over watered can be planted with baby false aralia, croton, creeping fig, Peperomia, Pellionia, Gynura.
Terrariums can be planted with maindenhair fern (Adiantum), miniature maple leaf begonia, miniature grape ivy (Cissus), miniature creeping fig (Ficus pumila minima), baby bird’s nest fern (Asplenium cristatum). Miniatures of the neanthe bella palm, Cryptanthus bivittatus, Dracaena godseffana, English ivy (Hedera helix), baby aluminum plant, miniature artillery plant. Miniature African violet, silver-leaved philodendron, strawberry geranium (Saxifraga stolonifera) are all possible plants for a terrarium or open contained garden. Keep it out of direct sun, but give it lots of filtered light.
H is for “How often do I water?”
When your houseplant is limp, when the leaves brown, when it looses most of its leaves, it is possible that you are watering too much. It is good to drench plants, but not everyday.
Over watered plants may have leaves that turn yellow from the bottom of the plant towards the top. The yellow spots at the tip of the leaves spread across the whole leaf. The foliage begins to wilt and the stems become weak.
The roots of the plant have no air to breathe because the waterlogged soil has no air spaces in it. The cells of the plant are stretched to their limits with all the water that is being pushed into them. Mold spores germinate in the damp and the hair like strands of mold cells push into the roots and feed on the root tissue till it rots. The plant begins to wilt because the tissues are bursting from too much water and strands of mold are moving in where the cells have burst and causing rot. You water the wilting plant and make the situation worse.
When you have watered a little too often there will be leaves with yellow and brown tips and yellow areas in the center of the leaves. Later whole leaves turn yellow and then many leaves turn yellow and finally brown. Watering once a week can be too much for plants. You must wait till the soil gets dry. Then you can drench it. Wait for the first sign of wilt before you water. Wait till succulents shrivel slightly before you water. Wait till a cactus shrivels a bit.
I is for Insects:
Check for bugs before you get a plant. The little bug on one may crawl to the others. Check the undersides of the leaves, check the new growth, check the area where the leaves attach to the stem. Check the surface of the soil and the bottom of the pot. Even if it has passed the test, isolate it for a few weeks and check it before you place it with other plants.
Avoid watering too often. When you do water, drench the plants. Don’t over fertilize. Prune away yellow leaves and brown foliage that might look good to bugs and mold. Clear off fallen leaves from the soil surface so bugs do not have a place to hide and breed.
When bugs are found, wash them off. Direct a jet of water to the undersides of leaves. Mix liquid detergent with ten parts of water and spay the plant once a week for a month avoiding getting any in the soil. Dunk the stem and leaves (don’t get the soil wet) in the stuff and swish the foliage around in it.
Prune insect and fungus infected foliage and throw it away.
Isolate plants with problems to keep the problems from spreading. Flakes of white snow are mealy bug colonies and they need to be removed by pruning away and by washing foliage and spaying weekly with detergent. Isolate plants with problems before they spread. Get some tobacco from cigarette buts or chewing tobacco and soak it. Apply the juice with a cotton swab to control insect infestations.
J is for Jungle:
It makes a difference how much light you have. With enough light you can grow a dwarf banana tree (Musa nana). With some cool temperatures in the winter, you can grow Pittosporum tobira, and if you want flowers, a camellia or a hibiscus. But, you are going to need to have high enough humidity if you want to keep flowers going.
With lots of light, you can grow Dracaenia marginata and Ficus, or a bamboo like Phyllostachys aurea. The candelabra cactus (Euphorbia lactae) and the pencil cactus (Euphoribia trirucalli), the false aralia (Dizygotheca elegantissima) are recommended for bright light locations.
Plants recommended for moderate light include Podocarpus macrophyllus, Scheffleras as well as Kenita palm (Raphis).
For dimmer areas consider various species of Dracaena and the finger philodendron (Philodendrum selloum). Hawaiian Schefflera (Schefflera venulosa), Pleomele reflexa, and ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) are possibilities. Put the bamboo palm (Chamaedorea erumpens) in a dim corner.
Keep your bamboo palm in humid heat (mist it and keep the soil damp). Areca palms like warmth and moisture also, but they need more light than bamboo palms. Weeping figs need more fresh air and light with a little coolness. Don’t let their soil get soggy. Give your avocado tree lots of light, cool air, and mist it often.
Kinds of Plants:
Plants for bright, warm conditions: Aloe, cacti, jade plant, dumbcane, false aralia, screw-pine, philodendron, pigmy date palm, parsley aralia, passion flower, wandering jew.
Plants for bright, cool conditions: Coleus, bird’s nest fern, mistletoe fig, Japanese pittosporum, southern yew, lady palm, weeping fig, spineless yucca, asparagus fern, bougainvillea, impatiens, kalanchoe, easter cactus, pigmy rose.
Plants for moderate light and warm conditions: coralberry, rex begonia, Euphorbia, Peperomia, Pilea, Dracaena, fishtail palm, bamboo palm, areca palm, Pothos, Orchids.
Plants for moderate light and cool conditions: Chinese evergreen, cast-iron plant, cathedral windows, spider plant, umbrella plant, holy fern, Fittonia, prayer plant, Boston fern, Pellaea, hare’s foot fern, table fern, strawberry geranium, piggyback plant, neanthe bella palm, Fatsia, Norfolk Island pine, kentia palm, rosary vine, German ivy, Oxalis.
Bulbs include bloody lily, amaryllis, Aztec lily, Scarborough lily, caladium, and calla lily.
Bamboos need calcium silicate, fertilization, and lots of water in the growing season: Arundinaria nitida, Arundinaria pygmaea, Bambusa multiplex, Bambusea ventricosa, Bambusa vulgaris, Pyllostachys aurea.
L is for Light:
Light is a critical factor in healthy houseplants. Some need more than others. Don’t put houseplants in direct sunlight because it will burn them. Don’t put light loving plants in dark corners because they will die.
Most cactus and succulents and plants with flowers need sunny windows. Filtered light works for ferns. Some plants from tropical forest and forest floor habitats can stand dim light.
Put Tradescantia (wandering jew) near a bright light, an east window, or a few feet from a south window. Put Syngonium (nephthytis, arrowhead plant) in a north window. Put Senecio mikanioides (German ivy) in a good light but not direct sun. Philodendron and Sciandapsus aureus (pothos, devil’s ivy) will do best at the side of an east window.
English ivy, rosary vine (Ceropegia woodii), creeping fig (Ficus pumila), and wax plant (Hoya carnosa) would like several hours of sun. Cissus (kangaroo vine, grape ivy) would like this too, but will get by on dim light. Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus) wants a bright north window and fresh cool humid air without direct sun or heat.
Yuccas need to be in an east or west window. So also with manila palms, and kentia palms. Put Norfolk Island pine near and east or west window along with fishtail palm (Caryota mitis), areca palm, Dracaenas, and Pleomele.
M is for Manure:
Don’t over fertilize. Manure will be too strong for many houseplants unless it has properly aged and it is properly diluted with soil and sand. Most potting soils are not adequate. You need to make your own from one part soil, one part peat moss, and one part perlite or vermiculite. Dump these together and mix them up a little and you have a good potting soil.
If you use a commercial potting soil, you need to add large amounts of peat moss and vermiculite (or perlite) to keep it from drying out like a brick. Vermiculite is mica that has been heated up till it expands. Perlite is volcanic ash that has been heated till it explodes.
A sandy soil mix for cactus and succulents can be made from one part packaged potting soil, one part peat moss or leaf mold and three parts builder’s sand. A nice loam that will work for most moisture loving plants can be made form one part packaged potting soil, one part peat moss or leaf mold or sphagnum moss, one part builder’s sand and a dash of bone meal.
You can add it a third of a cup of dried (not fresh) cow manure instead. If your are growing bromeliads, try three parts potting soil, three parts perlite or vermiculite, one part coarse charcoal and one part sand. Put in a tiny amount of liquid fertilizer when you water. Add a little bone meal to the potting mixture. But avoid fertilizing in the winter or when you plant its not growing.
O is for Overdone:
The worst thing you can do is over water and then over fertilize once your plant gets sick. If it is winter, the house is probably too dry for your plant and it is suffering from lack of humidity. So you put it in the sunlight. But, moving your plant upsets it. The sunlight is too harsh for it and it burns it.
So when do you water a plant to avoid watering it too much. Wait till the soil is dry. Wait till the leaves start to wilt a little. If a succulent, wait till the stem and leaves start to shrivel a little. Then drench the plant with water and wait till it dries out and starts to wilt till you water again. If it is a plant that likes humidity and the air is dry, then mist the plant or put a bowl of water close to it.
African violets do well if they have wicks running from the bottom of the plant to water in a bowl. The water from the wick is enough to supply the African violet with all the water it needs.
Don’t just move your plant into a sunny window. The heat and sun may kill it. If a plant isn’t doing well, gradually move it closer to the window (a few feet a week) till it gets to a point where it starts to thrive again.
Give your plants a fertilizer like bone meal that dissolves slowly. Fertilize, but don’t overdo it. Give them half or less of what the commercial fertilizers recommend. Don’t fertilize in the winter when the plant is not growing.
P is for Prune and Propagate:
Prune away dead and dying foliage. Prune away stems that stick out and foliage that is too leggy. Prune away imperfect parts. Prune away hanging stems that look like brown strings. Prune growing tips to promote branching in plants that are getting too stringy looking.
Root cuttings in a mixture of soil, peat moss, and vermiculite. Don’t take cuttings in the winter months. Take good cuttings. Keep the rooting medium moist until rooting occurs. Don’t allow the rooting medium to get too saturated. Cover the cuttings with plastic bag to generate high humidity. Blow up the bag with air and use stakes to keep it from touching the cuttings.
Cut four inch for your cuttings. Cut the stems at the nodes. Take the leaves off of a couple of nodes and push this part of the stem into the rooting soil. As your cuttings root, let the soil dry a little and expose it to the air. Once a month pinch out the growing tips to force the plant to branch.
Succulents should be allowed to heal before placed in the rooting medium. They should not be covered with a bag. The soil should never get soggy. They must be given more time to form roots.
Asparagus ferns, aspidistras, palm trees, bamboo plants, and the like can often be divided by cutting the mass of branches right down the middle with a sharp knife. Repot the resulting daughter plants.
Q is for Queer Messages:
Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird wrote a book called “The Secret Life of Plants.” It is all about people who share thoughts and feelings with their houseplants.
Plants are living things. Some theories of live attribute subjective qualities to all living things, some attribute them to all things. Where there is form, there is some kind of thought and where there is motion there is some kind of feeling. Plants have plant thoughts and plant feelings because they have the form and motion of plants and not of humans.
Plants are our natural friends. Our foulest breath is full of the carbon dioxide that they feed on. Our waste products are full of the nitrogen, phosphates, and minerals they need to keep alive. In return they put the oxygen we need in the our air and form beautiful flowers and delicious fruits to entertain and enchant us.
If we are to respect our plants, we must stop feeling superior to them. Theirs is an ancient way of life that is radically different than ours. They are ecologically friendly and totally organic. They recycle constantly. They are the ultimate pacifists, taking only from the freely given energy of the sunlight, water from rain, carbon dioxide wastes in the air, nitrogenous wastes in the soil (manure, urine, etc.).
They return our live unconditionally. They ask little of us and return much. They send out “queer messages” of non-violence and non-resistance, of serenity, and patient joy.
R is for Relationship:
Some people believe that their relationship with their plants in like a friendship, some people attempt to cultivate a spiritual relationship with their plants. Many people find that plants respond to them at the level that they relate to the plant. Some have found that the attempt to find a deep energy that they share with the plant on a primitive or psychic basis has helped them develop this relationship with their plants.
Plants do share a deep biological bond with us. The exchange of carbon and oxygen atoms between is a scientific reality. As we honor the unique life style of the plant, we recognize our own unity with nature on all levels. We honor our own biological roots. We also have the chance to learn from plants. They have developed a very different way of adapting.
Plants can teach us patience, humility, harmony, balance, optimism, openness, serenity, acceptance, efficiency, simplicity, stability, endurance and other virtues if we are willing to learn from them. Plants have a very different way of processing information than humans. They can teach us different ways of approaching problems if we are willing to let them show us how.
People who believe they own their plants, people who ignore and mistreat their plants, people who treat their plants like pieces of furniture are missing out on the opportunity to learn from their ancient wisdom.
S is for Speech:
Plants can’t talk. Plants do give out oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. Quantum mechanics tells us that the quantum state of an atom connects it to the quantum states of everything it came in contact with. If we breathe in the oxygen that healthy plants give us, we can make contact with the harmonious quantum states of their quantum reality.
If we speak words of love to our plants, if we give out carbon dioxide associated with a harmonious state in our own body, the plant can share that harmonious quantum alternative. In a certain sense, our plants and we enter into a state of prayer and meditation with the spiritual essence of holiness. Holiness means wholeness and health. Prayer means speaking to the holy and meditation means listening.
When our voice blows out carbon dioxide that the plant uses to grow, the air from our lungs is brought into a larger whole, a larger holiness that is Garden of Eden like in its union of animal and plant. Our breath is a prayer that the plant meditates on and uses to help it recycle our waste products and reunite them to the larger wholeness. It is doing its tiny part to end global warming by drawing this tiny piece of carbon dioxide out of the polluted air. It is doing its tiny part in the constant work of plants to restore the holy garden that humans have destroyed.
Plants constantly teach us humility and holiness. Many people speak words of love to their plants in gratitude.
T is for Transplanting:
When the plant looks much too large for its pot it is time to transplant. When plants become too root bound, it is difficult to water them because the pot is mainly root and little soil.
When the soil is wet, ease the ball of roots out of the pot. Do it gently. Is it all soil? Can you see roots? If you can’t, lower it gently back into the pot and wait to repot it. If you see a mass of roots, it is time to repot.
Put a ruler across the pot and measure the diameter. If it is in a container that is four inches across, put it in a new pot eight inches across. Find something that is two, three, or four inches more in diameter to move it to. Don’t use pots that have no holes in the bottom. If you insist on using one of these pots without a hole, fill it with lots of pebbles and don’t let the plants in it rot in accumulations of standing water.
Don’t transplant in late fall and winter. When you get the root ball wet and give the stem a gentle tug to see if it will lift out easily. If it is stuck, run a knife around where the root ball is attached. Gently tug it again. If it does not come out, soak it some more and tap the bottom with a hammer. If it is a plastic pot, pry it away from the root ball with pliers or scissors. Cut out black soft areas of the root system with a knife. Place pebbles and pieces of broken crockery on the bottom of the new pot. Add just enough soil so that the root ball is not too high or too low.