Articles

Indoor Orchids Help Beat The Winter BLAHS!

 

Orchids will add a touch of glamour to those winter blue periods when you start counting the days until spring just for something to do. Most people have had only a passing acquaintance with an orchid, possibly as part of a corsage worn by you or your date to the high school prom or maybe a wedding party.

Their exotic coloration and growth habits add a whole new level of cool to the household. And orchids are cosmopolitan. They can be found in most terrestrial habitats of the world except glaciers. But the tropics harbor most of the known species (28,000+). Most tropical orchid species are epiphytes. That is they grow on tall plants like trees and vines to gain access to sunlight, a scarce commodity in a dense rainforest. But they do not get water or nutrients from them. Orchids from higher latitudes are rooted in soil. And all orchids are often incredibly picky in their habitat preferences. On top of that, European and American horticulturists have produced some 1,000,000 hybrids and cultivars since the 19th Century.

I suggest that you buy one or more orchids from a reputable dealer and raise them indoors. It will be good for the merchants, good for the orchids, and good for you as you embark on a brand new hobby. Everybody wins!

Popular Orchids to Buy

Phalaenopsis (foreground) are the most available orchid at stores in addition to Oncidium (background).

At this point, we have to dive into the practical aspects of orchids and orchid care. Unless you live in or near a big population center abounding with specialty stores, you should order online from a reputable dealer. I recommend going for a big show and buying tropical epiphytes. They are more glamorous and rewarding to grow. Temperate zone natives tend to do better outdoors where they get picked by the neighbor’s kids or chomped by chipmunks or mice.

Best bets for purchase include corsage orchids (Cattelya spp.), boat orchid (Cymbidium spp.), moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.), tropical slipper orchids, (Paphiopedilum spp.) and dancing ladies (Oncidium spp.). Epiphytes such as these may be potted in wood chips or secured to a piece of tree branch or piece of bark that mimics their forest habitat. Epiphytic aerial roots collect water and nutrients from air, rainwater, and organic debris that collects around the plant.  Despite the multiplicity of exotic forms, patterns, and colors, most orchids have no discernible scent.

You should buy mature plants that have blooms and/or live buds. They should be shipped in 4 or 5-inch pots on a wood chip substrate. Barring a shipping disaster they should provide you with instant orchids.

Cymbidium orchids come in shades of ivory, green, orange, pink, purple, and yellow.

Requirements for Home Orchid Care:

  • Position your plants on a bright windowsill facing east or west.
  • Most orchids require water once a week. When the orchid arrives, water thoroughly, then routinely as indicated above thereafter. Do not disturb the planting medium the plant comes in the first year or those first buds/flowers will not bloom!
  • Unless stated otherwise, Indoor air temperature should be no less than 60 degrees F. at night and no more than 90 degrees F. during the day.
  • Unless stated otherwise, Indoor relative humidity should range from 40% to 70%’
  • Feed weekly with a liquid fertilizer designed for orchids. We recommend a 10-10-10 formulation
  • Repotting with fresh orchid mix when your orchid stops blooming for the year. We recommend Black Gold® Natural Organic Orchid Potting Mix.
  • All of this verbiage notwithstanding, You will receive (or should receive) a set of care and maintenance instructions from the nursery. Follow those
Moth orchids are the most common type available at stores.

Happy New Year and please stay safe!

How Do I Maintain My Overgrown Potted Eucalyptus?

“Our Eucalyptus tree is at least 25 feet tall with no sign of slowing down. Could we lovingly remove it to maybe a better area? It is cold outside, and she just grows in all weather and doesn’t intend to be stopped. She is as high as our two-story home, and can’t support her upper branches.” Question from Philip of Lancaster, Alabama

Dear Philip,

You have two options. First, you can try finding a beautiful spot where it can be planted. It should be a beautiful tree if it will survive in your climate, and it sounds as though it will. Many eucalypts will grow well down South. Clearly yours is one. In general, they are tolerant of many different types of soil as long as they drain well. Full sun is a requirement.

Another option is to cut it back severely to encourage shrubby growth to reduce its size and upgrade its pot. This will allow it to remain as a container plant for a while longer. We recommend a very large pot because these trees need space. Fill the pot with a quality, fast-draining mix, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Soil or Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix combined with quality topsoil at a 1:1 ratio. Cut back the dominant branches to the base of the trunk to lighten the branch load, and cut medium branches back by half. The best time to prune Eucalyptus is in the summer. They will drip some sap, but they heal faster when it is warm. I hope that these tips help!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

African Violet Care 101

It is that time of year when I start feeling desperate for flowers. Christmas, with all the decorations and lights, is past, and there are three whole months until April, with its early daffodils and crocus. So what is a perfect, ever-blooming houseplant, to brighten things up at this time of year?  The answer is African violets, and they are easier to grow than most think.

Basic Overview of African Violets

A happy African violet will bloom off and on throughout the year.

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) were discovered in 1892, in tropical rain forests in Tanganyika, a small country in eastern Africa. Baron von Saint Paul, the imperial, district governor of the colonized country, found them on the forest floor. He then sent plants and seeds back to his father in Europe, and after passing through several hands they made their way to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, where the first breeding to develop them into houseplants began. They came to the United States in 1894 and by 1946 were so popular that police had to be called in to help with traffic, at the first US National African Violet Show in Atlanta, Georgia. The African Violet Society of America was founded shortly afterward in the same year.

As with any new plant, developing fancy varieties took off quickly, and now with modern breeding, there are fabulous African violets available. Plants range in size from 3 to 16 inches and can have single or double flowers in shades of pink, purple, violet, rose, or white. Some have frilled edges and others are bi-colored, with contrasting edges and centers. Violets that are splashed or speckled with two or more colors are called fantasy types.  Some have variegated leaves with edges, centers, stripes, or spots of white or yellow. Other have leaves with ruffled edges, quilted puffs, or an oak-like shape that add to the beauty of the plants.

Buying African Violets

Fantasy African violets are some of the most spectacular now available.

All garden centers that carry house plants should have a nice African violet selection, but specialty plants must typically be purchased online unless you have a specialty grower nearby. The Violet Barn is an outstanding online nursery for African violets, and, of course, looking at all of their wonderful varieties means that I plan to order some new African violets right away. They have an outstanding selection of unusual trailing varieties, and the fully-double, trailing-pink ‘Cirelda‘ caught my eye. The award-winning, heavy flowering, speckled-violet ‘Rob’s Boolaroo‘ looks unbelievable, as does the pretty pink-flowered ‘Ma’s Debutante‘ with its wonderfully white speckled variegated leaves. I was also attracted to some of the Saintpaulia species, such as Saintpaulia grandifolia, which is elegant and promises prolific violet-blue, butterfly-shaped blooms on long stems. Pretty African violet pots and a bag of Natural & Organic Black Gold African Violet Potting Mix are also on my to-buy list.

Growing Basics for African Violets

African violets require pots with drainage and bottom saucers.

Now, it is true that African violets have a bit of a reputation for being tricky to grow, but with a few instructions, you will easily have beautiful plants that bloom heavily and repeatedly throughout the year.

  1. Light: Providing the right amount and kind of light is important to keep plants blooming. African violets like bright, indirect light, which means putting them in a west- or east-facing window (large north-facing windows also work) and turning them every week for uniform growth. Artificial grow lights can also be used, if they provide consistent, uniform light. Keep the plants no farther than 12 inches away from the light, and provide 12 hours of light a day. If they start having fewer flowers, change the amount of light to 14 hours a day for a few weeks, and then go back to 12 hours. (Note: Grow lights really help in winter when you lack windows. This year, I brought three huge fancy geraniums in for the winter, but I lacked window space for them. I bought grow lights to keep them going until spring, and they are doing very well.)
  2. Water: Proper watering is essential for African violets. They require highly drained soil that is just moist. Room temperature water that is low in minerals is also preferred. When watering, avoid getting water on the leaves, which can cause leaf spots and damage. Instead, either bottom water or water from the top with a narrow-spouted watering can, while being careful to avoid the foliage. Allow water to stand in the bottom saucer for about 1 hour, and then pour it out. Allow the soil to dry out a little before watering again.
  3. Temperature & Humidity: The perfect humidity is 50-60% and temperatures close to 70 degrees F are just right.
  4. Fertilization: Fertilize with a specialty African violet fertilizer, which you can find online. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s application instructions, because they may vary. I tend to feed them lightly each time I water.
  5. Soil & Drainage: Choose a specialty growing mix, such as Natural & Organic Black Gold African Violet Potting Mix, and always plant African violets in pots with drainage holes and a bottom saucer to catch water. When the plant becomes root bound, upgrade to a pot 1-2 inches larger to encourage new growth.

If your African violet stops blooming, check the number of rows of leaves. If there are 5 or more rows, cut the outside rows of leaves off at the base, back to 2 rows. Each row produces its own flowers, and the crown of leaves can take over the plant.  The most common cause of lack of flowers, however, is not enough light, so move it closer to your light source if plants stop blooming.

With new African violets on the way, I am thinking of places to put mine. My new trailing ‘Cirelda’ will look beautiful in a hanging basket. I cannot wait to see its pretty pink flowers and cascading stems. It should give me gorgeous blooms to brighten the winter and times beyond. For more information, please watch the helpful video below.

Holiday Cactus From Fall to Spring

Spring holiday cactus varieties come in many colorful shades including orange.

Every year, holiday-house-plant lovers enjoy the sensational fall and winter blooms of crab or Thanksgiving (Schlumbergera truncata) cactus and winter or holiday cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi), but it does not have to end there. There are other Schlumbergera that bloom at different times of the year, particularly in the mid to late spring, making them outstanding house plants to color homes through many months of the year.

A Short History of Common Holiday Cacti

Holiday cacti are Brazilian natives, and several common cultivated species and hybrid groups exist. The popular Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) tends to bloom in November and early December. It has joined stem parts (technically called cladodes) that have pointed edges, and its brilliantly colored, long, multipetaled flowers have bilateral symmetry. When viewed head-on, the blooms look almost crab-like, which explains one of its common names, crab cactus. It is the most commonly sold species and new colors are always being bred in shades of pink, magenta, red, orange, salmon, apricot, and white. The true holiday or Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera × buckleyi, and it tends to bloom in December or early January. It has flowers in shades of red and pink that are more radial, and its cladodes have rounded edges. Oddly, it is harder to find, despite its wide appeal and beauty. Easter or spring holiday cacti are mostly comprised of two species with radial, multipetaled blooms in shades of orange, pink, red, and white, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri (syn. Schumbergera gaertneri) and Rhipsalidopsis × graeseri (syn. Schlumbergera × graeseri). These plants have smooth cladodes, and their hybrids are less often sold but very beautiful with cheerful blooms that appear from March to June, depending on the variety.

Schlumbergera truncata was one of the first species brought into cultivation in the nineteenth century. (Botanical Image Plate by Hooker, William Jackson (1823–1827))

These cacti naturally grow in the mountainous rainforests of Brazil. Most are epiphytic, which means that they grow in the branches of trees. Their seasonal blooms are pollinated by hummingbirds, which explains why they are tubular and come in bright colors, particularly shades of red.

Schlumbergera truncata was the first species brought into cultivation in Europe and America in the early 1800s (~1817 to 1839). Their regularity of bloom, ease of growth, and great beauty made them popular house plants and conservatory specimens in no time. Schlumbergera x buckleyi started to appear around the 1850s in Victorian England and was popularized in the US and Europe a bit later. It fast became the official Christmas cactus due to its consistent December bloom time. The spring holiday or Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) was the last to hit the scene. It was brought into cultivation in the late 1800s, and is surprisingly less popular than its winter-blooming cousins.

One great trait of all Schlumbergera is that they are wonderfully long-lived. This explains why many are passed down from generation to generation. Lots of home gardeners proudly grow the same holiday cactus raised by their grandparents or even great grandparents. It’s a nice thing to consider when purchasing one for the first time. It’s a long-term investment. If you grow one for each season, you can then enjoy their showy blooms through much of the year.

Fall, Thanksgiving, or Crab Cactus

Schlumbergera truncata has bilateral, tubular flowers, pointed teeth along the stem, and blooms around November. (‘Dark Marie’ shown)

Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata and hybrids) is the number one selling holiday cactus, so most growers likely already have one. Some exceptional varieties are available.

One of the prettiest pinks is the profuse, reliable bloomer, ‘Cristen’. The large flowers of this truncata hybrid have pale-pink petals edged in darker pink. The effortless November bloomer ‘Dark Marie‘ is similar but its flowers are edged in scarlet. Some varieties have a more weeping habit and are better suited for pedestal planters or hanging baskets. The November-blooming, golden-apricot-flowered ‘Christmas Flame‘ has a beautiful weeping habit and reliably blooms annually. The unusual ‘Aspen‘ is another to seek out. Its extra-large, frilly, white flowers are spectacular.

Winter, Christmas, or Holiday Cactus

Schlumbergera in the buckleyi hybrid group have radial, tubular flowers, rounded stems (cladodes), and bloom around December.

True holiday or Christmas cactus bloom about a couple of weeks to a month later than the Thanksgiving type. The plants can become quite large with age and tend to weep, making them extra appealing when placed on a sturdy pedestal. There are few cultivars of this true December bloomer and even the standard form is a challenge to find. Look to Etsy and other specialty sellers to find the real deal.

Spring, Spring Holiday, or Easter Cactus

Easter cacti have totally smooth-edged stems and totally radial multipetaled blooms.

Spring cacti (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri and hybrids) have many colorful petals in shades of pink, magenta, red, orange, white, and other related color variants. There are several pretty varieties that are readily available including the pure-white ‘Sirius‘, which has golden centers and is a reliable bloomer from May to June. The brilliant-red-flowered ‘Scorpious‘ generally flowers a bit earlier in the spring, from March to April, and will bloom for weeks. If you like bright orange flowers, try ‘Colomba‘, which blooms along with ‘Scorpious’.

Growing Holiday Cactus

There are several general growing requirements for holiday cacti. Provide the following for good growth.

  1. Place them in bright, indirect light. Full sun stresses them out and turns their stems shades of purple and red.
  2. Plant them in well-drained soil and pots with good drainage. Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix and Natural & Organic Potting Mix both work beautifully.
  3. Water regularly during the growing months. Apply less water before they start to set bud and average water while they are budded and flowering. Too little or too much watering can kill a holiday cactus.
  4. Provide light fertilization during the growing months, from spring to fall.
  5. Take them outdoors in the summer to soak up the heat and indirect light.

To learn more about winter-blooming holiday cacti, watch this useful video.

Top Ten Holiday House Plants

What makes a holiday house plant great? It should be bright, colorful, and embody the spirit of the season. Here are our top ten favorite holiday house plants. Some continue to look good through much of winter!

Top 10 Holiday House Plants

Click here for more holiday house plant ideas beyond poinsettias.

Click here to learn how to water house plants.

Click here to learn how to pot house plants.

Click here to learn how to manage the most common house plant pests.

Cool Succulent Hanging House Plants

Don’t underestimate the length and weight of some hanging succulents, like these donkey’s tails and string-or-dolphins. Over time, they can become quite weighty and substantial. (Note: These Vintage Italian Majolica Pottery Face Vessels are difficult to find but beautiful.)

Succulents have had a place in my home since I was in college. In fact, as life became busier and busier, I began to replace more tender, needy house plants with resilient succulents. By the time I had children, I only had succulent indoor plants. Then I realized that hanging succulents were even more convenient because they were out of reach from the kids and cats. They are beautiful and convenient if you have lots of windows that stream sunlight into your home. Some can even take the partial sun.

Another perk is that succulents lack the woes of average, needier hanging plants. They don’t need to be constantly watered and tended to due to higher exposure to the elements. Succulents are much slower to dry out and far more forgiving if the soil runs a little dry. The foliage will continue to look lush as long as you keep giving them a little care each week.

Hanging Succulent House Plant Care

 

Hanging succulents like these string of pearls and rattail cactus (far right) often look best if upgraded into prettier, more spacious pots once you bring them home.

All hanging baskets should drain well and be filled with a porous, well-drained potting mix that also holds moisture. Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend or Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir are both excellent choices that are also OMRI Listed for organic gardening. Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix is another good choice. To each of these mixes consider adding additional Black Gold Perlite to increase porosity and drainage. (Click here to learn more about repotting house plants.)

It is good for the health of any house plant to be taken outdoors during the frost-free growing months. Hang them along a bright porch or patio where they will get some protection from the high midday sun and strong winds. Regardless of their drought-tolerant status, they will still require weekly to twice-weekly water when outdoors. Light, slow-release fertilizer, and intermittent water-soluble fertilizer will encourage robust growth. They must be well-rooted and established in their baskets before they are fully tolerant of dry heat and winds, so keep a more watchful eye on new plantings.

When you take them indoors in fall as house plants, give them direct sunlight or bright filtered light. Water much less during the cold months–excess water can induce crown or root rot. Thorough water two to three times a month should be sufficient, depending on the plant, pot, temperature, and humidity. (Click here to learn more about winter succulent care.)

Securing Hanging House Plants

If you have a mantle and little inclination to secure hooks to your ceiling, place hanging plants along the edge. Tall, sturdy plant stands also work. Otherwise, hanging plants should be hung from hooks or brackets. Strong hangers and hooks hung over wooden rafters or securely mounted to a wooden ceiling beam are your safest options. Proper installation is key.

Choose a large, solid metal hook to mount in a ceiling joist (supporting beam) to hang a plant. Start with the basic materials: a step ladder, stud finder, pencil, and cordless drill set with the right bit (it should be a little smaller than the hook’s threaded shaft). Stud finders make it easy to find joists. Once you find the right spot, mark it with your pencil, and then drill a straight hole in the spot that is a little deeper than the length of the hook’s threaded shaft. Twist the hook’s base in until flush, and you’re done.

Hanging Succulents for Foliage

This variegated string-of-pearls shows the plant in full bloom.

Burros, Dolphins, Donkeys, Pearls, and Pickles: There are several senecios that are uniquely attractive. Each grows to great lengths–up to 3 feet or more–and has whimsical succulent strands.  Blue Pickle Vine (Senecio radicans ‘Glauca’) has strands of fun, blue-green, pickle-like leaves. String of Dolphins (Senecio peregrinus) is somewhat similar, but its curved fleshy leaves look almost dolphin-like. Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum ‘Burrito’) has dense strands of rounded, succulent leaves that look a bit like tails. Donkey’s tails are nearly identical, but the succulent leaves have sharper tips, and the stems tend to grow longer. Finally, Variegated String-of-Pearls (Senecio rowelianus ‘Variegatus’) is one of the easiest and prettiest succulent hanging plants to grow. Its grey-green stems are lined with round baubles of foliage with streaks of ivory and pink highlights. This one’s a little harder to come by, but Mountain Crest Gardens carries it often. Unusual white or lavender-pink flowers rarely appear on each of these plants.

Dancing bones has dense, slender, bone-like stems that produce tiny yellow flowers in winter.

Dancing Bones (Hatiora salicornioides) is a unique spineless cactus. Though delicate, yellow flowers often grace its stems, its glorious, mop-head of foliage is the main show. Grow it in a strong, sturdy hanging basket or tall container. Happy plants mature quickly and become large, so be sure you hang it from a strong hook secured to a beam.

String-of-turtles has unusual leaves that truly look like tiny turtle shells.

String-of-Turtles (Peperomia prostrata) has flattened, translucent leaves that look much like tiny turtle shells. In time, the plant will form a dense mat of dangling stems. This one can take a little less light.  On rare occasions, it may produce spikes of reddish-brown flowers that rise from the foliage.

String-of-hearts has silvery hearts touched with pink.

Variegated String-of-Hearts (Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’) has delicate, heart-shaped succulent leaves of silvery-white, pink, and dark green that dangle from the dark stems for an impressive show. It is one of the easier house plants that you can grow, and it does not disappoint when it comes to good looks.

Hanging Succulents for Flowers and Foliage

A chandelier plant in full bloom is a fine thing. (Image by David J. Stang)

Chandelier Plant (Kalanchoe manginii) becomes massive with age, so choose a substantial container from the start. Its dense stems have rounded succulent leaves. From late winter to early spring, copious orange to salmon-pink bells bloom for weeks. During the rest of the year, the lush foliage of this Madagascar native looks attractive. Thin out excessive older growth to encourage new.

 

Silvery white leaves and pink flowers make flower dust plant a very attractive choice for hanging baskets.

Flower Dust Plant (Kalanchoe pumila) has very bright silvery-white, almost dusty leaves that spill from any container or hanging basket. When this Madagascar native becomes laden with pretty pink flowers, it looks even prettier. Like chandelier plant, it flowers in late winter and spring.

The slender stems of rattail cactus become covered with flowers.

Rattail Cactus (Disocactus flagelliformis) develops long strands of finely-spined stems that cascade down to form a hair-like mop. Spectacular, large cactus flowers of pink, reddish-pink, or purplish-red appear from spring to summer. Prune off any excessive stems or those that become damaged or tangled.

Easy to Propagate and Share

Here the leaves of Sedum morganianum have rooted and developed plantlets on a porous base of potting mix.

Most succulents and cacti can be propagated from leaf or stem cuttings. The rarer your plant, the more you will want to propagate it for gifting and friends. Here is what you will need to take stem or leaf cuttings from your hanging succulents.

Materials

  1. Succulents
  2. Sharp knife
  3. Shallow pots with bottom saucers/tray
  4. Perlite or porous growing mix
  5. Grow lights or a bright window
  6. Rooting hormone with an anti-fungal additive (optional)

Use a sharp knife to gently cut healthy leaves from the stem. Dip the bases of the leaves, or a stem tip, into rooting hormone; rooting hormone hastens the rooting process and reduces rot but is not necessary. Gently moisten the perlite or potting mix in your shallow pots, and nestle the bases of the leaves into the mix. Place the pots in a spot with bright, filtered light and keep the perlite or mix lightly moist to almost dry. Over a matter of weeks, the bases will root and small plantlets will appear. You can pot them up once they have several leaflets.

How To Repot House Plants in Six Steps

Your once beautiful house plant has begun to look stressed. Maybe it’s lost some leaves, quit growing, needs more frequent watering, and has visible roots on the soil surface. Then you remember that it’s been three years since you repotted it…That means it’s time to upgrade its container home to improve better growth and overall appearance.

General House Plant Repotting Notes

All of these plants need to be repotted. To save money, I plan to pot the aloe in the red pot of the Ming fern asparagus. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Different plants have different potting needs–cacti need excellent drainage, most orchids grow best in bark, and hanging baskets like moisture-holding mixes–but there are also a lot of general requirements. Unless you are growing aquatic plants, all potted plants need pots and soils that drain well. Good light is required, so know a plant’s light needs before you try to grow it in your home to make sure that you can support its needs. Supplemental light is an option, but it is never as good as natural light. All potted plants require fertilization at different levels with different foods. When growth ramps up, all plants need more water, and when growth slows down, all plants need less water.

Pick the right-sized pot with drainage holes and a saucer to catch water. I like thick. heavy ceramic pots that last for years. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Finally, repotting is best done in spring, before house plants do most of their active growing, or in late summer to fall when they can grow a little before winter. I find that most house plants grow best if brought outdoors in summer. Just be sure to clean them up well before bringing them back inside before frost. (Click here to learn how to clean plants before bringing them indoors.)

Repotting House Plants in Six Steps

Good repotting technique is done in six easy steps. You just need a new pot, fresh potting soil, fertilizer, water, gloves, and pruning shears.

After cleaning the red pot, and preparing my potting soils, my aloe is ready to pot! (Image by Jessie Keith)
  1. Pick Your Pot: Select something beautiful that you will want in your home for the long haul. There is no reason to have plain plastic pots when you can have elegant ceramic ones Pick pots that are 2 to 6 inches bigger than the original. Small, slow-growing plants need pots that are just a bit bigger, and large, fast-growing plants need larger pots. Deep-rooted plants need deeper pots and shallow-rooted plants need shallow pots. All containers should have good drainage holes unless you are growing an aquatic plant. (Click here to learn how to plant potted water lilies.) Fast drainage encourages water flow and aeration, which roots need. Pick a sturdy saucer to catch water. Water-impermeable pots, like resin, grazed ceramic, or stone, hold water better. Pots made of TerraCotta and cement are porous and lose water more quickly. If you inherit a pot with no drainage holes, drill holes in the bottom with a pointed drill bit. (Be sure to wear gloves and safety goggles.)

  2. Pick Your Soil: Common house plants grow well in any good-quality, all-purpose potting mix, such as Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix or Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Some plants, like African violets, cacti & succulents, or terrestrial orchids need specialty mixes with different levels of drainage and water-holding capacity.  That’s why we make Black Gold African Violet, Cactus and Succulent, and Orchid Mix. Hanging baskets need extra moisture, so we recommend mixes with high water retention, like Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir or Waterhold Cocoblend. All of our soils are natural & organic, and many are OMRI Listed for organic gardening.

    The roots of this Aloe were pot-bound but have been slightly loosened for better growth in the new pot. (Image by Jessie Keith)
  3. Prune Shoots and Unbind Roots: Remove any dead or unwanted stems and loosen any intertwined (pot-bound) roots, so they will grow well into the new pot and mix. Gently tease tightly-bound roots apart. If they are very dense, make cuts along the base and loosen the roots along the cuts. If your plants look good and their roots are not tightly bound, then bypass this step.

    The aloe is being planted in 1/2 Black Gold Cactus Mix and 1/2 Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Provide enough soil to leave a 1-2 inch space at the top for watering. (Image by Jessie Keith)
  4. Repot: Remind yourself to leave at least 1-2 inches at the top for water. Place screen or a few pebbles over the bottom holes to hold soil (not necessary for my red pot with a built-in saucer and side drainage holes). Then add a layer of soil at the bottom. Place the plant in the pot and center it. Make sure it is not too high or low. Add mix to the sides and gently pack it in for good root-to-soil contact. Make sure there are no holes in the soil. Level the top, and add any decorative pebbles, moss, or shells along the soil, if you like.

    Lightly pack the soil along the sides. This is a good time to add slow-release fertilizer. (Image by Jessie Keith)
  5. Water: Use a watering can to gently water until all the soil is saturated and water fills the bottom saucer. In general, rewater when the soil is dry down to a knuckle’s depth. (Click here for a detailed article about how to water house plants.)
  6. Fertilize: Pick a fertilizer that’s well-matched to your plant. There are many specialty types for orchids, succulents, and foliage plants. Be sure to follow the product instructions. I like using slow-release fertilizer, such as Proven Winners Continuous Release Plant Food.
Topdress with shells of pebbles, if you like, water the plant in, and it is potted! (Image by Jessie Keith)

Newly potted house plants will not produce new top growth until they set new roots, so give them extra good care and a little time. Very soon they will be growing happily as if they had never had a problem in the first place.

Can You Recommend the Best Soils For My House Plants?

Best Soils For My House Plants

“I recently purchased a few house plants and would like to know what soil is best for them that you sell. What are the best soils for my house plants?” Question from Amanda of Leduc, Alberta, Canada

Answer: Here are our potting soil recommendations for each plant.

Aloe (Aloe spp.): Black Gold Cactus Mix – ideal for all succulents and cacti

Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) – Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend – holds moisture well, which is perfect for ferns

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) – Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend – holds moisture well, which peace lilies prefer

Money Tree (Pachira aquatica) – Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix – has just the right balance for money tree

ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) – Black Gold Cactus Mix – a potting soil with good drainage is required

Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) – Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix

Lavender (Lavandula spp.): Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix – drains well and is OMRI Listed for edibles

I hope that this information helps!

Happy indoor gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Why Aren’t My House Plants Growing?

“Why would a houseplant just not grow? A couple of my houseplants won’t get any bigger or the growth is so slow it’s barely noticeable. I got them when they were small starter plants & have had them for a year or 2. These are my common plants…spider and prayer plant.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.” Question from Katherine of Las Vegas, Nevada

Answer: There are several reasons why your plants may be stunted or growing poorly. Reasons typically involve soil drainage, soil quality, fertilizer, and light. Here are seven house plants Q&As to make sure your plants are getting what they need.

  1. Does your pot have drainage holes and a saucer to catch water? If not, repot your plants in pots with good drainage. Otherwise, water will pool at the bottom of the pot and inhibit root growth.
  2. When you stick a finger in your potting soil is it saturated or dry? Even moisture is what you want for these plants. (Click here to read a great article about how to water house plants.)
  3. Is your pot big enough? Check to see if your plant’s roots are “bound” by trying to run your finger along the inner edge of the pot below the soil line.  If you feel tight roots along the edge, it is time to transplant your house plants into a larger pot. (Click here to learn how to repot bound house plants.)
  4. Did you choose good-quality potting soil? Good-quality potting soil should be lightweight, porous, and have premium ingredients, such as peat moss, coir, compost, perlite, and added fertilizer. We recommend Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix for house plants.
  5. Is your potting soil more than three-years-old? If so, replant your house plants in fresh potting mix (not a problem in your case).
  6. Do you feed your house plants? Tropical foliage plants, such as prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) and spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), should either be fed with a continuous-release fertilizer, which usually feeds plants for up to six months, or regularly fed with a water-soluble fertilizer.
  7. Are you house plants growing irregularly, are they one-sided, or are their leaves elongated and thin? If so, they may be getting too little light. Be sure to provide them with bright, filtered sunlight for good growth.

I hope this information helps and your plants really begin to grow.

Happy house plant growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

 

 

How to Water House Plants

Watering house plants…it sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, if it were simple, there would be fewer black thumbs out there. Proper watering is at the heart of good plant care, and if you don’t know how to water a plant, then its little green future may be in peril. It is surprisingly easy to drown a plant with aqueous attention.

There isn’t a one-fits-all watering method because the needs of plants vary so widely. Some specialty plants, like many orchids and African violets (click here to learn more about African violet care.), require special watering, but lots can be grouped into heavy, average, and light watering categories. These are the plants covered in this article. Many characteristics impact watering, including the plant type and size, the growing environment, and even the pot type.

Watering and Pots

Consider drainage, pot material, and pot size before planting. You’ll also need a good saucer for catching overflow.

Before considering how to water what, it is necessary to cover planting containers. Consider these three container characteristics before potting up a plant or determining a water regime.

1. Drainage – First, unless you are watering an aquatic plant, pots must have drainage holes at the bottom, which allow water to fully drain. Otherwise, water will pool at the bottom and stagnate because of a lack of air. This will result in root rot or no root growth the soppy bottom of the pot. So, not only do drainage holes allow roots to get fresh water from top to bottom at each watering, but they help give roots needed air.

2. Material – The pot’s material will also impact a plant’s access to water. Terracotta pots soak up and release water, which increases the need to water. So, refrain from planting water-needy plants in Terracotta. Ceramic, fiberglass, and plastic pots are more watertight.

3. Size – Consider pot-to-plant and root-to-soil ratios. Larger plants in smaller pots need more water, while smaller plants in larger pots need less water. Why? Because smaller root systems soak up less water, and if little plants are grown in larger pots, the soil will hold water for longer. The flip side is that when the roots of a large plant outgrow a pot and become intertwined, they no longer have room to take up water, so the need to water greatly increases, especially when conditions are hot, dry, and sunny. Plant roots need room for good water uptake.

Watering and Environment

Most tropical house plants grow best in indirect light but prefer average warmth and relatively high humidity (or the occasional water spritz).

Just use common sense when weighing environment and plant watering needs. When conditions are sunny, dry, hot and/or breezy, plants need more water. So, if you place them in a hot, sunny window, near a vent or radiator, or in a warm conservatory or sunroom, plan to water more. Likewise, in lower-lit rooms that are cooler or very humid, the need for water will be reduced.

The soil environment also plays a big role in watering frequency. The more water your potting soil holds, the less water the plant will need. For example, Black Gold®Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix holds a high amount of water, unlike Black Gold® Cactus Mix and Black Gold ® Orchid Mix, which hold far less water. Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix is somewhere in the middle. We create different potting mixes because plants have different soil-water needs. That’s why it’s important to pot up a plant in the right mix.

Watering and Moisture Testing Methods

Succulents require far less water, especially in winter, so test the soil to be sure it is quite dry before watering.

The most basic watering method is simple; water the pot entirely until the bottom saucer is filled. Do this every time you water, and make sure there are no dry pockets in the potting mix down below (this can happen when soil becomes too dry between waterings). Consistent, thorough watering will also allow you to better calculate when to regularly water a plant.

When to rewater is the trickiest bit that gets new house-plant growers into trouble. How can you tell when you need to rewater? There are a few ways to determine this with average house plants. Most gardeners use the finger test. Stick your finger down into the soil. When it feels dry down to a couple of inches, then rewater. But, some gardeners want greater precision. Soil-moisture meters are accurate and popular with calculating gardeners. They indicate the level of moisture in the mix down to any given depth, allowing for more precise watering. Once you have a good watering rhythm, the need to test should be less frequent or even unnecessary.

Plants That Need Heavy Water

Ferns and many large-leaved tropicals are among the plants that require more water.

Think big. Large and thin-leaved tropicals, fast-growing plants, and those with big, fast-growing root systems require more water. They soak it up and spit it out quickly. (Some large-leaved plants with thick, tough, waxy leaves can be exceptions because some hold onto water quite well.) Elephant ears (Alocasia and Colocasia spp.), Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), and peace lilies (Spathiphyllum spp.) fall into the heavy-watering category as well as semi-aquatic plants, like papyrus (Cyperus papyrus). Depending on the growing environment, they may need to be watered daily or every few days.

Plants That Need Moderate Water

Many tropicals with slender or average-sized leaves perform very well with moderate (sometimes even low) water.

Moderately vigorous plants that are not succulent often require moderate water. These are your not too much, not too little, in the middle plants. Soil moisture meters are perfect for these. Begonias, spider plants, peperomia, pilea, palms, and philodendron all fall into this category. They may need to be watered once or twice a week under average indoor growing conditions.

Plants That Need Little Water

Cacti and succulents are among the easiest to kill because wayward gardeners tend to overwater them.

Cacti and succulents, such as agave, aloe, echeveria, and jade plants (click here to read more about growing jade plants), require the least amount of water. The main killer of these plants is heavy winter watering. In their natural habitats, most endure a dry winter period, so this is what they expect in homes as well. Root rot, stem rot, and plant death are the side effects of heavy watering, so it’s best to err on the side of safety and water little to none between late fall and spring–maybe once a month. If you bring them outdoors in hot summer weather, the need for water will increase to approximately three to four times a month.

Lots of semi-succulent tropicals are also surprisingly tolerant of low water. Snake plant (Sansevieria spp.), cycads (Cycas spp.), and ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) are included in this group. (Click here to watch a video about tough, low-water house plants.)

When getting the hang of watering a new plant, make sure you fully understand its growing and moisture needs. Then refrain from the desire to water just a little bit more or a little bit less than it needs. Get basic watering right, and you will be on your way to having a true green thumb.

If you are not certain of a plant’s specific water needs, then ask our garden experts via Ask a Garden Expert!

ZZ plant is a semi-succulent tropical that also requires low water.