What is the Best Soil for Desert Rose?

“What is the best soil mix to plant my desert rose (Adenium obesum) in?” Question from Sara of National Park, New Jersey

Answer: Plant these beautiful succulents in very sharply drained soil that also retains water and has a slightly acid pH of 6.0. Of course, we recommend Black Gold Cactus Mix for planting, but you might also want to add a bit more perlite as well as some additional peat moss, which retains water and is acidic. Potted desert roses look nice when a layer of decorative pebbles is added at the top.

Plant these succulents in pots with good drainage. The water should run from the bottom of the pot at watering time. The potting soil should never become totally dry, so monitor soil moisture levels. In winter, water less. The mix should remain lightly moist to dry.

I Need House Plants for Shade and Low Humidity!

“I have no sunlight in my home. I need plants that will thrive without direct sunlight. Any suggestions?” Question from Susan of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Answer: There are loads of low-light house plants that will thrive in indirect sun. Just be sure to set them all as close to a lit window as possible! Because of the dry air in your part of the country, I have also selected plants that will withstand low humidity. Here are some good picks for you to try:

  1. Aspidistra

    Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior): As the name suggests, this large-leaved house plant is tough as nails. It will grow well in low light, low humidity, and can take irregular watering.

  2. Fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata): Large, glossy, unusual leaves make this indoor tree a very attractive addition to the home. It is also a tough African native that likes partial shade and intermittent watering. Give this one a larger pot to grow in and space because it can easily reach several feet.
  3. Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata): This small, understory tree from Madagascar can take low light, drought, and dry air. Choose a pretty variety, like ‘Colorama’, which has red-striped leaves.
  4. Sanseveria

    Snake Plant (Sansevieria spp.): Also called mother-in-law’s-tongue, this succulent African native makes a beautiful addition to homes and will take low light and low humidity. For best looks give it filtered sun, room temperature, well-drained soil, and once-weekly water (twice-monthly water in winter). (Click here to learn more about growing snake plant.)

  5. ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia): This is another semi-succulent African beauty with tropical good looks that grows very well in low light and drier air. Care for it as you would snake plant.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How to Start African Violets from Cuttings

“I want to start some special African violets for friends. How do I divide or take cuttings from them? Question from Anna of Cheboygan, Michigan

Answer: You will be happy to learn that African violets are one of the easiest houseplants to propagate! The process does not even require rooting hormone.

Starting African Violets from Cuttings

Newly stuck African violet leaves in vermiculite.

All you have to do is take leaf cuttings from African violets and give them good care until they root and sprout. Simply cut healthy leaves from the base of the petiole (stem) and insert them in moist Black Gold Vermiculite. Maintain high humidity and keep them out of direct sunlight. After a month or so they should root. Then within a couple more weeks, new leaves will slowly develop from the petiole base. Once the sprouting African violets look like small plants, move them into small pots filled with Black Gold African Violet Mix. They should start growing happily straight away! I also encourage you to watch our video on African violet care below, to ensure your little plants grow to their fullest.

Happy African violet growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Watering Jade Plants

How often should I water a jade plant? Question from Grady of Akron, Ohio

Answer: This may sound odd, but when I think about the best way to water a plant, I always consider where and how it grows in the wild. Jade plants (Crassula ovata) are succulents from southern Africa that naturally exist along thickets and rocky hillsides that are very dry through most of the year, especially in winter.

Container-grown jades should be watered infrequently from spring to fall (drench around two to three times a month and allow the pot to fully dry before watering again), and refrain from watering in winter. If allowed to sit in standing water or saturated soil for extended periods of time, your jade will quickly rot.

I hope this helps!

Happy gardening,



Little Aloe World: Discover Dwarf Aloes

Dense and colorful, Aloe juvenna (foreground) makes a great rockery subject or potted specimen.

While we ogle big fancy aloes blooming in frost-free gardens, their sensitivity to cold winters limits their cultivation elsewhere. The plants in the same genus as Aloe vera, the popular Arabian species used for skin care, rarely survive the winters of sub-tropical zones. For everyone who cannot grow succulents outdoors year round, like we do in coastal California, welcome to my little aloe world.

South African Beauties

A grass aloe (center front) will fill a pot quickly for lots of easy offsets to divide and transplant.

The aloes of southern Africa include some very small species that produce the most exquisite bell-shaped blossoms. They have always reminded me of a lady’s drop earrings because they droop from very thin wiry stems. Even the slightest breeze will send their blooms nodding and swaying. Like the big aloes, they bloom every spring, attracting hummingbirds to porch or patio, and light up a home and sun porch with early spring color.

Most garden aloes hail from the maritime Cape Floristic Region or the east coast of South Africa on the Indian Ocean. These are soft, beautiful, and adaptable. The further inland you go, the larger and stiffer and pricklier the aloe species become, so that big game cannot browse upon them during drought. In the wide, treeless, grasslands of the African veldt the little grass aloes blend into big patches among the grasses.

Collecting Aloes

Most of the tiniest aloes have been collected at the Huntington Desert Garden to view.

I began to learn about little aloes by collecting all that I could find, whether named or not. I purchased small ones from succulent racks (without labels), then tested each in my desert garden. I also started new plants from fallen pieces of rare grass aloes gleaned from working at the botanical garden in Palm Springs. Still, more offsets (also unidentified) were shared from friends’ mature aloes. I had a stone slab front entry walk edged with these tiny aloes, potted and in-ground, which provided the jewel box garden I had dreamed of creating.

Planting Aloes

Grass aloes, which are native to African grasslands, produce delicate bell-shaped flowers.

For beginners, aloes are among the easiest succulents to start with because they aren’t finicky. Plant them in Black Gold Cactus Mix to make sure they have supreme drainage. Choose deeper pots for big aloes, because their roots are a lot like a daylily’s, thick and deep. Blend cactus mix with equal amounts of Black Gold All Purpose Potting Soil at a 50-50 ratio to boost fertility and blooming.

It’s easy to know when your potted aloe needs water during the growing season. It should be fully turgid, which means its cells are full of water. Squeeze one, and it should be firm. When they run short of water the cells loose turgidity, stems soften, lose color, and small wrinkles appear on the skin.

Hand water your ground aloes sparingly as many become summer dormant after blooming. Bottom water your little pots by setting them in a pan of water. Allow them to wick up moisture for over an hour’s time, then drain and return them to their place. This will ensure their soil is fully saturated, while keeping water away from your potted aloes’ crowns, where rot begins.

Aloe Sources

Aloe brevifolia offers orange flower stalks that hummers just love.

A great selection of little aloes is available at the California succulent nursery, Mountain Crest Gardens. Quality photos, accurate labeling, and excellent cultural information is offered for each plant. And, they will send aloes right to your door, if they aren’t available locally. Everybody can enjoy little aloes no matter where they live!

Once you have your aloes, know that they will produce offsets or “pups”. This is how they reproduce in very dry climates. To keep a single tidy rosette, remove the offsets that will otherwise spread and change the shape of the overall plant as it ages. When dividing little aloes, it helps to remove them from the pot to surgically sever offsets (maintain stems or roots for better rooting). Root the offsets in a well-drained nursery pot of moistened Black Gold Cactus Mix and keep transplants in the shade until roots form. Then plant them in small pots, so they can grow through the fall before you protect them from frost.

While there are some hardier aloes, they are few and far between outside tropical and sub-tropical zones. If you live in prime time locations, grow them outside. Where there’s light frost, try pots on the patio. And in cold, rainy, totally unsuitable climates, create your own indoor collection for just $5 per plant and enjoy them year-round.

Transferring Tender Plants Indoors as House Plants

“How do you bring in tropical houseplants from the outdoors without them dropping their leaves?” –Question from Annie of Portland, Oregon

ANSWER: Thanks for the gardening question! There are several reasons why your houseplants may drop their leaves after being brought indoors in fall. I will cover all of the possibilities.

Clean houseplants before bringing them back inside!

It’s smart to bring tropical houseplants outdoors in the summer months. They thrive in the natural light, humidity, and warm weather, but four precautions must be taken before you bring them back indoors.

1. Check to make sure your plants are not root bound. If their roots seem dense, then it is time to repot them in quality potting mix like Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Mix. Repotting will allow them to grow new roots and take up more fertilizer and moisture when brought indoors.

2. Make sure your houseplants are pest free. Wash their leaves and spray them with an insecticidal soap before bringing them inside. Common foliar pests like spider mites, white flies, and aphids will cause leaf drop, and eventually cause your plants great distress, especially indoors. It also helps to remove and replenish the top two inches of potting soil to catch any pests hanging out in the upper soil layers.

3. Try to give them the same light and humidity indoors that they enjoyed outdoors. If this is not possible, your plants may react by dropping a few leaves as they adjust to the transition. Just try to replicate the outdoor conditions as much as you can.

4. Keep their soil just moist, but not too wet. Outdoor plants lose soil water faster than they do indoors due to higher heat and winds. They generally need less water inside.

If your houseplants drop a few leaves in transition, don’t worry. Just clean off the dead leaves, give the plants good care, and they should pop back in no time!

Happy Gardening,

Jessie Keith

Eight Best Flowering House Plants

Moth orchids are one of the easiest orchids to grow!

House plants have made a resurgence in popularity over the past several years and the trend shows no signs of diminishing.  On a recent visit to a large Portland garden center that had just finished their annual January house plant sale, the manager told me it was the best one they have ever had. By the end of the first weekend, they were almost sold out.  Throughout the sale, restocking was continuous.

Some customers buy house plants for the flowers and others buy them for the foliage.  Of course, it is a bonus if you can have both flowers and attractive foliage. Also, many flowering house plants bloom in winter when color is most desired.

Like any plant, whether grown indoors or outdoors, good soil is essential.  Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix is an ideal potting mix for most indoor plants, except for orchids where orchid bark is recommended for epiphytic (tree-dwelling) orchids and Black Gold Orchid Mix is recommended for terrestrial (ground dwelling) orchids.

Flowering Kalanchoe

Flowering Kalanchoe

You will love the bright and colorful flowers of flowering kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana). You may not recognize this popular house plant by the name, but once you see it, you will know it.  Its succulent green leaves sometimes have scalloped edges that make this plant attractive, even without flowers.  And, its small, brightly colored blooms of pink, orange, red, or yellow appear in clusters above the leaves.



Clivia (Clivia miniata) is a member of the amaryllis family and produces clusters of large, orange, funnel-shaped flowers.  Sometimes Clivia may have yellow flowers but orange is the most common.  The strap-shaped leaves can be up to 2 feet long and are usually about 2 inches wide and very dark green.  Clivia will bloom best if the roots are crowded in the pot.

Bird of Paradise


For large pots try the 5- to 7-foot bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae). It is like Clivia in that it blooms best with crowded roots.  It is named for its large, unusual flowers that look much like the head of a crested bird. The primarily orange flowers have highlights of blue and magenta and appear on long stems, making them excellent for cutting. (The cut flowers last a long time in the vase.) It’s bold, tropical leaves are dark green, often with a blue-green tint.  Fertilize this one often.

Dwarf Citrus

Chinotto sour orange

Dwarf citrus trees come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are popular because their flowers are so fragrant.  If they actually set fruit, that is an added bonus.  For a ‘starter’ citrus, I would suggest the Meyer lemon (Citrus limon ‘Meyer’) as it seems to adapt to being indoors better than some others.  Another one to try is Chinotto sour orange (Citrus x aurantium ‘Chinotto’), which is compact, grows slowly, and bears clusters of sour orange fruits.

Citrus of all kinds do require plenty of light or they will get very leggy.  Take them outside in the summer, and clean them up before you bring them indoors in fall, (Click here to learn how to clean house plants in fall before bringing them indoors.) and they will thank you! (Click here to learn more about growing Citrus indoors here.)

Night Blooming Jasmine

Night blooming jasmine

Night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) has a very powerful fragrance, and as the name implies, it is a night bloomer.  Grow this evergreen vine on a window sill, and prune it hard after bloom to encourage new growth and flowers.  The attractive small flowers tend to be greenish white, but it is the fragrance that attracts one to this plant.


Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) (Image by Jessie Keith)

Orchids are flowering plants that are available in not only garden centers but in many grocery stores.  There is a huge selection available as to flower color, shape, and size.  Orchids are popular because the flowers last for a long time, often over several months. (Click here to learn more about how to grow orchids.)



Gardenia (Gardenia spp.) is another blooming plant with an intense fragrance that is most aromatic at nighttime.  If you have enough light to grow citrus in your house, you can probably grow gardenia.  These evergreen shrubs have shiny leaves, and the flowers are pure ivory.  Gardenia ‘Mystery’ has large, white, double flowers that bloom over a long blooming period.  Keep gardenias pruned regularly or they will become rangy.

Lipstick Plant

Lipstick vine

The vine-like lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) is a very easy houseplant to grow, and it looks great in a location where it can trail.  Its tubular flowers are red and the stems cascade downward.  It has a long blooming period and will tolerate low light.

House plants brighten the home, especially those with impressive flowers. It is always fun to try a new house plant, so I encourage people to experiment with something they have not grown before.  Many can be taken outdoors during the summer, to improve the looks of the garden, porch, or patio.

String of Pearls: Living Beads for Hanging Baskets

String of pearls is delicate yet tough, low maintenance and incredibly rewarding.

They are living jewelry no woman can resist, the most coveted house plant, string of pearls. This tender succulent is feminine looking, delicate yet tough, low maintenance and incredibly rewarding. There are two species that can transform traditional or modern spaces, indoors or out. Hang them like living necklaces to bring awe to your home.


String of pearls (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

The true string of pearls is a South African native from the maritime Cape of Good Hope, so it loves the humid coast. Dubbed Senecio rowleyanus, its leaves are like tiny grey-green peas on the finest dangling stems. Its cousin from drier inland is Senecio radicans, fondly called “string of bananas” due to its sickle-shaped leaves. These do better in hot inland climates. Both make great house plants.

In the wild, both senecios grow as ground covers that root as they spread, so they rarely look like the hanging beauties we buy from the garden center. Yet, when planted to dangle in hanging baskets or raised pots and placed in a bright room, specimens almost look like living sculptures.

In gardens where winters are mild, these senecios can be grown outside, usually in raised pots or baskets that ensure perfect drainage. Indoors they are equally desirous of porous soils and hanging pots that are shallow and wide. Wide pots allow the ground-hugging plants to generate a lot of surface roots to hold soil tightly against the weight of their hanging strands.


String of bananas (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

A key to success is rapid drainage in your container. The best hanging pots have many holes in the bottom to ensure plants remain dry at the root zone. When creating your hanging string-of-pearls sculpture, start with the right pot—perhaps a mid-century throwback with a macramé hanger. Once you’ve found it, buy your pearls or bananas and get ‘er done.

You’ll need super well-drained potting soil to keep your plants from becoming too wet. When transplanting to your beautiful hanging pot, Black Gold Cactus Mix offers the ideal porosity. This fast-draining potting soil will make it much harder to over water your string of pearls.

When you get ready to transplant these senecios, study the root ball that comes out of the nursery pot. Gently remove any potting soil that does not have roots on the lower half of the mass. This will allow you to better fit the root ball into your shallow pot.

Set the plant, then lightly backfill with Black Gold Cactus Mix that has not been pre-moistened. If it sifts out of the drain holes, line the bottom with salvaged window screen before planting. Finally, tap the pot to help the plant settle into the potting soil, and wait to water. Allow a day or two for any damaged succulent tissues to callus over before you introduce moisture. This is essential to avoiding potential rot at the soil line.


When you do water, plug the drain of your kitchen sink, add 2 inches of water, and put the whole pot in the sink.  Let it wick up water until you can see wet soil on top.  This means it’s time to drain the sink. Leave the pot to drain for a few hours before returning it to its hanger. This watering method keeps moisture away from rot-prone stems that are the Achilles heel

A happy string of pearls can reach great lengths. (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

of these delicate succulents. As strands grow longer, be sure to lay them along the counter on the sink’s edge to keep them from getting wet.

A final key to success with all dangling succulents, particularly fine-stemmed ones like these, is avoiding the wind. Continual swaying wears down the stems along the pot edge, causing injury that limits moisture transfer to the stem tips where new growth occurs.

These senecios are easy to root, so if you find one that works well for you, propagate it.  Just take a runner and bend it up to the soil mass on top where it will root on contact quickly. Then sever it from the mother plant to start a whole new living sculpture of favorite pearls or bananas galore, without risk.