Sunday, November 10, 2013


I used to live and work in New York City.  Talking one day with a  colleague at my plant care company, I learned that his father was a trader at the New York Stock Exchange.  Amazing!

"How long has he worked there?"   Since he was in his twenties.
" How old is he now?''  Late fifties.
"How's his health?"  Wonderful.
"How does he deal with the stress?"   What stress.. he loves it.  It's a big game to him, he thrives on it.  He looks forward to every day.

And that was an Ah-ha! moment for me.
What is stress for one is not necessarily stress for another.

 If you love what you're doing, it's not stressful, it's challenging and interesting.  In other words, if you're getting what you need, you can adapt to the difficulties, and thrive on what others might consider threat to life and limb.

Houseplant species are much like happy stockbrokers.

In the beginning, all plants grew outdoors in the wild.  They certainly didn't evolve growing in pots in people's houses and offices in temperature and humidity controlled environments lit principally with cool white fluorescent.

While DNA didn't shape plants for the potted indoor life, what it did bestow was ADAPTABILITY.  That means that when conditions became less than ideal  - we'll call that stress -  plants can change their form, processes, even their cells to fit the new conditions.

So when some plants found themselves dug up from their comfy jungle homes, stuck into pots of who-knew-what, traversing the oceans in the hold of a ship, and then spreading their leaves in the parlor of a Victorian home, they set about adapting.

Home was a boggy river bank in Indonesia (what we call peace lilies,) with rain every day, and now it's sandy soil from a European garden? No problem...a change to the root transport system here, a change in the leaves there, we can adapt to getting water once a week.

Home was a field in India (for a Ficus benjamina), now it's a potful of peat and a corner in a living room? We've got this...just drop the old leaves and grow new ones with rearranged chloroplasts, a few changes to the stomata,  and soon we're hitting the ceiling.

How about those vines that grow like weeds all over the jungle trees in Burma?  (You know them as pothos.)  Pull them down, stick the tips into pots of sawdust and bark, put them in pots to hang in restaurants across the world...easy, just stay in juvenile form and take it as it comes.

Then there are pretty little palms happy down under all the trees in their wet Guatemalan jungle (parlor palms, you'd call them,) waking up in a pot of pebbles overlooking someone's terrace in the desert.  No humidity, no soil, no problem....some different roots, adjust the moisture conveyance...we are in business.

Don't get me wrong, not all plants can do things like these.  One of the differences between and within species is the RANGE OF ADAPTABILITY.  Some types of plants can adjust to a wide range of conditions, and some can't.

The ones that can are the ones that are on the lists of "Easy-to-grow houseplants."  The ones that can't are found only in botanical gardens, expert growers, or back home in the jungle.  And sometimes dying in people's homes, because now and then growers will try to market them to folks who don't know about their specialized needs.

The moral of this story - besides to admire the wonderful abilities of "common" plants - is to note that the philosophy of keeping plants by approximating their native habitat has pretty much been disproved.  Also why there is so much conflicting information about plants in the literature - people have success with a lot of different approaches to watering, soil, even light, and record their own experience as "the" way when it's really about the plants' ability to adapt to different conditions.

I think meaningful plant care articles are those that present comparisons among a range of variables - different amounts of moisture, different levels of aeration, different soil mixes, different light values, etc.
You folks then have a place to start for your own experimentation, so you can discover  what works best for your own combination of environmental variations.

Basically, if you start off with champion adapters and give them what they really need - minimum light, neither too much nor too little water, no freezing -  the plants will take care of the rest.   There's lots more to keeping houseplants, of course, but this is really the bottom line.

Happy houseplants and happy stockbrokers...they all know how to deal with stress.

(By Marlie Graves)

Monday, October 7, 2013


Well, after doing well  for two weeks with a determination to post twice a week, I faltered.  Nothing to do now but make a new determination, and continue.  I think I'll try for 1 post / week, and reevaluate at the end of the month.  6 weeks or so ago I sort of ground to a halt - not just with the blog, but all my writing - and I really don't know why, unless it was the difficulties I encountered with trying to put photos into a longer piece I'm writing, a guest blog about sanseveria.  Things like 'why is this so difficult' and 'why am I having such a hard time' and 'I need a new computer' and 'I need to win the Lottey'.  Then 3 weeks ago our cat Mickey, whom we've had for 15 years, had a heart attack, and the whole week was consumed by anxiety - would he get better, was he suffering, will he eat, will he drink, would we have to make the decision to let him sleep.  Took him back to the vet Tuesday, they gave him intravenous and some more medication, but he died in his sleep that night.  Now a new yellow lantana bush is growing in our backyard.

After that I went up to Pennsylvania for a high school reunion, driving with my brother who hadn't been up there since '84.  The planning for (app2600 mi round trip), accomplishment of, and recovery from that excursion has brought me up to current time.

Without further ado, then, here's another short video

Well, thanks to the evil wizards at Google, here will go another video if you cut and paste the link into your browser.  What used to be a simple select and click to put a video into a blog post now involves code embedding and menu locations that I haven't been able to locate yet.  So until I can solve this latest puzzle, or some kind soul will volunteer to enlighten me, it's cut-and-paste.

                          SPECIAL CARE FOR LOW LIGHT PLANTS

Very low light plants need to be treated with extreme care in watering.  You need to  find the balance between the amount of moisture the plant needs to support its slow life rhythms,  and the amount of air it needs to keep its roots from rottiWellng.   Remember, plants in low light just aren't using very much water.  If roots stay damp for long periods of time, they begin to rot,  and eventually the plant will die.  Plants in low light need to become fully aerated (80%aer) between waterings; some even need to reach the bone dry stage.

In general, when watering plants in low light, use only 2/3 the amount of water you would use on the same plant if it were in higher light.  Any water that collects in the liner should be siphoned off after an hour or so.  If the plant cannot tolerate even this level of moisture - if you start to see the over-watering signs of brown tips on the leaves - allow the soil to reach an even higher level of aeration, and/or reduce the amount of water added by 1/2.

While in most cases you don't want a plant to get bone dry,  sometimes in very low light this is exactly what has to happen.  The critcal factor is the amount of time the soil stays that dry.  For most plants, a few days at 90% - 100% aeration  is all the roots can tolerate before some moisture is required.  Not too much, though;  this is the only time you should use the  "small sip" watering technique.  The objective is to avoid any real  run-off, yet to provide enough water to moisten the entire root mass, and to maintain the moisture level at 20 - 30% for a couple of weeks.

Another tricky thing about plants in very low light is that they often don't show damage until it is too late to save them.  The sanseveria (mother-in-law's tongue, snake plant) is especially famous for this.  By the time you see some brown tips on the leaves, or notice that one or two of the leaves are getting soft at the base,  the roots are already wrecked.  Many people, when they see such signs of  over-watering, will cut down on the water as advised;  when the plant keeps getting worse,  and finally dies a few months later,  they are completely confused, and conclude they just can't keep plants alive, etc.

Such confusion can be avoided by testing the soil moisture, all the way to the bottom of the pot, before each watering.  If you find a sansie, or any very low light plant, too wet,  move it to a place with as much light as possible, without burning the leaves in direct sunlight of course, and let it dry down to 80-90% aeration without adding any more water.  This may take awhile,  several weeks even.  Once it has reached this level, you can move it to a darker spot if you wish, and continue with good watering practices as outlined above.

                            SPECIAL CARE FOR HIGH LIGHT PLANTS

Plants in high light locations also require some special strategies.  Because of the higher light, their metabolisms are running at a high pace, and they have increased water needs.  The main objective in watering them is to make sure they don't run out of water before your next visit, but still have an opportunity for their roots to reach the recommended %aer.   If you're on a weekly schedule,  leave a run-off of at least 3" in the liner; a two-week schedule will require a 6" (or totally filled) liner.  This is why you'll want to use the deep liners if you have any high light plants.

If you're not familiar with the plant, the wisest course is to fill the liner the first time you see it.  Don't forget to count so you know how much water it takes to do this.  If all the water has not been used by the next visit, you can make the necessary adjustments, coming gradually to the amount of water that is needed to sufficiently hydrate the soil, while allowing the roots to be sufficiently aerated.  You can take several weeks, even a couple of months to do this, because the high light levels allow the plant to be much more tolerant of wet soil than if it were in low light.

In the unlikely event that the filled liner does not provide enough water for the plant for the duration of your schedule, there are a  few changes you can make.  First, you can remove the liner and set the plant straight into the decorative container,  allowing you to pour in a lot more water.  Second,  you might need to put the plant into a larger pot, with more room for roots and soil  - more about that when we discuss roots and stress.  Finally, of course, you may just move the plant to a lower light location.

End of excerpt from The Color of Your Thumb Has Nothing To Do With It

Watch for the launch of website, on which the full text will be available for purchase, as well as the full video version of the text.

(By Marlie Graves)

Sunday, August 18, 2013


 No one wants to be a plant killer.  But plenty of people are, or think they are.  Mostly they've given up on having houseplants, or they have one that's "somehow managed to survive" but any others are doomed in their care.  

Well, I say it's time for all you plant murderers out there to declare,


I've been talking with folks about their plants for over 30 years, and I've observed that the same things occur over and over again when they talk about their sad experiences. 

So here are what I've concluded are the most common mistakes people make with plants, and what YOU can do to avoid them.


Soil that remain too wet causes the roots to rot and die.  Roots need air to breathe. Remember,  R-O-O-T without O (that means oxygen) is R-O-T.  The bet way to keep from overwatering is to feel the soil with your finger, and test for moisture all the way to the bottom of the pot.  Here's a video that will show you more about that:


Growers use good soil.  Why wouldn't they? If the plants don't grow fast and strong, they don't make a profit.  So, repotting new plants is A: a waste of time  B: often harmful to the plant if it's put into poor moisture retentive soil, into a pot without drainage, or into a pot that's too big.  

Many potted plants can, and do, stay in the same pot for years, while continuing to look beautiful.   Potting into a larger pot is unnecessary unless you want to produce an increase in size.  If you do up-pot, increase one pot size only; that is, (measuring the diameter of the top of the pot) 2" to 3", 3" to 4", 4" to 6", 6" to 8", 8" to 10", 10" to 12" (sometimes hard to find) or 14", 14" to 21".


The flip side of too much is too little.  The cure is to water as soon as the soil reaches almost dry in the bottom of the pot, then always water until there is a run off from the drainage holes.  It's not necessary to empty drainage saucers if you always check the moisture level before watering.

The other cause of underwatering is simply forgetting about the plants.  The best thing to do is to practice looking at plants everywhere you go; coordinate plant care with something else you already do on a weekly or bi-weekly basis; or make an appointment with yourself on your to-do list, send yourself an email, or some such thing.  (Lords of Tech, don't fail us now.)  And get more plants - so you can't miss them, get it?

Or then again, maybe you just are not that interested in having live plants.  Not every one is.  That's OK.  Doesn't make you a bad person.  Your plant-loving friends should still love you anyway, and if they don't, let me know - I'll give 'em a talking to.


Plants need light to live.  Know what kind of plant you have, and what its minimum light requirement is.  If you don't know, do a little research.  In a nutshell, if there's not enough light to read, no plant can live there.  If you can barely read, it's very low light.  If you can read but not for very long, it's low light.  If you have general working light, it's medium light.  If you're within five feet of a window,  it's high to very high light.  Once you figure out the light, you need to water according to that light.  Try this video for a little more understanding 


Some plants are more difficult to grow than others.  Aside from getting the right plant for the light you have, stick to the plants that fit your skill level.  There are lot of lists of "easy" plants, and coming soon from The Ficus Wrangler will be a list of the Fabulous Forty - the plants that are commonly used by the professional plant care industry, because they are the easiest. 


Plants are not puppies!  They actually make their own food, and they use only as much of the fertilizer elements as they need.  Fertilizing is just to make sure the groceries are in the cupboard.  They don't need to be fed all the time, and they positively should NOT be fed if they are ailing.  Fertilizer unused by the plant remains in the soil as salts, gradually raising the salt level in the soil, until the plant starts to fail, and possibly die.  To prevent salt build up, run lots of water through the soil/root mass at least a couple of times a year.  Use fertilizer at 1/2 to 1/4 strength recommended, and fertilize only monthly (high light) to yearly (low light.)


There are only 3 kinds of bugs that commonly infest houseplants - mealybugs, spider mites, and scale.  (There are a few others, but these are the common ones.)  Their juvenile forms are so small they float on the air like dust, and can suddenly appear on any plant.  They don't cause damage at first, but will kill a plant if not controlled.  You need to watch out for them.  Do a little research so you know what they look like; then every time you water, check under the leaves and along the leaf stems for white patches, webbing, or sticky spots. ( While you're at it, turn the plants so they grow evenly, and clean them gently with a big fluffy duster...AFTER you make sure they don't have bugs.)  If you find bugs, spray with a mix of 1 teaspoon mild liquid detergent to 1 pint water; spray the plant completely, especially up under the leaves and down into the leaf axils,  until the plant is dripping.  Do this once a week for a month.  Another upcoming feature on The Ficus Wrangler will be more about pests and treatment. 

These are just basic guidelines - there are volumes more to say about each subject.  My hope here is that, if you really want to be able to keep houseplants alive, but you feel you don't have any "luck" with them, you'll get some hints and ideas of what you could be doing wrong, and where to start to learn better.  

What do you have troubles with?  What are you having trouble understanding, maybe because you've seen conflicting info?  Get back with me any time, love to hear from you.

Until next time.

(By Marlie Graves).



Sunday, August 11, 2013


Continuing on with Vogel's researches  (from the earlier post of Aug 2),  he seems to have become quite obsessed with the notion of the interaction between human and plant.  As he puts it,  " [I charge] the plant with some energy in me...[causing] the plant to build up a sensitivity... It is extremely important that one understand that the plant's response is, in my opinion, not that of an intelligence in plant form, but that the plant becomes an extension of oneself."*

The German mystic Jakob Boehme, in the 16th century, had described being able to psychically join with a plant and rejoice with it at  growth and life.  Vogel wondered if an sensitive person would be able to do something similar.  A young woman, Debbie Sapp, seemed to him to be unusually successful at establishing rapport with his philodendron.  He asked her one day if she could get into the plant.  This is Debbie's description of what happened.

    Mr. Vogel asked me to relax and project myself into the philodendron.  Several things took place as I began to carry out his request.
     First, I wondered exactly how I could get inside a plant.  I made a conscious decision to let  my imagination take over and found myself entering the main stem through a doorway at its base.  Once inside, I saw the moving cells and water traveling upward through the stem, and let myself move with this upward flow.
     Approaching the spreading leaves in my imagination, I could feel myself being drawn from an imaginary world into a realm over which I had no control.  There were no mental pictures, but rather a feeling that I was becoming part of, and filling out, a broad expansive surface.  This seemed to me to be describable only as pure consciousness.
    I felt acceptance and positive protection by the plant.  There was no sense of time, just a feeling of unity in existence and in space.  I smiled spontaneously and let myself be one with the plant.
    Then Mr. Vogel asked me to relax.  When he said this, I realized I was very tired but peaceful.  All of my energy had been with the plant. *
Vogel continued to repeat this study with dozens of people.  He continually found that people needed to be tuned in to the plants in order to achieve results in working with them.  He also worked with a number of children, finding them especially adept at achieving the necessary state of mind.

As Vogel's and  Backster's experiments showed over and over, there seems to be some kind of energy produced by human thoughts and emotions, that is somehow picked up or responded to by some plants.

Despite dismissal by establishment scientists, who scoff that the "experiments" are not properly set up or controlled, and that the results are not repeatable, one has to wonder what is going on.  Unless Vogel and Backster are complete charlatans,  something must be going on, or so it seems to me.

As a prelude to further revelations, I'd just like to note the findings of a researcher at State University at Hayward, California, Randall Fontes, who discovered an electrical potential running from cell to cell in a philodendron plant, and has interpreted it as an indication of a simple nervous system.

So, in my next installment of this curious subject, I'll have some more examples for you of strange things some people have done with plants.

Till then,
                  *Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher, The Secret Life of Plants.  New York, Harper and                            Rowe. 1973
(By Marlie Graves)  

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Hi Y'all,

Got a new thing comin' at 'ya.

I thought I'd try posting some questions that I've received from people, and the answers I've given.  I figure a lot of other people probably have the same sorts of questions.  I also expect, in the future, to be making these common questions the subject of short videos.

 I have both a Peace Lily and a Neon Pothos with browning tips that continue to get worse, but it's odd because I feel like I water them very sparingly already. My Peace Lily will sometimes even start to "collapse" a little, the sign that it needs more water. However, both are in non-draining pots. Was just wondering if you could help me.
Solving problems with plants is always a matter of trial and error.  First thing would be to get them into pots with drainage holes.  New pots should be the same size, or no more than 2" more in diameter.  New soil should have as much drainage as possible.  Don't use moisture retentive potting soil, use cactus soil, and add a quantity of perlite equal to about 1/4 the amount of soil your're using. Or if you want to learn some more about soil, here is a great place to start -

When repotting, cut off any brown or mushy roots, and remove as much of the old soil as possible, either by teasing it out from the roots with your fingers or a stick, or by gently washing it out in a bucket of water.  The old soil may contain fungus pathogens - we call it root rot - that is causing the leaves to tip.

One thing you may not know is that when you buy a plant, don't bring it home and repot it.  If you want it in a pretty container, just slip the plant and growpot into it - see our video #7.

Now we need to consider watering, especially if you don't have the time right  now to put your plants into pots with drainage.

What has probably happened is that when you started watering them, the moisture accumulated in the bottom of the soil mass and rotted the roots there. That's why you started to see brown tips.  The reason you get wilty leaves is that the only live roots are in the top of the soil, so when those get dry, droop goes the plant.

What you want to do (if you can't repot immediately) is to encourage the roots to grow back into the lower region of the soil.  So try it this way.  Don't water until the leaves start to droop. Before you add water, check the soil in the bottom of the pot with a kebob skewer - it should be almost dry.  If it is, go ahead and water your plant with maybe 1/2 to 1 cup of water, (I'm making a guess here because I don't know how big your plants are,) just enough to perk up the leaves.  The next day, check the soil in the bottom again.  You're trying to get an idea of how much water you need to moisten the roots, but not wet the soil in the bottom too much.

If, when you check the soil before you water, it is anything but almost dry, put just a little water on the plants to moisten the roots, then test again the next day.  Hopefully the soil underneath won't be any wetter than it was before.  Your objective is to give the live roots enough water to continue functioning, but not add more water to the bottom soil, so that it will dry out enough that roots can reinhabit it.  Of course, as I already said, the best thing is to repot into a pot with drainage.

The brown tips won't go away unless you cut them off, which you should do, in an artistic way so as to preserve the natural shape of the leaf.  This is a good way to tell if the roots are getting healthier.  When the trimmed ends get more brown tips, roots are still troubled; when trimmed ends don't tip again, plant is getting healthy.

Changes you make in plant environments take awhile to become visible to you.  In other words, you won't see an end to tipping for 3 - 4 weeks, at least.

There are a few other things you can do to help your plants dry out/use extra water more quickly.  Move them to a spot with more light, but watch out for direct sun, it can burn leaves.  Place a fan to circulate air around them.  Take them outside to a shady spot, just remember to bring them in before it gets cold (below 40 F).

Hope some of this helps. I'd love to know how your plants are doing, or if you have any questions or any ideas of subjects you'd like me to address.  Comments space is at the bottom.  (hint, hint)

                                                                                                                     (by Marlie Graves)

Sunday, August 4, 2013


These are questions that people often ask, and it's important to understand that they're not really the questions that you need to know the answers to.  The when and how much are always dependent on the moisture in the soil, the light, the rate at which the plant uses water, the type of plant, and so on.   So I want to give you some tools that you can use to figure out for yourself the when and how much. 

As I said earlier, you can measure the water by using any container - 1/2 a pitcher, 1/4 of a bottle, etc. -  but you can also measure by learning to count!  This means that as you pour water from your watering can, you count at the same speed every time, and depending on how fast or slow you count, and the speed at which the water comes out of the spout, you can tell exactly (exactly enough for your purpose, anyway) how much water  you're pouring.  This is extremely useful.

It's easy to remember, and allows you to generalize to plants you've never seen before; it saves pouring into a measuring device then pouring into the plant; it's easy to make adjustments - for instance, if you give a plant an "8" count,  and it's too wet the next time you come to it, you know that "8" was too much for it,  so you might try a "4" to allow it to use extra water from the "8" watering, and then the next time, try a "6".  Trust me, it's easier than it sounds.
First reach well down into the soil with a spoon and pull up some to test its moisture and make up.  If your sample doesn't come from near the bottom of the pot,  use a probe also - you really need to learn the moisture level down near the bottom .  Don't forget to jot down the moisture level in your notes.  If the moisture level is 6 or under, go ahead and water,  making sure to count and record the amount of water you put into the plant.

When you pour water into a plant, you don't want to dump it all in one spot, you want to pour all the way around the plant at the edge of the soil.  If the soil is very dry and pulled away from the pot, push it snugly back against the side of the pot before you pour.  Lift up the leaves if you need to, to get under them and to keep from splashing.  Most of the roots are concentrated around the outside of the soil mass, close to the sides of the pot, and you want to make sure all of the roots are moistened.  The objective is to water enough to get a run-off into the liner of  1/4 -1/2" if you're watering on a weekly schedule, or 1/2 - 1'" for a 2 week schedule.
Remember,  consistency is a goal.  Plants seem to respond well to receiving the same amount of water at regular intervals, and to a constant cycle of abundant moisture and gentle aeration.   Always remember to check the soil moisture, though,  because water  usage can change throughout the year with changing seasons,  as the plant grows, or if it's dealing with some kind of stress.
 If the plant is too wet - hasn't yet reached it's recommended % of aeration - first check the liner.   Use a dipstick if it's a large plant, difficult to see inside.   If there's water in it, your work is done.  Don't add more water, but you can leave what's in there for another week.  Don't leave water in the liner for more than 2 weeks, though.  If there's still water in the liner after 2 weeks, you'll need to siphon it out.

If all the water in the liner has been used,  but the soil when you squeeze it has visible water coming out, again, your work is done, you don't need to water this plant.  If the soil doesn't have squeezable water in it, but the moisture level is still higher than you would like - say a 6 when you'd like to have a 3 or 4 -  water it 1/2 the amount you did the previous time.
A plant that is too dry -  % of aeration is higher than  recommended - obviously, is going to need more water than you gave it the last time.  A good rule-of-thumb is to give it 1/2 again more water than you did at the previous watering
That's the end of this excerpt from The Color of Your Thumb Has Nothing To Do With It.

For those who prefer details and exactitude, and who like to have lists and tables to post in strategic positions, the book has some lovely ones showing  the range of possible NML's (Numerical Moisture Levels) under differing light conditions, and the adjustment to make in watering amounts.  

The book will be available for purchase at our website, along with full length video version of the text.  Keep watch for the announcement of the due date.  (Yes, it's something like having a child.)

Next time I'll be touching on the special watering techniques for low and high light.  As always, if you have any questions, or ideas for subjects you'd like to talk about, please chime in on the comments.

See 'ya soon.
                                                                                                              (by Marlie Graves)

Friday, August 2, 2013


Long ago (1966) in the fabled land of Times Square NYC, a well known expert in lie detection and lie detection machines, Mr. Cleve Backster, finding himself with an idle afternoon, attached the electrodes from one of his machines to the dragon tree ( Dracaena marginata) in his office, curious to see if the leaves would register any reaction to the roots' being watered.

Instead of moving in the way he would have expected, the galvanometer was moving in a pattern reminiscent of a human's emotional response.

Intrigued, he decided to see what would happen to the response if he threatened the plant.  He decided to burn the leaf, but no sooner did he form the thought in his mind, than the tracing pattern took a dramatic upward sweep!  There was another surge in the reading when he got some matches, and a smaller surge when he actually burned the leaf.

However, when he later only went through the motions of burning the leaf, without any real intent to do so, the recording showed no reaction at all.

From that moment, Mr. Backster set off on a course of research to attempt to understand what was going on beneath the surface of the Plant Kingdom.

With his galvanometers and electrodes and recording pens, he observed many unusual things.  Leaves continued to cause readings even when they had been detached from the roots, or cut up into little pieces. When confronted with immanent catastophe, or a person who routinely killed plants, they appeared to "pass out," that is to say elicit no reading at all, much like an animal in the death grip of the predator.

They seemed to respond to a person's "lying" or "truthing" much as a lie detector could.   They could respond to the emotional states of a person with whom they had a relationship - the caregiver - even though that person was across the street, across town, or across the country.  And they responded at the exact instant that the caregiver experienced the emotional stimulus.

He observed that plants seemed to "pay attention" to any kind of animal life in their vicinity, and often reacted to the animal's actions before they actually happened.  Furthermore,  he noticed a marked reaction to the death of animal cells, even things as trivial as bacteria dying from boiling water being poured down a sink.

It seemed obvious to him that the plants were picking up signals through some hitherto unsuspected medium of communication. He tried shielding the plants inside Faraday cages or lead shielding, which didn't affect their responses at all.  From this he concluded that, whatever path of communication was being used, it was not within the electro  magnetic spectrum.

At about the same time, in California, an IBM research chemist, Marcel Vogel, began to replicate some of Backster's results.  While he did use a number of electronic recording devices to measure plant reaction, Vogel was also interested in the power of mind and emotion. and claimed to have kept cut leaves alive and green simply by lovingly exhorting them to be healthy, while a similar leaf which he ignored soon turned brown and dead.

He reported the experiment of a psychically gifted friend, Vivian Wiley, who picked two leaves from a saxifrage plant in her garden.  One she laid beside her bed, the other in the living room.  Every day when she woke up, she focused on the leaf by her bed and willed it to live; the leaf in the living room she paid no attention to.  After a month, the leaf in her bedroom was still green and vital, while the living room leaf was brown and dried!

He worked with the object of recording plants' ability to attune to and record the emotional states of people with whom they had a relationship, himself as well as others.  He found that different plants responded more or less strongly, even different leaves on the same plant could be more or less receptive.  He also found that his own state of mind was integral, requiring a sort of meditative awareness of the energetic relationship between himself and his test subject plant.

Vogel continued to work through the 70's, writing articles, lecturing, and appearing on TV.  He sums up his discoveries like this:
"It is a fact: man can and does communicate with plant life.  Plants are living objects, sensitive, rooted in space....They radiate energy forces that are beneficial to man.  One can feel these forces!  They feed into one's own force field, which in turn feeds back energy to the plant." *

Mr Backster and Mr. Vogel published articles, or there were articles published about their work, in The International Journal  of Parapsychology (1968), National Wildlife (1969),  Medical World News (1969), Argosy magazine, and Popular Electronics, among others.  Probably needless to say, the Scientific  Establishment dismissed their observations as basically nonsense.  The idea that plants could have emotions or perceptions of emotions does not fit with scientific understanding of how the world operates; besides that, very few of Backster's and Vogel's results could be repeated by other researchers.  Of course, Vogel's explanation that the mindset of the experimenter was vital to the outcome of any experiment did not help.  But it does explain a few things.

* Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher.  The Secret Life of Plants. New York, Harper and Row.1973
                                                                                                      (by Marlie Graves)

Saturday, July 27, 2013


I'm not sure how interested anyone who might look in on this site is in hearing about my personal journey, but I'm throwing this in, mostly as an incentive to moi.

I'm making a determination to write at least 2 blog entries per week.  I'm making this determination public so as to help myself feel more urgency.  Also to make it easier to pass up the "easy stuff" - the FB meanders, the Pinterest dawdles, that kind of stuff.

Focus.  Focus. Focus.  If I were living in the future when my communication screen could float permanently in front of my eyes, I'd have that at the top all the time.  However...

Here and now is where we are.  Not a bad motto, by the way.  I think I may make the posts shorter, and covering a wider range of topics.  For instance, I'm going to pull commonly asked questions off the houseplant forums, and answer them at some length.

I'm also redoing what I laughingly refer to as a daily schedule, to add more but shorter blocks of time for instructional and inspirational reading, and defined blocks for each of my projects each day - maybe only 10 mins at a time, but each one each day.

I think I'll get myself a new timer and carry it with me around my neck.

I know the main topic of this blog is supposed to be plants, houseplants; but my thoughts, emotions, struggles as a human being are part of the environment of the plants I care for.  As such, these things are also a legitimate subject for conversation on a blog about plants and their "thoughts."

Which is, oddly enough, going to be the subject of the next post...the intersection of people's thoughts and plants' reactions.
                                                                                                      (by Marlie Graves)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Do you empty saucers after watering? Not necessary, if... always check the moisture level all the way to the bottom of the pot before you water again.

Here's an excerpt from The Color Of Your Thumb Has Nothing To Do With It that explains more about this short video.

The most important part of this arrangement is the liner, which in effect becomes the reservoir for the plant.  Professional interior landscapers operate on a schedule, which requires the plants be serviced every week, every ten days, or every two weeks (for most reputable companies.)  The liner must hold enough water to fill the plant's needs,  making sure it doesn't get over-dry between waterings.  However, there must also not be too much water - the plant has to be able to use all of the water in the liner well before the tech's next visit, thus reaching its ideal % of aeration.
                            EMPTYING SAUCERS
If you understand the concept of liners and how they have been used in Interior Landscaping for over 50 years, you should understand that the emptying of saucers everytime you water your plants at home has now been proven to be unnecessary.  Some people will surely say that their plants die if they don't empty the saucers; to them I would answer that the problem is not the little bit of water left in the saucer,  but that they are neglecting to learn about the moisture level in the soil, at all levels, before they water.
Another problem with not emptying saucers,  according to some home growers, is that emptying gets rid of unused minerals in the soil that are washed out with the water, thus preventing a build up of soluble salts.  (More about minerals and salts a few pages down the line.)  This problem is answered by not over-fertilizing.  Plantscapers have found that fertilizing 1 - 4 times a year  (depending on plant specie, light, size, etc.) is plenty for almost all plants.  Again, you see, emptying saucers is an unnecessary waste of  time.
So there you have it in a nutshell...why you don't have to empty saucers.  I know some of you  don't understand this, or don't believe it.  Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, tell your own experiences.

Next time I'm going to talk about how to know when to water your plants, and how much to water when you finally get to pouring.
                                                                                                           (by Marlie Graves)

Friday, June 7, 2013


In my last post on this topic ( 5/3/13),  I introduced this subject with some speculation on the meaning of "thinking," and how it might be defined in a way that could, conceivably, include the plant kingdom.  I proposed a definition of thinking as some type of integrational process that could produce an action (usually but not always movement) based on acquired information.

I also showed you some videos of plants moving;  what did you think of that last one, where the taller plant appears to be beating down its neighbor?   Who knew?

So plants CAN move, and often do quite vigorously.  Also,  sometimes with what appears to be discrimination, such as the carnivorous sundew, which does not respond to bits of dirt or leaf caught in its tentacles, only to a good dinner.

 Or the vining stem that grows toward a support, only to grow the other way if the pole is moved to the other side.  [Sorry, couldn't find a video of this, but several times I've read that it happens.  Could be a good project for someone...check out ]

Evolution has equipped them to do many wondrous things.  For instance, they can design, color, and scent their flowers to mimic insects or insect food, thus attracting pollinators.  They enclose their seeds in packages appetizing to animals, or build them with cunning grippers that can't be avoided.  (Terence McKenna once said,  "Plants invented animals to move their seeds around." )  They can employ certain species of insects to protect them,  or selectively exclude predators while welcoming non-dangerous bugs.

Their construction principles of fibers wrapped in spirals,  and cells linked in almost unbreakable cords, principles that are still undeveloped by human technology, allow them to erect and provision structures over 350 ft. high.
 Or consider plants  that cover acres,  such as the  Pando aspen in Utah, which appears to our eyes as a grove of 106 acres, but which has been shown to actually be one plant weighing over 13 million pounds, all connected by an immense  webwork of roots.

Yes, evolution had equipped them to do these wondrous things...what if they've been equipped to do things  of which we are as yet unaware.  Take roots for instance.  Measurements of a single rye plant show over 13 million rootlets with  a combined length of 380 miles,  and if you add together all the roothairs on all the rootlets, you come out somewhere around 14 billion with a combined length of 6,600 miles,  nearly the distance from pole to pole.  And that's just one little rye plant;  imagine the numbers involved for your backyard shade tree.  Big numbers, but is there more?   Are plants doing anything with all those billions of roots besides growing and sucking up water and nutrients?  Is it just a meaningless coincidence that an image of a root system looks very much like an image of an internet diagram?  Check out this video of  Stefan Mancuso on

Recent research using the most advanced imaging systems has found that the cells in the "transition zone" of the root apex - the area at the tip of the root hair - not only consume oxygen at a rate similar to neurons,  but they also have structures and chemicals completely analogous to those found in animal neurons.

           BALUŠKA, F., MANCUSO, S., VOLKMANN, D. & BARLOW, P., Root apices
as plant command centres: the unique ‘brain-like’ status of the root apex
transition zone. Biologia, Bratislava, 59/Suppl. 13: 1—, 2004; ISSN 0006-
Although plants are generally immobile and lack the most obvious brain activities of animals and humans, they are not only able to show all the attributes
of intelligent behaviour but they are also equipped with neuronal molecules,
especially synaptotagmins and glutamate/glycine-gated glutamate receptors.
Recent advances in plant cell biology allowed identification of plant synapses
transporting the plant-specific neurotransmitter-like molecule, auxin. This
suggests that synaptic communication is not limited to animals and humans
but seems to be widespread throughout plant tissues. Root apices seated at
the anterior pole of the plant body show many features which allow us to
propose that they, especially their transition zones, act in some way as brainlike command centres. The opposite posterior pole harbours sexual organs
and is specialized for plant reproduction. Last but not least, we propose that
vascular tissues represent highways for plant nervous activity allowing rapid
exchange of information between the growing points of above-ground organs
and the brain-like zones in the root apices.

People have known for a long time that plants communicate, using chemical substances instead of sound waves,  and recent observations have pointed to plants using the underground webs of fungus mycorrhzal structures as a message transportation system.

Can it be that there's even more going on?  In following posts on this subject,  I'm going to present some intriguing observations and speculations on plants and what may be going on with them.  Pandora may not be as fictional as you think!
                                                                                                                   (by Marlie Graves)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Setting up a plant for maximum ease of care and beauty



Up to now we've been talking about how to determine the amount of moisture in the soil, as well as other factors to consider in deciding whether or not to water your plants.  But before we talk about how much water to put in, let's consider the mechanics of putting the water and your plants together.

Face it, your plants can't get to water on their own - you have to bring it to them.  Part of that bringing is the potting system the plants are sitting in, and part is the equipment and technique you use to pour on the water.  (Yes, if you can believe it, I even have something to say about how you pour water.)

                             POTTING ARRANGEMENTS

All plants are placed in one of two ways: either they're direct planted - roots are planted directly into a large soil environment, such as outdoors, or in an indoor atrium or large planter box; or they're potted - roots and some kind of medium to hold them are enclosed by some kind of container.

If they're potted, they may be single or double potted.  If single-potted , they're growing out of the visible container, which sits in a drainage saucer of some type, unless the container itself is water-tight.

If double-potted,  the grow pot  (the container, usually plastic, in which the plant was grown) sits inside a drainage liner, and both sit inside a decorative container.

The advantages of double-potting are many.  If you want to remove the plant from the decorative container, because you want to replace it with a different plant, it needs treatment, etc,  you just pick it up and there you are.  When watering, you just watch for the run-off in the liner, which allows you to regulate water more exactly (more about that in a minute), and also does not limit you to only using containers that have  holes in the bottom.

Professional interior landscapers almost always use the double-potting method.  When they do, they  cover the top of the grow pot, and often the entire surface inside the decorative container, with a decorative mulch, most commonly Spanish moss,  sheet moss, bark chip, or rock.

This mulch has no horticultural value, it is purely cosmetic, although most people find it works best when some of the soil is left exposed to insure good evaporation of water.  It's easy to do at  home,  and adds greatly to the attractive appearance, especially of larger house plants.

The most important part of this arrangement is the liner, which in effect becomes the reservoir for the plant.  Professional interior landscapers operate on a schedule, which requires the plants be serviced every week, every ten days, or every two weeks (for most reputable companies.)  The liner must hold enough water to fill the plant's needs,  making sure it doesn't get over-dry between waterings.  However, there must also not be too much water - the plant has to be able to use all of the water in the liner well before the tech's next visit, thus reaching its ideal % of aeration.

                           HANGING PLANTS

Let's consider  hanging plants, which are sort of a special class.   When you buy one from a store, it comes in a hanging commercial grow pot, which has open drainage in the bottom, and works perfectly in a greenhouse, not so well in a home.  Many people bring these home and hang them up as is, then take them down and carry them to the sink to water, and drain.   Fine, if you have the time.

If you're interested in less time spent on more beautiful plants, you'll want to use waterproof hanging bowl containers.  You can double-pot your plant into this, and when you want to water, just lift up your water can,  tip in the spout, being careful that it's not splashing off any leaves,  and pour/count.

Thus ends this excerpt from TCOYTHNTDWI 

(Sounds like something from a Sci-Fi story, doesn't it..T'coy Thndtwi, medical ofiicer aboard the inter-dimensional explorer Frglyss.)  (Soon as The Ficus Wrangler project is up and running on its own, I'll be able to turn my attention to completing and attempting to publish some of my SF.)

Speaking of which, you might be wondering, how is that FW project going.  I'm glad to report that the web site is nearing completion, and we hope to have it online by the end of June, with at least some video  available for purchase.

The text for the first - and longest - chapter of the book is done; all that remains is to add the graphics and photos. and it too will be available for purchase.

I know there are some folks reading this blog....have any of you ever commented anywhere?  Don't be shy.  Leave a comment in the comment spot!  You can't imagine how I'd love to hear from you.  As a member  of the Down With Dead Houseplants Movement (DWDHM? Wonder what I can make from that.), you are entitled to speak on up.

Till next time,
Bona Fortuna to you, and good growing always.
                                                                                                      (by Marlie Graves)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Do plants really have it in for your cats?

Today I have some words to say about cats and plants living within the same walls.

Often I see, on forums and comments and even some blogs, people saying they can't have plants because the cats eat them all, or they can't have cats because they don't want their plants ruined.  Also, whenever the subject of cats and plants comes up, someone is sure to chime in with the most recent list of "Plants Toxic to Cats," accompanied by finger waggling and admonishments to move all these dangerous plants to some place inaccessible to cats.
                                                                                                 Pizzicato among the plants

Trouble is, when you look at these lists, almost all common indoor foliage plants are on it.  And the plants that aren't on it are ones that cats, at least my cats, like to eat.  Hm-m-m...strange, isn't it.

I've had many cats, and many houseplants, for the better part of half a century.  I've never had a cat die from eating any plant.  Barf, yes...die, no.  I know many people with cats and houseplants.`I don't know anyone who's had a cat die from eating a common houseplant.

I think a small reality check may be in order here.  A. Cats (and dogs and horses and all sorts of animals) have walked this Earth a long time, surrounded by plants that are on those "toxic" lists, and they neither stand around munching on them, nor are they falling over in great numbers from doing so.

B. Adam and Eve were not given a list of toxic plants and told to construct fencing around all plants on that list to keep the cats and dogs away from them.

C. The toxic lists were compiled by feeding or otherwise administering plants, or substances derived from plants, to captive animals until they sickened and died.  The captives had no choices in the matter.

D. Given a choice, very few cats (or dogs, presumably) will eat these toxic plants.  I'm guessing they taste bad.

E. In discussions of plants and animals, there always seem to be people who've had animals die from eating one plant or another.  I have to wonder if it is absolutely proven that these animals died from eating these plants, and if it is possible that the animal had an extreme allergic reaction, like people who have an extreme reaction to a bee sting. (No one has ever suggested that such people never go outdoors again, or that bees should be eradicated, even though there have actually been a few people who have died from a bee sting.)

My experience has been that, while cats will bite into leaves of many plants, they don't actually eat them. The ones that they do eat, I don't keep in my house.  I don't keep palms, or spider plants inside, because the leaves get reduced to small stubs.  For a long time I didn't keep ficus trees, because they were used as scratching posts, until I got the bright idea to wrap the trunks with double-side sticky tape.

 A while ago I thought I'd try some begonias, so I bought a couple of 3" size, one with colorful leaves and one with green leaves.  The cats immediately started chomping the stems of the green-leaved one, but they totally ignored the burgundy leaves. Out went the green one to the porch, but the red one is quite lovely in the sunroom.

Then I thought I'd try ferns.  The Boston fern was a mass of 3" stems in a few days - the gatos got a kick out of biting through the stems and dropping them on the floor.  Out went the Boston fern.  However, the rabbit's foot fern they have no interest in, so it has happily joined the collection inside.

The moral of the story is, if you want cats and plants, you can have both, you just need to experiment to find
what the cats will leave alone.  I think you should be aware of the toxic lists, and if you have a plant on that list and your cat or dog is actually ingesting it, you probably should move the plant where they can 't reach it.

But a plant that is being eaten is not going to look very nice anyway,  so why would you want to keep it where little teeth can get to it?  Unless of course you're raising some grass or greens specifically for the cats to eat.  Many people do this, and it's a lovely idea, and very healthy for your pet.  I've tried sprouting things for my cats to eat too,  but they've never been interested.

They prefer that I go out to the yard and pick them their favorite grass - I had to try 5 or 6 different grassy things that were growing out there before I found the one they liked.  Fortunately I don't have a fancy, mono-culture sort of lawn, and I don't use pesticide or herbicide.  But I do have happy cats.
                                                                                                                 (by Marlie Graves)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The First Secret of the Green Thumb: Feel The Soil

We're going to start with water, because it's basic to everything, and if you understand watering you'll understand plantcare.


Ninety percent of successful plant care is making the correct watering decisions.  There are a number of variables in the environment of indoor plants - light, temperature, humidity, soil, etc; but water is the variable over which you have the most control.  If the moisture-to-air ratio in the soil is on target, the plant is healthy, it looks good, and it has the natural resources to resist disease and  pests.

If the plant is not looking good, the first thing to investigate, and the most important to adjust, is soil moisture

If the soil is too wet or too dry, the roots can't function properly, and the plant starts to fail; too wet,  the plant is drowning, too dry and it's starving to death.


This is the AAA,  the First and Foremost,  the Most Especially Important Secret of the Green Thumb! You have to feel the soil so you know how much water is already in there - not to mention soil quality, soil composition,  and simply vibin' with your plant.  After using this system for awhile, when you're familiar with your plants' conditions and water requirements, you'll find it impossible to water without at least touching the soil surface to make sure all is going as it should, and that no one has been pouring behind your back.

Your most important tool is your fingers.  As you start to familiarize yourself  with soil moisture, push a spoon deep into the pot, well past  half way to the bottom; if you have a bigger plant, you'll need to use a big spoon, or a garden trowel. Bring up a small scoop of soil.  Squeeze it between your fingers, observe how it looks, and how it feels.  

If you've never been able to quite understand the variations between "wet" and "dry",  or if you're not sure if what you mean by "moist" is the same as what someone else means, here's a little thing you can do at home.

Take a small handful - a couple of tablespoons - of potting soil or potting medium, the kind you are using, or plan to use, for your plants.  Make sure it is completely dry; you may have to microwave it awhile, or let it sit around for a few days.  Then put it into a small bowl, and pinch some between your fingers.  This is "dry," this is what people mean if they use the term "completely dry." Now start adding water a little at a time - about  1/4 teaspoon - and stir it around well.  Let it sit for a few minutes after each addition of water, to allow the particles in the soil to absorb the water.   Pick up a little soil and squeeze it after each portion of water has been absorbed ,  try to feel how it changes from the barest hint of moisture to soft and cool to dripping wet. 

------------------- end of excerpt from The Color of Your Thumb Has Nothing To Do With It -----------

In the full text, and also in the video version of the text, there is a Moisture Chart   that lists the moisture levels from 1-10, describes what they feel like and how you can refer to them.   The text and video will be available for purchase on the yet-to-be-launched website, on a chapter-by-chapter basis.  The videos that are available on YouTube are trailers for the complete videos, and I hope some of you will be interested in adding the entire production to your libraries.  I'll be letting you know about the website as we get closer to launch date.  Also more short videos coming soon.  I hope.

Be part of the Down With Dead Houseplants movement!  Pass on the Ficus Wrangler to your plant-challenged friends!
                                                                                                    (by Marlie Graves)

Friday, April 19, 2013

On the subject of what ARE your plants thinking...

I suppose that before we can talk about WHAT plants are thinking, we need to consider IF they think.  You may think it's pretty obvious that they don't - no one has ever found anything even remotely resembling nerves or brain in any plant anywhere.  Have they?

Since definitions of thinking mostly involve mind (generally understood as brain) and/or acts of contemplation, imagination, decision, movement and so on, right there, plants are exempted - and plants are quite obviously rooted in place, so are unable to perform "acts" of any kind, right?

Well, okay, they do grow, and turn toward the light, and sometimes tendrils can wind around things, and some petals can close at night...but those things are all just cellular responses to simple stimuli like light and touch, right?

They're not "acts" like when you decide to go somewhere so you move your muscles and you get there.  Leaves move when the wind blows them, but that's just moving because the wind is moving, nothing to do with action or volition or anything like that, right? The other kinds of movement you see in plants is pretty much the same, right?

Well maybe...and then again, maybe not.

Let's think about it <<<>>>> what exactly are we doing?  What is "thinking" anyway?  We're pretty sure it's occurring in our brains; we know from imaging and scanning that certain parts of our brains "light up" when we think of certain things, or think about them in certain ways; and we know that if brains are injured, some types of thinking can be changed or cease to function.

But consider wasn't so very long ago that people had no idea what all that mushy stuff inside heads was for.  If they thought about it at all, they thought that thinking originated in the heart, or maybe the solar plexus - that old "gut feeling," you know?

If you come right down to it, we don't REALLY know what's happening in the brain, how the electronic/chemical stimulation of cells interacts in a perception/memory/integration/abstraction interface to produce thought and action, whether it be the simple thoughts of a worm, or the towering thoughts of a human being.  Some theorists are even beginning to wonder if "thinking" might be going on at the molecular level, or even the quantum level, and that the brain is simply a switching station.

Back to the original question - do plants think? (By the way, this is a really huge topic, and I'm going to be batting it around for a long time, so if anyone else has any thoughts/information, feel free to throw them in.)  Let's define thinking (at least at this point) as the  process of acquiring information from/about the outside world by the stimulation of certain receptors (cells or aspects of cells, probably), that information then translated (somehow) into actions that allow the organism to respond (somehow) to the outside world in ways that are contributory (hopefully) to its survival.

By using this kind of definition, I'm getting away from the idea that "thinking" necessarily involves "words."  It does, however, involve ACTIONS based on INFORMATION.   Plants definitely acquire/take in information, (something to talk about at a future time,) but do they actually perform any actions, other than simply "growing?"  (Which isn't so simple, when you come down to it.)

Other than those few things I mentioned earlier, what kinds of actions could they possibly perform?  Well, in order to understand plant movement, you need to adjust your own perceptions.

Ever seen those fast-action films of plants growing and flowers opening?  In them you see that plants move to the beat of a drum different than that which animals follow. 

As you slow down to their score and measure, you see the twigs and buds on trees and bushes swinging in slow circles,  leaves on plants below moving up and down as their growing tips quest 360 degrees around, flowers bending and shaking, stems trembling toward unseen supports and sending out tendrils that dance complicated patterns until they encounter something to grab onto, at which point they quickly pull the rest of the plant to themselves.

Beneath the ground, tiny rootlets burrow through the earth, tasting for moisture and nutrients, responding to the pull of gravity, possibly other imperatives known only to the plants.  Seeds burst open, roots hurrying down, stems shooting up in frantic haste to reach the light.

  The movement of the stomata on leaves as they transpire air into and out of the plant, when speeded up, looks remarkably like  breathing...probably because it is breathing.

Then there are the incredibly fast movements (fast enough for us to see in real time, which means really really fast in plant time) of carnivorous plants closing on their prey, or the Mimosa pudica folding its leaves when they are touched.  Some plant tendrils respond to weights as slight as .00025 of a gram.   How can they do these things when the have no nerves to transmit stimuli, and no muscles to contract tissues?

In my next post on this subject I'll speculate some more about plant actions, and also how they might acquire and process information about their environments.  Leaving you with an interesting little video...

Some links to other videos of plant movement:

Major source material, The Secret Life of Plants  by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.  Available from Amazon.

                                                                (by Marlie Graves)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pruning that ceiling-hitting plant on my Pinterest board Home Interiors with Plants on 4/5/13

So sorry there's no pic - you'll just have to refer back to Pinterest.  I tried for 30 mins to find the original page, or to find some way to copy from my pin, all to no avail.  And I have a rule, which is no more than 30 mins devoted to fruitless searches.  Ergo, after 30 mins, no pic.  But I directed folks here for a discussion on pruning the darn thing, so discuss I shall.

As best I can tell from that one picture, the plant is a Dracaena tarzana.  It's often hard to tell from just one shot what exactly a plant is, but even if it's some other kind of dracaena, even some kind of yucca, the culture and pruning practices are the same.

The first thing to decide before you set out to prune a plant is 'how do I want it to look when I'm done?'  The choices here would be tall, or short, and one cane, or more than one.  (The long trunky, or stemmy thing is actually called a cane in these type of plants.)  I think I'll describe the procedures for each of these choices in turn.

Before I begin, let me note that cane-type plants are great to do these kinds of procedures on, because they are so vigorous, and can sprout from dormant buds even when they appear to have been dried out and dead for years.  One time I built a short, decorative fence by embedding a bunch of old corn plant canes in the ground.  Don't you know, after about six months, my fence began to sprout!  But I digress.

The elegant, horticultural thing to do would be to air layer.  Arm yourself with a sharp knife, some damp sphagnum moss, some plastic wrap, rooting hormone, and electrical tape.  Pick the point where you want the roots to start growing, say about seven feet from the top of the plant - that will give you a six foot tall plant after it's potted.  Oh yes, don't forget to sterilize the knife with dilute bleach solution.  Now, scrape away the top of the bark all the way around the cane, in a strip about 1" wide.  Gently, now, only the very top part, the  skin, so to speak.

Uh-oh, uh-oh, I hear some of you starting to cringe.  Cutting?  MY PLANT???  Okay, here's what you need to understand - cutting a plant, in terms of pain to the cuttee, is approximately the same as cutting your hair or fingernails...There.Is.None.  It makes the plant more beautiful, if you do it right.  If you don't, the plant just keeps on growing, and you get to try again another time.

Back to scraping the top layer of bark.  After you've done that, rub a bunch - maybe 1/2 teaspoon - of the rooting hormone into the scraped area, and wrap it with moss.  The moss should be damp, but not soaking - squeeze out all the water that will go.  Wrap it into a nice fat clump all around the cane, then wrap plastic wrap around that, and secure the top and bottom tightly with the tape.  There.  You're done.  Don't you feel accomplished?

Now, you and your plant just wait for a few months.  Just keep an eye on the moss, if you see it's starting to look dried out, undo the tape and pour in a couple of spoons of water.  But it should stay moist until the roots grow.  If you want to see what all this looks like, try

When the roots have nicely filled the bag of moss, cut the cane below the moss bag to free your now-shortened plant.  This is probably the hardest part of the process, because some canes are thick and quite hard, and you may have to use a hand saw to do the cutting.  Pot the plant with its new roots and shorter cane into your pre-selected beautiful container, or even better, into a plastic grow pot that you can place into your pre-selected beautiful container.  This is called 'double potting,' and I have a video about that at

A word about soil.  Please don't use those "moisture-retentive" mixes that some manufacturers are marketing.  They do retain moisture, but that's a bad thing, because too much moisture in the soil is what kills most indoor plants.  Use a cactus mix if you want, or a "soilless mix" if you can find it, or do some research and make a nice chunky, porous mix of your own.   Try this  to start research.

If your plant is already 10' tall, though, I think you probably have a good handle on its cultural requirements, and you already know about porous mixes and not overwatering, so I'll return to the pruning stuff.   Now, if you want your plant to end up short, say 3 or 4 feet,  do the air layering thing much closer to the foliage head; remember, you'll eventually be sticking about a foot of the cane-with-roots into the pot.

But what about the multi-cane thingy?  This involves the not-difficult strategy of sticking one end of the cane, or piece of cane,  into moist soil, and then being patient.  As long as the soil is kept barely damp, the cane should  sprout - not always, not every one, but a surprisingly high proportion of the time.  In fact, you don't have to air layer at all, you can just cut the cane below the foliage, then bury the cut end in the soil.  It's best to air layer a valuable plant, though, because roots might not form quickly enough to support all those beautiful  leaves.

So okay,  back at the big tall plant (or short, fat plant, if that's the way you shaped it) that you air layered into  its new version, you've still got a long bare cane sticking out of the pot.  Left to itself, it will probably sprout a bunch of new leaves, and keep right on growing.   Or you could cut the long cane into 2 or 3 pieces - different lengths look best- put them back into the soil with the rooted piece, and see what happens.  You can even cut the long cane into very short pieces, about 2" -  each piece needs at least 1 scar where a leaf used to be - lay them horizontally under the soil, and wait for them to sprout.

So you can make yourself two new plants from the old one, or a whole bunch of new year's Christmas presents for all your friends!  Please don't be afraid to prune.

Till next time,
Marlie - The Ficus Wrangler
                                                                                               (by Marlie Graves)


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Talking about light levels and what those words low, medium, high actually mean.

Hi.  Today I thought I'd try changing the appearance of the text, mess with color, and all that.  How do you like it?

The fourth type of information you need to make watering decisions is the amount of light the plant is getting. This is, incidentally, another Secret of the Green Thumb:


When there's plenty of light, the plant's factories are humming along at high speed and using lots of water; when the light is low, the activity level is correspondingly low, and so is the use of water.

Also, high light intensifies evaporation of water from the soil, as well as from the leaves; when the light is low,  evaporation drops.

    So how do you know what level to call the light?

High light is what you would find next to a window where direct sunlight comes in for two hours or more per day, usually a south or west window.

Moderately high light would be near a window with no direct sun, or sun less than two hours per day, usually a north or east window, or a high-light spot that's filtered by curtains, trees, etc  into a low-light spot.)

Medium light is a general condition of working light found in most offices, under which you can easily read.

Moderately low light is a situation in which you can still read, but you wish you had a little more light.

Low light is where you can read, but not for very long.

And if you can't read in the spot, there's not enough light for any plant; this light level is otherwise known as none at all (from the plants' point of view, of course.)

------------end of excerpt from THE COLOR OF YOUR THUMB HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT

This short video also brings up the important point that you're going to water more when the light is higher, and less when the light is lower, and super, super important -

 the major trick to keeping plants in low light is to allow them to get dry all the way to the bottom of the pot.

There's also a discussion about why you need to know what kind of plant you have - so you can find out what level of light the plant needs.
                                                                                          (by Marlie Graves)