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)