Sunday, December 7, 2014

The first strawberry

My first "real" strawberry, after a string of stunted and shriveled ones, came in December.

Here's what it looked like on December 4.

Notice that on the same vine, its sibling never grew more than a few millimeters in diameter before it shriveled up.

And here's what it looked like three days later on December 7.

Slicing it open, it was a perfect strawberry through and through., juicy and sweet.

Wanting to savor the moment, I actually sat down and sliced it, eating it like a steak and savoring every little bit. At this rate, I may enjoy one strawberry every few months, so I figure I'd make the most of it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) - Best Air Purifying Plant #7

Granted, I can't say the name of this plant without sounding like Sylvester the cat, but it is one of the most popular houseplants around. Its Latin name is Spathiphyllum, where "spatha" refers to the "spathe" (which I'll describe below) and "phyllum" means "leaf".

The plant is also called a "Peace Lily", which is a bit of a misnomer because this plant isn't a lily at all. In fact, the white thing that everyone thinks is a flower is a special kind of leaf, or bract, called a "spathe".  It's more like a shield that protects the hard part in the middle of it, which is the actual flower cluster.

Here's the one I got from Garden World:

The flowers inside the spathe actually had a wonderful subtle fragrant scent. When I tapped them they also spewed out a whole bunch of white pollen powder.

It's rated 8 out of 10 for chemical removal and 8 out of 10 for transpiration, thanks to those lovely huge green leaves. Just having it around instantly brings life to a room, both in terms of the beautiful white spathes as well as the cleaner air.

When you buy one of these plants, you want to make sure you go to a breeder or garden center. Word is that when they're mass produced, they're bred so that when you buy them you see nice huge spathes in the store, but once those die, they never come back.

The Spathiphyllum comes from the tropical rainforests of South America. While the plant is known to tolerate low light conditions, this plant loves light. It also prefers a soil mixture that's looser and more porous, like orchid potting soil or a mix of potting soil, peat moss, and perlite, rather than just traditional potting soil that turns into thick mud when wet. It also loves lots of water. Keep the soil damp but not soggy and you should be fine.

I had an old Spathiphyllum for years and it was a testament to how much abuse this plant can take. My plant would go for weeks without watering, to the point where the leaves would start to droop. But after watering it, the leaves would perk up as good as new. I was proud of my plant, but one particularly dry winter I left for a three-week trip and came back to find it not just drooped, but the leaves dried out. I tried watering it, and bless its heart it tried to come back to life, but ultimately it no longer produced flowers nor spathes. Ultimately I had to throw it out, although I did save two cutting from it before I did.

1) Temperature: As with any tropical rainforest plant, keep as warm and humid as possible. Keep between 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below 55 and they will have problems.
2) Sunlight: Light to moderate shade is best.
3) Care and feeding: Mist regularly and water frequently in summer. In winter, keep soil damp. Feed weekly in summertime with fertilizer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata "Bostoniensis") - Best Air Cleaning Plant #1

With chemical removal rated at 9 out of 10 and transpiration rate at 9 out of 10, the Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is the top air cleaning plant on the list. Here's the one I got from Garden World, all transplanted in its nice new pot.

The Boston fern isn't from Boston and quite honestly doesn't even grow particularly well in Boston. There are varying theories of why this variation got the name. The species of Nephrolepis exaltata normally has erect fronds, but this variation of Nephrolepis exaltata cv. Bostoniensis has arching fronds. Some say that the name came when this mutation was discovered as plants were shipped from Boston to Philadelphia in 1894, while others say the name came from Florida pioneer John Soar, who shipped some of the plants to a friend in Boston. Whatever the origin, the name stuck and this plant is forever associated with Boston.

The plant is really native to humid forests and swampy areas, such as in Florida Central and South America, and Africa. Its ability to thrive in humid areas is what makes it a great air cleaning houseplant, as it is used to taking in water and transpiring it. It's that same property that makes it a bit difficult to care for, especially in rooms that we keep climate controlled and dehumidified.

There are a couple things you can do to let your plant feel a little bit more at home. Make sure to place the pot on a tray of pebbles; this way, when the water in the tray dissolves, it'll help hydrate the plant. Also, you'll want to mist the plant once or twice a week. It's not sub-Saharan Africa, but it's close enough. If you see the leaves turning yellow, it's time to increase the humidity.

You'll also want to make sure your soil NEVER dries out. This is not to say to keep it soaking, but if the soil dries out that's not going to be great for the plant.

1) Temperature: Keep between 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below 55 and they will die
2) Sunlight: Partial shade and indirect lighting is best. Think the ground of an old growth forest.
3) Care and feeding: Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. Does not need a lot of fertilizer, feed once or twice a month with a diluted houseplant fertilizer.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A great garden center in Flushing and Bayside - Garden World

Now most of you who read the blog know that aside from a few links on the side, I don't do a lot of advertising. Part of it is because I do it for the love of indoor gardening, but another part is that I get so sick of bloggers who just seem to sell out with every other post being "sponsored".

That said, when I find a place I really love, I gotta talk about it. And this place is Garden World in Flushing, New York. I should start off by saying that they don't know I'm blogging about them, but I was plenty impressed with them that I figured I'd write a post on them. By the way, if you're in the NY area, there's a Groupon you can use to get a discount.

The shop itself looks pretty nondescript on the outside, just a shack sitting to the side of an H-mart. Walking in, though, you immediately see a huge area filled with supplies. They just started to put up the Christmas products as well, so there's a festive feel about it. There were also fresh apples in the back from area orchards.

The part I wanted to see was in the back--the greenhouse. This was stocked full of wonderful, healthy plants. For someone who's been buying dead and diseased plants from a K-mart under Penn Station, I was like a kid in a candy store.

They had most of the plants we've been talking about--huge golden pothos plants, dracenas, and plenty of other tropical plants. 

The proprietor of the store couldn't have been nicer to us. I read, in broken Latin, the plants I was looking for and he walked me through and showed them to me. I wanted a Bamboo Palm, but the one they had was way too big for me.

Another goal was to get a ficus robusta (rubber tree plant), but the 8" one they had was just too big for me. But I'll be back to see if I can get a 6" one next spring. 

I was happy to find a lot of the plants I'd been searching for. Clockwise from the upper left below is the Boston Fern (#1), the Peace Plant (#7), the Spider Plant (#26), and a Ficus (#15). You'll be reading more about these in the coming weeks as I transplant them. 

Something else I got? A bag of potting soil which was completely free of fungus gnats. For all the coupons I get from K-mart, one thing I learned is that buying soil or plants from a place like that, no matter how cheap you may think it is, ends up costing a lot more in the long run. 

If you're in the Flushing or Franklin Square areas, definitely check them out. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lots of dried, undeveloped strawberries--Update on the strawberries

It's been a while since I gave an update of the strawberry plants. Here's what they look like today.

Pretty impressive looking, huh? Out of all the plants I planted, only one didn't grow. Again, nice job by Aerogrow on that third batch.

I wish I could say that by now I've harvested bushels of strawberries and have been making pies, jams, and shortcakes. But alas, I've seen about 10 strawberries so far and they all look something like this.

Shriveled, brown, and looking more like a cluster of seeds than a fruit. There are a couple reasons this is happening:

1) I'm not pollinating right. Strawberries coming out malformed or small are usually due to lack of pollination. I followed AeroGrow's instructions and each time I pass by the plant I dutifully give it a good shake. But it doesn't look like that's enough to really spread the pollen. The other problem is that I sometimes don't even see the flowers until it's too late. I think the next step is going to be for me to pay closer attention to see when the flowers are budding and then use a Q-Tip or an artist's brush to hand pollinate them.

2) I'm not watering right. There have been a couple times I check the water and it's bone dry inside. Between the coco chunks and the amount of water the growing plants suck up so much water, I find that the reservoir dries up much faster than with a regular Aerogarden growth. The Grow Bowl really requires you to constantly fill up with water. But watch out--fill it a little too much and water will spill over the side, a lesson I learned a few times.

3) I'm not adding enough nutrients. Looking at the washed-out leaves, I'm wondering if the plants are lacking nutrients. I've been adding old packets of nutrients from past Aerogardens, but I think it might be time for me to go to the bottle of fresh nutrients that got shipped with the product.

4) The temperature is off. The weather and our heating system has been weird lately, meaning really cold nights and occasional periods where it's really warm. I think that might be affecting the plants as well.

So far, there's only one strawberry that looks like it might have a chance.

Its odd shape is a telltale sign of it not being pollinated well, but at least there's a little meat to it. We'll see if it continues to grow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Turning to Gnatrol (Bti) to get rid of Fungus Gnats once and for all

If you recall, a few months ago I wrote of how Kmart sold me a bag of potting soil with fungus gnats, and soon every plant in my house and office seemed to be infested.

I detailed every single tactic I found to try to get rid of them. I tried drying out the soil, but even after all the dirt was bone dry and the leaves started to wilt, watering seemed to bring back the gnats with a vengeance. I tried sprinkling cinnamon but gnats keep showing up. I bought 100 Yellow Sticky Traps, enough to put and put 1-2 on every single plant. While they do a great job of trapping adults they don't seem to be stopping new larvae (remember that it just take one gnat to get through the perimeter alive to lay 200-300 eggs). Finally, I went to both Gardener's Supply Company and Amazon to buy nematodes; none of them seemed to work the first time around which I attributed to them being fried during shipping. But even when I requested replacements, they didn't work either. Drenching the plants with Hydrogen Peroxide didn't seem to do much either.

No more Mr. Nice Guy. It was time for me to turn to Gnatrol (You can purchase Gnatrol for a reasonable price at Amazon). I've admittedly been resisting this option because I've heard that Gnatrol is a "pesticide", and I wasn't keen on adding "dangerous chemicals" to my plants. After all, the point of growing these plants is for me to clear the air, and the last thing I need is for my plants and soil to be poisoning me.

But that's when I did my research. At first glance, Gnatrol sounds scary. It's a "larvacide" with an active ingredient called "Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis", or Bti. Did I really want to put bacteria into all my houseplants? I mean, putting live parasites (the nematodes) was freaky enough an idea to get used to. The song "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly" kept ringing through my head.

But after reading more about it, Bti is as close to a miracle fix as modern science has come up with. First of all, what they sell isn't live, viable bacteria; the toxicant that kills the larvae is actually a part of the Bti spore. It was actually discovered in 1976 in Israel from scientists who isolated the bacteria from dead mosquito larvae. It's a substance that's deadly to mosquito larvae (as well as larvae of blackflies, midges, and fungus gnats). Specifcially, Bti releases special protein crystals. When the larvae eat them, the alkaline nature of their digestive system causes these crystals to dissolve and be converted into toxic protein molecules that destroy the inside of the larvae's stomach. Long story short, they can't eat and then they go off to that giant Golden Pothos in the sky.

Here's the cool thing about it--because humans, animals, birds, and fish have acidic and not alkaline digestive tracts, the Bti toxins don't have any effect on us. In fact, Bti is used in mass quantities by cities and municipalities worldwide to control mosquito populations. Because it's a bacteria that's found naturally in soils anyway, there's less fear of using it than more dangerous chemical solutions. Another thing that's nice about Bti is that once it's released, the active ingredient will dissipate after about 72 hours, so even if it were harmful to humans, the exposure is limited.

Gnatrol is a consumer version of Bti. I bought the bottle from a seller on Amazon for $2.69 + $5.49 shipping. Now we all know shipping this tiny bottle can't cost $5.49, but still, if I can spend under $10 and get rid of all the fungus gnats, it'll be money well spent.

The bottle you buy for $10 looks tiny, but because all you need is 1/2 teaspoon per gallon for mild infestations and 1 1/2 teaspoons for heavy infestations, this bottle should last for multiple waterings, hopefully enough to eradicate all the fungus gnats. It has a shelf life of about 2 years, so it doesn't make sense to hoard it--at under $10 it's affordable to get infestation by infestation (which hopefully will be years apart).

To use it, I went a little on the heavy side and added about 2 tablespoons to a gallon of water and drenched the soil, When you mix the water and the granules, you end up with basically a bottle full of bacterial gunk, which looks like brown water.

I then went plant by plant, watering it so that the soil was thoroughly moist and a little bit drained on the bottom.

For a few plants where I thought there were no fungus gnats, a few gnats flew out when I watered them. Hopefully this will put an end to them once and for all. I put a fresh set of yellow sticky traps over each plant to see how effective the treatment will be.

So far, I'm cautiously optimistic. While I'd typically see 10-20 (or more) gnats on the sticky traps, a lot of them are clear now, or have 1-2 gnats. They do say to re-apply the solution three times a week. This is because Gnatrol will not affect adult flies after the pupae stage, so if some adults decide to lay more eggs you'll have a fresh batch of Bti for their young ones to feast on.

If you look at the Amazon reviews, most of them are glowing, but some of them complain that the Gnatrol only made the problem worse. In these cases, the likely culprit is that the seller sold them really old granules that were no longer potent, so ironically while they were thinking they were filling the soil with Bti, they just ended up re-watering the soil, creating more fungus, and making it a breeding ground for gnats.

In my case, though, the gnats definitely appear to be finally getting under control. Since I did this about two weeks ago, the number of gnats definitely appear to have lessened both at home and in the office. The biggest test was on the Boston Fern from Kmart that had been infested from day one. The infestation for that had gotten so bad that I enclosed it into two sandwich bag, partially to serve as a greenhouse, but partially because there were so many gnats coming out of this plant it was clear that the roots were thoroughly infested. It sounds a little nasty, but every morning I'd see new gnats buzzing around in the bag and then squash them.

This was ground zero in the war against the gnats. As you can see, the plant is barely larger now than it was many months ago; this is almost certainly due to the gnat larvae feeding at the root. I think what kept the plant fighting was putting it in the bag, where it got ample humidity (something that ferns need).

My first instinct after writing about this plant so many months ago was to toss the plant in the trash, but I felt that would be conceding victory to the gnats. No, I was going to fight this. So I did everything I mentioned in my last post on fungus gnats, to no avail. But I have it a good drench in the Gnatrol which finally seems to be doing something. I still see and squash one or two gnats every few days, but the problem seems to be a lot more under control. My hope is that eventually I'll go weeks without seeing one gnat, and then I'll finally be able to properly repot and fertilize this plant and hopefully see it grow again. It's honestly hard to say if it's too late for this little guy, but fingers crossed. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Strawberry Plants Growing Well, but I Lose the First Strawberry

It's only been a week, and look how nicely the Aerogarden strawberry plants are doing!

Now this is more like it. Every single crown has sprouted leaves, and I can see even see flower buds on a couple of them. 

Shockingly, all the plants after one week are about the same size as the first plant, which has had a month and a half to grow. What a difference delivering plants while they're still alive makes.

Speaking of the first plant, sadly, I saw that the little strawberry I straw growing has shriveled up and turned black, almost looking like a blackberry at this point :(

I went to Google to try to find out what might have caused this. What makes this tough to Google is that there is actually such a thing as real black strawberries, but this isn't one of them.

It's hard to tell what condition caused this (if anyone knows for sure, please leave a comment!). I have a few guesses. It could be that because I didn't even notice the flower until after it had turned into a strawberry, the stunted growth may be a result of a lack of pollination. Or, it could be that because this little strawberry was near the base of the plant and thus continually covered by water every hour, it might have developed rot or a fungus.

In any case, there are plenty more flowers on the other plants, so I won't mourn this little guy too much. Let's hope that future strawberries are big, plump, and red the way they should be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

...and growing, and growing

I usually don't update the blog this quickly, but Aerogarden plants also usually don't grow this quickly. Check out the progress in just one day.

What a difference not cooking in a UPS warehouse makes! The only dilemma now is going to be to try to figure out which plants to throw out to thin it down to six plants. Thank you (finally) Aerogrow, for coming through.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Aerogarden Strawberries Finally Growing

Just two days after planting the latest batch of Aerogarden Strawberry Crowns, here's what I'm seeing:

You might recall from past posts that the original set of crowns was 90% dead and the replacement set they sent was 100% dead. If I wasn't so persistent in wanting to document this process in blog form, Aerogarden Strawberries would probably be dead to me too. 

The one difference is that this time, the plants were delivered to me via UPS Ground, so they were shipped direct to my door in under 4 days. Previously, the plants were shipped via UPS SurePost, which meant they were dispatched from AeroGarden, allowed to sit in what was probably a hot warehouse for days, and then delivered to my door over a week later. 

I hope someone from AeroGrow is reading this, because it's going to save you a heck of a lot of money in the future. Here are some suggestions I have for you:
  1. Do the math. In this case, you had to spend money to mail me my original set of crowns via UPS SmartPost, a second set of crowns via UPS SmartPost, AND a third set of crowns via UPS Ground. You also had to pay your customer service people for answering my calls and responding to my emails. And worst of all, you made me wait over a month to finally get strawberry plants growing. You can save us all (most of all yourself) time and money by baking in UPS Ground shipment into sales of the Strawberry Crowns--heaven knows if people are paying $20 for $0.50 of plants, you can afford it.
  2. Listen to your customers instead of just spewing out a prepared text--while you might have clueless customers here and there, I'll hazard a guess that most of your customers are pretty savvy. So if they tell you that they're picking up the strawberry crowns and they're disintegrating into dust, don't insult their intelligence by saying the plants are "dormant".
  3. Change the photo on your Web site or at least put a big disclaimer to set expectations that customers are not going to receive six beautiful green plants in the mail.
Griping aside, I do appreciate that the customer service reps did send me replacements quickly with no questions asked. 

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, I can start raving. This grow bowl system is really, really cool. I was a little skeptical at first, but that first strawberry plant is doing pretty well, and I have good feelings about the others. The bowl itself is shallow, so instead of roots running deep, evidently they'll run vertically. I was a little afraid of root rot at first, but because the grow bowl fills and drains so quickly, it keeps the growth medium moist but not soaking. 

And so, it's a month later than I hoped it'd be, but it seems that we're on our way to having fresh, home-grown strawberries! 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Aerogarden Strawberry Crowns - Try Try Again

So, here's the latest on my saga with Aerogarden strawberries.

If you recall, I planted my strawberries into my Aerogarden ULTRA as soon as I got them on 9/9. One plant grew nicely but the others were just dried out twigs (in fact, some of them disintegrated into dust when I snapped them in half). The customer service rep insisted that they were in a "dormant" state and they'd germinate eventually, sort of implying that I should be a little more patient and give it more time. But that said, she was kind enough to go ahead and send me a replacement set of crowns, no questions asked.

The replacements arrived on 9/20. The new batch seemed as dead as the other ones, but I threw caution to the wind and planted them. Both packages had been sent UPS Surepost, meaning they were kept in warehouse for multiple days before getting sent to the US Postal Service for delivery.

On 10/6 (more than two weeks later), I still saw no growth at all in any except for the first plant. I wrote to Aerogarden again explaining very clearly that 16 days had passed and there were no signs of growth at all. I got this curious reply:

I was ready to get upset, but no sooner did I get the email above that I got an order confirmation in the mail saying the rep had placed a replacement order of new crowns for me. And happily, this time instead of going UPS Not-So-Surepost, they were going UPS Ground.

Sure enough, I received the order in four days--on 10/10/14. I felt vindicated in writing to Aerogarden at 16 days because after exactly 21 days (okay, 20 days and 15 hours), the new set of plants clearly never grew.

Now ironically, the one plant that grew from the original batch is actually doing really well. In fact, when I looked more carefully, I can already see a little strawberry forming! Odd because I didn't even notice there was a flower there.

But of the replacement set of crowns, not one grew. The only thing close to green is a layer of green algae that's forming on a couple of the plants (at least I hope it's algae).

I opened the new box as soon as I got it. Once again, the crowns didn't look quite like the picture on the Web site, but came wrapped in a plastic bag. 

But right away I felt a difference. While the other two orders were dusty and dried out, feeling the roots through the plastic bag, they were soft and pliable. 

Similarly, when I took the crowns out, unlike the other two shipments which crumbled at the touch, I was able to separate nine distinct roots. 

Looking close-up, you can see that all of them have a little green in them and they look much healthier than the dried-out disintegrated twigs I showed you last time.  

I carefully planted all of them. For some reason it seemed like there was less Coco Chunk than before (perhaps they shrunk as they soaked up water) but thankfully my original Grow Bowl kit had come with more than enough to replenish it.

I also did a complete Rinse and Refill using my new siphon, and refilled the unit with fresh water and nutrients.

So here's what the strawberry garden looks like now. Let's see in a few days if the third time is a charm.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Alternative to Aerogarden's Rinse and Refill Siphon

It's now been over a week since I planted the "new" plants from Aerogarden, and I don't see one speck of green. I fear that yet again, what Aerogrow calls "dormant" plants is really just a bunch of dried out twigs with no life in them. I'll give it a few more days before calling them, but they really, really need to work on their quality control. In the meantime, the one plant that is growing is still doing well.

I've had to refill the water tank a few times. It's a little tricky, because you definitely don't want to fill it when the pump is running, but even when the pump is off you need to be careful to keep slightly below the fill line, or you'll get water all over (and who knows, this might short out the ULTRA yet again).

One phenomenon you notice very quickly when growing Aerogarden Strawberries (or anything in the Grow Bowl) is that the more the bowl fills up and drains with water the gunkier the water gets. Here's a picture of how brown the water is after 2-3 weeks of filling and draining.

Even in a regular Aerogarden, the water can get really gunky and disgusting. And it's a pain to drain the water, especially when the plants are huge and the roots are heavy. As I've shown you in the past, you need to carry the whole thing to the sink, gently lift the plants off without breaking the roots, drain the water, refill it, and set everything back.

Aerogarden does suggest you siphon it and drain it (and conveniently, they sell a product called the "Rinse and Refill Siphon". While I'm usually a big fan of Aerogarden's products (I bought everything from an Oxygen Booster Kit to a Herb 'n Serve Salad Dressing Maker to a Master Chef Herb Guide to ice trays), the Amazon reviews for the Rinse and Refill Siphon are not very promising. They use words like cheap, flimsy, air leaks, and others.

One reviewer very helpfully posted a link for alternatives to Rinse and Refill Siphon in the Automotive department. Admittedly, there's a part of me that feels more comfortable ordering Aerogarden-branded products (which is why I'm their perfect customer--for years I didn't think twice about ordering a light bulb for $12 until I realized there were alternatives).

In this case, I took the reviewer's advice and ended up buying this TRDP14 Siphon Manual Hand Liquid Transfer Pump based on its great reviews.

For $4 shipped, it was a lot more economical than the $12.95 Aerogrow wanted. I tried it out and it worked like a charm.

First, you need to get a bucket, or in my case a gallon milk container. Next, you close the screw valve on top of squeeze bulb. Put the end of the long straight white tube into the place where you fill the Aerogarden with water.

Next, give a few squeezes until the liquid is flowing. Assuming you're holding the pump at the right angle, gravity will take over and the water will flow from the Aerogarden through the flexible tube into your bucket.

Slurp up as much of the water until it's empty. At any point you want to stop (say, if your bucket is getting full), you can open the twist valve to break the siphon, stopping the flow.

Use care removing the siphon device, giving time for the remaining liquid to drain out of both tubes. Last thing you want is for brown gunky water to get all over the place.

Finally, you can dump your old water into the sink or toilet and refill your Aerogarden with fresh water and nutrients.

I'd highly, highly suggest getting this product instead of the one that Aerogrow sells, as it's cheaper, easier to handle. I was debating whether to get the smaller red one of the bigger blue one, but for purposes of the Aerogarden the red one is perfect.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) - Best Air Cleaning Plant #5

One thing you may have noticed is that our list of air cleaning houseplants is that none of them so far have been flowering plants. Sure, plants like the Mass Cane are capable to producing flowers, but as houseplants they rarely ever do.

Which brings us to #5 on the list-gerbera daisies.

Gerbera daisies are a bit of a misnomer, as they're not really daisies, but in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). You can tell by the sturdy stems, thick leaves, and the shapes of the petals on the flowers. Gerbera daisies are native to southern Africa, and come in all kinds of beautiful colors. Its natural states are yellow, red, and orange, but growers have managed to produce pink, white, salmon, cream, and crimson flowers. In some cases, the same flower can even have petals of different colors. It's a perennial plant, meaning that if you grow it outdoors (in a frost-free climate) it'll wilt and look dead over the winter but pop back up in the spring.

The gerbera daisy (also called "gerber daisies" or "African daisies")--and in fact the entire genus--was named in 1737 by Dutchman Jan Fredric Gronovius in honor of an 18th century German medical doctor, naturalist, and botanist named Traugott Gerber. Gerber worked as a medical doctor in Russia and also took medical expeditions around the work searching for medicinal plants and herbs. Funny thing is, no one knows exactly why Gronovius decided to name the genus after him, but with over 30 species in the wild and over 100 species in total, the name stuck.

For years I worked at 1-800-Flowers, and that's where I first found out that Gerbera daisies are a popular cut flower (in fact, they're the fifth most popular cut flower behind roses, carnations, mums, and tulips). Here's one of their more popular arrangements:

As pretty as these flowers are, I always felt it kind of a waste that someone would pay upwards of $70 for two dozen of these, and they'd just die after a few weeks.

The cool thing about Gerberas, though, i that they make a good houseplant as well. In other words, not only will the flowers last for weeks, if the plant is well cared for, it'll bloom indoors in the autumn and winter.

I was excited to order my first-ever Gerbera daisy houseplant, again from 1-800-Flowers.

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It's a bit pricier, but I've never, ever had a problem with plants from 1-800-Flowers, and buying from cheap places like K-mart always end up costing me more (saving $5 on a bag of potting soil has ended up costing me $50 and counting in fungus gnat remediation).

This is what I got in the mail.

Yes, a little disappointing that there are only two flowers and not nearly as many leaves as in the photo, but hopefully with some TLC more flowers and leaves will be growing. The plant is in excellent health, with no dead leaves, vibrant flowers, strong stems, and NO FUNGUS GNATS.

I also absolutely love the ladybug planter, which comes with a plastic insert for you to transplant the plant in from the small container it comes in.

Overall, it's not a bad little gift to give to someone. As for me, I'm going to transplant it in a bigger pot hoping for a lot of flowers and growth. 

Like the English Ivy, the gerbera daisy gets one of the highest ratings for removal of chemical vapors from Dr. Wolverton. 

Some care tips: 

1) Temperature: Keep between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and 45-50 degrees at night. 

2) Sunlight: It likes full sunlight to semi-sun, but you need to protect it from the sun at midday to prevent the blooms from aging too quickly.

3) Care and feeding: Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. Feed regularly during the growing season. Keep on a cool windowsill in the autumn and winter months. 

Update: A few weeks after repotting the daisy, the two flowers started drooping. Thanks to sites like the National Gardening Association's, I realized I was not alone and that this was a fairly common problem. Here are some tips I found:

1) Keeping the leaves healthy is more important than the flowers--if the flowers wilt, just cut them off. As long as you continue to keep the leaves fed, sturdy, and green, new flowers that are more acclimated to your environment will take their place. 

2) Temperature is important. Gerbera daisies like it cooler than most plants, so find that perfect spot in the house where they get good sunlight in the morning but are otherwise shady and cool.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Replacement Aerogarden Strawberries Arrive

Well, as I prognosticated, only one of the clumps of twigs and dirt that Aerogrow sent over managed to grow. "Dormant State" indeed! Although I must say, the one plant that DID grow is growing very well.

To the Aerogrow lady's credit, she did send over a new set of strawberry crowns. I got the package in the mail about two weeks after she said she'd send it.

I like the fact that it says "LIVE PLANTS! PLEASE OPEN IMMEDIATELY", but I still question the decision of Aerogarden to send it via UPS SmartPost, a service that saves money by deliberately holding packages in a warehouse for days before sending it to you.

The first thing I did was to remove the strawberry crowns that did not grow. They were a muddy mess with absolutely no indication that they'd even tried to sprout. 

Taking the new "crowns" out of the box, they didn't look much better than the ones I was sent before.

Although this time, instead of crumbling when I touched them and seeing powdery white mold on it, I did see small indications of green. Still not quite what they picture on their Web site, but if it grows I won't mind.  

And so, I followed the instructions again and dug into the Coco Chunk to plant the strawberry plants. They say that 10 are supposed to come in a package, but after separating them as best as I could, I found maybe three decent sized plants, and the rest were twigs. We'll see how many grow this time.

Again, the proper way to grow them is to plant them root side down into the growing medium and let the Aerogarden water it every hour by filling the tank and draining it.

And so now the waiting game starts. Let's see if this new batch grows any better than the old one.