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.