Category Archives: Houseplants

Philodendron ‘Birkin’

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Leaves of Philodendron Birkin plant

This is our little fashionista plant, a manmade version from two philodendron cultivars that produced an offspring that is as stylish as it is easy to care for. I mean, take a look at that pinstripe variegation! Look at those lush leaves. The name ‘Birkin’ might be a reference to the very expensive Hermes handbag.

That is just a rumor. This plant is relatively new and its origins are somewhat mysteries. The best history we could find was on houseplantcentral.com:

Did you know? For a bit of (somewhat complicated) background info, Philodendron ‘Rojo Congo’, which gave birth to Philodendron ‘Birkin’, is also a man-made cultivar. It was created in Florida and its parents were a variety of Philodendron tatei (male) and a Philodendron ‘Imperial Red’ (female). If you’re still following, it gets more convoluted: Philodendron ‘Imperial Red’, in turn, was patented in Belgium in 1982 after a greenish-maroon spontaneous mutation with unknown parents was discovered in a nursery in Florida. Quite a history!

– Houseplant Central blog post

Like most Philodendrons, the ‘Birkin’ prefers bright, indirect light (too much direct sunlight will burn the leaves). The light is really important because of those leaves, which might lose those beautiful cream and yellow pinstripes.

Birkins like humidity, so place the plant on a tray of wet pebbles or mist periodically. Keep its variegated leaves clean using a damp cloth (this will help foster photosynthesis).

Allow the first couple of inches of soil to dry out before watering.

Philodendrons like ‘Birkin’ are aroids. They appreciate an airy soil type that retains some water but lets the excess drain easily to prevent root rot.

Houseplant of the Week: Chinese Money Plant

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Last week, we told you about the “Money Tree,” pachira aquatica. That plant got its name from a popular story about a destitute man praying for money, who discovered the plant and became rich selling it. We’re staying with the money theme this week, too. Meet the beautiful and unique-looking Chinese Money Plant (pilea peperomioides), which has a backstory rich not in folklore but the sweep of world history.

The plant’s most common nickname comes from its circular leaves that look like coins. Other nicknames include the pancake plant, UFO plant or just Pilea, a shortening of its scientific name. But for many people, this is the Missionary Plant.

Scottish botanist George Forrest was the first westerner to collect Pilea peperomioides in China’s Yunnan Province. Its worldwide propagation is credited to a Norwegian missionary. Agnar Espegren was fleeing the ravages of the Chinese Civil War in 1944 when he was delayed in Yunnan, waiting for a plane to take him and his family to the safety of India. While in Yunnan, he picked up either a full plant or cuttings, most likely at a local market.

The plant survived the trip to India and then another voyage to Norway as the family returned home. Espegren began giving cuttings away and the plant flourished throughout Scandinavia. A Norwegian au pair brought the plant to England as a gift to the British child she was taking care of, and the Chinese Money Plant began to take off in Western Europe. (As you can probably guess, this plant is very easy to propagate, leading to two of its other nicknames, the Sharing Plant and the Pass It On Plant).

Caring for Your Chinese Money Plant

  • This plant thrives in medium to bright indirect light. Avoid direct light, which would damage those lovely leaves. Meanwhile, low light will make the plant “leggy” with fewer offshoots. Rotate regularly to keep symmetrical.
  • Use a rich, well draining soil. Amend with perlite to increase drainage if necessary.
  • Allow the first two to three inches of this plant to dry out between waterings.
  • Average household temps and humidity should be fine for your plant, but keep it away from heating vents.
  • Feed your plant monthly during spring and summer.
  • If you’d like to share this “pass it on plant,” wait until the offshoots are at least a couple of inches tall before cutting. Use a clean knife or shears to cut the offshoot from the main root an inch or two below the soil. Immediately put the cutting in some moist soil in a separate container. Keep the soil moist (but not waterlogged) until the new plant has established a root system in the new pot.

 

Houseplant of the Week: The Money Tree

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Money Tree

Pachira aquatica, a tropical wetland plant from Central and South America, got its common name “the Money Tree” from a bit of mythology about its origins: a poor man prayed for money and discovered this “odd” plant. After he took it home, he became rich selling the plants he grew from its seeds. Variations of this theme said he was able to make money because the plant wasn’t just one tree – it was five.

Pachira aquatica, the "money tree"And that’s typically what you’ll see in nurseries – a plant that looks like its trunk is braided; it’s actually the five or sometimes even seven plants that are woven together to make one Money Tree.

This is a statement plant, bold and eye-catching that deserves a dedicated spot in your home. In fact, you aren’t going to want to move your Money Tree around a lot, as it will start to drop its leaves. If that happens however, please don’t fret; it will recover.

Here are a few more tips on keeping your Money Tree happy:

  • Go with medium to bright indirect light.
  • Water when this plant is 50-70% dry. They do not have a lot of root mass, so they prefer a dryer pot.
  • Be sure to turn your Money Tree each time you water to allow for even growth and leaf development. 
  • It likes a good misting now and again (remember, it’s a native of the tropics)
  • Feed once a month during spring and summer while new leaves are being produced.
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Houseplant of the Week: Ficus Audrey

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Banner featuring image of the Ficus Audrey

We understand why you might be a little nervous about adopting a plant named “Audrey,” particularly if you are a fan of Little Shop of Horrors. But we promise our Ficus Benghalensis is not a bloodthirsty alien looking to take over the world.

Although now that we think about it…

In the wilds of India and Pakistan, where they are known as Banyan Trees, the Ficus Audrey can soar to 100 feet tall and grow several acres wide. They have roots that easily overtake other roots, which allows them to form a forest’s worth of canopy with just a single tree. In fact, the Thimmamma Marrimanu or Thimmamma’s Banyon Tree located in Anantapur, India, is thought to have the world’s largest canopy from a single tree, covering almost 5 acres.

So maybe not world domination, but forest domination – sure! 

Your indoor version of Audrey won’t be this expansive, but it still might grow as tall as 10 feet! In appearance, it’s very similar to the Fiddle Leaf Fig, although it’s actually easier to grow.

Here are a few tips on raising your Ficus Audrey:

  • This ficus thrives in indirect bright light. No direct sun or low light.
  • They don’t like drafts or low temperatures.
  • Make sure the top 2 to 3 inches of soil are dry before you water.

Houseplant of the Week: Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen)

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Not only are aglaonema plants beautiful, there are very easy to grow, even if you are a novice gardener.

This tropical foliage plant, also known as the Chinese evergreen,  is one of the most durable houseplants you can have. As long as they are warm enough, they will tolerate poor light, dry air and drought.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make your home hospitable to this lovely plant. If those leaves could talk, they’d tell you that they prefer bright, indirect light, some nice cozy temperatures and a bit of humidity (they are originally from the tropics of Asia, after all).

Caring for Your Aglaonema

  • Light: Your Chinese evergreen does well in anything from low to bright, indirect light. The pink-veined variety is one of the few pink plants that can tolerate low light.
  • Water: Let your plant dry out about 50% before watering again as too much liquid can lead to root rot. And keep this rule of thumb in mind: the less light your plant has, the less water it will need.
  • Temperature: They do not like the cold. Keep temperatures in the 70- to 85-degree level, and make sure wherever they are the temperatures don’t drop by more than 10 degrees at night.
  • Fertilizer: Feed older Chinese evergreens a couple of times a year with water-soluble houseplant fertilizer.
  • Pests: Chinese evergreens are susceptible to spider mites, scale, mealybugs and aphids. Check the leaves routinely for signs of pests.

Houseplant of the Week: Aralia

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Sometimes you look at two plants and you are amazed that they come from the same family. Take the Aralia, which can range from indoor plants that are about 20 inches high to trees that soar more than 60 feet in the air.

Even among the species most commonly indoors, there are several distinctive features. The Fabian Aralia has large, scalloped, dark green leaves. As it grows it eventually develops a very woody trunk. Then there’s the Ming Aralia that has a totally different look with feathery fronds. Other variations have leaves that are serrated or variegated. 

Despite the different looks of all these plants, they tend to have similar needs in terms of water, light and general care.

Aralias do best in bright indirect light, but will also tolerate low to medium light. They will grow faster – and much lusher – in brighter conditions. 

Make sure your Aralia is planted in high quality potting soil with enough drainage. 

Water when the top half of the soil is dry and keep watering until liquid flows through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. Discard any water that accumulates in the saucer.

Finally, your Aralias enjoy their fertilizer but are modest eaters. You only need to feed them about twice a year during the spring and summer months.

Houseplant of the Week: Blue Star Fern

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We continue our tour of exotic looking ferns (we recently wrote about Staghorn Ferns) with the Blue Star Fern, a plant once again featuring unique looking fronds, but an easy-going manner.

In fact, Blue Stars will do well in topiaries without much growing material and in pots, as long as there’s good drainage.

It’s wavy fronds grow from rhizomes and can range in color from silver to blue-grey to green. Unlike most ferns, Blue Stars are more tolerant of drier climates and can take a little more sun than the typical fern plant. Park them where they can enjoy bright, but indirect light and they should be happy.

If your fern is going to be in a pot, make sure the planting material drains well. We’ve gotten mixed reports about using something like orchid mix, but a houseplant specific soil with a little perlite to increase drainage seems to work well. Also, avoid terra cotta pots as they tend to dry out too fast.

Water your plant generously once you notice the pot drying out, letting water runs out of drainage holes at the bottom. You might want to do this in your sink, because you want it to fully drain before putting it back on a saucer. In fact, don’t let your plant sit in a saucer full of water, as it could lead to root rot.

Blue stars don’t require much food – the nutrients in your soil will hold it for a few months, then only feed a small amount during the growing season and none at all in the winter months.

Houseplant of the Week: Staghorn Ferns

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Staghorn ferns are different from most other common houseplants – even other ferns.

The plants have not just one, but two types of leaves, one of which resembles antlers when it matures (in fact, other common names for this plant are elk horn or antelope ear ferns). These are the fertile leaves that produce the spores that allow the plant to reproduce.

The other leaves, which are flat and broad, are sterile. Sometimes they will look brown, but don’t remove them thinking they are dead leaves; they are essential for getting the plant nutrients and making it stable. 

Although you might buy your young staghorn fern in a pot, they are epiphytes, meaning that they do not grow in soil but instead use their roots to anchor themselves to host trees. Most staghorn ferns are grown on a plank of wood (and even hung from walls as a bit of plant art), or you can grow them in a basket with moss, peat or other organic material as the growing medium.

They enjoy bright, indirect light and absorb water through their fronds as well as their roots, so they love humid places or a good misting. A good rule of thumb is to water your plant once a week in dry and hot weather and then reduce to every two or three weeks as temperatures cool.

 

Houseplant of the Week: Prayer Plant

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In the evening, if you look at the beautiful Prayer Plant, you’ll get a clue as to how this hardy native of Central and South America came by its name. Each night the plant’s leaves close together, resembling hands folded in prayer.

Prayer plants are relatively easy to grow, but have a few specific items you want to look out for – including susceptibility to some common houseplant pests.

Caring for Your Prayer Plant

  • Prayer Plants will tolerate low light conditions, but if you really want to see it thrive, give it bright, indirect light.
  • This is a plant of the Central and South American tropics, which means it likes its humidity. Keep its soil moist but not soggy and give it a spritz with a mister a couple of times a week.
  • It’s also a bit of a foodie, so satisfy its hunger with an all-purpose fertilizer every couple of weeks during its main growing time from spring through fall.
  • In winter, you can stop fertilizing and let the soil dry out a bit as it will be dormant, but it still needs some misting to keep it happy. In fact, you might want to do it every day given how dry our heated homes can get.
  • Prayer plants are easy to propagate through division or stem clippings during the spring. If part of your plant breaks off, dip it in some rooting hormone and place in distilled water. Change the water daily and when the roots are about an inch long, you can replant it.
  • Unfortunately, Prayer Plants are prone to things like spider mites, mealybugs and aphids, so it’s a good idea to check on your houseplant for pests during watering and feeding intervals.

Houseplant of the Week: Alocasias

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Alocasias are considered some of the most striking houseplants available because of their eye-catching foliage. Native to the subtropics, they have close to 80 varieties with a wide range of looks. 

Some are known for their gigantic leaves like the “elephant ear” varieties. Others feature highly visible veins, typically in a contrasting colors.

Alocasias need bright, indirect light. In nature, these plants thrive beneath tree canopies and direct sun will lead to the leaves getting burned. They are also used to high humidity, so don’t place them in a place where they will dry out easily, such as an air conditioner vent or a heater.

Allow the top 2 to 3 inches of the plant to dry between watering to ensure that the plant isn’t sitting in soil that is too wet.