Category Archives: Houseplants

Houseplant of the Week: The Moth Orchid

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Moth orchid banner

Often new plant enthusiasts shy away from orchids, thinking that the plant’s exotic looks mean they are “fussy” and require more gardening expertise than a newbie might have. It’s not true. Here’s what you need to remember about growing orchids: they’re not difficult, just different.

It’s estimated there’s more than 30,000 species of orchids and probably more than 200,000 hybrids. And, yes, some are challenging, even for professional gardeners.

But ones like Phalaenopsis, also known as the moth orchid and available at Warner’s Nursery, really aren’t that hard to cultivate. You just have to be aware of what they need: specialized potting media, careful watering, a way to make sure the roots get air, and bright – but not direct – sunlight.

An air plant in a pot

Most orchids are native to the tropics, where they are essentially air plants, attaching themselves to the bark of trees. Their thick, white roots are able to absorb moisture and nutrients, and because they grow high in the trees, they are used to good air circulation and plenty of light.

Your job is to re-create these conditions in your home and make it possible for this air plant to thrive in a pot. Fortunately it is relatively easy to do that.

Caring for your moth orchid

  • Planting Material: As an epiphyte (fancy word for air plant), moth orchids can’t be grown in soil; their roots would suffocate. Instead pot them with material that’s similar to or comes from a tree, such as bark chips. Having perlite, moss, or coconut husk chips mixed in helps with water retention. You can also buy potting mix that is made special for orchids.
  • Light: Orchids like light, but keep them out of direct sunlight as their leaves will scorch. East- and west-facing windows are good places for them.
  • Watering: There are some orchids that store water, but the moth orchid isn’t one of them, meaning they tend to have a low tolerance for drought. You’ll want to water them about every 7 to 10 days. If the planting material is almost dry and the pot feels light, you should water. Make sure that water doesn’t rest around the stem as that will cause new leaves to rot.
  • Fertilizer: Orchids do love to be fed regularly, but like “light meals.” So take your typical houseplant fertilizer, weaken it by diluting it to about 1/4 strength and feed that to your plant every 7 days. Among orchid growers, this is called the “water weakly, weekly” method.

Houseplant of the Week: Rhaphidophora tetrasperma

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Rhaphidophora tetrasperma

Often called the mini Monstera because of its resemblance to the Monstera deliciosa, the Rhaphidophora tetrasperma is having its moment in the sun as the “it” plant trending on social media with its peek-a-boo leaves.

Well, maybe not fully in the sun; just like Monstera and Philodendron, this plant doesn’t like direct sunlight. It flourishes when it has dappled, filtered light. An east-facing room where it can catch the morning rays and be in shade the rest of the day would be perfect. 

Rhaphidophora likes to be moist but not waterlogged, which – as in so many cases of overwatering – will cause root rot. On the other hand, don’t wait so long to water that it dries out. Check that the top part of the plant’s soil has dried out; water it until you see water draining from the bottom and empty its tray to prevent the plant from standing in water.

One special item you might want to get for your Rhaphidophora is a sturdy climbing support as it does like to climb.

Houseplant of the Week: Maidenhair Ferns

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maidenhair fern

Maidenhair Ferns are one of the many subspecies of the genus Adiantum, which means “unwetted,” a reference to the plant’s delicate, fan-like leaves, which naturally repel water.

It’s kind of ironic, however, because if Maidenhair Ferns love anything, it’s their moisture.  They thrive when they have moist (but not soggy) soil, moist air and a high level of humidity in their space.

So how to keep a Maidenhair Fern happy in high and dry northern Arizona? 

  • First of all, keep it in a spot with indirect sunlight. Naturally, these plants are found in forests, where they are covered by a canopy of trees. Direct sunlight will fry those delicate leaves. 
  • Also keep it away from heating or cooling vents in your house, which could dry it out.
  • Check on it every day or every other day to make sure the soil is moist. You do not want it to dry out. In fact, you might want to incorporate something like moss into the soil to help it retain water.
  • If daily misting is something you can’t do, consider setting your plant on a water-filled pebble tray.

You’ll be rewarded with a plant that is beautiful in all stages with its grey-green leaves providing a graceful addition to your home.

Some other things to keep in mind is that this is a slow-growing plant; most don’t reach full maturity until two or three years. Also, don’t panic when your plant’s fronds die. New ones will emerge to take their place – it’s a normal part of the process.

Houseplant of the Week: Paperwhites

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So let’s change the terminology here, shall we? It’s not forcing a Paperwhite bulb, it’s coaxing it. Specifically encouraging it to bloom out of season.

Most spring flowering bulbs need 12 to 15 weeks at temperatures between 41 and 48 degrees in order to produce a good root system essential to “force” them to flower. But if you are looking to have lovely blooms this winter, we suggest Paperwhites.

Narcissus tazetta – which in addition to Paperwhites also includes the Soleil d’Or and Chinese Sacred Lily  – are among the most popular forcing flowers that do not require the 12-week rooting period. They are easy to start and can give wonderfully scented, white trumpeted flowers until late March.

Paperwhites are most often (and most easily) potted in shallow containers of gravel or decorative stones. Place bulbs on a layer of gravel and carefully fill in enough gravel to hold bulbs but not cover them, or place them onto the stones, pushing them down just far enough so the bulbs are supported in an upright position. Put several of them together, not worrying about crowding. A crowded grouping will be the most attractive.

Add water to the container. It should just reach the base of the bulbs, but not touch the bulbs. If the water covers too much of the bulb, it will rot. Now put them in a cool dark place for one to two weeks. When the roots have begun to take hold, and the plant has sprung from the bulb, take the pot out into a brightly lit room. In about a month, your Paper Whites will be in bloom.

Tip: Plant them in succession so you have pots of Paper Whites blooming all winter! After blooming, cut the flower and stem off. Do not cut back the leaves. Put them in a sunny window and transplant them outdoors when the weather permits. It will take 2 to 3 years before they will bloom again. 

Pothos

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It’s hard not to love the Pothos. Their easy-going nature makes them not only a great plant for your home, but a good gift for your friends or loved ones who might not think they have green thumbs.

These versatile houseplants look great in a pot or hanging in a container (they look particularly fetching in macramé hangers, which have made a comeback.) They grow well in bright light or low light, meaning they will flourish anywhere in your home.

Caring for Your Pothos – One of their very few demands is not being overwatered, so keep the top few inches of soil dry and test the soil prior to watering. You should feed them on a regular schedule from April or May through August. Just follow the instructions on the label of your favorite plant food. (We recommend VF11 organic liquid fertilizer once a month.)

Pothos love a good misting and it’s also important to dust them when needed so they photosynthesize efficiently. This also gives you a chance to inspect your plant for any pesky pests or bugs.

Houseplant of the Week: Poinsettias

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Tower of poinsettia plants

Here’s a fun fact about this week’s featured houseplant: Although they are only sold about 6 weeks each year, poinsettias are the most popular potted plant in the United States, with about 80 million sold annually.

And let’s dispel some of the bad PR this bringer of holiday tidings has had in the past: (1) poinsettias are easy to care for during their peak season and (2) no, they won’t poison your pets.

And while poinsettias are most visually dazzling during the winter, it’s possible to keep them as a houseplant all year long. It does require a bit of maintenance to get them to re-bloom, however.

Caring for Your Poinsettia

Water: Water only when the top inch of soil has dried out. A good rule of thumb is to carefully lift up the plant; if it feels light, it’s time to water. If the plant is wrapped in decorative foil, take it off before watering to ensure proper drainage. Don’t allow the poinsettia to sit in water and make sure not to get water on the leaves.

Light: Your poinsettia will enjoy a bright, sunny window, but away from direct sunlight.

Temperature: 60 to 70 degrees during the day and 55 to 60 degrees at night will extend the bloom time and keep your poinsettia happy! Avoid temperature fluctuations and warm or cold drafts.

After the Holidays

Poinsettias will thrive as a year-round houseplant and, with care, can even be coaxed into blooming again next year. It’s not hard, but it does require diligence.

Fertilize your poinsettia once per month prior to and during blooming, but do not after blooming.  In September, you’ll need to restrict the amount of light your poinsettia gets to only about 10 hours. It will need to be in total darkness the rest of that time, so try placing a bucket over it or putting it in a closet. Keep the plant in a cool place with a temperature below 75 degrees.

Once the leaves show some red, you can return your poinsettia to it’s bright, sunny place and resume care as described above.

Houseplant of the Week: Peperomia

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Looking for an easy indoor plant that doesn’t take up too much room and comes in an almost endless array of colors and varieties? Then you might want to pick a peck of peperomia.

Two potted peperomia plantsThere’s well over a thousand varieties of these plants, which most commonly come with green, purple, red, silver and variegated leaves. The most popular include the Peperomia caperata with its heart-shaped leaves and waffle-like texture; the P. argyreia, whose silver stripes against dark green leaves make it look like a watermelon skin; and the Peperomia obtusifolia, also known as the “baby rubber plant.”

Peperomia tolerate low light relatively well (although you might want more light for varieties that are more succulent). They can even grow under florescent lights, which makes them popular for offices. Water sparingly; many types of peperomia can hold water in their leaves, so it’s not a death sentence if you go on vacation or forget to water them once in a while.

Houseplant of the Week: Norfolk Pines

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Houseplant of the Week Norfolk Pine

Enjoy the Christmas spirit all year round with our Houseplant of the Week, the Norfolk Pine.

But we’ll let you in on a little secret: While they are called “pines” and even look a little like an evergreen tree, they really aren’t pines at all. In fact, in terms of care, they are more like a gardenia or orchard plant than a pine tree.

What does this mean – well, first off, your Norfolk Pine isn’t happy with the cold. So don’t try to plant them outside after the holidays are over. They need to be indoors, preferably in a south-facing window with a lot of direct sunlight. (They’ll tolerate bright indirect light too.)

Originally from Norfolk Island off of Australia, it is used to a mild subtropical climate with a lot of rain, so your plant wants its humidity. A pebble tray with water, a room humidifier or a weekly misting will make it a happy plant.

Water your Norfolk Pine when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. You can fertilize it in the spring and summer with a water soluble fertilizer, but you do not need to feed it in the fall or winter.

Houseplant of the Week: Anthurium

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Picture of anthurium

Waxy and dramatic, the show-stopping heart-shaped flowers of anthurium (also known as laceleaf, flamingo flower or painter’s palette) are a wonderful addition to your home.

These plants are often used as centerpieces on tables or dining rooms. However, your anthurium might do really well in your kitchen or bathroom, as they love humidity.

Anthurium thrive in bright, indirect light. You can have them in low-lit areas and the foliage will do well, but they won’t flower. They are not particularly fussy about feeding (general fertilizer every few months is a good idea), and they like their soil moist but not wet. Only water when the top inch has dried out. Anthuriums also love having peat moss or coco-coir in their pots.

Like many of the plants featured in this column, anthurium is another great air purifier for your home.

Houseplant of the Week: Christmas Cactus

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The Christmas Cactus, part of the genus Schlumbergera (which we think is just a fun word to say), is a staple of the holidays with its festive color popping during the season. The plant comes in pink, white, a rusty orange/red, yellow and purple.

There’s only a few species within this group of colorful cacti, and they all  are native to the coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil. Fun fact: while the Christmas Cactus blooms around the winter holidays in the U.S., it is known as the “May Flower” in Brazil, because that’s when it blossoms in the southern hemisphere.

Christmas Cacti are different from other succulents because they are looking for humidity as opposed to their desert counterparts.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Schlumbergera comes from Frederick Schlumberg, an enthusiast for the plant, who had a collection of them in his home in France in the 1800s.

Caring for Your Christmas Cactus

Water: While it is blooming, keep it evenly moist and mist frequently (remember, this plant loves humidity). You might also want to place a tray of pebbles filled with water beneath your plant container to introduce more humidity. That being said, you never want to water it so heavily that its roots become water logged.

Food: Once buds appear, give it some high-potassium fertilizer every couple of weeks.

Light: While the Christmas Cactus will tolerate lower light, it really prefers bright sunshine and even a little direct sunlight (but not too much; you don’t want to burn the leaves). This will encourage it to bloom.

Temperature: About 65 degrees is perfect for your Christmas Cactus.

Encouraging More Blooms

Your Christmas Cactus might have several blooming cycles during the year, but will usually stop flowering by fall. At that point, you should encourage its brief dormancy cycle by reducing water, light and temperature. About six to eight weeks before you want to see it bloom again, make sure the plant gets 12 to 14 hours of darkness in temperatures around 55 degrees.

Once you start seeing buds again on the plant start reintroducing it into warmer temperatures and watering it more frequently. You’ll see blooms again in about six weeks.