I bought this Hibiscus rosea plant back in May at the Parkdale Horticultural Society Annual Plant Sale. At the time the plant was a wee cutting but just today it opened its first bloom with two buds on the way. I generally dislike the over-bearing tackiness and waxy leaves of tropical hibiscus plants, reserving my interest for ‘Red Burgundy’ okra, a relation that produces delicious fruit and beautiful, yellow flowers with crimson centers. The delicacy of the Hibiscus rosea plant and its’ pretty variegated foliage (white and green with pink splashes) is what drew me in, and, well, the frantic nature of the plant sale is very conducive to out-of-character impulse buys.
The tag states that the plant has variegated foliage with pink flowers but I would describe the flower more closely as shades of red. It has a dark red spot in the center, gradating from light pink to pale red along the edges. Don’t be fooled by the photo, my plant is only 12″tall with 3″ wide flowers. Isn’t it cute? And with its red, white, and green coloration it makes a slightly-less-than-typical change from the usual holiday season plant fare.
I closed up shop on my rooftop garden this weekend. The terra cotta containers are all brought indoors and stored away for the winter. I’ll admit that while I’m sad to see it end for another season, I have begun to realize that I really need the freed-up time and energy to focus on indoor plants. Winter’s reduced light intensity and the dry air created by electric baseboard heating make keeping plants with a delicate constitution a battle requiring strategy and commitment. While this is going to seem a little insane and labor-intensive, a big part of my strategy for combating the intensely dry air involves 1. placement and 2. showering.
Here’s how I do it:
Placement: Organize and locate your plants according to their required conditions. We keep a humidifier in our bedroom for our own sake but it just so happens to serve as a great environment for humidity-loving plants. Plants that require warm, moist conditions are kept in that room, while dry, desert plants are kept elsewhere. The bathroom is an obvious choice for humidity-loving plants however my bathroom is windowless. Because all the humidity and care in the world will not allow you to forgo rule #1: plants need light…. for photosynthesis and all that jive.
Showering: Unfortunately I have too many plants to keep everything that needs humidity in the bedroom. Despite the warm, moist air it is a bedroom, not a jungle, and a small one no-less. Additionally, some plants just can’t seem to get enough humidity in which case they are also subjected to the shower treatment. Once a month, sometimes more, I schlep the begonias, epiphytic cacti, and citrus trees into the bathroom where I place them all into the bathtub and run the shower at room-temperature for several minutes until each plant is thoroughly soaked. I then shake them gently to remove excess water and schlep them back to their permanent locations. You can choose to follow along with rainy days as a way to mimic nature and keep a cycle, however baseboard heating can be so drying the typical rules (watering only during sunny days, and avoiding night-time showers) can be thrown out the window. I often take this opportunity to inspect each plant for diseases or pests and check the soil to see if it needs topping up.
Some plants can not make it through the winter without grow lights to help them along during the dark days of winter, but I am convinced that regularly showering the citrus trees is the main reason they have made it alive through the winter months in time to go outside for the summer.
Unbelievable! My stevia plant is flowering!
I brought my large stevia plant indoors about a month ago. We have had a very cold, wet Fall in Toronto which does not bode well with the delicate nature of stevia. I have learned over the years that stevia is easy-to-grow but particular. Hailing from a warm Latin American climate, stevia likes it warm and sunny, but not TOO sunny. Outdoors I keep it just underneath the gazebo tent where it gets some shelter from my rooftop’s mega-sun exposure. Indoors I keep it in a window with southern exposure. Another key is to watch the soil moisture. Stevia does not like to dry out entirely but prefers even moisture. However it does not like too much moisture, most especially cold moisture (aka ‘wet feet’). I grow mine in a terra cotta pot that allows for better air circulation around the roots and I wrap the pot with a T-shirt during the winter months to ensure that it stays warm and cozy.
Stevia grows quite tall and large so I prune it back regularly throughout the growing season to encourage a bushy growth habit. I bundle the pruned stems together with a piece of hemp twine and hang to dry in a dry place out of direct sun. Stevia leaves dry quite quickly and are brittle and easy to crumble directly into a cup of tea. Stevia is unbelievably sweet so only a teeny tiny pinch is necessary. Of course you can also use a sliver from a fresh leaf but they are even sweeter. I grind the dried leaves in a coffee grinder set aside especially for grinding herbs (I grind a lot of herbs!) and package in tiny Ziploc baggies with harvest dates labeled. I guarantee that you’ll get more dried stevia from one plant in one growing season than you’ll be able to use. I still have some from several years ago kicking in the back of my cupboard!
[Note: There is more on growing and using stevia as an herbal tea sweetner on page 144 of You Grow Girl.]
For those who are pondering using stevia as an herbal sweetener but have heard some negative press about the plant, I leave you with a few articles to read and consider.
I did a bit of houseplant repotting yesterday afternoon, a chore that is sadly neglected at this time of year in favour of outdoor gardening tasks. But I have a shaky reputation to uphold and had reached the point where I no longer wanted people to come by for a visit should they happen to see the state of my succulents.
I bought this Boweia aka False Sea Onion last Oct while giving a gardening workshop at Ladyfest Guelph. Wherever I go, I always manage to find a plant to purchase. Thankfully I am not allowed to bring plants back over the border when I travel into the U.S or it would be mayhem.
The plant’s ‘greenery’ died back over the winter as predicted and came back to life this spring.
Look at it now! I am often attracted to plants that are like strange alien lifeforms but this succulent is one of the more absurd in my collection.
Boweia aka False Sea Onion. Neither related to the onion or the sea. The greenery dies back to the ‘bulb’ and the plant enters a dormant state.
My 12 year old cat Voltron is a determined plant nibbler – in fact most cats have a natural curiosity about their surroundings and tend to enjoy a little taste of fresh greenery now and again.
Unfortunately many common houseplants are toxic so it is worth familiarizing yourself with both your plants and your cat’s tenacity. Many houseplants can cause some form of digestive upset or nausea, and some such as dieffenbachia (aka dumb cane) and philodendron can even be fatal. I’ve included a short list of dangerous common houseplants to avoid [see below and sidebar for further resources]. A little bit of plant material, even the inert stuff can make kitty throw up a little. However, symptoms such as excess vomiting, diarrhea, and a lack of appetite can suggest poisoning and should be taken seriously.
Before rushing to throw much-loved houseplants into the compost heap, try out a few tricks that have worked to create harmony among the species in my own household. Keep in mind that every cat is different and some are just a whole lot more persistent than others! Consider:
Make a cat-curbing spray using a “tea” of seeped cayenne pepper flakes and spray on your plants’ leaves or soil surface. NEVER spray your cat directly with this kind of tea. Cats hate strong smells especially citrus. Place citrus peels on the soil surface.
Some cats are agile climbers and won’t be deterred by high bookshelves or furniture obstacles. Use hanging baskets to keep enticing grass-like plants such as spider plants out of reach. In addition placing plants grown just for kitty in accessible spots will train him to distinguish between his plants and your plants.
Plants for Kitty
Rather than going to war, grow a plant or two that kitty can safely chomp. “Cat grasses” such as wheat, rye, and oats are easy to grow in a shallow container. Alternatively try grasses with a bit of flash such as blue fescue or lemongrass. If neither you nor kitty jive with grasses try herbs such as valerian, catnip, lesser calamint, or Persian catnip. Don’t forget that chemical pesticides and fertilizers can be toxic too – grow organic!
- Corn Plant
- Easter & Tiger Lily
- Dieffenbachia (aka Dumb Cane)
- Forced Bulbs – Daffodil, tulip, amaryllis