Sunday, April 6, 2014

Overprotecting? My Spider Plant

I am not going to remind you just how brutal a winter we have just come through. Mainly because, one, I don't want to think about it, and two, there are some parts of the country still experiencing it as I type. Suffice it to say, it was BAD!
I have had conversations with people debating whether we tend to "overprotect" our plants during cold spells. Yes, I know there are some that just won't survive certain temperatures. I can fully attest to that, in the case of trying to grow Theobroma or cocoa. The temperatures drop below 40 degrees and it is toast. I have tried three times now. Needless to say, I have given up trying to grow my own chocolate.
However, there are plants that will take an absolute beating, yet will come back. The case of the daylily comes to mind. It will completely die back, but poke it's head out in the spring and flower like crazy. I am sure you can think of a hundred plants that fall into this category.
Today, I want to discuss a plant that is VERY familiar to anybody that has ever grown houseplants. Everything you read says it likes warm temperatures. Yet, I am here today to prove it is one tough son of a gun!!
Chlorophytum comosum, often called the spider plant or airplane plant. One of the most common and easiest to grow of all of the houseplants. You probably have one hanging in your den, office or kitchen right now. 

Native to South Africa. Spider plants are fast growers. They can quickly get to be 2 to 2½ feet wide and 2 to 3 feet long, especially when grown in a hanging basket. They prefer bright, indirect light, which makes them ideal as a houseplant. They can handle some direct light, but anything after say noon, will probably scorch the leaves. 
Like most plants, a well draining soil is what it prefers. Any good potting soil is sufficient. 
Allow the plant to dry out slightly between waterings, it is susceptible to root rot. You can feed your plant during periods of active growth. A general purpose fertilizer, either slow release or water soluble is good. 
Spider plants form thick, fleshy tuberous roots. You will want to divide and repot the plants before the roots expand enough to break the container. I have actually seen this happen. They can be repotted at any time of the year. 
Also known as airplane plants, because they produce little "plantlets" that seem to take off from the mother plant. 

The great thing about these plantlets is, once they have developed roots of their own, you can push them into some moist soil and you have a new plant. Again, this can be done pretty much anytime of the year.
There are even different degrees of color, depending on the cultivar.
'Vittatum' has green leaves with a broad central white stripe. This is the most common one and is what the very first picture above is. 
 'Reverse Variegatum'. This one has a green center with white edges, as seen here:

There are all kinds of degrees of variegation, some of the white stripes are wider and paler. Some of the green is more intense. Some have multiple lines. You get the idea.

There is even an all green plant, for those of you that dislike variegation:

Did you know spider plants flower?:

Plant diseases are very rarely a problem. Too much or too little water is the main complaint. Whiteflies, spider mites, scales and aphids are the most common insect pest problems, all of which can be taken care of with insecticidal soap or a good spray of direct water.
If all of this color, flowers and ease of care were not enough for you. What if I told you that spider plants are actually GOOD for you? The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), which tested the abilities of houseplants to remove formaldehyde from the air, found in preliminary tests that spider plants were the champs, removing 95 percent of the toxic substance from a sealed Plexiglas chamber in 24 hours. It can also battle benzene, carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries.
Not too bad for something that just hangs around the house, huh?
Oh, I guess I should tell you now, WHY, I titled this article what I did. We tend to read books, articles and listen to our grandparents about the proper ways to care for our houseplants. They need to stay warm in the winter. Keep them away from drafty windows, they will get cold and die. The conventional consensus about spider plants reads like this: Temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees during the day and 50 to 55 degrees at night are ideal. They will tolerate temperatures down to 35 degrees. Well, I keep my all my plants outside during the 3 "warmer" seasons of the year. When it gets cold, they go into my greenhouse. I forgot one of my spider plants this year. Not sure how, I just missed it. Here in North Charleston, SC we bottomed out at 17 degrees on the coldest night. Had two ice storms. This plant that I missed was just hanging out, literally, in all of this cold, nasty weather. Look what I found the other day:

Do me a favor, don't tell it that it was not suppose to still be alive, it hasn't read this article!
As always, if you have any questions about this article, any of my other articles, or have a gardening question that you need answered, drop me a line:
Happy Growing!

Saturday, March 8, 2014


There are times that you see something that just makes you go, what the heck is that?!
And WHY would somebody make that?
I have seen some odd color combination's of cats, heads that are too big for their bodies, too many toes, etc. Don't get me wrong, I think they are adorable, but most of the time, it was kind of a "not on purpose" type of thing.
I have just acquired a couple of plants that might just fall into this category. Common name is bush ivy, the botanical name is Fatshedera lizei.
If you want to pronounce it: 
fats-HED-dur-uh LYE-zee-eye
This plant was not made in nature, it is considered an inter-generic cross. Kind of like crossing a cat with a mouse and getting a camouse.
It was made in 1910 at the Lizé Frères Nursery at Nantes, France and has never been repeated. The name is a combination of the two plants that produced it. Fatsia japonica and Hedera helix. A Fatsia and an Ivy plant. These types of hybrids are very rare and almost never occur in nature.

As you can see, it looks very much like the Ivy parent. But it tends to grow more shrubby like its other parent, the Fatsia.
It grows in Zones 8 through 11. As the leaves mature, they can handle down to 15 degrees. Newer growth will be hurt at 20. It will stay an evergreen at these temperatures, however below 10 degrees it wll get killed to the ground, but will recover in the spring.
Fatshedera prefer some dabbled morning sun, but can be grown in shade. This aspect makes them useful as a houseplant.
They grow in a wide variety of soils, as long as it has good drainage. Regular waterings are best, but it is also fairly drought tolerant.
If you want to grow one of these, but can't find one for yourself, find a friend that has one. Take cuttings in summer, they root pretty easily.
They are easily grown in containers. For those of you that like this kind of look, it can be successfully used as an espalier if given support. It does nicely trained on a trellis or can be tied to a post or other vertical support. If planted against a wall it will try to grow up, often sending shoots out away from the wall, creating a plant that is too heavy and it will fall over. It did not inherit the anchor roots from its Ivy parent. For this reason it is not advisable to plant this if you do not plan on providing the occasional required pruning and fastening to the support. New growth should be occasionally pinched to promote branching since stems rarely branch on their own.
There are no disease problems noted, it will occasionally be bothered by scale or aphids. Insecticidal soaps or systemic insecticides will take care of them.
One other thing it picked up from its Fatsia parent was the ability to flower. In the summer, it will produce an umbrella like flower stalk, with white, sterile flowers.

I mention the sterile flower part because there are folks out there that are always worried about invasive type of plants. This thing is definitely not from around here, and there are no worries about it taking over, unless everybody reads this, falls in love with the plant and plants some!!
There are even some different cultivars out there, whch include 'Pia', with wavy-edged leaves; 'Variegata', with narrow white leaf margins; and 'Anna Mikkels', with yellow-variegated leaves.

The two plants I just received were actually rescues. They were at a local nursery and were destined for the trash. They have some cold damage, but who among us doesn't have some cold damage themselves after this long, cold nasty winter?

I hope you enjoyed meeting my Frankenplant and decide to get one yourself and give it a home.
As always, if you have any questions about this article, any of my other articles or even a garden question that I could write about at a later time, don't hesitate to drop me an e-mail,
Happy Growing!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cold Spin

The first half of 2014 may go down in the history books as one of the worst winters in years. Everybody is tired of all of the cold and snow and any of the other four letter words you can associate with winter. All my gardening friends are really getting the fever to go out and do something, anything, in their yards. As depressing as this has all been, I wanted to try and put some good spin to the benefits of this nasty weather. I also wanted to discuss what you should and should not do to your cold damaged plants.
Let's start with the temperatures and chill hours. These are calculated by how long the temperature is below 45 and above 32. There are many plants that need lots of these type of hours to have a good fruit set. Apples, Peaches and Plums are some of the ones that most people think of off the top of their head. Did you know that brambles (Blackberries, Boysenberries and Raspberries) need chill hours also?

If you want to learn more about Brambles and growing them, check out the article I wrote a few years ago HERE
 So with all of the cool and cold temperatures we have had, it ought to be a bumper crop of a lot of fruits. There are some fruiting plants that don't like the cold however, and because of when they flower and start to set fruit are probably a total loss this year. Here in the Charleston, SC area, the Loquats are pretty much toast, but this is suppose to be an article to spin the cold good, so we won't dwell on them.
Moving on to other aspects of what the cold has done.
For those of you that hate to prune or just can't seem to thin out the number of plants that you have, this has been your winter!
I hate pruning. I do it if I absolutely have to, but I find it hard to cut off parts of a plant that are still growing. This winter has fixed that problem!!
With that being said, I don't recommend doing any pruning until it starts to get warm and STAYS warm. The reason I say this is because you don't know how much to cut yet. You need to cut off all of the dead wood, but you don't want to cut off too much either. The number one question I have been getting is, "Should I cut back my dead looking Citrus tree"?
NO!! Not yet.

If you grow any citrus trees, they probably look like the one above. Don't panic! They are still alive. If you want to test and see, scrape the bark in a small area and look for green. I know this is hard to see, but kind of like this:

If you look at almost the very center of the picture, you will see a small scrape and green. This one is going to be fine.
If you do find brown, go down about 6 inches and do it again. Keep going until you find green. If you get to the bottom and still nothing, all hope may not be lost. The rootstock may come back and give you something new. It may not be very tasty, but there would still be a plant there. Incidentally, this will work for pretty much any plant.
As for the thinning of your plant collection. I admit it, I am a plant whore. I have many, many plants. Probably more than I really need, though, when is too many reached? This weather has definitely killed off a bunch of my "borderline" for this area plants. Do I restock or do I just go with what I have, time will tell. In the meantime, I will be able to pay more attention to the ones that survived.
Okay, that gives you a little hope from the cold.
What about the snow and ice?
The ice will actually protect the plants from the wicked low temperatures. Down in Florida, they use ice as insulation from the extreme low temperatures.

How it works is best described here from the Florida Extension Services:
"Cold protection with sprinklers: The principle behind the use of sprinklers to protect trees from freezing is that heat is released when water changes from liquid to ice, a phenomenon known as heat of fusion. When water is freezing, its temperature will be near 32 degrees F; therefore, the heat liberated as the water freezes maintains the temperature near 32 degrees F. This temperature, known as the triple point, is in equilibrium between vapor, liquid and ice. If sufficient water is applied, and all leaves and branches are covered with ice, protection can be expected. If only partial coverage of leaves or branches is accomplished, damage can occur, and the damage will be more severe than if water had not been applied. Do not stop sprinklers until the temperature is 32 degrees F or above and water is dripping from all parts of the plants."
Wow, that was intense! I hope you got the gist of that?!
I don't recommend this to homeowners, I don't even do this. There are many factors that can go wrong. It can break branches. You end up using LOTS of water and flooding your yard, the neighbors and half of the neighborhood. Like the extension said, if the coverage is not complete, damage can still occur. So for us hobby growers, it is just not feasible. How does this tie in to a good spin? Mother Nature is providing the ice, so maybe it will prevent further damage.
The prediction of snow usually has a lot of people freeking out. Yes, driving is treacherous, schools and such close, but for us gardeners, it can be a good thing. Have you ever heard of Poor Man's Fertilizer?

That is how I try to think of snow. Rain and lightning contain even more nitrogen than snow does. But snow has the fertilizer reputation because it feeds nitrogen to the soil slowly over time at a rate it can be absorbed. As every school kid knows, the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen gas (N2), which is a compound made up of two bonded nitrogen atoms. It’s easy to assume the N2 is what comes down to the ground in precipitation, but that’s not quite right. Nitrogen exists in numerous forms, and N2 isn’t directly usable by plants. It needs to be first converted, or “fixed” into mineralized nitrogen forms. These forms are suspended nitrogen compounds such as nitrogen oxides, nitric acid, and especially ammoniacal nitrogen. These compounds find their way into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. It is estimated that since the industrial revolution, the nitrogen content of precipitation has increased dramatically. Who says pollution is all bad?
I hope I haven't gotten too technical and this was easy enough to understand?
But, as you can see, cold, snow, ice and all that other crappy weather associated with winter may not necessarily be all bad. There might even be a little good coming from it.
I still think winter bites, but at least I can take some pleasure in knowing that, in the long run, my garden and yard will be better off for it.
As always, if you have any questions about this article, or anything else gardening related, don't hesitate to ask. I can be reached through this blog OR
Happy Growing!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chill Out!

Chill Out!
How many times have you heard that expression in your life?!
It was coined about 1980 or so and means to relax, calm down or go easy. The dictionary doesn't give the meaning of the phrase the way I am using it today. I am going to tie it into horticulture.
Chill, relates to cold. In the world of plants, cold can be a death nail. To some plants and trees however, it is essential for propagation and the future. I am, of course, referring to Chill Hours or Chill Units. These are an approximation of how many hours of weather between 32 degrees and 45 degrees a plant requires to properly go dormant so it can wake up and blossom and/or set fruit. If you really want to get fancy and be ready for an appearance on Jeopardy, this is called vernalization (which comes from the Latin vernus, meaning Spring). As a side note, surprisingly, there is no additional benefit from lower than 32 degree temperatures.
Deciduous fruit trees, bulbs and some other plants that go dormant during the Winter need a minimum number of these hours. However, the problem is, it is very difficult to measure chilling hours precisely. If you are looking at a catalog of fruit trees, the listed chilling requirements are, as I said above, approximations or estimates. Of course, every location has a different amount of Chill Hours. Here in Charleston, SC our average is 400-600 hours. Central Florida receives between 100 and 300 hours. Up in New Jersey they have about 800-1000 chill hours per year. So what does this all mean to the average home fruit grower? PLENTY!

Let's use Apples as an example. They have a pretty wide range of chill hours, (200-1,800) but many of them need about 800 hours. I should also add here, nursery catalogs often will contradict each other. One may say that a certain tree needs 700 hours and another says the same plant needs 900 hours. In such cases, it is better to use the higher number to reduce the potential of not meeting chill requirements. So, using the information above, let's say I wanted to grow Winesap Apples. They have a Chilling Hours requirement of 800-900 hours. In New Jersey, they would do great. Here in Charleston and down in Florida, not so much.  Why you ask?
If the flower buds do not receive sufficient chilling temperatures during Winter to completely release dormancy, trees may develop problems such as delayed bloom, delayed leafing out, reduced fruit set, or no fruit set and reduced fruit quality. When I tell people this, they then usually ask: Well, if I plant a low chill apple, say Anna (200-300)in South Carolina won't that work? The best answer I can give them is "maybe". Remember I said this is all averages. If a tree only needs 300 hours and it is growing in a 400-600 hour area, what happens when the 300 hours are reached and there is a warm spell. The tree breaks dormancy thinking it is Spring and begins to flower. Then old man Winter returns with a icy cold snap, killing the flower buds...result, no fruit. Now, if it stays relatively warm, the tree will be fine and you will get fruit. As a general rule of thumb, when looking at a range of chill hours, stay within about 100 hours either side of your area.
Confused yet?
The sad part is, this kind of information is rarely printed on plant tags, so home gardeners are left in the dark about the proper fruit tree selection. This information also goes for Plums, Cherries, Peaches, Apricots and many other fruit trees and plants.
I am not going to knock any of the big box stores, but before you buy any of their "great" Spring fruiting trees, make sure that you do some research and see if it will do okay where you are. I have a story, somewhat related, about Blueberries. There was a store in Charleston selling Northern Highbush Blueberries. As you might guess, NORTHern Highbush will not do well here in the SOUTH!
This type of thing is, hopefully, where my blog and I can help. If you are unsure of something, please feel free to ask. My e-mail is
I hope I have cleared this often confusing topic up a little. If you have any questions at all, please use the e-mail address above. When it comes to growing fruit, one of the biggest things you need to remember is...Just Chill Out!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Word For The Day Was......

Over the past few months I have been working several events with my fellow Master Gardeners. At many of them we were selling books and plants to raise money for the association. At each event the word of the day was....Farfugium!
Pronounced just like it looks.....Far-Fu-Gee-Um
No, this is not some kind of foreign curse word or a kind of exotic food dish.
Botanically it is known as Farfugium japonicum. It also goes by the common names of "Leopard Plant", "Green Leopard Plant",and "Ligularia". The running joke among ourselves was "It looks like Dollar Weed on STEROIDS"!! See for yourself:

Here in the South, we tend to be jealous of our northern counterparts that can grow Hostas. Between hot humid Summers and our mild Winters, hostas in the South are sad at best and downright miserable in general.
This could very well be our answer.
They will survive in Zones 7-10 and may go as far north as Zone 6 if grown in a protected area. Temperatures below 30 may kill them back, they are quick to recover once the Spring time temperatures return. Places farther north can very easily grow these in a container and protect them inside during the Winter.
Containers should be placed in part shade to almost full shade locations with protection from strong winds. 
Which corresponds with their outside growing preferences. This plant prefers partial shade. Protect from midday sun or it will tend to wilt every day in Summer.
Being that this is a shade plant, you can probably guess that it likes a moist, woodsy, type of environment. You would be correct! It does not tolerate wet, soggy situations however. Drainage is a must. If need be it can be grown in a drier area as long as there is a good layer of mulch.

The leaves can be anywhere from 4-10 inches across. They come in rounded or kidney shaped with wavy or toothed margins. Average mature height and width is around 2 feet. They spread by shallow rhizomes.
There are a number of different cultivars available and not just green either!
The cultivar 'Argenteum' (a.k.a. 'Albovariegatum') has leaves mottled with irregular creamy white margins.

Then there is the "True Leopard Plant"  'Aureomaculata', has random yellow spots all over the leaves.

'Crispula' or 'Crispata', sometimes called "Parsley Ligularia", has ruffled leaves.

Now I know that there are not near as many varieties, colors, styles and such as the Hoastas, but these are pretty cool huh?
Well there is one more interesting aspect to these shade lovers....They Flower!!
 Daisy-like, yellow flowers that are 1-2 inches across,  bloom on top of thick, mostly leafless, stalks that rise  up to two and a half feet above the foliage in late Summer to Fall. 

When it comes to problems, there are very few. Deer do not seem to bother them, however,  Slugs and Snails can significantly damage the foliage. A little beer or slug bait can handle this. Occasionally you will get some Whitefly or Mealybugs, again some insecticidal soap will deal with these. There are no serious disease problems.
 Propagation is usually done by dividing the clumps in the Spring or by planting the seed.
In the Spring you can also give them a shot of your favorite slow release fertilizer, then forget about feeding them until next year.
So, how is that for a relatively carefree plant?
I urge you try growing some Farfugium, especially if you have a tough, shaded area that just does not seem hospitable to anything else.
We had a heck of a time keeping these plants in stock at all the events. Despite numerous deliveries, we just could not get enough of the Word For The Day......FARFUGIUM!!
Happy Growing!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Here is a GREAT thing going on in the Charleston, SC area February 22, 2014. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Fruitmania Garden School 2/22/14 on Square Market Happy Growing! Darren

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Behind the Bushes

When you are out plant shopping at one of the big box stores or even your local favorite nursery, have you ever stopped to think about how much work went into that plant? Why it might cost as much as it does? Or why the plant next to it, even though it is the same size, costs way more?
I was at one of those big box stores not too long ago and heard somebody asking some of those very questions. I also heard, "it is just a plant, WHY is it so expensive?!"

Working in the nursery trade now for almost 10 years, I have learned a LOT!
So, I thought today I would help explain, Why that plant is so expensive and what all goes into one.
I will start at the very beginning with propagation.
At the nursery I work at, this is the time of year that we send a bunch of the girls out into the field to take cuttings. As you can imagine, this is very time consuming. You don't want to take too many from one individual plant and ruin the look of that particular plant. So each plant might have two or three cuttings taken from it. They will probably take anywhere from 5000 cuttings on up, depending on what type of plant we need more of. They then have to sit there and prep the cutting. Length, amount of leaves still on it, angle of cut on the bottom, etc. If you have ever done any propagating, you know the routine. Now multiply that by thousands. They then dip it in a rooting hormone and stick it in pots filled with the soil medium.
Sounds pretty labor intensive doesn't it?
That cutting that they just stuck?
It will be ready to sell in the size pot shown above, in about 2 years. That is an average, there are some species of plants that root and grow quicker. Something like, Ligustrum will root and grow MUCH quicker then say, a Camellia.
In that two years a few other things happen that will add to the cost.
Things such as fertilizer. It will get fed 2 or 3 times, depending on the species.
It will be repotted a couple of times. It starts out in a rooting tray. Then gets put into a one gallon pot. Finally a three gallon pot. There is also the labor involved in repotting it. Every time a plant gets touched there is labor involved. Even at minimum wage, that can get expensive. You don't work for free, right?

Speaking of labor, there is the process of spacing them out. When the plants are little they can be kept "can tight". The edges of the pots put up right next to each other. As the plants get bigger they need to be spread out so they have room to grow, allow air space to help prevent disease, and allow the water to get down into them better. I mentioned that these plants will be at the nursery for a couple of years, in that time frame Winter will rear its ugly head. While the plants that we grow are adapted to our Zone 8 growing area, that is when they are in the ground. They are a little more cold sensitive up in the air, as it where, in those pots. So, those plants need to be moved to a cold frame. More labor used. They will still get chilled, but not frozen should we have a bad Winter. My boss was telling me he learned a valuable lesson one year. An entire bed of Society Garlic froze to death because they were not protected. We are talking thousands of plants here. That's a bunch of money lost. I know what you are asking, why not keep them in the cold frame all the time?
Answer: The cold frame is covered with plastic. In the Winter, while dormant, they do not need as much sun and can be covered this way. During growing season, they need sun. So, labor can be used to move the plants, OR, labor can be used to put up and take down the plastic covering each year. Are you starting to get the idea that labor is your biggest cost?
Okay, then there is the cost of the potting soil each time it is transplanted. Plus the cost of the pot. On average, the price of a one gallon pot is 15 cents. The price goes up to 45 cents for a three gallon. The pots are petroleum based and the price fluctuates with the cost of oil, we know what that means right now.
I have not even mentioned the cost of electricity to run the pumps to water these plants, every day.

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Cooperative Extension

When you are out choosing your plants and you have the choice between one that is beautiful, full of nice green leaves, no holes in the leaves and no weeds in the pot, compared to a half eaten, weedy specimen, which one will you pick?
The way the nursery sends those beautiful plants is with the use of insecticides and herbicides. Believe me when I tell you those things are NOT CHEAP! For a relatively inexpensive herbicide, to cover about an acre of plants, it can easily run you $300+. Then there is the labor to apply said products. There is that L word again.
The cost to weed these plants by hand is even more outrageous.
Oh yea, don't forget the cost of putting the plants on a truck to ship them. The cost of the driver, fuel, truck maintenance, etc.

Photo courtesy of

I bet by now you are seeing the pattern here.
If all of this where not enough and you have ever taken any kind of business class, you will understand the next phase, Supply and Demand. The recent economic downturn scared a lot of growers. They were afraid to plant any new liners for fear the plants would just sit there and not get bought. This has caused a gap in supply. Remember the two year time frame? If you don't plant anything or very little, the plants can't suddenly grow and be the right size to be sold. There were a few growers that rolled the dice and planted, but there are certain plants that just can't be found right now. Want a couple of examples?
Viburnum suspensum

Three gallon Viburnum suspensum are extremely hard to come by and when you do, they are pricey. Supply and demand.
There are also larger things that are getting tough to find.
Fifteen and thirty gallon Podocarpus macrophyllus.

Everybody kept buying the smaller ones and there were very few left to pot up to a larger size. Again, supply and demand. If you have the larger sizes you can get more money for them.
Again, I mention the two year growing time. Tree growers are in an even longer window and there will be shortages of trees in the very near future. They have to think 5-10 years out.
I am not trying to make you feel sorry for the nurseries, they will come through this. What I want you to take from this article is this; the next time you pick up a plant to purchase, ponder how many people have touched it in it's life. Think about all the time and money spent on it, then consider, is $6.95 or whatever the price, REALLY such a bad deal?
And remember, There is always more, Behind the Bushes.
Happy Growing!