How to Find That Special Plant on the Internet

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The question I’m most often asked on this blog is “What garden center in my area carries…” followed by the name of a plant. Yes, my blog is read all over the world (literally), yet people seem to assume that I know what’s available in the garden center 6 blocks from their home. 

I can rarely answer that kind of question. First, I don’t know your local garden center(s). And even if I did, very few list the plants they offer. While some local garden centers do have information pages with plant descriptions, these usually cover include plants they’ve carried in the past, likely when they set up the web site years ago, and is rarely an up-to-date list of what they carry. In fact, they often no longer carry that plant or instead, only have it in stock occasionally. 

If you want to know if a given garden center has a plant in stock, phone them! Photo: http://www.businessphonescalgary.ca

If you’re looking for a local source of a plant, might I suggest you phone the most likely garden centers and nurseries? (I find many don’t respond rapidly to emails and a live phone call is more likely to elicit a response.) Phone on a week day during store hours, because the clerk who answers is not likely to know the answer off the top of their head and will need to forward your call to the store’s buyer or to the department head. Things will go faster if that person is in the store!

Using the Internet to Search

Sure you can buy like plants by mail: I do it all the time! Photo: yard.ericteske.com

Amazingly to me, as I have been buying plants by catalog nearly all my life, many gardeners seem unaware that you can order plants by mail. Yes, not just seeds, but live plants. Of all kinds. Even trees. 

As a result, the best way of finding a plant you really want but can’t find in your neck of the woods is to do an Internet search. 

Unlike garden centers that depend on people who shop in person and therefore have little motivation to maintain an up-to-date listing of what they sell, companies selling plants, seeds, bulbs, cuttings, etc. by mail usually do keep a current list of their plants on-line. After all, that’s how they make their money. Sure, you might find a mention “out of stock,” but then you can always send an email (the best way to reach mail-order nurseries) to ask when the plant will be available again.

Often as not, when someone writes to me claiming to have looked unsuccessfully for a given plant, I find an Internet source for them within a few minutes. Clearly, they really don’t know how to search correctly. I’m far from an expert on the Internet, but I apparently do know a few things about finding plants on-line. Here are some of my suggestions: 

Basic Searching

If you’ve never tried an Internet search before, here are the basics.

1. Start by opening a search engine. GoogleYahoo! and Bing are the best-known ones. (I’ll use Google as an example here.)

2. Enter one or more key words into the search bar that appears.

3. Now, click on the search button or hit Return.

4. A whole list of web pages will appear that include the word(s) you’re looking for.

5. Among the sometimes millions of results (I’m not exaggerating!) may well be what you’re looking for: a company selling the plant you want.

Specifically Looking for Plants

Once you know how to do a basic search, let’s try looking for an on-line nursery that will deliver the plant to your door in one form or another (live plant, seed, bulb or cutting). Here are some tips:

Enter the plant’s name.

1. Enter the plant’s name and cultivar name in the search bar, making sure you spell it correctly. For example, Monarda didyma ‘Jacob Cline’. You needn’t worry about capitalizing correctly or the single quotes: search engines don’t take those into account. Hit Return or click on the Search button and you’ll probably immediately find several sources of the plant or at least a description. However, you may well find you have thousands of results. That’s a bit much. If so, you’ll have to refine your search. 

This search brought up 16,300 results, including 3 mail order nurseries. Success right from the get go… but it’s not always quite that easy!

2. To make sure the search gives you a more specific result, use the botanical name rather than the common name. For example, “grass” might give a whole range of results, from lawn services to marijuana suppliers, but Pennisetum alopecuroides will give exactly the ornamental grass you’re looking for.

3. Or type the species name or cultivar name in quotation marks (“    ”). Quotation marks tell the search engine the words inside must be searched as a unit. Better yet, type both the species and the cultivar name in quotation marks, but separately, as in “Echinacea purpurea” “White Swan”. This will help ensure only that specific plant will appear. 

4. Such a search will likely give a mix of informational pages and nurseries. You want to buy the plant, so need nurseries. For that reason, try adding the word nursery to your search, as in “Echinacea purpurea” “White Swan” nursery and click Return. If you’re looking for seeds, you could try “seed” or for bulbs, “bulb”. Another good one is “catalog”.

By adding “nursery” to the search, all the sites that came up were nurseries.

5. Great! As in the image above, you probably now have dozens of nurseries that sell the plant, perhaps one you know and trust right from the start. Go ahead and order your plant!

Borders

American readers will find the widest range of nurseries, simply because there are more of them in your country. As a Canadian, finding plants I can buy is a bit more complicated. I can order seed from the US (and indeed, don’t hesitate to do so), but not plants, at least not without the proper permits. So, I prefer to order plants from my own country. 

You’ll find that most search engines will offer you nurseries in your country without your having to ask. You see, they know where you live, know your search habits and even know what language you usually use. So, in the first few pages that show up, there’ll probably quite a few misses, but it’s likely you’ll find a few sites that show exactly what you’re looking for: the plant of your choice offered for mail-order sale in your country. 

By adding the word Canada to the search, Google brought up only nurseries selling the plant in Canada. Admittedly, there are two wholesale nurseries on the list that don’t sell by mail, but still, this did give several sources of the plant.

If no nursery in your country appears, try adding your country name (Canada, New Zealand, etc.) or your country Internet code (ca, nz, etc.): that will sometimes point the search engine to a more appropriate response.

Of course, the more obscure a plant is, the less likely it is to be available from a nursery you can order from. Remember that the botanical name is much more likely to lead to the plant you want than the common name (the exception being perhaps vegetables), so if you can’t find a plant under the common name you know (which may actually be quite local and not common at all), try that Latin name you hate trying to pronounce. 

Try Again Later

Companies selling seeds by mail tend to be on-line all year, but many nurseries selling live plant materials are seasonal. Their on-line catalog may be pulled during the off-season (late fall through late winter in the case of many nurseries), then an updated one appears in spring. So, if you can’t find a plant, wait a few months and try again. 

Also, new plants to the market can sometimes take a few years to get on-line. So if you’ve heard of a brand new plant, but simply can’t find it at any mail-order source that will ship to where you live, try again in a year or two and it will likely show up.

Other Ways of Searching

PlantScout on the Dave’s Garden website offers another way of searching for plants.

If nothing above works and you desperately want a favorite plant, try posting your request on a forum, like one related to shrubs if you’re seeking a shrub, or to heirloom vegetables if you’re looking for an heirloom vegetable. There are literally hundreds of these forums: your local botanical garden likely has one if not several. Or try sites like PlantScoutPlantCatching or plantswap.org. To be honest, I’ve actually never tried searching in any of these ways: I always seem to find the plants I want through a traditional Internet search, as above.


Yes, finding a very specific plant can be complicated, but don’t give up before you even try. Most of the time, after a bit of searching, you will find exactly what you’re looking for! 

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Worm Composting at the Office: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!

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About 25 years ago, I was working in an office outside my home. There was no compost bin and yet, plenty of things that could be composted. So, I discreetly started a worm composting bin under my desk. This actually worked wonderfully! 

I used red wriggler worms (Eisenia fetida), more heat resistant than garden worms, and made my bin from a used Rubbermaid container. I fed the earthworms scraps of food from my lunch (even orange peels, which they’re said not to like, but my worms loved them!), coffee grounds from the office coffee machine, crabapples from the tree outside and yellowed leaves from the numerous office plants that I took care of. Even old potting soil. I used shredded paper as bedding for the worms: easy enough to do, as there was an office shredder. 

Every few months, I’d come in on a weekend when no one was around and to a rough triage, separating the worms from the compost as best I could, then adding new bedding to the bin, bringing the compost home to my garden. I can tell you: plants love worm compost! It’s just the best!

A Secret Not Well Enough Kept

Worm composting bin hiding in plain sight. Photo: http://www.lowes.ca

Of course, I kept this activity secret. I’m pretty sure if everybody knew, somebody would be sure to complain. And the bin was easy enough to hide: it looked just like the kind of storage container you might have kept files in. I’m sure others in the building had similar storage boxes, although probably wormless.

This went on for about two years. I’m sure I could have kept it up much longer, but… 

I then managed to negotiate a deal whereby I would be able to work from home. The office was jammed and having one employee less taking up space was seen as a blessing. And I’ve always done best working from home anyway: you get so much more work done! 

There was just one problem.

You see, the only other person in the world who knew about my worm compost bin was my wife. I’d talked to her briefly about it, but let’s just say she isn’t much into creepy crawlies and showed little enthusiasm for the project. In fact, I figured she’d forgotten all about it.

My wife was less than overjoyed at the idea of my bringing worms home with me. Ill.: drawception.com & http://www.schoolrecycling.net, montage: laidbackgardener.com

However, when I told her I would be working from home, the first thing she said, before even congratulating me on negotiating the work-from-home deal, was “Fine, but there is no way in hell you’re bringing those disgusting worms home with you!” I tried to negotiate, promising to keep them out of sight in the basement, but to no avail. She wasn’t going to budge on this one. 

I easily found a new home for my worms with a friend from my community garden. She died a few years ago, but I’d guess her daughter, a serious composter herself, probably has them now. 

Deep Regrets

It’s a shame that I can’t worm compost anymore, as I have lots of space for a worm compost bin or two under my desk. And I repeat, worm compost is just the best additive to any garden soil. But my wife is still adamant: no worms are allowed in the house. 

The moral of this story is never tell your spouse anything, at least, not if worms are involved.

Why Plant Names Change

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Question: You mentioned in one of your articles that the coleus had a new botanical name. Who decides these name changes? Why has the plant changed its name? 

Eve Mathieu Pouliot

Answer: Some botanists and biologists specialize in naming species: they’re called taxonomists and are practicing taxonomy. Their job is to verify the origins of plants and animals and the links between them in order to classify them and give them appropriate names.

History of Taxonomy

Carl von Linné, 1707-1778, known as Carl Linnaeus in English, is the father of the binomial system. Ill.: Roslin Alexander, commons.wikimedia.org

It was the eighteenth-century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus who established the binomial system we use today. It was designed to replace the previous system, where the name of any plant or animal was a description of its characteristics, sometimes 20 words or more long!

According to the binomial system, every plant is placed in a genus, and therefore has a generic name, such as Pinus for all pines and Monarda for all bee balms. Then, to distinguish between different plants in each genus, it also gets a specific name (species name), for example Pinus strobus for Eastern white pine or Pinus sylvestris for Scotch pine.

Since there are two names, this is called the binomial system. Think of it like a surname followed by a given name, Chinese style. The Jones family, for example, could have three children: Marius, Jennifer and Norbert. The name Jones is used to identify them as relatives while the given name tells you which of the Joneses we’re referring to. In the case of Pinus, therefore, there are many species, including P. strobusP. sylvestris and P. rubra, and their generic names tells you they are related while their species name tell you which one is under discussion.

Theoretically, these names are immutable and the same names are used all over the world. Thus, although the Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) probably has 50 common or more common names in various languages all over the world (white pine in North America, Weymouth pine in Great Britain, Уайт-Пайнin Russia, etc.), it has only one botanical name. Therefore, whether you travel to Russia, Japan or China, you can use the name Pinus strobus and make yourself understood. I’ve had wonderful garden conversations in Italian and Polish where both parties understood each other perfectly by using botanical names and a few smiles, head nods, and gestures.

Corrections Lead to Change

So far, so good. But some names havechanged over the centuries, usually for logical reasons: this is usually because two botanists gave the same name to different plants or, quite the opposite, two scientific papers published the same plant under two different names. In these cases, the first published name always has precedence, even if one of the names is better known.

Today, though, most botanical name changes occur when a taxonomist finds that a plant was placed in the wrong genus or species. It’s a bit like poor Marius Jones discovering at age 47 that he was switched at birth and that his real name is Heinz von Schmidt.

Thanks to DNA studies, it’s now easier to see how closely (or not) plants are related and this can lead to changes in botanical names. Photo: medium.com

The main reason that these changes are deemed necessary is because, although Linnaeus and the taxonomists who followed him tried hard to classify plants correctly, that is, according to their nearest relatives, they sometimes got it wrong, largely because they were looking at superficial criteria. Linnaeus believed details of the flower, like its number of petals or stamens or other features, were the best way to classify plants. But botany is undergoing a revolution today, because scientists can now study plant chromosomes (their DNA) making plant nomenclature no longer a question of making the best possible guess, but of actually analyzing a plant in its most intimate details. It is now possible to be more precise than ever in determining the relationships between plants.

As a result, taxonomists are finding that some plants long considered to be close relatives are more distantly related than previously thought while others thought to be very distant relations are more like siblings. Since names are used to indicate the relationship between plants, these findings will necessarily affect some botanical names.

One Example

Coleus blumei …oops, I mean Solenostemon scutellarioides … um, more like Plectranthus scutellarioides. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

Take the coleus, a popular garden and house plant with multicolored foliage, as an example. 

The coleus was originally given the botanical name Coleus blumei and therefore shared its generic name, Coleus, with dozens of other related species: Coleus caninusColeus elatus, etc. But back in 2006, a taxonomist decided that genus name Coleus was invalid, that all the plants bearing that name should actually be called Solenostemon, and published a paper to that effect. So, all these plants had to change their names to Solenostemon. The genus Coleuswas no more!

Normally, when a plant changes its generic name, it retains its specific name, but with our coleus, there was a complication: There was already a plant named Solenostemon blumei. Since two plants can’t share the same name (imagine the confusion if they did!), it was given a new specific name, scutellarioides, and thus became Solenostemon scutellarioides. The new specific name comes from the fact that coleus flowers resemble those of the skullcap (Scutellaria spp.) (spp. means “many species”).

But things didn’t stop there. Another taxonomist looked at the DNA of the Solenostemon species and came to the conclusion that there was no significant difference between most solenostemons and another genus, Plectranthus. So in 2012, he transferred all but one species to the genus Plectranthus. The correct botanical name for the good ol’ coleus is therefore now Plectranthus scutellarioides.

It turns out that the genus Plectranthusis not unknown to gardeners. Several species are grown as annuals or houseplants: Swedish ivy (Plectranthus australis), Mexican mint (P. amboinicus), white-edged Swedish ivy (P. coleioides ‘Marginata’), etc. And sure enough, they look a lot like a coleus in many, many ways. But that means you’ll have to rewrite a whole lot of labels if you have a big collection of coleus!

Other Changes to Come

The result of these recent discoveries due to greater knowledge about the DNA of plants is that a lot more changes can be expected in plant nomenclature. For example, the genus Aster, which originally contained more than 600 species, is now divided into 11 different genera and in fact all North American species bear new generic names, including SymphyotrichumEurybia and Doellingeria. The genus Chrysanthemum has also been completely reorganized. And there are many, many others.

Family Ties

So much for species and genera … but these genetic findings also changing our notions about even deeper family relationships between plants.

At a higher level, plants are also divided into families and subfamilies. For example, the family Pinaceae contains all pines (Pinus), firs (Abies), larches (Larix) and most other conifers except for cypress (Cupressus) and arborvitaes (Thuja), both in the Cupressaceae family, and yews (Taxus), in the Taxaceae family. All grasses are in the Poaceae family, etc. And until recently relationships between plant families remained fairly stable. But this is no longer the case now that DNA can be used to help classify plants.

Once thought to be close relatives, the onion and the lily are now placed in different families. Photos: http://www.starkbros.com & http://www.indiamart.com

For example, when lecturing, I always used to tell people that onions (Allium cepa), asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) and autumn crocuses (Colchicum autumnale) belonged to the Lily family (Liliaceae), but that’s no longer true: all these plants did retain their original botanical name, but the onion is now in the Alliaceae family, the asparagus is in the Asparagaceae family and the autumn crocus was moved to the Colchicaceae family. The lily (Lilium), though, remains in the Lily family (Liliaceae) … thankfully!

All these changes are disturbing for gardeners who made the effort to learn the botanical names of their plants, but think of it this way: it’s all being done in the name of clarity and science. And when this extensive review is complete, the new names should last for generations … at least I hope so!

Article originally published on March 20, 2015

Why Bother Starting Seeds Indoors?

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Seasoned gardeners already know the advantages of starting seeds of annuals, vegetables and others indoors, but if you’re just getting started in the gardening world, you might be asking yourself why you should even bother. Here are a few explanations.

1. Because the gardening season isn’t long enough. Many vegetables and annuals need a long growing season before they start to really perform: tomatoes, peppers, petunias, begonias, etc. Sow any of these outdoors and you won’t have anything but green leaves to show for your efforts before summer’s end. They simply need extra time to mature. True enough, if you have a very long growing season, for example, if you live in Southern California or Morocco, yes, you can sow these directly outdoors. Elsewhere, a few weeks to a few months’ head start is necessary.

Ill.: clipart-library.com

2. Because you simply want faster results. OK, there are other annuals and vegetables that will produce a decent harvest or a reasonable number of flowers from a direct sowing outdoors, so you could do that, but do you really to want to wait that long? Starting seeds indoors shaves weeks off the production time of both vegetables and annuals you sow from seed. If you want to chow down extra-early or have flowers before midsummer, start those seeds indoors.

3. Because you can better control conditions compared to sowing outdoors. In the garden, soil can be cold and wet or infected with disease and insects. That, as you can imagine, doesn’t always result in healthy plants! Certain vegetables and flowers need warmth and no more than moderate soil humidity to do well. They’ll do better when started indoors, where’s it’s always warm and where the gardener can add water as needed. Others have pests and diseases to consider and giving them a head start indoors may keep them one step ahead of their enemies.

Save money. Start seeds! Ill.: http://www.vegetablegardener.com & www.pinclipart.com

4. Because it’s cheaper than buying flats and 6-packs of the same plants. In fact, way cheaper! With a bag of potting soil, assorted recycled containers used as pots, trays and domes, and a few packs of seed, an expenditure of perhaps $20 US, you can literally produce hundreds of dollars worth of transplants. With a six-pack of veggies or annuals often selling at $4 and some even selling for $5 per plant, you don’t need to produce that many of your own seedlings in order to save money. 

5. Because the varieties you want to grow just aren’t sold locally. You might think a big garden center would sell every kind of plant possible, but you’d be wrong. They have, in fact, an extremely limited choice. If you’re looking for a specific heirloom vegetable, a tall snapdragon, or indeed anything the slightest bit out of the ordinary, you simply won’t find plants sold locally. Fortunately, seed catalogs offer plenty of less common plants you can grow from seed.

Sometimes commercially-grown plants have been treated with pesticides. Photo: http://www.tibs.com & worldartsme.com

6. Because you want to be sure you’re growing organic vegetables and flowers. Few commercial growers will guarantee that their plants haven’t been treated with pesticides, including the dreaded neonicotinoids. Or that they haven’t shared shelf space with plants that were thus treated. But when you sow the plants yourself, you get to control which pesticides, if any, are used on them. 

7. You enjoy starting seeds indoors.That may seem unlikely to a beginner, but sowing seeds indoors, watching them sprout and grow, babying them as they come up, etc. can be very, very satisfying.

Choose the Right Ones

Not all vegetables and annuals need the extra benefit of being started indoors. In fact, many do best when you sow them outdoors. Here is a short list of popular annuals and vegetables and their preferred sowing situation. 

The information applied below is largely based on gardening in areas with no more than a moderately long growing season (less than 150 days). If you can garden 9 months a year, many more plants could migrate to the “sow outdoors” column.

Vegetables

Sow IndoorsSow Indoors or
Outdoors
Sow Outdoors
Artichoke 
Asparagus 
Basil
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts 
Cabbage 
Cauliflower
Celery 
Eggplant/aubergine 
Ground cherry 
Kale
Leek 
Okra
Onion (from seeds*)
Pepper 
Tomato

Cilantro/coriander
Cucumber 
Endive
Chicory 
Lettuce 
Melon 
Parsley 
Squash (pumpkin,
zucchini, etc.) 






 

Bean 
Beet/beetroot 
Borage 
Broad bean 
Carrot
Pea 
Radish 
Rutabaga 
Spinach
Sweet corn 
Turnip 





*Sow onion from sets (small bulbs) directly outdoors.

Annuals

Sow IndoorsSow Indoors or
Outdoors
Sow Outdoors

Ageratum
Bedding lobelia
Begonia 
Black-Eyed Susan 
Browallia
Carnation
Castor bean 
Coleus 
Dahlia 
Dusty miller
Flowering tobacco
Heliotrope
Impatiens 
Love-lies-bleeding
Madagascar peri-
winkle
Nicotiana 
Pansy
Pelargonium 
Petunia 
Portulaca
Salvia
Snapdragon
Spike Dracaena
Alyssum 
Annual phlox 
Calendula 
Celosia 
China aster 
China pink
Cleome
Cosmos 
Everlasting 
Lavatera
Marigold
Morning glory
Nasturtium
Sweet William 
Zinnia 








Bachelor’s buttons 
California poppy 
Larkspur 
Love-in-a-mist
Opium poppy 
Shirley poppy
Sunflower 
Sweet pea















Why Do My Indoor Azaleas Keep Dying?

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Question: Over the last few years, I’ve bought 3 different indoor azaleas and they all died within a month of purchase. I love this plant and want to try again. What can I do to keep it alive?

Eva T.

Answer: The indoor or florist’s azalea (Rhododendron simsii) is certainly not the easiest houseplant to grow. Many people lose theirs quite quickly, yet, if properly tended, it can not only live for years in the average home, but go on to bloom year after year.

The main difficulty with the indoor azalea is that it is generally sold seriously underpotted. Whether this is for aesthetic reasons or to save space in the production greenhouse, I don’t know, yet when you bring it home, you’ll discover it starts to wilt after just a few days. With massive quantities of fine roots crammed into a small pot, a once-a-week watering schedule just isn’t going to suffice! 

Try giving it a soak—immersing the whole root ball in tepid water for 10 to 30 minutes—once every 3 to 4 days. Watering once a week will only be sufficient if you’re able to grow it under very cool conditions (45–60°F/7–16°C). Soaking the plant more than once a week should keep it alive and well during its initial flowering … and that can last 6 weeks and more.

Long-Term Care

The indoor azalea needs a bit of TLC to thrive. Photo: DenesFeri, Wikimedi Commons

The gardening industry considers the indoor azalea to be a temporary houseplant: just a gift item you’re supposed to toss it after it finishes blooming. However, it will actually live for decades indoors and rebloom annually if you know what to do. True enough, this is not a plant for beginners, but if you like a bit of a challenge… 

So, as soon as you get the chance, why not fix that “needs watering twice a week” thing? It was sold to you underpotted, so move it into a pot of a more appropriate size, probably two pot sizes larger than the original (i.e. if the plant was in a 6-inch [15 cm] pot, move it to a 10-inch [25 cm] pot). Since soil is a natural water reservoir, more soil around its roots means the plant can now go longer between waterings. 

The azalea prefers acid soils, with a pH of about 4.5 to 5.5, although 6 is acceptable. The average potting mix, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, is just a touch too alkaline. So, dilute its alkalinity by mixing in one third peat moss, a naturally acid sol ingredient: that will bring the pH to just the right level.

Although an indoor azalea bought in flower will “hold” in weak light, for healthy new growth and future flowers, it will need more: bright light much of the day including a few hours of direct sun, especially cool morning sun. In winter, full sun is not too much, especially in higher latitudes.

Wether you water the plant from above or below or you give a good soaking, you must never let an indoor azalea dry out completely. Photo: ww.saga.co.uk & http://www.kisspng.com

One thing that won’t change is that you’ll have to keep the growing mix moist at all times. An azalea simply will not stand drying out and every time you let it wilt brings it one step closer to the grave. Check regularly and water as needed.

Ideally, you’d water with lime-free water. Tap water is usually alkaline, so rain water or distilled water (or water from your dehumidifier) would be best, but… I find you can get away with tap water from fall through spring as long as you do one thing: put your azalea outdoors for the summer where rains will flush the soil of any alkalinity.

A summer outdoors in a partially shady spot is practically a sine qua non for this plant anyway. It seems to please the azalea in more ways than just water quality. 

Fertilize during the growing season (spring through early fall). Again, if you can find a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants, all the better.

Leave your azalea outdoors well into fall, bringing it indoors only when frost threatens. This will give it the cool conditions necessary for initiating flower bud formation: 40 to 55°F (4 to 13°C). If you’d done your job well, it will already be full of flower buds before you bring it in. 

When the air is dry, grow your azalea over a humidity tray. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

Indoors, keep the air humidity up or the flower buds could dry up. You could use a humidifier or place the plant on a humidity tray (pebble tray). Room temperatures are acceptable once flower buds have been initiated, but still, your azalea prefers cooler conditions than most other houseplants. Night temperatures of 45–60°F (7–16°C) will make it especially happy.

In general, homegrown azaleas bloom less densely than greenhouse-grown ones, but do so over a longer period, often from late fall right through until spring. 

Do keep an eye out for pests. Spider mites are a threat in dry air, while mealybugs and scale insects can travel to your azalea from infested plants nearby. 

As for multiplying your plant, now you’re really pushing your luck, but stem cuttings taken in spring, dipped in rooting hormone and kept under high humidity, like under a transparent dome, will root … eventually. Don’t be surprised if the success rate is low and if even the few survivors take up to 3 months to show signs of growth!


There you go: you really can make your indoor azalea thrive and even rebloom indoors. It just takes a lot of TLC!

The First Day of Spring… Elsewhere!

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You can’t let yourself be too easily discouraged by winter when you live where I do, in Quebec City, Canada. I recently read it was listed as the 5th snowiest city in the world, ex-aequo with Syracuse, New York, with an average of 3.15 m (10 ½ feet) of snow per year. Of course, things could be worse: imagine living in Aomori, Japan, with an average of 7.92 m (26 feet) per year!

This year has been (so far) the second snowiest ever recorded. Snow tends to pack down over the winter, so you never see the full amount on the ground at once. Even so, there is presently nearly 2 m (over 6 feet) of snow on the ground and we’re told to expect an unusually cold spring, with cold weather in March (true enough so far!) and April and more snow to come. All the snow should melt away, according to previsions, by early May, about a month later than usual. Given the fact that winter started nearly a month earlier than usual last fall, with snow on the ground in late October, it will have been one truly snowy winter! Before it’s over, we may well be able to say we were under snow for a full six months.

Looking out through the greenhouse, you can see the clothesline trailing in the snow. I’m sure it’s at least 8 feet (2.4 m) above the ground. Photo: Larry Hodgson

So, as (most of) the rest of the Northern Hemisphere celebrates spring, with the first buds and flowers and perhaps even picnics in sunny fields (at least, that’s what I imagine!), we celebrate – hmmm! – snow, I guess, which will hopefully melt slowly so we don’t get flooded. At least it should keep our gardens well watered for much of the summer. 

I’m looking forward to being able to see out of my (basement) office window: it’s been under snow since January. Most days I literally have no idea whether it’s sunny or cloudy until I pop upstairs for lunch at noon.

My aloe is blooming nicely in spite of the snow outside. Photo: Larry Hodgson

My houseplants do sense it’s spring, though. My aloe (Aloe vera) is blooming up a storm, my bleeding heart vine (Clerodendron thomsoniae) is coming into bloom, some of my Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) are reblooming and there are always a few African violets, streptocarpus, begonias and pelargoniums in bloom. They give me hope…

Well, at least these two extra months of winter means two fewer months of mosquitoes!

When an Orchid Produces a Baby

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Question: I have an orchid that produced a keiki on its flower stalk after it bloomed last year. It currently has 3 small leaves and 4 aerial roots. I would like to know when I can remove it from the mother plant and if there is anything special I need to do when repotting.

B. Charron

Answer: After flowering, an orchid—and especially the very popular moth orchid (Phalaenopsis)—sometimes produces a baby, called a keiki, from the Hawaiian word for child, on its flower stalk or, more rarely, at its base. This keiki is a clone of the mother plant and will be identical to it.

You did well to let the keiki grow. It should be allowed to develop on the mother plant for several months, even up to a year, until it has two or three leaves and a few aerial roots about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) long, exactly what I see in the photo you sent me. The time has therefore come to cut the keiki free and grow it on its own.

When the baby is well-formed, cut it free. Photo: B. Charron

With a sterilized sharp knife, cut the stem about ½ inch (1 cm) below the keiki, freeing it. Also remove the flower stalk above the keiki in the same way. This will give you a young rooted plant still attached to a small section of stem.

Pot up the keiki in orchid mix. Photo: mariasorchids.blogspot.com

Now take a small, clean 3- to 4-inch (8 to 10 cm) pot with drainage holes and fill to two thirds its height with commercial orchid mix. Center the keiki on the mix with the leaves facing up and the roots at the bottom and add more mix, covering the roots, but not the leaves. Gently moisten the mix with lukewarm water and allow any surplus to drain away.

Grow your keiki under the same conditions as the mother plant, at normal room temperatures in a brightly lit location and continue to water when the growing mix is dry to the touch. After a few months, when you see new leaf growth, you can start to (lightly) fertilizer as well.

Your baby orchid will grow slowly and eventually be big enough to flower. Photo: http://www.anthura.nl.

So far, so good, but do be aware your keiki is still about 2 or 3 years from its first bloom. Orchids are in the “slow but steady” plant category and if you want to grow orchids, you have to learn to be patient!