When Pothos Leaves Do the Splits

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 Split leaves on my pothos. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

Should I be taking my pothos out to a bar to celebrate? Because my blue pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’) has reached adulthood … after over 20 years of care, just like a human.

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Immature blue pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’) with its small, entire leaves. Photo: stayathomeplantmom, pinterest.com

As with many aroids (the best known of which is the so-called Swiss cheese plant, Monstera deliciosa), the pothos has a juvenile form, with smaller, entire leaves, in this case about 3 inches (7 cm) long, and thin stems. Then, as it matures, and if conditions are right, the leaves get bigger and bigger and the stems get thicker.

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The adult form of blue pothos looks so different from the juvenile one, you’d swear it was an entirely different plant! Photo: kensnursery.com

At some magical point, the plant reaches “adulthood” and the formerly entire leaf becomes huge (up to 2 feet/60 cm long) and begins to split, eventually becoming pinnate, looking like a palm frond, with thick stems. It will even flower at some point (although the blooms are, I’m told, nothing to shake a stick at).

My Story

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Leaves of the mother plant are 3 to 4 inches (7 to 9 cm) long and uncut; the largest leaf of the baby is 13 inches (33 cm) long and deeply cut on one side. Photo: Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

I have probably half a dozen blue pothos at my place, most in their juvenile state. In fact, the original plant is still very juvenile. But others are maturing at various rates, with larger and larger leaves. What’s the difference?

It depends on how you grow them.

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The original plant dangles down and bears only small leaves. Photo: laidbackgardener.com

My original plant grows in a wall pot and is allowed to dangle. Dangling is not conducive to mature growth, so it has only tiny leaves. Dangling is what this tropical Asiatic liana does in the wild when it loses its grip on the tree trunk it is climbing on. As it trails downwards, the leaves get smaller and smaller, then disappear entirely.

When my plant does this (produce bare stems with no leaves), I trim off the bare part to force it to produce more foliage: dangling bare stems are just not that attractive. In the jungle, though, the now bare stem keeps growing downward, eventually reaching the jungle floor when it now begins to creep along, leafless, until it finds a new trunk. Then it will start growing upwards again and to produce small leaves once more. They then get bigger and bigger as it grows up into better light and eventually, the plant reaches adulthood and new giant cut leaves form.

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The green wall in my bathroom. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

My mature and variously maturing pothos are all growing upwards … on my green wall. Growing upwards is conducive to enlargening leaves. Eventually they get to the top (said wall is only 7 feet/210 cm tall, after all, not the 100 feet/30 m or so the plant can attain in a jungle!), so I cut them off and reroot them at the base of the wall. They don’t lose a beat and continue to grow upwards … and in size.

Actually, I just pulled my mature stem from the wall (it had reached the top) and will be starting it from the bottom again. I’m sure it will continue to mature to even bigger, more deeply cut leaves (the longest is currently 13 inches/33 cm in length and only cut on one side) on its next trip upwards.

Your Pothos

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This is the popular golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum). Photo: http://www.alphaplantes.com

The most common pothos in homes is not my blue pothos, but rather the golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum, syn. Scindapsus aureus), with heart-shaped leaves splashed with yellow or, on certain clones, white.

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Mature golden pothos with huge split leaves. Photo: Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

But it will also grow, eventually, into a jungle giant with large split leaves if you let it grow upwards, say on a moss-covered stake it can root into. When it gets to the top, cut it back and reroot it, then plant it back at the base of the stake so it can climb further. Most people grow it in a hanging container from which it will dangle and thus always remain a juvenile. But if you grow it upwards, you can—slowly!—watch it become an adult.

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See how big pothos leaves can become if you let the plant climb? Photo: http://www.morningdewtropical.com

I think you’ll be kinda proud when your baby pothos reaches adulthood, don’t you?

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Bag Delicate Houseplants for the Winter

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Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 Trucs du jardinier paresseux

Most houseplants adapt fairly well to indoor conditions, otherwise we wouldn’t be growing them as houseplants, would we? But a few have a hard time with winter conditions indoors. Low light is one problem (winter days are short and often cloudy), but you can help by moving the plants nearer to a window or placing them under plant lights.

For many plants, though, the real problem is dry air.

In many homes, keeping the relative humidity much about 30% can be a struggle in the winter, especially in climates where heating is necessary. Yet most plants prefer 50% humidity and greater. The more you heat, the lower the ambient humidity, so the colder your climate, the worse the problem will be.

Again, you can help by running a humidifier, by placing the plants on a humidity tray or by grouping plants together (that creates a very localized bit of jungle atmosphere). You can usually manage to get closer to 50% humidity that way and most plants will appreciate your efforts. But that’s not enough for all plants.

You can also waste your time by misting your plants (certainly one of the most useless gardening tricks ever invented: it doesn’t help plants in any way).

Humidity-Lovers

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If you want your houseplants to be truly happy, make them feel like they’re in a jungle! Photo: edu.glogster.com.

Some—even most—plants like really humid air. 70% or above. That’s too much for people, can create condensation problems and is, at any rate, very hard to maintain indoors in any open area. But you can do so “under glass”: a closed environment where humidity can rise to 90% or more.

One easy solution would be to move humidity sensitive plants to a terrarium for the winter. If you cover or partially cover a terrarium, you can easily maintain high humidity. However, many houseplants are too big for a terrarium. But what you can do is to seal them inside a clear plastic bag for the winter.

True enough, this isn’t going to look very elegant, but if you really like the plant and the way it looks in spring and summer, is a few months inside a plastic bag that much of an annoyance?

So Simple to Do

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Seal your plant inside a plastic bag. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

Here’s what to do, step by step.

  1. Find a clear plastic bag of an appropriate size (bags from the cleaners are ideal for larger plants).
  2. Prepare the plant by cutting off any dead or dying foliage, as dead leaves will tend to rot under high humidity. This is not harmful to the plant, but is aesthetically doubtful.
  3. Water the plant normally, then wait a day or two or three: you’ll want the soil to be slightly moist, but not wet.
  4. Place it in the bag.

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    You can use stakes to hold the bag above the leaves if you want, although that isn’t absolutely necessary. Photo: bhg.com

  5. Seal the bag shut with a twist tie.
  6. Place the plant in a bright location, but away from direct sunlight, otherwise the temperature in the bag could become unbearably hot.
  7. Don’t worry if there is a bit of condensation at night, but if there is a lot during the day, open the bag for a few hours to let the excess humidity out, then reseal.

Plants sealed inside clear plastic bags will probably not need watering nor indeed any care whatsoever, even after several months. This is truly an ideal technique for laidback gardeners!

No, The Plant Won’t Suffocate

Don’t worry that your plant will suffocate inside a sealed plastic bag: remember that plants recycle the air they breathe, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen during the day and absorbing oxygen and producing carbon dioxide at night.

The humidity in the bag will reach a very high level, often close to 100%! Leave the plant in its own personal greenhouse as long as you’re heating your house daily. Then remove the bag when humidity levels soar again in spring and summer.

Which Plants to Bag

Actually, most houseplants other than succulents* would adore spending their winter inside a plastic bag, but they look better uncovered and part of growing houseplants is the pleasure of integrating them into your home décor. So nix that!

*Succulents, including most cactus, actually prefer fairly dry air and won’t need special coddling when it comes to relative humidity.

However, any plant whose leaves tend to dry up excessively during the winter isn’t giving you much of a show and would be a good candidate for bagging.

Among the plants that often struggle with dry winter air are the following:

  • Alocasia (Alocasia spp.)
  • Baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)
  • Coral bead plant (Nertera granadensis)
  • Creeping fig (Ficus pumila)
  • Episcia (Episcia cvs)
  • Ferns (many species)
  • Homalomena (Homalomena spp.)
  • Little tree plant (Biophytum sensitivum)
  • Medinilla (Medinilla magnifica)
  • Miniature sinningia (Sinningia pusilla and others)
  • Nerve plant (Fittonia argyroneura)
  • Orchids (some species)
  • Peacock plant (Calathea spp.)
  • Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)
  • Rex begonia (Begonia rex)
  • Rex begonia vine (Cissus discolor)
  • Spikemoss (Selaginella spp.)
  • Tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes spp.)
  • Umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolius)

A plant in a bag: a simple solution of a common houseplant problem!

Pale Growth on an Overwintering Annual

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Cuphea suffering from etiolation. Photo: Rachel Bernier

Question: I’m overwintering a cuphea Vermillionaire on my windowsill after a friend tried this last year with success. But I find its growth weak and pale, even if it is placed in my sunniest window. Should I prune it back regularly to strengthen its stems?

Rachel Bernier

Answer: The appearance of your Cuphea Vermillionaire® plant shows it simply lacks light, which explains why it is etiolated (showing weak, pale growth).

Honestly, that’s a pretty normal situation for an overwintering annual. Due to the short days and, in many climates, persistent gray weather, fall and winter sunlight is far less than the plant really needs, even in the brightest window, so it etiolates: stretches as if to try and grab a bit more sunlight. By cutting it back, you’ll at least keep it fairly compact until days lengthen.

And, of course, they will. You should notice a huge change in the plant’s growth in starting in March and early April. Its new stems will be shorter and its foliage denser and greener. In fact, as spring progresses, it will probably start blooming again to a certain degree, although not as heavily it will outdoors (indoor sunlight is never as intense as sunlight outdoors).

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The appearance of Cuphea Vermillionaire outdoors in full sun. Photo: http://www.provenwinners.com

When there is no more risk of frost, acclimatize your cuphea to outdoor conditions and give it full outdoor sun. In no time it will again be as gorgeous as it ever was!

Take Your Houseplants for a Spin

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Houseplants tend to lean towards the light. Ill.: weibo.com & laidbackgardener.blog

To maintain good symmetry, a plant needs to receive light from all sides … and that is almost never the case indoors where all the light in a room comes from one direction, because most rooms have windows on only one side. As a result, the average houseplant tends to lean towards its one source of light, ruining its natural symmetry. In fact, some plants lean so far they need staking to keep from flopping over!

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Give your houseplants a regular quarter turn to keep them symmetrical. Ill.: gifer.com

Fortunately, this is easy to prevent. Simply give the pot a quarter turn clockwise every time you water. That will ensure the plant receives light from all directions and will stay symmetrical.

Why clockwise? Actually, counterclockwise would work just as well. The important thing is to be consistent and turn it in the same direction each time you water.

Simple, n’est-ce pas?

Garden Myth: Feed the Venus Flytrap Hamburger

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Never feed a Venus flytrap hamburger. Ill.: laidbackgardener.blog & pinterest.com

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant equipped with small traps that catch insects and is commonly sold as a houseplant.

A popular myth suggests that since the insects it normally feeds on are rare indoors, it would wise to feed it little bits of hamburger to replace its missing prey. But don’t! Because that bit of friendly advice is actually a pervasive but harmful myth, handed down from generation to generation.

Venus flytrap doing what its name suggests. Video: lenspt, youtube.com

Hamburger is too rich in fat and proteins for a Venus flytrap and will give the plant the vegetal equivalent of indigestion, possibly leading to its death. You can feed it a fly or other small insect you’ve caught, but not meat … nor fertilizer, which is also toxic to the Venus flytrap as it is with most carnivorous plants. In fact, your Venus flytrap will do just fine without ever receiving “food” at all, growing very well and surviving for many months.

Not Such a Great Houseplant

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Venus flytrap (Dionea muscipula). Photo: H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons

Although the Venus flytrap is widely sold as a houseplant, it is in fact poorly suited to indoor growing. Yes, you can keep it alive for a while, but its long-term survival is far from certain, because it is adapted to special conditions that are hard to replicate indoors.

7 Tips for Growing Venus Flytraps

To give your Venus flytrap the best possible chance for a long life, here are some tips on how to keep it happy:

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Remove its terrarium covering after purchase. Photo: http://www.lowes.com

1. After purchase, remove the plastic terrarium it was sold in. The covering served to keep the plant in good condition during transport, but is not useful for the plant’s long-term survival. Yes, it does need high humidity, but it also desperately needs good air circulation, simply not possible inside a small closed terrarium.

2. Since the Venus flytrap will not tolerate the calcium and other chemicals present in commercial potting mixes and in tap water, grow it in sphagnum moss (the medium it usually grows in when purchased) and water only with rainwater, melted snow or distilled water. Dehumidifier water is another possibility.

3. Keep the pot sitting in a saucer of water at all times, because you’re trying to recreate the conditions equivalent to those of the North and South Carolina swamps where it originally grew.

4. It needs full sunlight (it can also grow under fluorescent or LED grow lights) and high atmospheric humidity.

5. Your Venus flytrap will be much happier outdoors in full sun during the summer than indoors where the light is always considerably reduced. Just make sure its pot soaks in water at all times. It is well adapted to hot summer temperatures, so that needn’t be a concern.

6. In winter, under the influence of short days, the plant will go dormant and usually lose much of its foliage. It must then be given a cold but frost-free location between 33 and 50°F(1 and 10 °C).

7. If you live in a warm temperate to subtropical climate (about USDA zones 8 to 10, or protected spots in zone 7), create your own rainfall-watered sphagnum bog outdoors and grow it there year-round. Just be ready to cover the plant with mulch in case of a prolonged period of frost.

My Suggestion

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Not all plants live forever. Just compost them when they die. Ill.: laidbackgardener.blog

If you’re a laidback houseplant gardener, why not just consider the Venus flytrap a temporary plant, one you can grow for a few months, then toss? You already do this with many gift plants and all your garden annuals, so it really isn’t that much of a stretch.

Still, give your Venus flytrap the best possible conditions while it’s alive and encourage local children to come and bring it small insects to eat (children, being naturally sadistic, will adore the experience!). But don’t cry over it when it finally dies: it was simply not designed to live forever in a home environment.

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Houseplants That Thrive on Neglect

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The snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’) is one tough plant! Photo: http://www.quora.com

Question: My 82-year-old mother forgets to take care of her houseplants, yet she loves them. Could you to suggest some varieties of plants that she could keep despite the lack of care?

Carole Cloutier

Answer: There are many houseplants that can tolerate irregular watering. Many succulents, for example, will put up with underwatering, although good drainage is still going to be vital, as they’re not nearly as capable of putting up with overwatering. The other flaw of succulents is that most require very bright light and that isn’t available in every home setting.

Here therefore are some plants that tolerate both over and under watering while being able to survive on only moderate light.

  • African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona)
  • Aspidistra or cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.)
  • Clivia (Clivia miniata)

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    The crassula (Crassula ovata) will put up with just about any abuse as long as it gets at least medium light. Photo: amazon.com

  • Crassula or jade plant (Crassula ovata)
  • Dieffenbachia or dumbcane (Dieffenbachiaspp.)
  • Dracaena or dragon tree (Dracaenaspp.)
  • Haworthia (Haworthia spp.)
  • Hoya or wax plant (Hoya carnosa);
  • Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei)
  • Medicinal aloe (Aloe vera)
  • Mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis spp.)
  • Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, syn. P. scandens oxycardium)
  • Ponytail palm or elephant’s foot (Beaucarnea recurvata):
  • Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata);
  • Spineless yucca (Yucca elephantipes)
  • ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Kentia Palm

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Bakker’s Indoor Plant of the Month for January

The Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) creates a tropical atmosphere in your home. This low-maintenance palm thrives with little light and low humidity, and even prefers cooler spaces. The Kentia palm is also a lovely addition to your home: light shining through its gorgeous leaves is a sight to behold. Did you know that Howea forsteriana also purifies the air in your home? It’s with good reason that Bakker.com, the European houseplant specialist, chose it as the indoor plant of the month for January!

The Kentia palm is one of the most popular and robust species of palm for homes, offices, schools or other public spaces, and it’s incredibly easy to maintain. The dark-green, feathered leaves not only create ambience, but they also improve the air around them. It’s a fantastic substitute for the green hole that your Christmas tree will leave behind once the season ends.

Caring for the Kentia Palm

  • The Kentia palm is one of the few palms that tolerates darkness relatively well. If the leaves turn light green or yellow, it’s getting too much light. If it is producing pale new shoots, then it’s not getting enough.
  • The palm does best when its root ball is somewhat damp, but don’t water it to the point where you leave it sitting in a saucer of water.
  • Running the shower over it or leaving it outside during some light rain freshens the plant and prevents spider mites.
  • Clip off any yellow, old or wilted fronds.
  • The Kentia palm loves room temperature; anything below 10°C is too cold.
  • Between April and September, fertilize it lightly in order to maintain growth. The Kentia palm does not grow during the winter, so fertilizer is not necessary.

Origin of the Kentia palm

The Kentia palm is a member of the palm family and is found endemically only on Lord Howe Island (it’s named for the local village, Kentia) to the east of Australia, under the canopy of larger trees. This is why it has adapted to receiving little sunlight. In the wild, the palm can grow to 18 metres tall and 6 metres wide, with leaves that are 3 metres long. It remains much smaller under indoor conditions.

Adapted from a press release by Mooiwatplantendoen.nl