Plant Shopping at IKEA: An Adventure Story


Ill.: &

I hadn’t been to an IKEA in over 30 years. I simply didn’t need to go to one: the years of being half of a young couple buying cheap furniture to get ourselves started were long over. And we were still using many of the things we bought back in the old days, especially those IKEA bookshelves. My wife has still gone from time to time and came back with knickknacks, but I’m not into that sort of knickknacks … unless they carry out photosynthesis.

A Discovery!

However, I recently found out that IKEA now sells houseplants. Maybe they did back in the day, but I don’t remember that. Their web site showed some plants that I might just be interested in and since I was nearby, driving back from a garden center where I had not found what I was looking for, I thought I’d drop in.

You’re supposed to follow the arrows, but I’m naturally disobedient. Photo: Image Projection

I vaguely recalled that, 30 years ago, you are supposed to follow arrows and wander through the huge store, but I wasn’t in the mood for that. Where were the plants? I found a panel listing the various departments, but the word “Plants” was not on it. I started to follow the arrows and began to realize this was going to take time. Too much time. Where was the exit? 

I came up against another panel and looked again. This time, I found “Pots and Stands.” Almost certainly, the houseplants would be with the pots. Pots were numbered 21 … out of 25 departments. A lot of walking to do! Then I noticed there were shortcuts. So, I cut from one to the next, checking the numbers upon arrival to see where I was, and soon found myself at Department 19. From there, I could see plant pots in the distance. Eureka!

None-Too-Happy Plants 

At first, there were only pots and lots of plastic plants, but further along I came across the real deal: living houseplants. 

Well, more like semi-living houseplants. Most were in terrible shape. I would have been embarrassed to show plants in that state. Dead and half-dead plants mixed with still living, but struggling ones. Plants packed in together, stacked one shelf above the other, meaning some were getting no light at all. (And plants live on light!) 

This was the kind of bring-in, sell-fast plant negligence I was used to seeing in the plant display at my local supermarket, where plants get zero care, so if you didn’t buy a plant the week it arrives, it won’t be worth purchasing by week two. Buyer beware!

The succulents were mostly half-dead. Photo:

The succulents looked especially crappy, but people were buying them, picking through the scraps looking for ones that might be salvageable. I checked out the orchids: most had flowers dropping off and yellowing leaves, a sign they’d probably been there without watering for weeks if not months. Some of the foliage plants seemed to be more recent deliveries and were in better shape, but I found nothing interesting there. 

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Ginseng fig (grafted  Ficus microcarpa) in a rather useless pot. Photo:

Then I spotted a pseudo-bonsai: a so-called “ginseng fig”. This is a Ficus microcarpa grafted into exposed ficus roots. I’d never tried that combination and was curious. It wasn’t too etiolated: the upper leaves were small and wimpy, but I could prune the plant back a bit once I got it home. I lifted the plant out of its pot (yes, I do that sort of thing when I’m buying plants) and the root system seemed extensive and in reasonable shape with no sign of unwanted insects, but it could use a thorough watering. 

The black ceramic pot it was set in was a rather useless thing, with the saucer glued on to the pot, meaning you’d never be able to judge whether it you’d watered too much or not, but I could repot back at home. And the price was reasonable. Sold!

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Line-ups at the check out. Photo: Trader Doe

I lugged the rather heavy plant to the checkout, yet one more short cut away, only to discover endless line-ups. So, I patiently waited my turn. I was, of course, in the slowest line.

Wouldn’t you know it was an automated cash register? So, like most seniors whose brain processes are still stuck in the 1970s, I fumbled my way through the payment process, eventually succeeding, then looked for a bag or plant sleeve to put the plant in. There was none. 

There was a “cash register supervisor” at hand, making sure we old-timers managed to push the right payment buttons, so I signaled her over and asked for a bag or two to cover the plant. I’d brought my plastic shopping bag with me, but it was far too small. And it was 19˚F (-7˚C) outdoors: you just don’t take a tropical plant outside in that kind of weather. She pointed to a pile of square sheets of off-white paper, the kind you wrap ceramics in, and handed me a stapler. I was to wrap my plant in those. 

So, I set to work: stapling three sheets together, then three sheets to those, then three more to those, forming a square which I figured would be large enough for my plant (about 2 feet/60 cm high and 18 inches/45 cm in diameter). But I soon realized that I hadn’t put in enough staples, because when I pulled the wrapping upward, that left huge gaps everywhere. So tried to add more staples, but that didn’t work so well. I was tearing more sheets than I was fixing, so I added extra ones. Then the stapler jammed. I looked at the supervisor, pointing to the stapler. She looked back at me and shrugged sympathetically, but unhelpfully. Obviously, unjamming staplers was not part of her job description. 

Out came my pen knife. Yes, I’m one of those guys who keeps a Swiss Army knife on my person at all times (except in airports). I figured store security would be on me like a shot for pulling out a concealed weapon and I’d have to get my wife to bail me out of jail, but no one showed up. I unjammed the stapler, discovering as I did that there were only two staples left and I was nowhere near finished. 

I signaled the supervisor again, waving the now-empty stapler and she came back with a fresh one. Maybe she could find me some tape, I suggested. That would be easier than stapling. She talked to a colleague who sauntered off to look for tape … and never came back. It was probably her break!

But that wasn’t my only concern. Time was passing. 

I purposely avoided looking behind me at the people waiting in the line to pay, afraid of their murderous glares as I clumsily tried to wrap my plant.

I signaled the supervisor again. Wasn’t there somewhere else I could move my packing efforts in order to free up the till? She found a row of unopened cash registers and moved me there. (Should have done so from the start, in my opinion!) So, I continued wrapping, tearing, adding more sheets to cover holes, stapling again. It probably took me 15 minutes.

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17 sheets of paper… but at least my plant was well protected. Photo:

I certainly had the most outrageously wrapped plant anyone had ever seen: 17 sheets of mostly torn and mangled paper protected my plant from the cold, but at least I was satisfied that it would survive the short walk to my parked car, then from my car to the house once I got it home. And indeed, it did.

Home Sweet Home

Ginseng fig in quarantine. Photo:

It’s now sitting in my “quarantine window”: a window in the basement where I put new plants, well away from my other specimens. In forty days (quarantine comes from French for “quarantaine”: 40 days) I’ll inspect it and, if all goes well, will move into shared space with other plants. I’ll certainly repot it too, come spring. (I really hate that pot!) Then I’ll see about whether I can turn my pseudo-bonsai into something more like the real thing. 


I doubt if I’ll be going plant shopping at IKEA in the near future. Certainly not in winter. Or if I do, I’ll have to bring a really big bag, just in case. 

I wonder if there’s a way of finding out when they receive a new houseplant delivery? That would be the right time to pick up something, not after the plant has been so neglected it’s half dead. 

I’d accord my local IKEA a C- for plant choice (most of the plants were pretty standard) and an F for plant maintenance. 

And there is no rating low enough for their plant wrapping offering. Squares of paper? That’s ridiculous. Isn’t IKEA a Swedish company? Don’t they have a winter in Sweden? Surely, they don’t expect customers to wander out of a Scandinavian store during a snow storm with an unprotected palm tree or spathiphyllum! 

Come on IKEA! If you’re going to sell plants, you have to at least ensure your clients can get them home alive! 

’Nuff said!

Plants that Mammals Usually Won’t Eat


Ill.:, &, montage:

Here are some plants that deer, hares, rabbits and other mammals are known to dislike eating. 

The list is not set in stone, however. On one hand, mammals can have very different tastes from one region to another and it is possible that in some they learn to eat things in one area they won’t eat elsewhere. Also, a mammal will eat almost anything when it’s starving, as sometimes happens at the end of a very hard winter or when its local population is too high. However, if the bulk of your gardening is done with the following plants, you should be well on your way to not having to worry about mammal damage!

  1. Aconite, monkshood (Aconitum spp.) perennial
  2. Allium, garlic (Allium spp.) perennial or herb
  3. Amsonia (Amsonia spp.) perennial
  4. Anemone (Anemone spp.) perennial
  5. Anise (Pimpinella anisum) annua herb 
  6. Anise hyssop (Agastache spp.) perennial or annual
  7. Ash (Fraxinus spp.) tree
  8. Astilbe (Astilbespp.) perennial 
  9. Autumn crocus (Colchicum spp.) bulb
  10. Baneberry (Actaeaspp.) perennial 
  11. Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) perennial
  12. Basket of gold (Aurinia saxatilis) perennial
  13. Bayberry (Myrica spp.) shrub
  14. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) shrub
  15. Beech (Fagus spp.) tree
  16. Bellflower (Campanula spp.) perennial, annual or biennial
  17. Bergenia (Bergenia spp.) perennial
  18. Betony, lamb’s ear (Stachys spp.) perennial
  19. Bittersweet (Celastrus spp.) climbing plant
  20. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) tree
  21. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) annual or perennial
  22. Bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.) perennial
  23. Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) grass
  24. Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) grass
  25. Borage (Borago officinalis) annual herb
  26. Box elder (Acer negundo) tree
  27. Boxwood (Buxus spp.) shrub
  28. Broom (Cytisus spp.) shrub
  29. Brugmansia (Brugmansia spp.) annual or tropical shrub
  30. Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla) perennial
  31. Bugbane (Cimicifuga spp.) perennial
  32. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) perennial
  33. Bush cinqfoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, anc. Potentilla fruticosa) shrub
  34. Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) shrub
  35. Cactus (various genera) succulent
  36. Calla lily (Zantedeschia spp.) tender bulb
  37. Carex (Carex spp.) grass
  38. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) perennial herb
  39. Clematis (Clematis spp.) climbing plant or perennial
  40. Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) perennial
  41. Common heather (Calluna vulgaris) shrub
  42. Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.) shrub
  43. Crabapple (Crataegus spp.) tree
  44. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) perennial
  45. Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) bulb
  46. Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) vegetable
  47. Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) perennial
  48. Currant, gooseberry (Ribes spp.) shrub
  49. Daisy (Leucanthemum spp.) perennial
  50. Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) biennial
  51. Daphne (Daphne spp.) shrub
  52. Delphinium (Delphinium spp.) perennial
  53. Dogwood (Cornus spp.) shrub, tree or perennial
  54. Drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontaneisana) shrub
  55. Dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria or Senecio bicolor) annual
  56. Elm (Ulmus spp.) tree
  57. Enkianthua (Enkianthus spp.) shrub
  58. Euonymus (Euonymus spp.) shrub
  59. Euphorbia, spurge (Euphorbia spp.) annual, perennial, shrub or succulent
  60. False indigo (Baptisia spp.) perennial
  61. Ferns (most species) fern
  62. Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum) annual
  63. Foam flower (Tiarella spp.) perennial
  64. Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.) biennial
  65. Forsythia (Forsythia spp.) shrub
  66. Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) grass
  67. Foxglove (Digitalis spp.biennial or perennial
  68. Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.) annual or perennial
  69. Geranium (Geranium spp.) perennial
  70. Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) perennial
  71. Golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria) perennial
  72. Hardy everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) perennial
  73. Hardy sage (Salvia spp.) perennial
  74. Hazel (Corylusspp.) shrub or tree
  75. Helenium (Helenium spp.) perennial
  76. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) annual or tropical shrub 
  77. Hellebore (Helleborus spp.) perennial
  78. Holly (Ilexspp.) shrub
  79. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) perennial herb
  80. Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) herb perennial
  81. Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule) perennial
  82. Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) grass
  83. Iris (Iris spp.) perennial or bulb
  84. Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema spp.) perennial
  85. Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) shrub
  86. Japanese angelica tree (Aralia elata) tree
  87. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) shrub
  88. Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’) grass 
  89. Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) grass
  90. Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) shrub
  91. Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) tree
  92. Jerusalem sage (Phlomis spp.) perennial or shrub
  93. Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium spp.) perennial
  94. Juniper (Juniperus spp.) conifer
  95. Kalimeris (Kalimeris pinnatifida) perennial
  96. Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) tree
  97. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) perennial
  98. Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) perennial
  99. Lantana (Lanata camara) annual or tropical shrub
  100. Larkspur (Consolida spp.) annual 
  101. Lavander (Lavandula angustifolia) herb
  102. Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) herb
  103. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) herb perennial
  104. Ligularia (Ligularia spp.) perennial
  105. Lilac (Syringa spp.) shrub
  106. Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) perennial
  107. Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’) tree
  108. Loosestrife (Lysimachia spp.) perennial
  109. Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) perennial 
  110. Lupine (Lupinus spp.) perennial
  111. Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus rosea) annual
  112. Magnolia (Magnolia spp.) tree
  113. Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) grass
  114. Meadow rue (Thalictrum spp.) perennial
  115. Meadowsweet, queen of the prairie (Filipendula spp.) perennial
  116. Mint (Mentha spp.) herb
  117. Monarda, beebalm (Monarda spp.) perennial
  118. Morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) annual
  119. Mountain bluet, perennial bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea montana) perennial
  120. Mountain laurel (Kalmia spp.) shrub
  121. Muscari, grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) bulb
  122. Narcissus, daffodill (Narcissus spp.) bulb
  123. Nepeta, catmint (Nepeta spp.) perennial
  124. Nicotiana, flowering tobbacco (Nicotiana spp.) annual
  125. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) grass
  126. Oleander (Nerium oleander) shrub
  127. Onion (Allium cepa) vegetable
  128. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) herb
  129. Oregon-grape (Mahonia spp.) shrub
  130. Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) perennial
  131. Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) tree
  132. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) biennial herb
  133. Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) perennial
  134. Pincushion flower (Scabiosa spp.) annual or perennial
  135. Pine (Pinus spp.) conifer
  136. Plum yew (Cephalotaxus spp.) conifer
  137. Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) annual
  138. Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) grass
  139. Prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) succulent
  140. Pumpkin, squash (Cucurbita spp.) vegetable
  141. Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) shrub
  142. Red valeriane (Centranthus ruber) perennial
  143. Rock-cress (Arabis caucasia) perennial
  144. Rose (spiny types) (Rosa rugosaR. spinosissima, etc.) shrub
  145. Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) perennial
  146. Rosmary (Rosmarinus officinalis) herb
  147. Rue (Ruta officinalis) perennial herb
  148. Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) perennial
  149. Rush (Juncus effusus) grass
  150. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) tree
  151. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) perennial
  152. Sage (Salvia officinalis) herb
  153. Sedum (Sedumspp.) perennial
  154. Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, syn. Potentilla fruticosa) shrub
  155. Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) conifer
  156. Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) bulb
  157. Silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) tree
  158. Silver birch (Betula pendula) tree
  159. Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata) shrub
  160. Skimmia (Skimmia japonica) shrub
  161. Smokebush (Cotinus coggyria) shrub
  162. Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) annual
  163. Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.) bulb
  164. Soapwort (Saponaria oxymoides) perennial
  165. Spiderflower (Cleome spp.) annual
  166. Spirea (Spirea spp) shrub
  167. Spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) perennial
  168. Spruce (Piceaspp.) conifer
  169. Statice (Limonium spp.) perennial or annual
  170. Strawflower (Helichrysum spp.) annual
  171. Summer snowflake (Leucojum spp.) bulb
  172. Sweet alyssum (Ligularia maritima) annual
  173. Sweet flag (Acorus spp.) perennial
  174. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) perennial
  175. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) grass
  176. Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) herb
  177. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) perennial herb
  178. Thyme (Thymusspp.) herb
  179. Tradescantia (Tradescantia x andersoniana) perennial
  180. Tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) shrub
  181. Verbena (Verbena spp.) annual
  182. Viburnum (Viburnum spp.) shrub
  183. Wild ginger (Asarum spp.) perennial
  184. Winter heather (Erica carnea) shrub
  185. Winter savory (Satureja montana) herb
  186. Wisteria (Wisteria spp.) climbing plant
  187. Wormwood, sagewort (silver-leafed species) (Artemisia spp.) perennial or shrub
  188. Yarrow (Achillea spp.) perennial
  189. Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea) perennial
  190. Yellow waxbells (Kirengeshoma spp.) perennial
  191. Yucca (Yucca spp.) perennial or shrub
  192. Zinnia (Zinnia spp.) annual

Stopping Croton Leaf Loss


The croton reacts badly to changes in its environment, often losing most of its leaves. Photo: Rez,

Question: I received a 39-year-old croton this fall. It keeps losing leaves even though I placed it right in front of a big window. Should I give it fertilizer and, if so, what kind?

Rachel Brassard

Answer: Your plant is not suffering from a lack of fertilizer, so no, don’t “feed” it (more on that later). It’s suffering from acclimatization shock, a very different problem.

The croton (Codiaeum variegatum) simply doesn’t appreciate changes in its growing conditions, especially when it’s a mature specimen. (Young crotons are easier to acclimatize.) This is doubly true when the move occurs in fall or winter, as in your case, because with reduced light due to short days and the dramatic drop in atmospheric humidity that occurs at that time of year, already just about all indoor plants are a bit stressed out and plants that are naturally poor at tolerating change, like a croton, find adapting even harder.

The leaves it bore when you brought the plant home had acclimatized to conditions that were certainly somewhat different. Your plant has therefore reacted by dropping them in order to grow new ones. However, under such circumstances, a mature croton tends to go overboard and lose so many of its leaves that it can longer long adequately carry on photosynthesis, in which case it may take years to entirely recover, if indeed it survives.

To help yours adapt, I suggest massively increasing the atmospheric humidity. At 90% humidity, it will be able to carry out photosynthesis much more efficiently than at 30%, even if lighting isn’t the best. You’ll find it will stop losing leaves very quickly once the humidity increases substantially

Give your croton its own personal greenhouse while it acclimatizes. Ill.: & Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

It’s pretty much impossible to increase the air humidity in your home to 90%… and you wouldn’t like it anyway; that’s too high for humans to feel comfortable. However, you can easily give your croton that kind of humidity by enclosing it inside a large transparent plastic bag (a bag recuperated from the cleaners or a transparent trash bag would be perfect). Or build a frame around it and cover the frame with sheets of transparent plastic. This will create an individual greenhouse where the humidity automatically will be very high.

Temporarily move the plant away from direct sun: the defect of an individual greenhouse is that temperatures inside rise terribly when the sun shines directly on it. You’ll be able to move the plant nearer to the window at the end of the treatment.

In other seasons, I would have suggested keeping your croton “under glass” for 3 to 4 weeks, until the leaf drop stopped, but since it’s winter, the plant will still undergo a shock when you remove the bag. So, just leave it its greenhouse all winter. In spring (mid-March, late March), when the sun becomes stronger and humidity in your home returns to a more normal level, gradually remove the greenhouse over a week or two so it can complete its acclimatization.

You won’t likely need to water your croton while it’s in its greenhouse. Ill.:, & Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

Note that you won’t have to water your plant much while it bathes in its extra humid environment. Indeed, possibly not at all. Yes, in a closed environment, plants can often go for months without watering. Only water if the soil becomes dry to the touch.

But will it be able to breathe sealed under plastic like that? Of course! Plants are the ultimate air recyclers, producing then using their own carbon dioxide and oxygen. 

What About Fertilizer?

In your question, you asked about fertilizer, as if you thought that would help, but, in fact, applying fertilizer to a plant suffering severe stress will actually harm it. Fertilizer is not a panacea and should never be supplied to a plant that is struggling to adapt. Fertilizer is something you give healthy plants in order to improve their performance, not weakened plants that will have trouble absorbing it.

In addition, winter is generally not the right season to fertilize houseplants, even healthy ones. Instead, you would normally apply fertilizer to a plant when it’s actively growing, that is, in spring or summer. So, yes, you can fertilize, but not right away. Wait until you remove the plant from its greenhouse shelter in the spring.

Plants can’t read fertilizer labels and really don’t care which one you use. Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

Which fertilizer should you use? It really doesn’t matter! Plants are essentially indifferent to the multiple fertilizers on the market. They’re not really designed for plants, but rather to appeal to the gardener’s belief that plants have very specific fertilizer needs. (Read Plants Can’t Read Fertilizer Labels.) Just use whatever fertilizer you have on hand and your croton will be perfectly happy. 

And also, it’s rarely necessary to fertilize a houseplant at more than a quarter of the recommended rate.

After Recovery

A croton will adapt to most indoor conditions… as long as you give it a chance to acclimatize. Photo: Hernán Conejeros

Once your croton has acclimatized to your conditions (and it’s surprising how well an acclimatized croton will do in almost all indoor conditions, even under poor light and relatively low humidity), don’t move it around. You can give it a regular quarter turn to stimulate equal growth from all sides, of course, but don’t move it another room or other location; otherwise you’ll have to acclimatize it all over again.

If you treat your croton correctly, it ought to thrive in your home for another 39 years!

Creating a Better Christmas Tree


Christmas trees of the future will last much longer. Photo:

Around the world, Christmas trees (usually some species of conifer) are grown by simply sowing seeds harvested from wild or cultivated trees. That means that each tree is genetically different … and the results in your home can be different too. You might get a great specimen that lasts weeks and weeks, or yours may start to fall apart only a few days after you bring it indoors.

But scientists in Canada have developed a more trustworthy, longer-lasting Christmas tree. A selection of balsam fir (Abies balsamina), they’re calling it the SMART Christmas tree … and it’s beginning to change how Christmas trees are grown around the world.

Bad Shipment Leads to Research

Dr. Raj Lada examining a balsam fir. Photo: CBC

Dr. Raj Lada, a plant, tree and ecophysiology professor in the Plant, Food and Environmental Sciences Department of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, first started looking into the problem nearly 15 years ago. 

A Christmas tree grower came to see him because of a disastrous business deal. He was not paid for an entire shipment, because the trees suffered needle loss during transit and were unsaleable when they arrived. It turns out that needle loss is a long-standing problem in the Christmas tree industry.

Lada began looking into what could be done to prevent such situations in the future, including improving shipping processes, looking into products that could be sprayed onto needles to help them stay on longer and ameliorating other factors affecting trees during transport, but his interest soon also turned to the trees themselves. 

Balsam fir seedlings. Photo: Jane Blackburn/ Christmas Tree Research Counci

He discovered that some balsam firs start losing needles only 2 to 6 days after harvesting, while others had inherited “needle abscission resistance”, a genetic trait: they held on to their needles for up to three months. After testing 400 balsam firs, he chose the best, not only with resistance to needle loss, but with an attractive dense shape and a wonderful aroma (the popularity of balsam firs as Christmas trees stems largely from their reputation for an excellent Christmas tree scent, yet that too was variable from tree to tree). 

SMART Christmas tree: superior in every way to regular Christmas trees. Photo: The Chronicle Herald

Then these superior trees were selectively bred together, giving today’s SMART Christmas tree (SMART stands for Senescence Modulated Abscission Regulated Technologies). They’re aren’t clones and they certainly aren’t GMOs, but they are top quality trees, architecturally sound, fragrant trees that retain their blue-green needles up to three months after harvesting; 72 days in the home.

Also, Lada’s research into shipping and storage has led to technologies that will ensure perfect Christmas trees can be shipped all over Canada and the United States, eventually even all over the world. 

With the help of government programs and a group of growers, the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, he launched the Christmas Tree Research Centre in Truro, Nova Scotia and remains its director. Already, thousands of SMART trees are growing on tree farms throughout Atlantic Canada and should reach home markets in about 4 to 5 years.

Will there be a SMART Christmas tree in your future? I bet there will! 

A Haven for Fairies


Photo: David Gonzales,

Creative Landscaping to Get Children Involved in the Garden

A guest blog by Lucy Henderson

Children are playing outside less than previous generations, with a recent report from Statistics Canada showing that young people spend around three hours with their screens a day, mostly indoors. This is a concern for many parents, and looking for creative ways to encourage children to spend time outside is a priority for many.

Creative gardening is a great way to involve children in outdoor projects, capture their imaginations with nature, and encourage them to spend time in the garden. And what better way to get young children involved in gardening than with a fairy garden?  

What Is a Fairy Garden?

Fairy garden. Photo: Dave Forehand, Dallas Arboretum

A fairy garden is made up of tiny structures, fairy accessories and diminutive plants, and forms a fairy landscape in a quiet part of the garden or a secluded planter. They create a sense of a magical land in the garden, and are a wonderful project to share with children or grandchildren. Plants are chosen to be on the same scale as accessories, which, much like doll’s house furniture, can be bought from specialist stores or created yourself from pebbles, acorns or bits of wood. 

As with the rest of the garden, plants should be selected according to the needs of the site: a shady area will need plants that flourish with little light, while areas that get a lot of sun will need plants that thrive in these conditions. 

Heron’s bill (Erodium reichardii ‘Charm’).

Plants should be small and slow-growing. Popular choices to create miniature lawns are elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’) and mosses, while miniature ivy (Hedera helix cvs) and creeping fig (Ficus pumila) are often chosen to climb fairy arbors. Whimsical flowers included heron’s bill (Erodium spp.), Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) and miniature daisies (Bellium minutum).

Involve Children From the Outset

Involve children right from the start. Photo:

They key to keeping children engaged and involved in the creation and maintenance of a fairy garden is to get them involved from the beginning. Design the garden with them before you begin, talk through ideas together, and select a secluded spot. Children can draw their vision for the garden and the accessories they’d like to include, and you can plan together where the plants will go. Younger children will also enjoy drawing creatures they imagine visiting the garden, including fairies, elves and talking animals. Take them to the garden center and include them in choosing the plants, thinking carefully about the sizes appropriate to the garden and the sorts of plants a fairy might want to be surrounded by.

Creating the Garden

While children should be involved throughout the process, there are a few grown-up matters to consider in the creation of a fairy garden, including soil selection and drainage if you’re using a container. Composted soil rich in organic matter and tiny pieces of bark will make the garden look alive. 

Deep containers ensure easy care for the fairy garden. Photo:

Containers must have a drainage hole which you can cover with a piece of newspaper or paper towel to keep the soil in place while allowing excess moisture to drip out. Contrary to popular belief, a drainage layer of pebbles is not useful nor is added charcoal. 

Once the container is filled with soil, children can help you create the lawn using your chosen lawn plant, and can help make paths for the fairies out of pebbles or gravel. 

When you’re planting, be careful not to overcrowd the area so that you have plenty of room for fairy accessories, but plant low-growing plants close together to create hiding spots for fairies. You can use plants like rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and ferns to make tiny trees, which the children can help you prune. Creating accessories for the garden can be an ongoing rainy day project, and children will love thinking of exciting ways to furnish the fairy garden.

Child with his fairy garden. Photo:

Creating a fairy haven in a secluded spot in the garden is a great way to get children outside and nurture a love of gardening, capturing their imaginations and creativity. Involve them in the project from beginning to end, and take the opportunity to teach them about plants and growing conditions. Once you get started, you’ll find the possibilities are endless.

Poinsettia: December Houseplant of the Month


What you first notice about the poinsettia are the beautifully colored leaves. They’re often thought to be the flowers, but are actually bracts that form a star shape around the true flowers, which are small and yellow, clustered in the center.

The classic red poinsettia is familiar, but trending for December 2019 are modern pastel colors such as salmon, pink, lemon and apricot. It’s an instant mood maker for the holidays and thereafter, because this winter bloomer provides a colourful start to 2020. 


The poinsettia or Christmas star (Euphorbia pulcherrima) originates from Mexico and Central America, where it grows as a deciduous shrub that can reach a height of 12 feet (4 meters). The plant blooms outdoors from November to February and loses its leaves entirely during the heat of the summer.

The Aztecs considered the plant to be holy; they called it Cuitlaxochitl. 

Poinsettia Assortment


The poinsettia is a “short day” plant: its star-shaped bracts take on color when the days get shorter, which coincides nicely with the Christmas period in the northern hemisphere. The range is constantly expanding, and poinsettia is offered from mini and standard sizes through to hanging plants and tree shapes. The main colors are red and white, while new colors such as lilac, salmon, cream and bicolored poinsettias are catching on quickly. 

Increasingly, merchants create what they see as added value by decorating the bracts with glitter, dyes or other decorative treatments. Be careful: sometimes these additions are bit garish!

The appealing bracts mean that the plant offers unlimited opportunities to create atmosphere in the run-up to Christmas.

What to Look for When Buying a Poinsettia 

Poinsettias come in all sizes and colors.
  • The pot size and number of bracts should be in proportion, and the plant must be mature enough to show good color.
  • There is a choice of single-headed plants, minis, topped or branched plants, standards of various heights and hanging plants.
  • They must all be free of pests and diseases; particularly check for the presence of whiteflies on the underside of the leaves.
  • Damaged bracts or foliage are usually caused during shipping or storage, particularly if temperatures are too low.
  • Yellow leaves indicate too little moisture, while the loss of buds in the center of the “flower” is a sign of insufficient light.

Care Tips 

If you accidentally break off a stem, use it as a cut flower!
  • The poinsettia is very cold sensitive, so make sure it is carefully wrapped at purchase for the trip home.
  • It likes a bright spot in the home, but doesn’t need full sun during the winter.
  • The soil should always be slightly damp.
  • The plant cannot cope with drafts or very warm locations, such as above the radiator or next to a crackling log fire.
  • If your poinsettia’s leaves turn yellow and drop off, you should place the plant in a cooler and lighter spot and increase the atmospheric humidity. That should perk it back up.
  • Fertilizer is only useful if you intend to keep and rebloom the plant; it can be applied at a reduced dose spring through summer.
  • After the bracts drop (they can last until May if the plant is exceptionally well cared for), you can rebloom your poinsettia by following the instructions given here.

Decorating with Poinsettias

Group smaller plants together for a more striking display.

The trend for December 2019 is a cheerful Christmas in pastel colors. Poinsettias can be added to other Christmas decorations in various festive styles, from classic red and white to trendy candy colors. The emphasis this year is on the pink, green and apricot shades. Display these modern colors in matching festive pots. 

One original idea is decorate your Christmas tree with mini poinsettias! So do so, remove the roots of these tiny plants from their pots and wrap them in sphagnum in order to prevent them from drying out or place them in the tree in little hanging buckets. 

Another idea? Decorate a large poinsettia with fairy lights as an alternative Christmas tree!

The poinsettia: you really can’t escape it! Every home needs at least one for Christmas!

Text and photos adapted from a press release by
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

Strawberries for the Ultra-Rich


Omakase strawberry. Photo: Oishii

If you’re often disappointed with store-bought strawberries, with a taste more tart than sweet, generally harvested before their time and shipped in from faraway places so that they are already in decline before they even hit the supermarket shelf, try an “Omakase” berry. Carefully grown under perfect conditions without the use of pesticides, hand-harvested and served mere hours later, this giant strawberry of Japanese origin is now available year-round in the best New York City restaurants at fantastic prices: up to $50 US for a single strawberry. Of course, since the meal they accompany is in the $300 to $400 range, that might not seem quite as steep.

Individually gift-wrapped Kotoka strawberry. Photo: Instagram/@emi12.10

Similar giant strawberries, called “Kotoka,” sell in individual gift boxes in Hong Kong for 168 Hong Kong dollars and are flown in daily from Nara, Japan.

Omakase strawberry at various stages of growth. Photo: Oishii

Developed in Japan, where they’re no cheaper, these specially hybridized strawberries are juicy, aromatic, marvelously textured and sweeter than regular strawberries. The “Omakase” berry (the one served in New York) is grown by a New Jersey-based company called Oishii and raised in a warehouse under carefully controlled conditions. Each berry is meticulously measured before harvesting to have a brix level of 13 to 14 (brix is a measure of sweetness). In comparison, the average supermarket strawberry offers only 5 to 6 brix. Coloration must be perfect: red and glossy. No white base for these beauties!

You can save by preordering and picking up the berries yourself. Photo: Oishii

If you’re concerned about the price, you can save big bucks by not buying the berries in a top-end restaurant. You can, indeed, get 8 berries, carefully wrapped for the same $50 by pre-ordering from Oishii. Of course, you then have to go to New York City to pick them up at the designated place and time. These strawberries wait for no one! 

Can Grow Your Own?

Are you kidding? Do you honestly think that anyone is offering plants or seeds of plants that produce $50 strawberries to home gardeners? They’re exclusive and carefully controlled, certainly not shared with us ordinary mortals. Even Hiroki Koga, Japan-born CEO of Oishii, had to negotiate for years to gain the right to grow these precious plants outside of Japan.

Photo accompanying giant Japanese strawberry seeds. Caveat emptor! Photo:

Of course, you can find all sorts of companies offering “Giant Japanese Strawberries” on eBay and similar sites, always accompanied by delightfully Photoshopped pictures, but you’d just be wasting your money. Often the seeds produce weeds, not even ordinary strawberry plants, let alone quality ones! 

Maybe one day you’ll be able to grow your own, but in the meantime, add the price of a plane ticket to New York City, Hong Kong or Japan to the cost of the fruit if you want to try one of these tasty beauties!