Aloe Vera

(aloe happily thriving in parking lot in Hawaii )

As far back as Egyptian times Cleopatra used the juice in the leaves of this plant have been used to treat her skin, burns and wounds. It is a fantastic healing salve. The juice does not keep well so try to keep a fresh aloe plant in the house.

Treat this as you would any cactus. Water it only when the soil is dry about 4 inches down. Thoroughly water it when you do water it. Allow excess water drain out of the bottom of the pot.

Aloe needs quite a bit of direct sunlight. Place it in a south facing window with no blinds or curtains blocking light. If it is not getting enough light, as is often the case in winter here in New England, the leaves will get soft and may bend down and crease.

Aloes have shallow root systems and so prefer wide rather than tall pots.

Cactus do not like to be fertilized. Do not fertilize them or fertilize lightly if you must.

When the aloe vera plant is large and old enough, it will begin to grow babies which you can separate out into separate plants when they are large enough.

I found several websites mentioning aloe vera as a poisonous plant but little information. I suggest you do not eat the plant, better to look at it and use it on burns.

Dying aloe plants can usually be revived by giving them lots of sunlight and little water. Use fluorescent table lamps to bring up the light level for your plant if you are going through a long dark winter.

Happy aloe plants will bloom indoors.

The name aloe is from Greek and refers to the bitter juice in the leaves. It is originally from Africa and its use has been recorded over the last 6000 years, even making an appearance in the Bible.

It was the sap (resin), not the gel that was originally used medicinally. The sap is first boiled down into a black gel.

Problems:
Lack of sun and too much water are common causes of problems in aloes grown inside.

Leaves bent down instead of up means too little light.

Rust is a group of fungi that attack many plants. Each fungi attacks a specific plant. This occurs from too little sun and too much water.

The best fix is to give the plant more sun and drier air. That’s not so easy outside and not during the occasional cold, wet spells we get in Houston.

The next option is to use a fungicide. You can find them at any place that sells plant supplies.

As long as the wet, cold spell does not last too long, the fungus should not hurt the plant, just discolor it.

Tomato Seeds

If you are growing tomatoes from seed they need to get going early February in time to plant in Houston.

You want to spend about 6 weeks growing them indoors before placing them outside. Find a very sunny window to get them going and remember tomatoes love heat so be sure your location is very warm as well.

It is unlikely you’ll need to add heat down here in Houston, but up north heating pads on their lowest setting are sometimes put under the trays of tomato seeds or the seeds can be placed on a radiator in the evenings.

Mid-March is when tomato plants typically go in the ground outside here. You need night temperatures over 50’F to safely plant them outdoors. If it gets chilly after you’ve put them out cover them with milk jugs or plastic to protect them.

Tomatoes have two very short growing seasons in Houston, one in the spring, one in the fall.  You need to be sure to get in early on both if you want tomatoes.  If it is too chilly, cover them with plastic. One the night temperatures bottom out around 70’F the plant will stop making flowers.

I usually collect seeds from heirloom tomatoes purchased at the market. Just stash a few seeds when you slice the tomatoes. Place them on a paper towel to dry out. Once they dry out you can pot them.

Bromeliads

. . .Bromeliads are members of the plant family Bromeliaceae, containing more than 3,000 described species. The most well known bromeliad is one that you may find in your fruit salad – the pineapple. But this family includes others that look nothing like that fruit, such as Spanish moss (which incidentally is neither Spanish nor a moss).The more common bromeliads are terrestrial species, which means they are found growing in the ground, which is typical of most of our garden plants. . . .

Saxicolous species grow on rocks. . . .

The third species is epiphytic. These are found growing on other plants, usually trees, shrubs or cactus, but sometimes they can be found on telephone poles or even on the telephone lines themselves. This capability to take their nutrition and moisture from the atmosphere has earned these bromeliads the name air plants.”

. . .

This spiral arrangement ( of leaves ) causes the plant to grow in a flattened configuration with its leaves lined up in a single plane. In many, if not most, of the bromeliads the bases of the leaves overlap to form a water reservoir. Those with this central cup are often called tank bromeliads. They rely less heavily on their roots for nourishment than others. This tank is used to hold water and nutrients used by the plant.

. . . Bromeliads both beautiful, easy to grow

Bromeliads are highly tolerant of abuse, so they are a good choice of house plant for busy people.

These plants like a medium amount of sun, an east or west window sill works well. I have a couple that grow under table lamps and are quite happy to do so. If your plant is not flowering give it more sun. If it still doesn’t flower for you, place it in a clear plastic bag with a ripe apple for a few days. The ethylene from the apple will motivate the bromeliad to bloom. They may need more sun to get blooming going, but once blooming can do well in lesser lit places. If the leaves get long and floppy the plant probably wants more sun. But some varieties of bromeliad have floppy leaves naturally so it depends on what you have.

Water these plants by taking them to the kitchen sink or outdoors and spraying them with the hose. The leaves have tiny scales that absorb nutrients. Be sure to get all of the leaves wet. Allow the water to run down and puddle into the bucket of the plant. It will continue to absorb water and nutrients there. This does not have to be kept wet as some websites recommend. Remember this plant gets little, if potted nutrients from the soil, none if mounted. Spraying the leaves with water, or water with a little bit of fertilizer mixed into it is what it needs.

The flowers are actually quite tiny, it is colored leaves about the flower that make it appear larger. These leaves green up as they get larger. If the flower dies, the plant will die. Do not be too quick to toss it out. After the main plant dies off babies (pups) should begin to appear in the dirt around the original plant.

Since they are epiphytes they are not getting nutrients from the soil, pot them in a small pot and only re-pot when truly pot bound. You can also mount them instead of potting them. Just glue, tie or staple the plant to a piece of wood or put them in a shell or other interesting item. Do not use a hot glue gun. Goop or staples are the preferred method of attaching the plant to a mount.

Pineapples are the best known of this class of plants. They are easy to grow When you bring a pineapple home, slice off the top leaving about an inch of pineapple fruit attached to the leaves. Let this sit on your counter and dry. In about a week, or two it’ll be dry. Put this in a pot, putting the dried pineapple section under about an inch of dirt and leaving the leaves up in the air. Water when slightly dry until you see new growth, then water only when top inch of soil is dry.

We have some growing outside down here in Houston so some of the bromeliads can tolerate fairly cold nighttime temps. I put one outside here in Houston a few months back. Though it was not real happy about those 28′ nights and the two weeks of rain that followed it is holding its own. Check your specific variety for more information.

They do best if you rotate them outside occasionally as weather allows. Have a few plants for inside and a few for outside and rotate them weekly. They make great interior landscaping plants because they need little care and bloom for 2 to 8 months at a time.

These plants propagate by growing babies from the base of the mother plant except a few of them do so off the flower stems as a ‘spider plant’ does. When the babies reach 1/3 the size of the mother plant they can be separated from the mother. If the babies are on long stems, just cut the stem. If they are attached to the base of the mother plant use a sharp knife or razor to separate them from the mother plant. It does not matter if they have roots when you separate them, they are air plants. You can also just leave them attached to the mother plant if you prefer. Most varieties make very nice clusters of plants.

These plants are native only to Central and South America. One kind is found in Africa and is considered part of the proof of continental drift between South America and Africa.

If your plant begins to die, but you see baby bromeliads around the base of the plant this is just the normal life cycle. Your babies will grow up and replace the mother plant.

If your plant begins to die back and you do not see babies, this is likely from over watering. Bromeliads should be potted in a very small pot in a very light, loose soil. Add some mulch or orchid bark to the soil if you only have regular potting soil available.

Occasionally you might have a mealy bug problem with bromeliads.

More information:
Bromeliad Forum at The Garden Web
Bromeliad Society International
Bromeliads contribute to mosquito breeding in Miami

Minature (pygmy) Date Palm ( Phoenix roebelenii )

Pygmy Date Palm
Pygmy Date Palm Flower
Pygmy Date Palm

This palm will grow up to 10′ and is a slow grower ( ~6″/year ) making it a great potted plant as well. By late summer 2008 it had reached 5′ tall. By late summer 2009 it was about 6′ tall. A cold winter later it died. These do not survive freezing temperatures.

It will grow as far north as zone 9 and there are stories of it surviving at occasional temperatures into the mid to low 20s once it has been established. But it must be covered with a sheet or some plastic to provide frost protection.

During the winter of 2007-2008 it lost a few leaves after the ice storm. During the cold winter of 2009-2010 I lost it. All the pygmy date palms are reduced to trunks after that winter. As of June I’ve only seen one in the neighborhood even begin to show life again.

Flowers are tiny and cream colored followed by the dates. The dates, while not poison, are not especially eatable either.

They will grow in sun or part shade.

They like lots of water.

When the oldest, closest to the ground, fronds die, trim them back to the stem of the plant, taking care not to damage the trunk.

Wear thick leather gloves to protect your hands when trim this plant. It has some amazing thorns.

Date palms get frayed looking at the top when they are under fertilized. If yours looks frayed put it on a steady low dose of fertilizer.

Things to watch for:

Bud rot is caused by a fungus.  The top of the plant just rots.  Try treating with a fungicide containing copper.

Frizzle top is not usually seen in Houston, it is caused by a lack of fertilizer.  New grow appears light yellow and frizzy.

Palmetto weevils can cause trees to wilt in just a few days.  You can’t save it but treat nearby trees with a pesticide containing permethrin.

Phoenix species are especially susceptible to RoundUp damage.  So take care not to use it to weed around your palm.

More information
Floridata: Phoenix roebelenii
Palms and Cycads, Garden Web Forums

Azalea

These make great beginner’s bonsai plants. They are fast growing, inexpensive and pretty forgiving. About the only thing they do not like is for you to prune too much at a time.

See that they have plenty of light. Azalias prefer a south window. They will tolerate east and west facing windows.

They drink lots of water so keep an eye on the soil, watering them when very the top begins to feel dry. When you water them let the water fill the pot, then drain thoroughly. Mix one tablespoon of vinegar into a gallon of water to help keep the soil acidic for your azalea. Or occasionally ( once every 3 or 4 months ) add a tablespoon of epson salts to the top of the soil.

To make a bonsai from an azalea un-pot the plant when you bring it home and gently remove the dirt from the roots. Trim about one third of the roots off from the bottom. Think about the shape you want it to take full grown and trim about a third off the leaves and branches and re-pot it. Trim as needed to coax it into the shape you wish it to take. About once a year re-pot and re-trim the roots. Be sure to use pots that are not too large. Part of keeping the plant bonsai sized is being sure it remains pot bound.

Angel’s Trumpet ( Brugmansia )

Angel’s Trumpet
Angel’s Trumpet
Angel’s Trumpet
Angel’s Trumpet

This will grow as a shrub but can be coaxed into a tree form by the usual pruning of lower branches. If you protect the trunk in cooler months ( insulated pipe wrap works very well ) it will grow faster and develop a tree form quicker. In time it can reach 20′ in height.

Grow this plant in full sun ( except Houston afternoon full sun ) to filtered shade.

If exposed to a light frost you’ll lose the leaves, if exposed to an extended frost, or several like in the winter of 2009-2010 it will die back to the ground. Mine came back to life in March.

During the July and Aug the brugmansia will wilt in the afternoon heat.

The flowers come in white, pink, red, yellow or orange.

Do not cut this plant to make it bushy, it will do so on its own. When the limb branches, flowers will form on the new growth. If you must prune it, do so while it is not flowering.

The base of this plant gets scraggly looking with time. You’ll either want to prune it to tree shape or plant something in front of it to cover the bottom.

This plant is easily propagated from cuttings. To propagate you cut off a limb, cut it into 1′ chunks and stick the sticks in the ground. I find it propagates better from hard wood cuttings, soft cuttings don’t usually survive. One person told me she had done that. Two years later they had climbed to the second floor of her home. So this is a be sure you love it before you plant it plant.

These plants are native to the high Andes where they grow as a scrub brush. The high trade in Brugmansia has made it endangered there.

Some say the name comes from the trumpet shaped flowers. I’ve also heard that the leaves are highly toxic and if you ingest it you’ll hear the angel’s trumpets calling for you. The leaves when dried and smoked are also an extremely strong hallucinogenic, don’t smoke them. Despite the toxicity the plant is used as a medicine in the Sibundoy Valley of Columbia. It is also used in witchcraft by the men of the local tribes. Tropane alkaloids (atropine, hyoscyamine, scopolamine) are the culprit, the same chemicals found in belladonna and henbane.

It has also been known to send gardeners to the ER with pupils so dilated the irises were hardly visible. The toxins easily pass through the skin. Wear gloves when pruning.

These do not do well in droughts. If if looks like we’re getting a hard freeze, I take cuttings and plant them in pots inside until the weather warms up a bit.

Datura have upright facing flowers, green stems and seed pods with spines. They are less cold tolerant than Brugmansia.
Brugmansia have downward facing flowers, harder, woodey stems, grow taller and more tree like than Datura which prefer a shrub like shape. Brugmansia have pea pod like seed pods

Datura

For more information:
Brugmansia Growers
Brugmansia Forum – Garden Web

Aglaonema aka Chinese Evergreen

{Emerald Beauty}

Aglaonema grows in the rain forests in south eastern Asia. This is a low light plant and great for cleaning pollutants out of the air. Place them in north, east or west windows. They will not tolerate direct sunlight. They also need warmth preferring temperatures above 75′. They will show damage at 55’F.

The plant in the picture is in a north-west window that is shaded partially by a porch that runs out next to the window. I missed getting a picture of it in bloom, it bloomed in the winter. The flowers are very much like those of peace lilies.

Keep it slightly dry, water when the soil is dry for about the top inch, but do not allow it to dry out completely. I fertilize about once a week with a fertilizer at about 1/4 strength. It will comfortably handle both dry and humid environments, but prefers humid environments.

Propagate these like you do an ivy plant. Cut off a stem of leaves and place the stem in a glass of water until roots appear. Then plant in soil. Keep the soil damp at first and gradually work up to treating it as you do your other Aglaonema.

This plant will grow to between 2′ and 12′ depending on conditions, but most will stay under 3′.

This is an excellent houseplant for the darker areas of your home.

Watch for root rot, mealy bugs and spider mites. I had no trouble with this plant, it is unlikely you will either.