Yellowing leaf with green veins

I noticed this happening on a few plants late last summer.

There are many reasons this could happen. One is too much Round up. Another is too much phosphorus. The other is too little of magnesium or iron or zinc or nitrogen some combination of them.

If this is a magnesium deficiency then Epsom salts ( magnesium sulfate ) are needed. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of Epsom salts to 1 gallon of water. You want to do this 3 times at 6 week intervals. Older leaves are most effected by magnesium deficiencies.

If this is an iron deficiency new leaves are most likely to show the symptoms.  Adding organic material helps with iron deficiency or any other treatment that breaks up the soil and lets more air get in.  Adding peat moss and or 1 pound of sulphur per 100 sq feet of garden will also help by lowering the soil pH slightly.

For zinc you want to add fertilizers for acid loving plants. Too much phosphorus or alkaline soil can cause problems with plants getting enough zinc.  Often leaves will also be smaller and or curled.

Nitrogen deficiencies show in older and lower leaves first.

If your soil is alkaline, pH > 7.0 as most clay soils in the area are, you’ll do better to apply zinc, magnesium and iron as liquid fertilizer sprayed on the leaves. Alkaline soils tie up the nutrients faster than the plants can take them up.

The best thing you can do is a Soil test then you know for sure what the problem is and what you need to do to fix things.

I find some of my plants do this when they require nitrogen and that tells me it’s time to fertilize.  The plants in my garden that show the need for fertilizers first are: Mexican Bleeding heart, Passion vine, Gardenia.

Keeping plants watered while you are busy/away

The best way to keep your plants watered while you are away is to sit them in a cereal bowl or other deep saucer and fill the saucer with water.

I find an inch of water will keep the plant soil damp for a week.

Mixing some sphagnum moss in the soil, or using just sphagnum moss if they are orchids will keep the plants from needed to be watered as frequently.

Remember this is what to do if you are going away. If you keep your house plants sitting in water all the time they will rot.

More information:
Keep your plants alive while you are on vacation


Calatheas are fast growing foliage plants that clean the air by absorbing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene substances as well as auto exhaust pollution. One or two one foot plants can clean as much as 90% of the toxins from the air in an average size room.

Purple on the back sides of plant leaves tells you this plant will happily tolerate low light. These are prettier than most other foliage plants.

Each leave grows on its own stem forming a bush like plant, rosette style.

Calatheas prefer an east or north window. If you have a bright south or west window place them back from the window a few feet at least. They want bright light, but not direct light. In direct light the leaves are clear rather than green. In too little light they bend dramatically towards the light.

They like to stay moist, and like high humidity.

They also prefer to be warm all the time. Keep them away from drafts or draft windows. A nice humid not too sunny bathroom is probably your best location in the house for these plants.

Plant them in a humus rich potting mix for best results.

These make great office plants.

Cactus and succulents

One of the things that makes cactus and succulents great house plants is that they don’t mind the dry air in homes and offices. If you can get them enough light you’ll find they are some of the easiest house or office plants to grow.

Cactus and succulents differ only slightly. All cactus are succulents, not all succulents are cactus. Cactus store water in their stem, succulents store water in the leaves, stem or both. All cactus originated only in North and South America, succulents are found worldwide.

The temperature indoors is usually fine for all succulents and cactus. Some may need a cooler, winter of sorts to promote blooming. Others bloom after a flood. If you are having trouble getting your indoor succulent to bloom: first try more light, then try leaving it out at night for a month or two when it is chilly but not too cold for your particular plant. If neither of those works, let it dry more than usual for a few weeks, then give it a good soaking. Just don’t let it sit in water, be sure to drain it well.

As a general rule the spinier a cactus is, the more sunlight it will need. They are leaves that have evolved to shade the cactus with out giving up much needed water like regular leaves.

Cactus spines are like leaves and can be removed with out hurting the plant. You’ll see a tuft of tiny spines or hair at the bottom of each spine.

Succulent spines do not have tufts at the bottom and are connected to the stem tissue. Removing them will harm your plant.

To successfully grow succulents indoors, use a well drained soil. Sand or potting soil mixed with larger pebbles works well.

Cactuses need lots of sun. A bright, southern facing window at the very least. When the soil is dry several inches down, give them a good soaking and let them go dry before the next watering. Don’t fertilize cactus.

Christmas Cactus or Easter Cactus is one of the few cactus that needs water when the soil is only dry down an inch or so. It will not mind if you let it go a bit longer. Flowering in the winter around Christmas (or Easter ) it will brighten up the house in the winter. It does well in a hanging basket having vine like rather than upright growth. To propagate it just trim off a few leaves and put them in a moist soil and they will root in a month or so.

Be very careful not to overwater cactus and succulent plants especially in the winter when they are not getting much light. Black or brown spots on the cactus or succulent are a sign of over watering.

If you have black or brown areas that are mushy, that is bacterial soft rot. Remove those sections with a clean, sterile knife. Let those sections air dry.

Sometimes brown scab like things will form on your cactus. We really don’t know why this happens. it is possibly related to spider mite damage or too high of a humidity for cactus plants.

Mealy bugs can also bother cactus.

Carnivorous plants

All of the carnivorous plants I have grown love moist soil. Which is true of wild carnivorous plants in the wild. None have yet been found in arid areas. The flytraps, pitcher plants and sundews are all bog plants. Those I grow pots of clay with peat moss and soil. I put the clay pots in a saucer of water that I keep filled.

Do not fertilize carnivorous plants. In the wild they grow in bogs with poor dirt. The nutrients they need they get from the bugs they catch. When I have rain water available I use that to water them, otherwise I use tap water. Bottled water can be anything from anywhere, it’s just basically someone else’s tap water. Distilled water is totally lacking in anything.

My newest collections of carnivorous plants are planted in clear glass containers with tops. They are planted in sphagnum moss instead of dirt. They are thriving. Being bog or rain forest plants these plants all love humidity.

You can plant your carnivorous plants in sphagnum moss, peat moss, or a sand/dirt/peat mixture. Just be sure to avoid any potting soil at the nursery that has fertilizer as most of them now do.

I put the larger hanging Nepenthes outside in the summer under heavy shade and in the bathroom in the winter. It will not tolerate temperatures under 60’F. Most of the bog growing ones don’t mind an occasional frost or two.

The largest source of problems with carnivorous plants are caused by a lack of sufficient light. These plants love the sunshine and just can’t seem to get enough. If your plants are not doing well, try more light first.

The earliest known mention of carnivorous plants is in herb books of Europe in the late middle ages. Roger Bacon has several drawings of sundews in his yet to be deciphered ‘Voynic Code’ of the mid 1200s. At the time these plants were not known to be carnivorous.

The flytrap was the first plant discovered to be carnivorous by John Ellis. John Ellis named the fly trap ‘Dionaea muscipula’ ( Dionaea for the goddess Diana and muscipula means mousetrap ). The botanical world was amazed and a detailed paper by Ellis was sent far and wide throughout the community. Linnaeus, the father of biology, would not accept that a plant could be carnivorous, referring to Ellis’ work as ‘an offense against God’. So there the studies ended until Darwin’s time.

Darwin’s work with carnivorous plants began with sundews. Soon Joseph Hooker, then director of Kew Botanical Gardens, joined Darwin’s studies and they expanded them to cover other carnivorous plants. Darwin’s 400 page report in 1875 is still considered one of the main works on carnivorous plants. (Project Gutenberg has Darwin’s report available for free download )

Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon’s wife Josephine were both avid collectors of carnivorous plants.

Carnivorous plants attract prey, trap prey, and eat the prey by releasing enzymes that dissolve the prey. They then take the nutrients back up for use.

There are many plants that attract and trap the prey but only eat it with the help of a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. These are considered pre-carnivorous plants. Two bromeliads Brocchinia reducta and Catopsis bertermoniana in in this group. Even though they trap insects neither releases enzymes to dissolve the prey. Instead bacteria does that work for them. Also one of the tillandosioideaes, Catopsis Grisebach is considered to be pre-carnivorous. This plant grows on trees to which it attaches itself with roots. The leaves form an upright funnel in which it traps insects. Like the bromeliads it lacks its own enzymes to dissolve the insects.

Some plants, like Giant Dutchman’s Pipe, trap prey and release the prey after they have used the insect to spread pollen.

The plants attract prey by looking like flowers using colors including many ultra violet wavelengths which many insects can see. Some use scent often in the form of a sticky liquid.

Most of the carnivorous plants trap prey by letting the insect into the eating area but not out. A few like flytraps and sundews move and surround the insects. Some just use adhesives.

The enzymes used to breakdown the prey into dinner by the plants most commonly includes: Aamylase, chitinase, esterase, lipase, peroxidase, phosphatase, protease, and ribonuclease. Not all plants use all of the enzymes.

More Info:
Energetics and the evolution of carnivorous plants
International Carnivorous Plant Society
Carnivorous Plants, from Wayne’s World

If you want to see some truly amazing home grown carnivorous plants be sure to check out Varun’s photostream on flickr

Windmill Palms (Trachycarpus fortunei )

2018, haven’t had a chance to trim off the branches from last winter yet
Late summer 2019

Windmill Palms are moderate growing, reaching full height in about 10 years. They will reach a height of 20′. This particular one is about 3 years old.

They will deal with full sun, part shade is preferred.

They will tolerate droughts once well established. Plant in March & April.  That said it loves and does especially well in wet areas.

As the palms grown dead fronds will lay down against the stalk. Some people leave them some remove them. Bats love to make homes in the dead fronds. So leave them if you like bats. If you remove them also watch out for bees that sometimes build hives under the leaves.

Not one of these came down during Ike in our neighborhood, they fared much better than the more traditional trees.

The cold winter of 2009-2010 did much damage to the local palm trees. Most of the local ones have had their all of leaves removed. But all of them put out new leaves at the top in March so I expect they will all do just fine.

Summer 2011 brought 3 months of temps over 100’F and no rain. The palm is holding its own.

More information:
Floridata: Trachycarpus fortunei
Palm Doctor: The Fabulous Windmill Palm

Mosquito and Tick remedy

Last year, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Oxford, Miss., isolated compounds from a plant called American beautyberry that enable its crushed leaves to repel mosquitoes.

This work, led by chemist Charles Cantrell at the ARS Natural Products Utilization Research Unit in Oxford, was inspired by a tip another ARS scientist—botanist Charles Bryson in Stoneville, Miss.—got long ago from his grandfather: that beautyberry was used in northeastern Mississippi to protect people and farm-work animals from biting bugs.

Now ARS scientists in Beltsville, Md., have shown that two beautyberry compounds” callicarpenal and intermedeol”may effectively repel blacklegged ticks as well. [ read more USDA Research, Beautyberry ]