Kalanchoe

Kalanchoes bloom with tropical fruity color.

Even if never as overly indulgent in bloom as when new, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is one of the more sustainable of popular blooming florist plants. Forced bloom remains colorful for quite a while. By the time it deteriorates enough to necessitate grooming, new foliage may already be developing. Sporadic subsequent bloom is more natural in appearance.

Ultimately, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana becomes more of a succulent foliar houseplant that occasionally blooms, rather than a spectacular floral plant. Individual plants may survive for only a few years, but are likely to generate basal pups that grow as new plants during that time. Also, they are very easy to propagate by succulent stem and even leaf cuttings.

Mature Kalanchoe blossfeldiana do not get much more than a foot high and wide. Some may stay half as tall. Their lower leaves can get three inches long, with crenate margins. Minute yellow, orange, red, pink or creamy white flowers bloom for late autumn or winter. Garden plants require shelter from chill through winter and hot sunlight through summer. Most are houseplants that appreciate copious sunlight.

Coffee

Coffee was more popular as a houseplant decades ago.

The White Raven Coffee Shop, the best little pourhouse in Felton, has an interesting but old fashioned houseplant on the counter. This group of four small but rapidly growing coffee trees, Coffea arabica, was a gift from a loyal customer.

Mature plants can get to thirty feet tall in the wild. Fortunately, coffee trees are easy to prune to fit interior spaces. Pruning for confinement is actually better than relocating big plants outside, since they do not like cold weather and are sensitive to frost.

Like various species of Ficus, coffee is appreciated more for lush foliage that happens to grow on a tree that can be trained by pruning to stay out of the way, overhead or in other unused spaces or corners. The simple remarkably glossy leaves are about two and half inches long or a bit longer. The very fragrant small white flowers are almost never seen among well groomed houseplants, and only rarely and sporadically bloom among less frequently pruned larger trees in greenhouses and conservatories.

The half inch wide coffee fruit, which is known as a ‘cherry’, is even more rare than flowers among houseplants because of the scarcity of both pollinators and pollen (from so few flowers). Those fortunate enough to get flowers sometimes pollinate them with tiny paintbrushes or clean make-up brushes to compensate for a lack of insects about the house. The resulting bright red or somewhat purplish cherries barely taste like cherries and only make two coffee ‘beans’ each; not enough to bother roasting and grinding for coffee, but great for bragging rights.

Anthurium

Anthurium seem to be upholstered with vinyl.

The diminutive and indistinguishably dense flowers of Anthurium are surprisingly pathetic relative to the flashiness of the ‘spathe and spadix’ structures that accompany them. The spadix is the generally conical structure that supports and is covered with the flowers. It is most often pale shades of white, yellow or green, but can be pink or purplish. The spathe is the solitary, colorful bract that surrounds the spadix. It is most often white, red or burgundy, but can be orange, pink or pale shades of yellow or green.

There are nearly a thousand known specie of Anthurium. Most but certainly not all have glossy foliage. Leaf shape and size is as variable as flower color. Most Anthurium are terrestrial understory plants that grow below higher canopies of tropical mountain forests of Central and South America. Others are epiphytes that cling to trees, or lithophytes that cling to rock outcroppings.

Around the home, they are mostly grown as houseplants as much for their rich green foliage as for their colorful blooms. In the garden they need shelter from direct sunlight and frost. Blooms, and perhaps other parts, are toxic.

Ponytail Palm

In its native ecosystem, ponytail palm grows as a small tree.

Some succulent plants and their friends do not mind being grown as houseplants. Ponytail palm, Beaucarnea recurvata, is one of those rare friends of succulents that actually prefers to be inside, at least during winter when they can be damaged by cool weather and moisture. Plants that are houseplants through winter and get moved out to the garden through summer should be protected from harsh direct exposure since their foliage is adapted to the home environment. Otherwise, ponytail palm likes the sunniest rooms in the house.

The weird distended caudex at the base of the stem is the most distinctive feature of the ponytail palm, which as actually neither a palm, nor outfitted with ponytails. However, almost like a palm, pruning a solitary top down will likely be fatal. (Pruning the terminal bud off the top of a palm will necessarily be fatal to the affected trunk.) Unlike (solitary) palms, ponytail palm can eventually develop multiple trunks, which can be pruned off if absolutely necessary.

In their natural environment, ponytail palms can get to be shade trees with sparse limbs terminating with tufts of narrow strap shaped leaves. Yet, as slowly growing houseplants confined to containers, they rarely get more than six feet tall after many years. They really need good drainage, and prefer to be watered only about twice to four times monthly.

Fiddle Leaf Fig

Juvenile growth is almost never seen locally.

What a weird tree! Fiddle leaf fig, Ficus lyrata, is an uncommon but familiar large scale houseplant that we might not welcome into our homes if we knew how it behaves where it grows wild in the lower rainforests of Western Africa. Although it can grow upward from the ground like almost all other trees do, it often germinates and begins to grow as an epiphyte, within organic debris that accumulates in the branch unions of other trees. While suspended, it extends roots downward. Once these roots reach the forest floor, they develop into multiple trunks that overwhelm and crush the host tree as they grow.

The bold foliage is typically dark drab green, like the shades of green that were so popular for Buicks in 1970, with prominent pale green veins. Individual leaves are about a foot long and potentially nearly as broad at the distal (outward) ends, often with randomly wavy margins. Like fiddles, they are narrower in the middles, or actually more often narrower at the proximal (inward) ends. When pruning becomes necessary, the caustic sap should be soaked from fresh cuts with paper towels so that it does not drip and stain.

String of Pearls

Weird but elegantly pendulous string of pearls likes to hang around. It cascades nicely from hanging pots or tall urns.

It is difficult to see how string of pearls, Senecio rowleyanus, is related to much more colorful daisies and asters. The small, fuzzy and sickly white flowers are not much to look at, and only clutter the elegantly pendulous and oddly succulent foliage. The round leaves are light bluish green, so actually resemble peas more than they resemble pearls. The stems are so very thin and limber that they can only stand a few inches high, but can cascade to three feet!

Although evergreen, stems of outdoor plants can be cut back while dormant through winter to promote fresher growth in spring. The pruning scraps are very easy to propagate as cuttings. Roots are undemanding and sensitive to rot, so should be allowed to get nearly dry between watering. Bright ambient light without too much direct sun exposure is best. Incidentally, all parts of Senecio rowleyanus are toxic.

Some Plants Can Go To Pot.

What ever happened to those poinsettias and cyclamen from last Christmas?

Chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, azaleas, callas, kalanchoes and miniature roses can not really be as happy as they seem to be while in full bloom at the florist counter. Then there are all the seasonal blooming plants like Easter lilies and poinsettias. Wrapped in undraining mylar, often with ribbons and bows, they are actually quite humiliated.

All are forced to bloom in artificial greenhouse environments that are nothing like the home environments that they ultimately go to. As they finish bloom, most get retired directly to the garden where many are unable to adapt quickly and efficiently enough to survive for long. Many do not make it that far, but get sent to the compost or the trash by those who prefer to not prolong their agony.

These potted plants (which are actually known as ‘pot plants’ in the horticultural industries) are not like houseplants, since they are not actually expected to survive for long in the home. They are only expected to perform for a limited time while in bloom.

Adapting to the home environment is not the difficult part. Most potted plants can manage that for a while, but eventually want more sunlight. Hydrangeas, roses, Easter lilies and other deciduous plants also eventually want a cool winter for their dormancy. The problem is adapting to exposure to the sunlight and weather that these plants crave. Foliage can get scorched, frozen or desiccated.

As unsightly as plants can be during transition, most can eventually replace their greenhouse foliage with foliage that is adapted to their new environment in the garden if transitioned slowly and carefully. Large ‘forced’ flowers will eventually be shed or can be pruned off as they deteriorate. The more sensitive types of plants should be moved to a sheltered spot on a porch or in partial shade for a few months before being moved to more exposed spots. Once in the garden, they will want regular watering until their roots disperse.

Deciduous plants and bulbs can stay in the sheltered spot until they defoliate for winter. If put into their permanent location while dormant and bare, their new foliage that emerges in spring will be adapted to the new exposure.

Aloes, Christmas cactus and various other succulents are considerably more resilient and adaptable than the more common potted plants. Both rosemary and small olive trees that have become trendy during the past many years can likewise be adaptable if not kept in the home too long. Olive trees can stay potted indefinitely if pruned regularly, or can go into the garden where there is room to grow. Christmas trees are just as adaptable, but do not want to stay potted for long. Sadly though, most get much too big for home gardens.

Rubber Tree

Big glossy leaves of the familiar rubber tree like a sunny spot in the home, away from sources of heat.

Pruning a rubber tree, Ficus elastica, in the home takes a bit of acrobatics, since any wound immediately bleeds staining white latex. While pruning with one hand, the other hand must catch the latex with a rag. A third hand is needed to catch the bleeding piece of stem that gets pruned away. To make things more complicated, all three hands should avoid the potentially caustic latex. Even if it is harmless to the skin, it is a painful irritant if it gets into the eyes.

Young trees have larger glossy leaves that may be as long as a foot and half as broad, although most are about half as long and broad. Many modern cultivars have variegated or bronzy foliage. Where it gets enough sunlight as a houseplant, rubber tree will eventually need to be pruned for confinement. After all, in the wild, it can get more than a hundred feet tall and almost two hundred feet tall, with trunks more than six feet wide! In the garden, it needs shelter from frost. Aerial roots can develop in humid environments.

Air Layer Overgrown Houseplants.

Air layering big houseplants, like these lanky rubber trees, keeps them proportionate to limited space while also propagating new plants.

Most of the favorite houseplants are grown for dense evergreen foliage. Stems of Chinese evergreen, anthuriums, bromeliads and most ferns should never be seen. Yet, there are many houseplants that grow like small trees or coarse vines. Various ficus, dracaenas and philodendrons can get too big for their situations if not pruned. Palms can not be pruned down, so can only be moved or given to friends with higher ceilings.

Pruning and discarding overgrown but slowly growing stems seems like such a waste. Technically, stems from almost any overgrown houseplant can be rooted as cuttings. In reality though, most rot before they develop roots.

‘Air layering’ is probably the most efficient technique of propagation of houseplants from overgrown stems. It involves rooting the stems while still attached to the original plant. In the end, an unwanted stem gets pruned away as a freshly rooted new plant.

Air layering needs a bare and manageable section of stem that is at least a few inches long. This section does not necessarily need to be where the stem will eventually get pruned away from. It can be a bit higher (or farther out from the origin) if a shorter copy (new rooted plant) is desired. The extra length of stem in between can be pruned out when the copy gets separated.

The stem should be notched up to a third of the way through. This notch will develop roots better if rubbed with rooting hormone. A big wad of wrung out damp sphagnum moss a bit larger than a softball then gets wrapped around the notch, and then wrapped in plastic film. A cut up freezer bag should work nicely. The bag should be held in place with plant tie tape or something as simple as electrical tape, wrapped firmly around the stem above and below the sphagnum moss. Smaller stems can get smaller wads of sphagnum moss.

Unfortunately, there is no way to disguise the unappealing wrapped moss during the few months that may be needed for roots to develop. Eventually, roots become visible through the plastic, or the moss becomes firm with roots. The newly rooted stem can then be cut below the roots, unwrapped and potted as a new copy of the old houseplant. The stub below can be pruned away, or left to develop new shoots.

Poinsettia

After their distinctive and colorful bracts are gone, poinsettias can become handsome foliar houseplants or tall and lanky blooming shrubbery.

The tiny, yellow buds at the center of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) blooms are actually the unimpressive flowers. The colorful red, white, pink or rarely pale orange bracts surrounding these flowers are merely colorful leaves. Some varieties have marbled, blotched or spotted bracts. Compact potted plants that are mostly less than two feet tall and broad can get quite lanky and taller than ten feet in the garden. The dark green leaves are about three to five inches long.