Just like potted chyrsanthemums, azaleas, hydrangeas and poinsettias, potted specimens of Guzmania magnifica are popularly purchased while beginning to bloom, enjoyed as house plants through a long bloom cycle, but then discarded as bloom eventually deteriorates. They are rarely allowed to produce new pups that can be divided and grown into fresh new plants to bloom later.
The bright yellow, orange, red or pink bloom stalks, as well as their rich green basal foliage, are so glossy that they seem to be plastic. The colorful parts of the blooms are pointy strap shaped bracts that arch outward from upright stalks. The leaves below have the same shape, but are longer, and more densely arranged in neat rosettes. Tiny flowers are mostly obscured by the bracts.
Guzmania magnifica, likes bright ambient sunlight without direct sun exposure, and can tolerate significant shade, especially if grown for only a few months while blooming. They seem to like misting, but probably do not not need it. They should be watered only weekly to every two weeks, when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry. Too much fertilizer might scorch the foliage.
This is one of the more traditional perennials for old fashioned window boxes, not only because it cascades downward to avoid obstructing associated windows, but also because, back before window screens were commonly available, the aromatic foliage was purported to repel mosquitoes. Ivy geranium, Pelargonium peltatum, is splendid for hanging pots and retaining walls as well.
The best bloom is usually later in summer or in early autumn, but sporadic bloom can continue almost throughout the year. The flowers are very similar to those of more common zonal geranium, but perhaps more abundant. The slightly more extensive color range goes beyond hues of white, pink, red and peach, to include rich burgundy, pinkish lavender and candy striped red with white.
The rounded and lobed light green leaves are rather succulent, so are easily damaged. Some cultivars have slight foliar halos (semicircular zones of darker color around the centers of the leaves) almost like those of zonal geraniums, but not quite as prominent. The thin and nearly succulent stems are easy to root as cuttings. Although fragile, they can sprawl or cascade as much as six feet.
In this situation, the point is that all those pointed tips of the leaves of this awkwardly floppy century plant, Agave americana, are extremely sharp, extremely rigid and EXTREMELY dangerous. Those shorter teeth on the margins of the leaves are just as sharp and rigid, and are curved inward to maximize injury to anyone trying to get away from an initial jab. With tips that impale, and marginal teeth that slash, this is one very hateful perennial!
Another point is that this big and awkwardly obtrusive century plant is on a patio at a Mexican restaurant. Yes, it is in a public place where people get dangerously close to it. On Friday and Saturday nights, this restaurant can get quite crowded. Some within such crowds are inebriated, so are more likely to stumble about and bump into things that are best avoided. Those concrete slabs to the left are benches where people are often seated.
The third point is that the only remedy for this ridiculously bad situation is to remove the century plant. Chopping the leaves like those that were over the bench on the left only removes a few tips and teeth, but does not make the rest of the foliage significantly safer. Nor does folding the leaves inward, like those that are next to those that were chopped. Such abuse only makes the whole mess uglier. Now it is both dangerous AND ugly.
Now, who thought that putting the most dangerous of all perennials available into this public situation was a good idea?! (Cacti with inward curving spines and other plants that are more dangerous are not even available in nurseries.) Century plants are dangerously nasty even when small and young, so even someone who knows nothing about landscape design should have known better than this!
The dark bronze and variegated varieties of tree houseleek, Aeonium arboreum, are so much more popular than the simple species, that the simple species with plain green foliage is now rather rare. The succulent stems do not stand much more than three feet tall. They get about as broad, and can get even broader as lower stems develop roots and grow into new plants. The succulent rosettes of foliage of well watered plants can be fragile to handle. Mature plants can bloom in spring with unusual conical trusses of yellowish or chartreuse flowers.
Cut Christmas trees really are the way to go. There is no obligation to take care of them after Christmas. They do not need to planted out into a garden that will be too small for them as they grow. They do not need to be maintained in a pot, only to get disfigured or partially defoliated before next Christmas. They simple get removed from the home and composted or otherwise disposed of.
Potted living Christmas trees may seem like a good idea, but they are not as sustainable as they seem to be. Only the smaller and more compact types of conifers can be confined to big pots or planted into compact garden spaces. Rosemary shorn into small cones happens do well either in big pots or out in the garden, and if preferred, can be allowed to assume its natural bushy form.
Many other potted plants that are popularly brought into the home for Christmas decoration are easier to accommodate but take a bit of effort. Poinsettias are the most familiar of these. They can grow as houseplants for years, and might hold their colorful bracts for months. In mild climates, they can be planted in the garden, but will never look like they did originally. Most get discarded.
Hollies and azaleas are more sustainable, but are not as popular. Of these, hollies are the easiest. They can be planted in larger pots or directly into the garden later, when the worst of winter is over. Azaleas will eventually drop their flowers, and will likely look very distressed for a few months, but if watered regularly, can regenerate new foliage that is adapted to their new environments.
Christmas cactus happens to be a delightful houseplant regardless of the season. It will also drop its flowers, but will generate appealing pendulous foliage that cascades nicely from hanging pots. It can bloom annually, although timing of bloom is quite variable. It can do the same outside, if sheltered. Amaryllis also prefers to stay potted. It will replace its tall flower stalks with a few leaves that sustain the bulbs until dormancy next autumn, and can bloom again next winter if given a chance.
People really stress out over Christmas trees. Some do not want a cut Christmas tree because it involves killing the tree. Some do not want an artificial Christmas tree because it is . . . artificial. Some do not want a living Christmas tree because it is too expensive for a tree that is too small. There are so many myths and misconceptions about Christmas trees, yet everyone wants one.
As mentioned, artificial trees are . . . artificial. Obviously. They are not a horticultural commodity, so are not an appropriate topic for a gardening column. What can be said about them is that they are not a more environmentally responsible option to disposable cut real trees. Countless dinosaurs died to make the petroleum for the plastic that these non-biodegradable trees are made of.
Cut trees are still the most environmentally responsible option. They are not harvested from forests, but from plantations, just like any other cut foliage, cut flowers or vegetable crops. Many are grown from the branched stumps of previously harvested trees, by a process known simply enough as ‘stump culture’. It works like coppicing, and allows some stumps to produce for many years.
Potted living trees are the most misunderstood type of Christmas trees. There is nothing environmentally friendly about them. They are exotic (non-native) trees grown in synthetic media (potting soil) in vinyl pots. They get synthetic fertilizer, artificial irrigation and very unnatural pruning while growing within artificially regulated environments that are designed to promote efficient production.
Only a few of the more compact types of living Christmas trees, like Colorado blue spruce and dwarf Alberta spruce, can survive confinement in pots for more than just a few years. Austrian black pine and dwarf limber pine need a bit of trimming as they grow, but also have the potential to work for a few Christmas seasons. The common small potted Christmas trees that are already decorated are Italian stone pine and Canary Island pine, which do not survive confinement for long, and get too big for home gardens.
Aside from all the seasonal raking and dormant pruning, there is not as much to do in the garden as there was earlier in the year. Lawns do not need much mowing. Hedges do not need much shearing. Untimely mowing and shearing can actually damage lawns and hedges. Watering, which was so important while the weather was warm, is now rare in the cool weather between rain.
Watering is now so infrequent that the few plants that still need it sometimes do without. Plants that are merely sheltered by eaves probably do not mind so much because their roots are dispersed beyond the eaves. However, potted plants that are sheltered by eaves do not have that option. It may take a while in the cool and damp air, but they can slowly get uncomfortably dry.
Watering sheltered potted plants is too easy to forget about while everything that is not sheltered is getting soaked by rain. It is even more easy to forget because it is so infrequent. Things just do not dry out like they do in summer. Also, plants are less active, and many are dormant and defoliated, so really do not lose much moisture to evapotranspiration (evaporation from foliar surfaces.)
In fact, overzealous watering can be just as detrimental as neglect. Soil saturation may not be as immediately dangerous as it would be during warmer weather, but eventually kills roots. Even with adequate drainage, soil moisture can linger if plants do not consume it. Determining how much water is needed for sheltered potted plants may not be as simple as it should be.
Larger plants in smaller pots want more water than smaller plants in larger pots. Those that are exposed to wind will get dry faster than those that are protected. Hanging pots dry out the fastest. Ironically, drought tolerant plants that need the least water in the ground often want the most in pots. They are the most reliant on extensive root dispersion, which is not possible in confinement.
Some potted (frost tolerant) plants might get slightly relocated out into the weather so that they get the rain that keeps the rest of the garden well watered through winter.
Pavement serves a purpose in a landscape. So does decking. They are the flooring of the outdoor spaces that are used for outdoor living. Patios and decks are where we barbecue and dine. Walkways and porches are how we get around the exteriors of our homes. Driveways are where we park cars. For what they get used for, they are better than turf grass, ground cover or bare soil.
So why is it so trendy to clutter pavement and decking with potted plants that would really prefer to be in the ground? It would be more practical to pave less area, and leave more space to plant things in the ground. There would be no damp pots staining concrete or rotting decking. There would be less area to rake or blow, with fewer obstacles in the way. Watering would be much easier.
Well, as it turns out, there are a few plants that should be potted. Houseplants are the most obvious. After all, not many homes have exposed soil where houseplants can be grown on the inside. Even if they did, it is still easier to keep houseplants potted for portability. Plants such as orchids and Christmas cactus, can live in the garden most of the time, and then come in while blooming. Portability is also important for tropical plants that need protection from even mild frost. It might be easier to move them than to cover them.
There are also a few plants that are contained because they are invasive. Mint and horseradish are culinary plants that are so famously invasive that not many of us would bother growing them if they were not so much better fresh from the garden than purchased from elsewhere. Rather than allow them to escape, mint is popularly potted, and horseradish is commonly grown in deep tubs.
Container gardening and growing plants in pots is something that we do for out own convenience, or just because it looks good cluttering otherwise useful parts of the landscape. With only a few exceptions, plants prefer to be in the ground, where they can disperse their roots as extensively as they like. They are healthier, and need less attention. To them, container gardening is unnatural.
This is a recycled picture that still annoys me. There was another that I did not want to use because it happens to be from a landscape that I sometimes work in.
The picture that I did not use shows a variety of annuals in a half wine barrel that is set on cobble stone that fills a square that is about five feet by five feet that was cut out of an asphalt paved area.
The area was paved to function as a patio.
A square was cut into the pavement perhaps because there was too much pavement.
The square was filled with stone because there was too much exposed soil where there should have been pavement.
A half wine barrel of various annuals was installed on top of the stone as if a square filled with stone was not adequately in the way.\
The half wine barrel and stone should be removed so that the are can be paved as usable patio space. . . like it had originally been.
It reminds me of a monologue by the renowned comedian, Bill Cosby. He discussed the small compartment that is designed to keep butter from getting too cold within a refrigerator that is designed to keep food cold, within the home that is heated to keep the interior from getting too cold.
Now, back to the picture above. It annoys me even more because it is not the result of a series of mistakes by several different volunteers working in the landscape that I did not post a picture of. It was done by so-called ‘professionals’, like those I briefly worked for a few years ago.
The area was paved. I might add that it was paved quite well. Then, either because there was too much pavement, or because someone wanted to sell more junk, potted plants and the associated irrigation system were installed onto the pavement, so that the affected portion of pavement is now useless.
How does this makes sense? It should have been done properly when the pavement was installed only a few years ago. I would guess from looking at it that the pavement was done properly, but someone just wanted to sell more infrastructure.
The bigger urn in the foreground is planted with pink jasmine on a trellis. I explained the problem with the vine not getting released from its bindings last week. https://tonytomeo.com/2018/11/28/horridculture-well-done-stakes-are-rare/ Not only does a bundled thicket of stems remain in the middle, but all the new growth is crowded on top of the trellis because the landscape ‘professionals’ planted a big vine on a tiny trellis, and then neglect to maintain it. What is the point of a trellised vine in the first place? I mean, what does it ‘do’? Wouldn’t something shrubbier or a cascading perennial have been more appropriate? Do we really want to see the bare soil and accumulated cigarette butts below the vine? What about the landscape behind the potted plants? Why obscure that? Why create more obstacles for those who sweep or blow debris from the area.
Just look at all the pointless infrastructure in this useless space. Rather than a nice well designed landscape adjacent to clean and usable pavement, we have pointless potted plants cluttering the area, leaking water that stains the now useless pavement, and just getting in the way!
Two others have already written about this far more proficiently than I would have:
Amaryllis, Queen of the Forced Bulbs
These two articles say it all. I would not have bothered to write about it too if I had not already taken the picture above. I did not read the label to learn what one of these articles said about why these bulbs were waxed. It seals in moisture, so that the bulbs do not desiccate while they bloom without water or moist media. They at least get water when forced by the conventional manner.
I suppose to many who force amaryllis bulbs, there is no problem with waxing them like this, since they are typically discarded as their forced bloom deteriorates. There is no expectation for the bulbs to survive the process to regenerate and bloom the following year.
We can at least pretend that we intend to nurture amaryllis bulbs that bloom in a ‘forcing kit’ that includes a small volume of potting media that sort of sustains the fleshy roots through the process. After all, they can survive the process and get potted into larger volumes of media to recover and bloom again. Some of us have actually sustained such bulbs for a few years Bulbs that are purchased bare and then potted directly into more reasonable volumes of media are of course more sustainable from the beginning.
Poinsettias and living Christmas trees are no better than forced amaryllis. Nor are the Easter lilies in spring.
Like amaryllis bulbs, Easter lilies can be purchased bare and grown directly out in the garden. Those that are forced in pots can be planted out in the garden afterward to possibly recover. Otherwise, they too get discarded after bloom.
Poinsettias can technically be grown as houseplants, but rarely survive that long. Those that do not get tossed after they shed their colorful bracts are likely to get tossed as they languish in recovery from the process of forcing them to bloom in a very contrived greenhouse environment.
Living Christmas trees are actually more of a problem if the ‘do’ survive. They so often get planted into small gardens, and often next to foundations of homes, with the belief that they will always stay small and innocent. The problem is that most are seedlings of the Italian stone pine, which grows very big and very fast, and soon becomes a problem that is very expensive to remove. If not planted in a garden and allowed to destroy all within reach, they die from neglect and confinement within their own pots, often within their first year.