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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.


Mention growing Ficus , and many people assume you mean the houseplant that is a small tree native to Southeast Asia. But they're only partially right. Ficus is an enormous genus of plants containing over 800 species. Some species are trees, but others are shrubs and vines. The common name for this genus is Fig, which does include the species Ficus carica , comm...

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The scent of hyacinth in bloom is definitely a sign of spring to me. While I prefer to look at hyacinths in my garden and smell their sweet scent drifting in my windows, this time of year a pot of blooming hyacinths indoors is a welcome sight after a long dreary winter. Hyacinths are members of the genus Hyacinthus , which are bulbs formerly placed in the lily family Liliace...

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Rex Begonias

This time of year I find myself craving color around my house. After all the holiday decorations come down, everything is a little dull when surrounded by the winter dreariness outside. Many stores will have great specials on indoor plants this time of year. A little greenery certainly is a pick-me-up, but what about more color? You may immediately think of flowering plants, but they ca...

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Keeping Holiday Plants Healthy

As the Holidays approach, many of us will use a plant or two (or more) to decorate our homes. With a little extra attention, their beauty can last well past the Holidays. When selecting plants for purchase, pay attention to where the plants are displayed in the store. Warm or cold drafts can harm many holiday plants—it's not unusual to find displa...

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"Bonsai" trees appear in all sorts of stores as we near the Holidays. You may find them at a garden center, you may find them at the local big-box store or discount club. I was fascinated by bonsai the first time I saw some for sale at a local nursery in high school. They were as cute as could be—perfect trees in miniature. I surrendered $15 of my hard earned babysitting money and took...

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If you are looking for something to brighten up a shady spot in your landscape, consider Caladiums . Their brightly colored leaves streaked in shades of green, white, red and pink in various stripes and spotted patterns attract a lot of attention. It's another one of those plants that has the dangerous potential of being one I'd like to collect because of the astounding number of differ...

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Spring Houseplant Care

One way to satisfy the urge to garden this time of year is to do some spring cleaning of your houseplants. This is the perfect time of year to trim, repot, and divide houseplants. It's also a great time to evaluate any special garden plants overwintered in the house or garage. Many of my houseplants become somewhat leggy indoors, even those that I keep under supplemental lighting. I res...

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In honor of St. Patrick's Day, it seems appropriate to discuss what many associate with him, the shamrock. Many also wrongly assume that the shamrock is the official symbol of Ireland as well. In fact, the Celtic harp is the official symbol. But the shamrock does hold special meaning for Ireland, dating back to the days of the ancient Druids. The Druids believed that the shamro...

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Fairy Gardens

A trend in gardening that has been around long enough to make me wonder if it still qualifies as a "trend" is fairy gardening. People used to just look at me with a puzzled look on their face when I mentioned fairy gardens. If I utter the phrase now, people respond with "Fairy gardens? Are you teaching a workshop? Where do I sign up?" The basic idea of fairy gardening is gardening in mi...

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Sansevieria (Snake Plant)

One of my favorite catalogs of tropical plants has a section entitled "Indestructible Houseplants". Five species of Sansevieria , commonly known as Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law's Tongue are listed in this section. I know from personal experience that Sansevieria are extremely durable plants. My mom has one that was purchased before I was born, and I remember the family dog yank...

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Managing Houseplant Pests

After all the Holiday decorations have been put away, our homes might look a little bare. It is the perfect time to brighten the space with a houseplant or two. Most indoor gardeners encounter unwelcome pests at one time or another. Typically problems begin to escalate during the winter months. In general, during winter our houses tend to be warm and low in humidity and light, whereas h...

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Norfolk Island Pine

Perhaps you were given or decided to buy a Norfolk Island pine for Christmas this year. Often they are marketed pre-decorated, making it hard to resist as a living Christmas tree. But what do you do with it after Christmas? You might wonder-- is there really a Norfolk Island? Yes, it's not make-believe. Norfolk Island is located in the South Pacific between Australia, New Zealand, and N...

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Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus is a lesser known holiday plant compared to the poinsettia, but no less spectacular in my opinion. Their flowers are truly unique, and unlike poinsettia, it is relatively easy to coax a Christmas cactus into re-blooming each year. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cacti, commonly called 'holiday cacti' are named all in reference to the time of year they typically bloom...

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Clivia is a genus of flowering plants native to South Africa. There are six known species. Clivia miniata is the most widely cultivated species, along with various hybrids. It is one of those plants commonly found in full bloom around the holidays or soon after. If you bought one last winter and wondering if it can be coaxed into bloom again—it can, with surprisingly little ex...

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One of my favorite indoor blooming plants is the amaryllis, a bulb commonly sold in the fall or around the Holidays for growing in the home. Unlike a lot of flowering indoor plants, the amaryllis is easily coaxed into reblooming year after year. As an added bonus, the bulb will produce offsets, or daughter bulbs that can be individually potted to increase your collection size or given to other...

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I have a love-hate relationship with rosemary. I love its scent, I love its flavor in cooking, but hate that I can't seem to successfully overwinter this shrub consistently, indoors or out. The typical young plants we use in our gardens each year are rather green and succulent, but mature rosemary is a woody shrub-like evergreen plant. Part of the lure of growing rosemary is its wonderf...

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Overwintering Tropical Plants

Tropical plants have grown in popularity for use in outdoor landscaping. Some have been a garden staple for years, like cannas, elephant ears, and dahlias. Others are less familiar, like banana, mandevilla, and bougainvillea. Most will not survive the cold temperatures of an Illinois winter without being moved indoors. Even though the weather is still very summer-like, if you have any i...

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Bay Laurel

Whether you call it a Bay Laurel, True Laurel, Sweet Bay, Laurel, or Bay Tree, they are all names for Laurus nobilis . This is the tree that is the source of Bay Leaves, commonly used to flavor soups and stews. Honestly, I never gave much thought as to where Bay Leaves came from, until I saw a Bay tree on a trip to California a few years ago. I never thought about Bay Leaves com...

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Cast Iron Plant-- Aspidistra elatior

The old saying that "everything old is new again" definitely applies to the cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior . Honestly, I had never even heard of this plant until six years ago, but it was introduced into the U.S. over 100 years ago and was very popular during Victorian times. The name "cast iron plant" is a reference to its reputation of being a tough plant that can survive...

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Chinese Hibiscus

There are several species of hibiscus that people typically grow in their landscapes, but some are native to tropical places and will not overwinter here unless brought indoors. Chinese hibiscus is one of these tropical types. Historically, the tropical or Chinese hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis , is believed to really be from China. There is some debate though as to whether ea...

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ZZ Plant-- Zamioculcas zamiifolia

The phrase "the right plant for the right place" is one way to think of choosing plants for your landscape. If you choose a plant not quite adapted to a particular space in your yard, you will struggle to get that plant to thrive, and it may not even survive. The same idea applies to houseplants. Some plants are better adapted to the typically low light conditions found indoors. These plants wi...

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Pomegranates are finally getting their fifteen minutes of fame. I remember eating them in grammar school, savoring the juicy red seeds, while classmates wondered what in the world I was eating, and brave souls ventured a taste. Pomegranates have been cultivated and consumed for thousands of years in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Asia. Currently, pomegranates are gaining much attention in...

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Poinsettias are one plant that seems to be in Holiday decorations year after year. Have you ever wondered why the poinsettia is considered by many to be "The Christmas Flower"? If it weren't for an observant U.S. ambassador, the poinsettia, or Euphorbia pulcherrima would have remained a plant of Mexican and Central American medicine and legend rather than the Christmas decoration it is...

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'Tis the season for gift giving, and as a plant lover my favorite gifts to give and receive are plants. One of my favorite flowering houseplants is the cyclamen, whose growth cycle is well suited to holiday displays. The cool days of autumn promote dazzling winter blooms in cyclamen. There are 23 different known species of Cyclamen in the world. They are native to the Mediterranean regi...

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Most of us don't give vanilla a second thought. Many people think of vanilla as a very "plain" flavor. But in fact, vanilla has a very colorful past that is anything but plain. Vanilla extract comes from the fruit of the Vanilla orchid, of which there are over 100 species known worldwide. Most of the vanilla grown commercially is the species Vanilla planifolia , also called "Ma...

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