Tag: houseplants

Ginger Root Houseplant

When I was a child I was encouraged to go outside to explore and play, which I loved to do so much that only the need for food would bring me inside. Everyday presented a new discovery; one never knew what surprises Mother Nature had to offer. We made ink with pokeberries, fished in the nearby stream and created forts in the hydrangea bushes on the cool north side of the house. Even sweltering summer afternoons were spent outside looking for adventure.

Today, many children spend their free time engaged in scheduled activities such as sports, play dates and birthday parties. I am continually amazed at the pace that my nephew and niece are going places, doing things and all that they are learning.

I recognize the positive aspects of this evolution. I don’t know when I last heard a child utter the words "I’m bored!"

The only drawback that I see is many of these activities don’t provide experiences with nature and all its wonderful resources for the development of young minds. The solution to this is to create activities for kids that reconnect them to the natural world.

This project for starting a ginger plant from a root purchased at the local market is a fun way to engage a child’s curiosity about their environment.

Common ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a wonderful plant for children to grow because it has so many uses – a flavorful spice, a remedy for the common cold and a cure for an upset stomach. Children can learn that there are benefits of growing plants beyond the beautiful blooms and foliage.

And because ginger’s root or rhizome is so odd looking, it is easy to catch the attention of a child for this activity. In fact, the root is often referred to as a "hand" and the sections are called "fingers."

The best time to start a ginger plant from the root is in the spring. When you select roots for growing, choose those that are fresh with 1 to 2 inch long sections and plenty of nodes.

fresh gingerroot
1 six inch terra cotta container with drainage holes
sterile potting soil


Begin by cutting the root into a few pieces, making sure that each piece has a few nodes or buds from which to sprout.

Fill your container 2/3 of the way full with potting soil.

Place the gingerroot pieces flat on top of the soil and cover with about 2 inches more of potting soil.

Water well and place it in a warm windowsill with bright but indirect light. In just a few weeks a stalk will emerge at each one of the nodes. You can expect your plant to grow about 4 feet tall.

If you live in a mild part of the country you can plant this directly outside.  Ginger prefers to grow in areas with partial shade and consistently moist, rich soil. In climates that have cold winters, treat it as a tender houseplant and bring it indoors when temperatures drop below 40 degrees F.

While your ginger plant may occasionally produce flowers, it is not a common occurrence. But when you consider what the roots have to offer, you’ll hardly miss the blooms. Wait about 4 to 7 months to harvest new roots. Simply cut the leaf stalks close to the top of the root and lift it out of the soil.

What an amazing gift from nature – a fresh supply of flavorful and healthy ginger root and a fun way to introduce your children to the benefits of gardening.

Houseplant Care

As winter approaches our attention seems to turn to sprucing up our homes’ interiors with plants. Perhaps it is in anticipation of spending more hours indoors when cold weather prevents us from heading out into the garden.

Houseplants are a simple way to add instant vitality to a room, but they are not always easy to maintain. It is always so disheartening to purchase a houseplant to accent a room only to watch it fade over the course of time.

Whether you purchase new houseplants or bring in existing plants that have spent the summer in the garden, I have a few tips that will help them thrive.

Bringing Houseplants into Your Home
If you are returning houseplants to the indoors from your garden be sure to first give them a good bath. Gently washing the leaves with a mild soap and warm water will help them breathe and respond better to light. After you wash your plants, spray them with an insecticidal soap to assure that you will not bring in any hitchhiking pests.

As for when to move them in, the rule of thumb I follow is to make the transition when night time temperatures outside become similar to those inside your house.

When you purchase new houseplants deep soak them as soon as you bring them home. You can do this by placing them in the sink and watering them thoroughly from the top until the water has washed through the holes in the bottom of the container. Let them drain, and then repeat the whole process about 30 minutes later.

This does two things. It thoroughly saturates the soil around roots and it also washes out any salt buildup from fertilizers applied at the nursery.

If a plant is looking tired and weak we automatically think, well, it’s time to feed it again. But fertilizer isn’t a cure. If a plant isn’t in an active growth stage and you put fertilizer around its roots, it just sits there and it could possibly damage the plant.

Generally, most houseplants will do fine only being fed every 3 to 6 months. When I feed a plant, I use a liquid fertilizer, with a 5-10-5 ratio.

Over watering is another way we can kill plants with kindness. This time of year when we have the heat on in our homes, our plants can dry out sooner, so you may want to check them and add a little extra water, but be careful. Too much water can actually suffocate the roots. Healthy roots need plenty of oxygen. Now, if you’re going to make a mistake in watering, I think it’s better to err on the dry side rather than watering your plants too much.  Be sure that the container allows water to drain through the pot and not collect in the bottom.

Make sure the water temperature isn’t too hot or too cold, just pleasant to the touch. Your plants will appreciate you for this and they’ll drink more of it. Also it’s important to realize that too much chlorine can harm your plants. You can easily de-chlorinate your water by filling the watering can and leaving it out for about 24 hours. This allows the chlorine to evaporate from the water.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s natural for a plant to produce a few yellow leaves, so there’s nothing to get alarmed about. This is particularly true if the plant has been moved to a new location. However if it produces a lot of yellow leaves all at once, say five or six, you may be over-watering or the plant may be suffering from a lack of light.

During winter the dry air in our homes can be a problem to plants. One of the simplest ways to increase the moisture in the air immediately around the plant is to place the container on a saucer of gravel and water. Just make sure the bottom of the container is above the water line.

Even with central heating, different areas of the same room can have subtle variations of light and temperature. For instance, on the north side of the house the window is cool making it ideal for growing something like ivy. But on the south side it’s much warmer. There’s much more sunlight making it the perfect place for something like a ficus. For plants such as ferns more humid areas of the house are better suited, like the bathroom or kitchen.

Moving Houseplants Indoors for Winter

The temperatures are definitely getting cooler and if your houseplants have been enjoying a change of scenery outside, it is time to prepare them for their move back indoors. Before you get started there are a few things you can do to help ease the transition for them.

First, if you live in a part of the country that has extremely cold winter temperatures, you don’t want to wait until the first hard frost to move them indoors. The change in temperature can be too drastic. A handy rule of thumb to remember is that when temperatures outside become similar to those inside your house, it’s a good time to make the move.

And once you get them inside, you want to make sure that the light conditions are similar to what they had outside.

If you’re not careful, you may be bringing in more than just your houseplants. Hitchhikers can be a problem. During the summer any number of pests can get in the soil and on your plants. And some of them are so small, you need a magnifying glass to see them.

To keep these little stowaways from creating an infestation in your home, try saturating your houseplants with an insecticidal soap, an earth friendly pest control that is available at any garden or home center.

Whenever you spray a plant be sure that it is well hydrated and out of direct sunlight. And always test spray the plant in a select area first, wait 24 hours and if there are no problems, go for the pests.

When applying the insecticide saturate the entire plant and be sure to get the underside of the leaves. After spraying, leave the plants outside for two or three days, then give them one last check before taking them inside.

One final tip to follow is that as the days become shorter and your plants shift from an active growth cycle they won’t require as much water, so don’t kill them with kindness by over watering.

African Violets

How should I care for my African violets? I have several plants that I started from cuttings. Although they continue to live, they just don’t seem very happy.

The African violet, believe it or not, is the most popular houseplant of all times. Now some may regard it as a bit too old-fashioned but I think that just adds to its charm. When you consider this plant, if treated well, will bloom continuously all year long, it’s easy to see why it is so popular.

The wrappers commonly found around African violet pots are very telling. They’re not just there for decoration. They put them around the pot for shipping to keep moisture from getting on the leaves. Water can damage the foliage. That’s why over the years people have come up with some clever ways to water African violets without getting droplets on the fuzzy little leaves.

One example is the string method. A string extends from the base of the clay pot and it simply draws moisture through the string from a container filled with water into the soil. This is similar to the way a wick works in an oil lamp. You can also water them from below directly through the saucer.

African violets like bright light, but not direct sunlight. Indirect light from an east, south or west window is ideal. During the winter, you may need to supplement their daylight with some artificial light. If they began to look a little peaked, you’ll find that they actually thrive under grow lights.

It’s important to fertilize each time you water. I use a formula specifically blended for African violets. It just takes the guess work out of it and makes it so much easier.

Reblooming Amaryllis

Do you have information available on what to do with amaryllis bulbs in the fall so they will bloom again?

You can get your amaryllis to re-bloom, but sometimes the flower isn’t as spectacular as it was the first time it bloomed. Hopefully, after the blooms faded, you cared for your amaryllis like a regular houseplant, watering and fertilizing it over the summer.

Now, around the first part of September, it’s time to stop fertilizing the plant and begin cutting back on the water. By October you should stop watering completely. This will force the bulb into dormancy. Place the potted bulb somewhere cool and dark – such as your basement.

Around January or February you can bring the bulb back out, remove old soil and roots and repot. Begin watering again and in about six weeks you should get a bloom.

Bromeliad Care

What can you tell me about the life and care of a bromeliad plant? Initially it had a beautiful red flower. Now the flower is gone and it doesn’t seem to be doing much.

The bromeliad is a houseplant that comes about as close as any I know to adapting to the tough conditions of our homes. Low light, low humidity and dry air make it unbearable for many plants, but not the bromeliads. In their native habitat they can grow with very little root system, on tree branches, trunks and on rocks. That’s why a large plant can grow in such a small container.

With so few roots you might guess this plant wouldn’t require much water. Well, you are right. In fact, over watering is the number one cause of death of bromeliads in our homes. Too much moisture around the roots will cause them to rot. But this plant has other ways of storing moisture. Its leaves overlap to create cups, which actually hold water.

When it comes to fertilizer, very little is necessary. A diluted solution, say down to 25 percent of an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer is all you need for plenty of vigorous growth. Just feed them every two weeks or so.

If your bromeliad has not bloomed in a while there is the way you can trick it into flowering by simply using a plastic bag and an apple. Make sure there is no stored water in the leaf cups and cover the plant with a clear plastic bag along with an apple. Ten days with the ripening apple will be long enough to encourage the plant to begin producing a flower stalk.

Of course my favorite member of the bromeliad family is one we’ve all seen, and I like it for obvious reasons. It’s the pineapple.

What to do with your Holiday Cactus

I inherited my grandmother’s Christmas cactus, which is easily 75 years old. My mother repotted it once in my memory, but now it is beginning to look a bit tired. I’m determined to save it if I can, but I have little experience in gardening, and certainly no expertise in the cultivation of a plant this old. It would mean a great deal to me if you could give me some suggestions.

The abundance of questions that I receive regarding the care of an inherited holiday cactus, or schlumbergera, attests to the popularity and longevity of this plant.

These plants are called holiday cactus because their habit is to bloom around the time of one of three holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. You can determine which holiday cactus you have by looking at its leaves. The Christmas cactus has rounded notches on the margins of the stem segments while the Thanksgiving cactus has pointed tooth-like notches on the margins. The Easter cactus has tooth-like marginal notches with tiny spines or hairs on the stem segments. Most schlumbergera that I have encountered are Thanksgiving cactus, even those that I have purchased during the Christmas holiday. This is because many plant growers will force their Thanksgiving cacti into bloom for Christmas.

Caring for these plants is simple regardless of which type you have.

Soil – Schlumbergera require well-drained soil. I suggest that using a potting soil designed for cactus and succulents. The best time to repot holiday cactus is in the spring after active growth resumes, but it can be done at any time if the plant appears to be suffering.

Light – When growing holiday cactus indoors, place it in bright but indirect light. Direct light and excessive heat will scorch the leaves and cause the flower buds to drop. If you move your plants outdoors for the summer keep them in full to partial shade.

Water – In spite of its appearance and common name, schlumbergera is not a cactus. When in bloom these plants should be watered about once a week or when the top half of the soil in the container becomes dry. Lack of water will cause the flower buds to drop. After the flowers fade stop watering the plant for about 6 weeks. This will allow the plant to rest. During the spring and summer keep the plant consistently moist. Root rot from over watering is a common problem with these plants.

Fertilizing – When new growth emerges in the spring, begin a fertilizing with an all-purpose houseplant food mixed at half strength. Continue to do this once a month until October.

Pruning – A plant that can potentially live to be more than 75 years old is sure to need an occasional haircut. The best time to do this is in June. Simply snip off the top 2 or 3 segments of each stem. This will make the plant bushier and promote flower development. You can then root these cuttings to make more plants.

Propagation – Just as you back up data on your computer you can create a back up of your holiday cactus by taking a cutting. This will ensure the continuation of the plant if the original dies. Just cut a stem at a segment, about 2 or 3 from the tip. Stick the cuttings in loose soil or vermiculite and water only lightly for the first couple of weeks so the plant does not rot. Once it establishes some roots, begin watering normally and you’ll have lots of plants to give to your friends.

Re-bloom – Holiday cactus need either cool night temperatures (between 55 and 60 degrees for 6 weeks) or extended periods of darkness to set flower buds. If you cannot meet the temperature requirement simply give the plant 13 hours of total darkness each night for several weeks. This can be done by keeping the plant in a closet or covering it with a dark cloth. During this time stop fertilizing and reduce watering. Once the buds set, return the plant to normal light and resume watering.

Bud Drop – Many people wonder why buds will drop from their plants before the flowers open. This can be caused by excessive heat, too much light, cold drafts, over watering, under watering or a sudden change in light or temperature.

Christmas Cactus Outdoors for Summer

I have a question for you about my Christmas cactus. I made the mistake of putting it outdoors and the leaves are now whitening. What should I do?

Thanks much, Caitlin

Caitlin, it could be your Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is suffering from leaf scorch. Intense summer sunlight and excessive heat causes the leaves to fade or wilt. Christmas cactus prefer bright, indirect light. Place yours in a spot with high shade or morning sun and afternoon shade.

Now if your plants are in a shady spot that stays relatively cool, you may have a problem with mealy bugs. These pests are common on Christmas cactus and other houseplants. Take a close look at the white substance on your plant’s leaves. Is it fluffy like bits of cotton? Is the white mainly in the joints and crevices? If your answers are yes, then you have mealy bugs. Treat the plant by removing the bugs with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

Although we refer to Schlumbergera as a cactus, it’s really a tropical plant. During the spring and summer keep the plant consistently moist. Good soil drainage is important because root rot is a common problem with these plants.

If you plant is looking a little worse for wear, you can give it a hair cut in early summer. Simply snip off the top 2 or 3 segments of each stem. This will make the plant bushier and promote flower development. You can then root these cuttings to make more plants.

Stop your Corn Plant from Turning Brown on the Tips

The tips of the leaves on my corn plant are turning brown. Why is this happening and how can I prevent it?

Corn plant or dracaena is an excellent houseplant because it requires relatively little care and can take the low light conditions typical of our homes and offices.

I like the tropical look of the plant with its woody trunk topped with a bundle of strap-like leaves.

Corn plants prefer daytime temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees F and 65 to 70 degrees F during the night. The soil should be kept consistently moist, but not soggy and they only need fertilizer every 6 months. Although dracaena can take low light conditions, they do best when placed in bright but indirect light. Try to avoid placing them in full sun as it will burn the leaves.

The problem you are experiencing is probably due to inconsistent watering. If the soil dries out too much the tips of the leaves will turn brown. Of course, you don’t want to over water either, especially in winter when growth has slowed, because this can lead to root rot. A good system for determining when to water is to scratch into the soil about 1 inch down, if it is dry then it is time to water. Check your plants about every 7 to 10 days and remember that our homes are often hot and dry in the winter so plants may need to be watered more often.

When you water, make sure the water temperature is not too hot or too cold, just pleasant to the touch. Your plants will appreciate you for this and they’ll drink more of it. Also, it’s important to realize that too much chlorine can harm your plants. You can easily de-chlorinate your water by simply filling the watering can the day before and the chlorine will evaporate overnight.

It’s just natural for a plant to produce a few yellow leaves, its nothing to get alarmed about. This is particularly true if the plant has been moved to a new location. However if it produces a lot of yellow leaves all at once, say five or six, you may be over-watering or the plant may be suffering from a lack of light.

One of the fun things about corn plants is that they are easy to propagate. To create a new plant from an existing one simply lop off the green top, plant it in a new container filled with clean potting soil and water it in. This should be done in the spring or summer when the parent plant is in an active growth stage. Now, I know this sounds drastic, but the old plant will put out new growth where you made the cut.


I recently received one of the most beautiful dieffenbachia I’ve ever seen. It’s name is ‘Tropic Honey’. I don’t want to lose this plant, but don’t know how to care for it. Can you give me some suggestions?

You are in luck because dieffenbachia is one of the easiest houseplants you can grow. They will tolerate dim light as well as the dry conditions of our homes during the winter.

For the best results place your dieffenbachia in moderate light and away from direct sunlight, which can cause the leaves to burn or yellow.

When it comes to water, this plant prefers moderate moisture. So only water when the soil is dry to the touch and don’t let the plant sit in water because this may lead to root rot.

Feed your plant during the growing season (spring through late summer) with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer about once a month.

The common name for dieffenbachia is dumb cane and this name should be a warning to you. The leaves and stems are poisonous. If consumed they can cause a temporary loss of speech and painful swelling of the mouth and lips. A chemical in the leaves called calcium oxalate causes this reaction. This characteristic is particularly important to note if you have pets or small children.

If you’ve ever grown this plant, you know it can get tall and leggy as it matures, losing many of its lower leaves. If this occurs I recommend cutting the stalks back to about 8 to 10 inches. Everywhere you cut it, it will flush new growth. And with all of those pieces you cut off the top, just stick them into some moist soil and they will root. In no time you’ll have a lot more to share with friends and family.