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Easy Exotic Houseplants
 

There are several exotic houseplants that are extremely easy to grow. Many varieties are colorful or bloom nicely for several months. 

 

Goof-proof is hard to come by, however, some of the varieties below almost asked to be ignored. 

 

All can be purchased at your local florist or nursery and will certainly brighten up any room in the house. 

 

Low Light Lovers
Spathiphyllum

Spathiphyllum, commonly known as the Peace Lily, is one of the more exceptional interior plants, because it does very well under low light and also flowers. 

 

Spathiphyllum means "leaf spathe." Their white flower looks a bit like a cala lily or anthurium. Blooming generally starts between February and April, with the peak bloom season running from about April to September. 

 

Peace Lilies are native to warm humid, tropical rain forests, where they are shaded by surrounding jungle vegetation. Therefore, this plant prefers moist, filtered low light indoors. You may want to position yours near or opposite a curtained southern exposure. 

 

Spathipyllum are thirsty plants and they'll let you know quickly when they require water. A noticeable droop in the foliage is your cue. They bounce back quickly once watered. Spathiphyllum soil should be kept moist, but not soggy.

Aglaonema

The botanical name for Chinese Evergreen is Aglaonema. Since the 1990's many new hybrid colors and leaf patterns have been developed. Aglaonema have dark green or variegated leaves of about 1½-feet long and approximately 5-inches wide. They grow to be 2- to 3-feet in height. 

 

Some of the more brilliant varieties are 'Silver King' or Silver Queen,' not surprisingly both have silver markings. 'Emerald Star' is quite unique with splashes of gold in the foliage. 

 

Chinese Evergreens do best in moderate light, such as near a north window. As with most tropicals, these plants flourish in almost any well draining soil. Most growers use a mixture of peat moss, bark and sand. 

 

Even though over-watering is a quick way to kill any plant, try not to allow this plant to dry out between waterings. As a general rule, water only when the soil feels dry 1 to 2-inches below the soil surface. 

 

Fertilizer for Spathipyllum and Aglaonema
When grown indoors the above plants have almost no need for fertilizer. If you feel the need to fertilize use a well-balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20. 

 

Pests and Diseases - Spathipyllum and Aglaonema
One of the great benefits of growing these plants indoors is that they have very few pest problems. Mealy buts are probably the most common insect indoors. Root and stem diseases are the most common problem and this is usually caused by over watering. Clean the leaves regularly with a damp cloth to remove dust will help. This will not only keep the plant looking nice, but it will also remove pests which gather under the bottom of the leaves.

Bright Light Beauties
Bromeliads

Bromeliads are a large family of plants (Vriesia, Billbergia, Aechmae, Annanas, Bromelia, Guzmania, Cryptanthus, Neoreglia) and also one of the hardiest of houseplants. They are able to tolerate much neglect. 

 

The leaves grow in rosettes, which sometimes form a small water-holding vase. If warm, moist conditions are provided, they develop a spike-shaped colorful flower that can last up to 12 weeks. 

 

Bromeliads do best if grown in moderate to bright daylight indoors. Many will tolerate a bit of low light for a while, but do better if bathed in indirect bright light. 

 

Pot-up these beauties in regular potting soil that drains easily. Conveniently, bromeliads like their soil to dry out between waterings, that is, when the top inch of their soil feels nearly dry. For vase-forming varieties, keep the vase filled with water.

Phalaenopsis Orchid

Phalaenopsis Orchids are very easy to grow indoors. They require the following care, like other tropical orchids: 

 

  • Most orchids like bright light. This makes them grow and flower properly. 

  • Most orchids like a cool breeze and good air circulation. 

  • Most tropical orchids like temperatures of 55 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

  • Most orchids like to have their roots dry out between watering and therefore, need watering only once every two weeks 

  • Most orchids like a humid environment. Create one by placing a bowl of water near your plants. Or, set the orchid on a saucer of rocks filled with water. 

  • Most orchids like to be fertilized when they are growing, usually spring through early autumn. Follow the directions of the package. 

  • Approximately 30-thousand orchid varieties inhabit the earth, but only a few of these are propagated to live in our American homes. 

  • When purchasing an orchid, ask for care instructions, specific to your orchid. 

  • If you can't get yours to re-bloom, give it to someone who can. Because they last so long, Phalaenopsis are a very inexpensive decorating accessory.

 
Fantastic Ferns

There are approximately 9500 species of ferns, perennial plants grown for their lovely and interesting foliage. Ferns do not flower but have finely cut leaves called 'fronds.' Ferns grow successfully all over the world in many diverse places such as: rainforests, the freezing tundra and hot deserts. Despite these different growing conditions there are general guidelines for growing most ferns in "your neck of the woods." Most ferns like a humid and partially shady environment. Indoors or out, lots of filtered sunlight will produce a strong plant with good green color. Plant ferns outside under a sheltered area or in the filtered light under the canopy of a tree. This will help to create a shady and moist atmosphere where most ferns thrive. Spreading a mulch of peat moss can help keep these outdoor varieties moist, especially if shallow fibrous roots are exposed due to rain or irrigation. 

 

In the wild most ferns grow on rocks, trees, or in very shallow soil. Therefore, ferns require a loose and fast draining mix both outside and indoors. These growing conditions result in a need for greater amounts of water than many other plants. This is especially true for potted ferns. 

 

In winter ferns living indoors tend to dry out and wither very quickly. This is due to the dry heat that keeps the house warm. As a rule, ferns like to be moist, although not drenched, but never allow them to dry out completely. Make sure potted ferns have adequate drainage holes in their containers. 

 

Unfortunately, without high levels of humidity most ferns will be both unhealthy and unattractive. There are several ways to create more humidity for plants growing indoors. 

 

Many Good Gardeners may be tempted to mist ferns with water to create more humidity. While this is helpful for broad-leafed varieties, use an atomizer sparingly on delicate, ruffled, fluffy and finely textured ferns. The reason: water tends to gather in the fronds and on the crown of the plant, which promotes rot. Spray the plants with a fine mist early in the morning. Misting during the winter months is especially helpful, again due to the dry heat in our homes. 

 

Another way to increase humidity is to place saucers of water near them. If possible, place the potted fern on marbles in a saucer full of water. Be careful not to let the bottom of the pot actually sit in the water. Instead, the bottom of the pot should be above the water line. 

 

Still another way to keep the moisture level up and prevent the soil from drying out so quickly is to insert the clay pot into another decorative container. Fill the space between the two pots with sphagnum moss. Then keep the moss moist at all times. 

 

If you plan to keep the fern in a container permanently use a clay pot. Clay is preferred over plastic, as plastic pots do not release the natural salts from the water easily. 

 

Aphids, mealy bugs, thrips and scale are ferns worst enemies. Pill bugs, sowbugs, slugs and snails also like them. Washing your plant with an organic insecticidal soap will help rid the fern of aphids and other pests. This is especially important because ferns reproduce by spores that form directly on their beautiful fronds. 

 

Outdoors, nursery grade diatomaceous earth or safe snail bate such as 'Sluggo,' spread on the soil near ferns will kill snails. Keep in mind healthy soil that is rich in organic matter will help to protect all plants from unwanted pests 

 

All ferns look best when groomed. Cut off dead or injured fronds near the soil or the trunk of the plant. However, do cut back hardy outdoor ferns until new growth begins to mature. The older fronds protect newly growing fern tips that will develop into new fronds. The new fronds grow each spring from the fern's underground stems called 'rhizomes.' 

 

During the growing season, springtime, feed indoor and outdoor ferns with a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, or use organic fish emulsion diluted with water. During this period fertilize at each watering.

 
Growing Gloxinia

Florist grown Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa) is one of the most beautiful houseplants a flower-lover can grow. Each flower is velvety and bell shaped with blossoms of at least 3-inches in diameter! To top this, blooms are either double or single and often wavy or smooth. The colors are stunning too, ranging from purpley-blue, pink, white and often two-toned white and purple or white and pink flowers. Gloxinias belong to the gesneriad (pronounced "jez-NARE-ee-ad") family of plants containing more than 2,500 species of plants including the African Violet, Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus), Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus), Goldfish Plant (Nematanthus), Flame Violet (Episcia) and Cupid's Bower (Achimenes). 

 

Gesneriads are most often found in tropical or subtropical regions that are rich with a humus-filled environment. However, florist grown gloxinias can be enjoyed in Northern California homes as long as they are provided with the correct amount of light, water and fertilizer.

Light and Temperature

Gloxinias enjoy bright light but not direct sun. Western or southern windows, just beyond the reach of direct sun, especially during winter, are ideal locations indoors. In summer bright light in almost any location will allow these beauties to flourish. Careful not to allow the leaves to burn. While gloxinia need more light than African Violets they are still susceptible to burning. Flattened, spindly leaves are a sign of not enough light. 

 

Daytime temps of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for gloxinias indoors, and nighttime temps of 10 degrees less is suggested. Now this may sound bothersome, but in general, if indoor temperatures are comfortable for Good Gardeners, it is usually good for florist-grown gloxinia. Gloxinia leaves are a bit brittle and exaggerated when temperatures fall below ideal.

Water and Fertilizer

Never ever allow gloxinias to dry out completely. Their soil should be uniformly and constantly moist. If allowed to dry out completely or if not given good humidity, new blossoms may collapse. I have noticed that when leaves flatten out it is usually time to water. 

 

Because the leaves are velvety they do not like getting wet. Therefore, I water my gloxinias by simply placing them in a bowl that is partially filled with water and fertilizer. They then soak up water from their root system and seem to do nicely. A balanced fertilizer (i.e. 15-15-15) is recommended at each watering. This Good Gardener uses diluted fish emulsion. Every 5 weeks or so, flush the plant with plain water to leach it of salts. 

 

Humidity is also important to grow healthy gloxinia. Simply set a bowl of water near the plant or allow it to rest on a bowl of rocks that is partially filled with water. The bottom of the plant should NOT sit in water.

Resting Period

Gloxinias die back in the fall and all the flowering will stop, your cue that it's time to allow the plant to rest. This resting period is necessary in order for the plant to gather energy to grow the next season of flowers. As the plant begins to fade water less frequently and then stop watering all together. The tuberous stem needs about 2 to 4 months of dry soil combined with a dark place to reinvigorate. When new leaves appear bring the plant back inside the house and resume watering. Place it in a sunny location and watch the new cycle of life begin.

Propagation

You can grow more gloxinia from seed, tubers or leaf or stem cuttings. Tubers are only available for spring planting. 

 

The simplest way to grow more gloxinias is from leaf or stem cuttings. It's the same technique used for propagating African Violets.

  •  

  • Cut a large leaf from the stalk on a diagonal. If not cut from the main stalk, other parts of the plant that are left will rot. 

  • Use a mixture of equal parts vermiculite, perlite, potting soil, and peat moss or purchase African Violet potting soil and add a bit more perlite. Fill a 2-inch plastic or clay container (plastic holds moisture better than clay) three-quarters full with the mixture of choice. Water this mixture thoroughly. 

  • With a pencil, make a hole in the center of the pot. Insert the leaf's stem on an angle, and tamp the soil around the stem. If necessary, prop the leaf up with a plant marker. Water thoroughly. 

  • To create a moist, humid growing environment, cover the entire rig with a plastic bag. Cut holes in the bag for ventilation. Do not let the sides of the plastic bag touch the leaf cutting. Place in well-lit location, such as a southern window. Monitor the cuttings daily, making sure the soil is very damp. 

  • In about 3 to 6 weeks you will see small baby plants growing. After 6 weeks these infants will be ready to transplant into a slightly larger container. Use the same potting mixture and repot.

Planting Gloxinia Tubers in Spring
 

Place the rounded bottom of the tuber on the potting soil (use African Violet, store-bought soil and add some perlite). Now fill the 4-inch container with more soil to just slightly cover the tuber and water thoroughly. Place the newly planted tuber in a warm location indoors and water it about every 3 to 4 days. Never allow it to completely dry out.

Phalaenopsis Orchids: Getting Yours to Rebloom

Adding a potted orchid or two to your indoor garden is now very stylish and affordable. Exotic orchids have become great substitutes for cut flowers because of their beauty and their ability to last a long time. One of the most popular orchids is the Phalaenopsis or "moth orchid." Their flowers resemble moths in flight and have tall arching flower sprays.

 

Many articles have been written expounding on the virtues and relative ease of growing this orchid variety. While it is initially simple to care for blooming Phalaenopsis, it is often difficult for novice orchid enthusiasts to get them to re-bloom. 

 

To get your Phalaenopsis to re-bloom a couple of issues come into play. According to Dennis Olivas, who has been raising orchids for more than 35 years, the key to re-blooming success is giving them the correct lighting conditions. After the blooms has faded cut off the stem just above the node that produced the lowest flower. Then place the plant near a southwestern or southeastern window. However, the plant should not be directly exposed to full sunlight. A sheer curtain can protect the plant from the sun's direct rays if the plant is very close to the window. Continue regular watering and fertilize the plant at least one time per month with a balanced, water-soluble nutrient. 

 

Another factor in promoting new blooms is repotting the plant every 2 to 3 years. The orchid's potting media generally breaks down at this rate. As the soil decomposes it compacts the plants' roots and does not allow the roots to get the oxygen they require to grow new flower spikes. A lack of oxygen can also cause root rot, which will eventually kill the plant.

Repotting Phalaenopsis Orchids

Only repot the Phalaenopsis after it has finished blooming. 

 

Materials: 

 

  • Orchid potting bark, usually fir or redwood bark. Fir or redwood bark is available in a variety of sizes, select a bark size that corresponds to the size of the plant and the pot it is to be planted in. Medium sized chips are a good bet. 

  • One generous handful medium pellets of perlite 

  • One medium sized bowl to soak bark and perlite 

  • New orchid pot, perhaps one size larger than the old pot, or pot that is large enough to accommodate all the roots 

  • Approximately 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon- Cinnamon is a natural fungicide. 

  • Sterilized tools: clipper, razor blade or knife. Orchids are particularly susceptible to disease. Sterilize tools by soaking them in a bucket of equal parts laundry bleach or alcohol and water.

 

Directions: 

 

  1. Mix 4 parts bark to 1 part perlite. Then soak mixture in water for about 2 hours. This helps the bark and perlite hold water more easily. 

  2. Remove the orchid from its original pot. If it does not come out easily, run a sterilized knife along the sides of the pot. 

  3. Inspect the orchid for dead or diseased roots. Healthy roots are whitish/greenish in color. Dead or diseased roots are gray or brownish, dry or shriveled. Cut off dead roots with sterilized clippers. Also remove old potting medium that may be still sticking to roots. 

  4. Sprinkle cinnamon over orchid's roots. 

  5. Position orchid down into new pot. 

  6. Fill pot with pre-soaked bark and perlite. Gently press the mixture down into the roots of the orchid with your fingers. The new bark must be firmly in place to support the plant. 

  7. With a sterilized tool, cut the orchid's stem at the base of the plant where it grows out of the leaves. 

  8. Place the plant near a southwestern or southeastern window. 

  9. Continue regular watering and fertilize the plant at least one time per month with a balanced, water-soluble nutrient. Follow the directions on the package.

 

General Care and Handling of Phalaenopsis Orchids: 

 

  • Most love bright indirect sun light. This makes them grow and flower properly. 

  • Most like a cool breeze and good air circulation. 

  • Most like temperatures of 55 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

  • Most like to have their roots dry out between waterings. 

  • Most like a humid environment. Create one by placing a bowl of water near the plant. 

  • Most like to be fertilized at least one time per month. Use a balanced nutrient that is water soluable. Follow the directions on the package.

Venus Fly Traps
 

One of the spookiest species of plants is the carnivorous Venus Fly Trap. These insectivorous plants attract prey with their sweet smelling nectar located in their deadly jaws. An unsuspecting insect, looking for nectar, can easily stimulate the trigger hairs in the jaws, and then bam, the trap quickly closes and the victim cannot escape! The Venus Fly Trap does not actually eat the unfortunate insect, instead the plant secretes an enzyme, which dissolves into a delicious delicacy. It takes a few days before the fly trap is hungry again, but when it is, the jaws re-open to await another sacrifice. 

 

Venus Fly Traps are not hard to grow just as long as they are provided bright indirect light indoors, and a constant warm, humid and wet environment 

 

A terrarium is an ideal home for the insect eating Venus Fly Trap.

Carnivorous Terrarium

Materials: 

 

  • 1 Terrarium container - 8-inch diameter fish bowl or bubble bowl. Or, 10-inch tall x 4-inch wide cylinder jar, canister or vase. 

  • Activated charcoal 

  • Small bag peat moss with wetting agent (Peat moss is hard to wet and re-wet, so a wetting agent is helpful. It will state "wetting agent" on the bag) 

  • Distilled water 

  • Bowl with water to soak peat moss 

  • 2 or 3-inch Venus Fly Trap plant 

  • (Optional) Plastic spider for a spooky look, or medium sized rock for interest 

  • (Optional) Cork pad to fit the top of the terrarium. (Purchase in plant departments of nurseries, and used to protect surfaces from scratches and water. Enclosed terrariums create a more humid environment for the plant) 

  • (Optional) Power drill and small bit to create small air holes in the cork cover 

 

Directions: 

 

  1. Spread a thin layer of activated charcoal on the bottom of the bowl. This layer will clean the smelly fumes caused when organic matter starts to decompose. 

  2. Soak the peat moss in a bowl of distilled water. Remove the moss from the water and ring it out. Now spread a layer of moss approximately 4-inches thick over the activated charcoal layer. 

  3. Carefully remove the Venus Fly Trap from its container. Make a hole in the peat moss and plant it. Add more moss to fill in around the fly trap if necessary. 

  4. (Optional) Insert spooky spider or rock to the side of the plant. 

  5. (Optional) If the terrarium does not have a lid and one is desired, create a cover with a cork pad that fits and rests neatly on top of the terrarium. Then drill a few small holes in the cork and place it on top of the terrarium. The cover will create an enclosed terrarium, which offers more humidity for the plant.

 

Care: 

 

  • A terrarium with a cover over the top requires very little water. If the terrarium is not completely enclosed water may be necessary on a weekly or monthly basis. Water is necessary if there is no condensation on the glass. The condensation is what waters terrariums. The condensation falls back into the potting mixture providing necessary moisture. Fly traps are unusually sensitive to chemicals so only use distilled or rain water. If necessary, use tap water that has been set out for 24 to 48 hours uncovered. This will allow chlorine and other chemicals in the tap water to dissipate. 

  • Feed the fly trap with live or dead flies, crickets or moths. Obviously a cover is need for the terrarium if feeding live food. Make a temporary cover out of aluminum foil when feeding live insects. Fly traps will munch 2 or 3 flies, moths or crickets each month. Never feed the plant hamburger, it's too high in cholesterol. Hard shell insects such as beetles are also hard to digest and not recommended. 

  • There is no need to fertilize carnivorous plants. The insects they consume provide them with all the food they require. 

  • Resist sticking your finger into the fly trap's trap, as this will drain the plants' energy. The plant could die if this is done too often. 

  • To prevent fungal infections, keep dead leaves and heads cut off. Dead leaves and heads are normal and does not necessarily mean the plant is unhealthy. 

  • Venus Fly Traps have an active growing period from May through October. During this time they should be kept damp and in an environment between 70 to 95 degrees. In winter, fly traps go into a dormant period for about 3 months. At this time the entire terrarium can be moved to a place that stays between 45 to 50 degrees.

My best,