Plant Care

Geranium Plants Brighten the Day

Geraniums are one of our most popular outdoor plants; and they make great indoor flowering plants once the weather turns cold.  The plants we call Geraniums are really part of the genus Pelargonium which means “stork” in Latin.  There are over 200 Pelargonium species, most of them originally from South Africa. Geraniums come in a variety of colors, white, pink, salmon, red, fuchsia, lavender, leaf patterns, round, segmented, lacy, flower size, single or double blooms, and leaf color, green, green and white, or multicolored. They can be a compact upright plant or a graceful hanging vine. The vibrant flowers don’t have an appealing aroma, but there are several varieties that have leaves with lovely scents. Geraniums are a great addition to your indoor and outdoor plant collection, but will bloom indoors only if you keep them in very bright lightVery few houseplants should be placed in direct sun. High light refers only to bright indirect light since direct sun often burns the leaves of indoor houseplants. An area that is too hot and dry encourages Spider Mites and causes blooms to quickly fade. A northern exposure really doesn't provide enough light for high light plants. These plants need to be placed directly in front of an east-facing window, within 1-3 feet of a west-facing window, and within 5 ft. of a south facing window. A high light area has over 300 ft. candles of light. or direct sun.

There are several different types of geraniums:

Common Geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum): These are compact plants that are often sold as bedding plants. Their leaves have distinct bands or zones in a darker color, tri-colored leaves, or silver or white areas that give them the nickname “zonal geraniums.” Common geraniums have single or double blooms that come in pink, white, red, and salmon.

Ivy- leaved geranium (Pelargonium peltatum): This type of geranium has smooth leathery, ivy shaped leaves and grows as a cascading vine. It looks great in a hanging basket. The flowers have narrow petals and the blooms are less showy and dense than those of the common geranium.

Martha Washington (Regal) Geranium (Pelargonium x domesticum): These geraniums have woody stems, wrinkled leaves with pointed lobes, and the brightest flowers of all of the geranium varieties. The blooms can range from a dramatic purple black to a bright yellow. Martha Washington’s are mainly grown in commercial greenhouses as potted plants. They are not very heat tolerant and do not do as well outdoors as the Common or Zonal geranium.

Scented–leaved Geranium: There are numerous varieties of scented geraniums all with different types of leaves and growing habits. The flowers are usually smaller and less showy than other types of geraniums. The leaves can be used to make sachets, tea, and potpourris. Here’s a list of some of the scents geraniums can produce: Almond, Apple, Coconut, Lemon,  Nutmeg, Old Spice, Peppermint, Rose, and Strawberry.

Geranium Care Instructions: Don’t fret too much over your geraniums: bright lightVery few houseplants should be placed in direct sun. High light refers only to bright indirect light since direct sun often burns the leaves of indoor houseplants. An area that is too hot and dry encourages Spider Mites and causes blooms to quickly fade. A northern exposure really doesn't provide enough light for high light plants. These plants need to be placed directly in front of an east-facing window, within 1-3 feet of a west-facing window, and within 5 ft. of a south facing window. A high light area has over 300 ft. candles of light., not too much water, quickly removing dead flowers are the main things to keep in mind. These are the care instructions that have worked for me.

Light: Indoors, Geraniums can grow if placed in moderate light, but only bloom in very bright intense light. Fluorescent lights about 10 to 12 inches from the plants can be used to supplement natural light. Outdoors, place geraniums in very bright lightVery few houseplants should be placed in direct sun. High light refers only to bright indirect light since direct sun often burns the leaves of indoor houseplants. An area that is too hot and dry encourages Spider Mites and causes blooms to quickly fade. A northern exposure really doesn't provide enough light for high light plants. These plants need to be placed directly in front of an east-facing window, within 1-3 feet of a west-facing window, and within 5 ft. of a south facing window. A high light area has over 300 ft. candles of light. or direct sunlight.

Water: Geraniums easily survive being under watered, and in fact often bloom more when stressed with a little bit of a drought. Too much water on a consistent basis causes root rot and the plant dies. Wait until the top 50% of the soil is dry before watering, but never allow the whole root ball to dry out.

fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.  : Fertilize every two weeks in the spring and summer when the plant is actively growing with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.   high in potassium  at ½ the recommended strength. The potassium helps the flowers develop.

Temperature: Geraniums like it on the cool side, 65-75 degrees during the day, and around 55 at night, though they seem to adapt to warmer temperatures without much difficulty.  Avoid cold, drafty areas.

Humidity: The common Geraniums we find in the stores are not fussy about humidity. However, very high humidity encourages bacterial and fungal growth on the leaves and stems and very low humidity encourages spider mitesLearn how to identify and treat Spider Mites on plants. This sucking plant pest causes yellow blotchy leaves with a red haze and a gritty feel to them..

Flowering: Geraniums need very bright intense light to bloom. Personally, I’ve found that if I go away on vacation and my geraniums dry out more than usual, once I water again, they bloom more than ever. Quickly remove fading flowers. geraniums produce a lot more flowers if you’re really consientious about doing this.

Pests: AphidsSee a picture, learn to identify, and read about Aphid houseplant pests in the Glossary of Houseplant411.com., whiteflyLearn how to identify and treat the plant pest called Whitefly at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary/whitefly-plant-pests, and spider mitesLearn how to identify and treat Spider Mites on plants. This sucking plant pest causes yellow blotchy leaves with a red haze and a gritty feel to them. all seem attracted to geraniums. When you put your geraniums outside for the spring and summer, be careful the caterpillars don’t start enjoying them for dinner.

Diseases: Bacterial leaf spot, gray mold, blossom blight, or rust can develop whe the humidity is too high or the leaves are kept wet. This is one of the reasons I never recommend misting plants.

Soil: The right soil is very important if you want your geraniums to grow. Use a quick draining all-purpose loose houseplant potting mixture that contains a fair amount of nutrients if you’re putting your geraniums into pots. If you’re planting Geraniums outside in the garden, be sure to add a little sand and compost to the soil if it seems heavy and clay-like.

Pot Size: As with all houseplants, there has to be drainage holes in the pots so the geraniums will never sit in water.  Geraniums like to be a little root-bound, so don’t be in a rush to re-pot them. When you do move you geraniums to a larger pot,  use a container only one size larger than your existing pot.

propagationLearn how to propagate plants by plant division at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary: You can easily root geraniums from stem cuttings. The best time to propagate is from the early spring through summer.

Toxicity: Unlike flowering plants such as azaleas and lilies, geraniums are a good choice if you have cats or dogs since they are non- poisonousPlants are a great addition to homes and offices, but it’s important to know whether your plants are dangerous to children, pets, or even adults. Some plants contain chemicals such as oxalates, solanine, glycosides, or alkaloid lycorine that may cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, swelling and redness of the mouth, throat, and lips, and trouble breathing. Touching parts of certain plants, especially the sap, may cause various skin irritations. The weight and age of the human or pet involved, and the part and amount of plant eaten determine how severe the reaction to the toxins will be. Although plants may be listed as non-toxic, they can still cause individual allergic reactions. If there is any question after a houseplant has been ingested or touched immediately call the Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222 The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants [Paperback]is an excellent reference to keep around if you have young children and pets..

If you have any questions about your geraniums just contact me at: judy@houseplant411. I’ll be happy to try to help you out.

 

 

Why Plant Leaves Get Brown Tips?

I probably get asked this question more than any other plant question except for “can you identify my mystery plant so I can stop killing it.” Many people think the tips of plant leaves turn brown because of too much or too little water. Over or under watering may play a small part but is probably not one of the main reasons. Here’s what I think:

1. Too Much fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.  : Too much fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.   is worse than too little. Plants should only be fed when they are actively growing and producing new leaves, which is usually in the Spring and Summer for most plants. If the plant doesn’t absorb the food, the salts in the food collect in the soil burning the roots and causing unsightly brown or black tips on the leaves. I always recommend diluting the fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.   to ½ the recommended strength.

2. Never Use Water That has Passed Through a Water Softener: This is a salt issue again. Water that comes out of a softener has a lot of salt in it which causes the same issue as too much fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.  .

3. Household Water Has too Many Chemicals: Although it’s fine for us if the water we drink has chlorine or fluoride in it, many plants don’t like it, especially dracaenas and palms. Using water full of chemicals is often the cause of  brown tips. The least expensive way to handle the problem is to let the water stand out over night before using it. That gives the chemicals a chance to dissipate and  no longer be in the water. You can also spend the money and buy distilled water.

4. Low Humidity: Many houseplants originate in the humid jungles of Asia and South America. They are accustomed to and require much higher humidity than we have in our homes and offices. Here are a few easy ways to increase the humidity around your plants:

  1.  Place a small room humidifier near your plants.
  2. Group plants together and create a mini greenhouse effect
  3. Place plants on a wet pebble tray. Be sure the water stays below the bottom of the pots and the plant sits on pebbles and not directly in the water. The pebbles should be pea size and the tray should be at least as wide as the plant. As the water evaporates, the humidity in the air increases.
  4. Misting Plants: I don’t recommend misting plants. Leaves that are constantly wet tend to develop bacterial and fungal diseases that are more serious problems than lack of humidity. Also, it’s not very efficient. The mist evaporates so quickly it rarely increases the humidity for enough time to be beneficial.
  5. Anyone have some other suggestions for increasing humidity, please let me know.

If your plant gets brown tips, you can usually trim them off. Use a sharp, wet scissors and try to cut in the shape of the leaf. This works with most plants, though with some, like a Peace Lily or Prayer plant, the leaves get very yellow when you try to trim them so it’s often better to just cut the whole leaf off.

 

How to Identify and Treat House Plant Pests

Spring is here and summer is approaching and with these seasons come open windows, screen doors, and an invasion of house Plant PestLearn how to identify and treat the plant pest called Whitefly at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary/whitefly-plant-pestss, not that we haven’t been have our fair share all fall and winter. Once an insect infects one or your plants, the chances are fairly good that it will spread to the rest if you don’t isolate the infected plant immediately. Removing dead plant debris, providing good air circulation, keeping leaves clean, and never using products like milk or mayonaise to clean the leaves are good preventative measures. Check your plants often, because bugs like AphidsSee a picture, learn to identify, and read about Aphid houseplant pests in the Glossary of Houseplant411.com. reproduce so quickly you may have none one day and a week later have hundreds. Be sure to look at the underside of leaves and stir the soil to see what might be hiding. Keep a package of Yellow Sticky Insect Cards on hand so you can quickly put a few pieces in your plants and start trapping the pests as soon as you see them. Here are the most common insects that attack our houseplants and some pictures to help identify them. You can find more detailed information about Plant PestLearn how to identify and treat the plant pest called Whitefly at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary/whitefly-plant-pestss and how to get rid of them in the Glossary Section of HousePlant411.

AphidsSee a picture, learn to identify, and read about Aphid houseplant pests in the Glossary of Houseplant411.com.

Fungus GnatsThis small dark skinny pest flies and jumps around plants and people driving us all crazy. Fungus Gnats develop in moist potting soil, feeding on root hairs and emerging as adults every 30 days. The best way to get rid of Fungus Gnats is to allow the soil to thoroughly dry out. This eliminates the eggs and gnats in the pot. Use yellow sticky cards to trap the Fungus Gnats that are flying around.

Mealy BugsLearn how to identify and treat Mealy Bugs, a houseplant pest that leaves sticky, white, cottony residue on houseplants.

scaleSoft Brown Scale is the most common scale that attacks indoor houseplants especially ficus, ivy, spider plants, ferns, aralia, and schefflera. It appears as small bumpy brown spots that appear to move. As the scale sucks on the sap of the plant it secretes a sticky substance called honeydew. The honeydew attracts black mildew. Because of the shell-like exterior, sprays are only partially effective against scale. Wipe off the lines of brown oval bumps with your finger, a cloth, or a child’s toothbrush then spray the plant with Neem Oil. Use the Green Solution to clean off the black mildew.

thripThrip are tiny winged brown insects that feed on the surfaces of plant leaves, flowers, and buds. They leave silver spots around their feeding areas and dark dots of excrement. Thrip not only weaken plant growth and distort buds and flowers, they transmit viruses from plant to plant as they fly around. The Green Solution, Neem Oil, and Yellow Sticky Cards all are effective in eliminating thrip.s

whiteflyLearn how to identify and treat the plant pest called Whitefly at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary/whitefly-plant-pests

Shamrock Plants for St. Patrick’s Day

Shamrock Plants, or Oxalis, appear in plant departments around St. Patrick’s Day. They  have the nickname,  Shamrock Plant, because of their soft, thin, triangular leaves that are divided into three leaflets, just like a lucky clover. Oxalis regnelli, the green leafed version, has small delicate white flowers, while Oxalis triangularis, or False Shamrock, has dark purple leaves and pinkish lavender flowers. Shamrocks are bulb plants and die back after they bloom; but don’t throw them out, they just need a little rest before starting to grow again.

Light: Shamrocks need bright indirect lightVery few houseplants should be placed in direct sun. High light refers only to bright indirect light since direct sun often burns the leaves of indoor houseplants. An area that is too hot and dry encourages Spider Mites and causes blooms to quickly fade. A northern exposure really doesn't provide enough light for high light plants. These plants need to be placed directly in front of an east-facing window, within 1-3 feet of a west-facing window, and within 5 ft. of a south facing window. A high light area has over 300 ft. candles of light. from an east or west-facing window.

Water: Keep the soil of a Shamrock barely moist but never soggy. Allow the top 2” of soil to dry out before watering.  It’s always best to water a Shamrock from the bottom so that the thin fragile stems of the plant don’t get water logged and the soil stays loose.

fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.  : Feed a Shamrock Plant monthly in the spring and summer when it is actively growing, use a basic houseplant food at ½ the recommended strength. Never feed a Shamrock Plant when it is dormant and the bulbs are resting.

Temperature: Shamrock Plants like cool temperatures and do best when the temperature is 60-70 degrees during the day and 55-65 degrees at night.

Humidity: Basic house-hold humidity is fine for this plant.

Soil: The best soil for a Shamrock Plant is a loose and sandy variety rather than the rich  organic type.

Flowers: Oxalis regnelli has small delicate white flowers. Oxalis triangularis has delicate little purple flowers.

Pests: Shamrock Plants attract AphidsSee a picture, learn to identify, and read about Aphid houseplant pests in the Glossary of Houseplant411.com., whitefliesLearn how to identify and treat the plant pest called Whitefly at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary/whitefly-plant-pests, and spiders mites. Use the “ green solutionIf you don't want to use a commercial chemical product to treat plant pest problems try the “Green Solution.” This is a mixture of water, alcohol, biodegradable liquid soap, and mineral oil. Always test any spray on one or two leaves to be sure it won’t damage the plant. Depending upon how severe the infestation is, you can use these ingredients in varying proportions. If there are only a few pests, dip a Q-tip in alcohol and gently swab them off. For a more widespread problem, start by using a spray of warm water mixed with a few tablespoons of biodegradable soap. If that doesn’t cure the problem, make a solution using 8oz. water & 8oz. alcohol, add two tablespoons of biodegradable soap and two tablespoons of mineral oil. Spray all areas of the plant. Use this solution on leathery leafed plants (except palms), never on fuzzy leafed plants like African Violets or Begonias. For palms, omit the alcohol from the Green Solution. Never spray a plant that’s sitting in the sun or one with very dry soil.    ,” a mixture of ½ mild soapy water, ½ alcohol and a few tablespoons of mineral oil to get rid of the spider mitesLearn how to identify and treat Spider Mites on plants. This sucking plant pest causes yellow blotchy leaves with a red haze and a gritty feel to them. and AphidsSee a picture, learn to identify, and read about Aphid houseplant pests in the Glossary of Houseplant411.com.. Yellow Sticky Insect Cards are the best way to catch the whitefliesLearn how to identify and treat the plant pest called Whitefly at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary/whitefly-plant-pests.

propagationLearn how to propagate plants by plant division at https://www.houseplant411.com/glossary: Shamrocks are propagated by bulb division.  With a Shamrock Plant, they are called bulblets because they are very small, white, and puffy.

Toxicity: Shamrocks have a mild toxicity if eaten in very large quantities.

 

shamrock (c) Stevies dreamstime_4123008

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Cactus: How to get it to bloom next year

Christmas-cactus-plant

Pruning a Christmas Cactus helps it become a full bushy plant and produce more blooms during the holiday season. The best time to prune a Christmas Cactus is about a month after it has finished blooming. This brief rest encourages the Christmas Cactus to produce new growth and branch out. You should never prune a Christmas Cactus after the month of May.

Pruning a Christmas Cactus is really easy. Just twist or cut one or several of the segments off of the ends of each of the stems. If you want to start new plants, use a three segment section and plant at least two or three of these sections in a small pot. These little plants make great Christmas presents or you can donate them to a local Nursing Home.