Monday, December 16, 2013

Houseplant of the Week: Norfolk Island Pine

It's Christmas time and as you've been wandering aimlessly about, shopping for gifts for people who already have everything they need, you may have noticed this awesome plant that looks a lot like a little Christmas tree.  It almost looks like it could be a type of pine tree, but it's not, even though "pine" is in its common name.  The Norfolk Island Pine has been a favorite of houseplant growers for a long time, mainly because of its uniform needled foliage and the fact that it's one of the easiest plants to grow in the house.

Common Name: Norfolk Island Pine, Star Pine
Botanical Name: Araucaria heterophylla
USDA Hardiness zones: 9b-11
Size: In its native environment, it will grow to over 40 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. Houseplants are available in much smaller sizes though, usually from about 1-3 feet.
Light Requirements: Bright indirect light
Water Requirements: In summer, keep moist but not soggy; in winter, let soil dry out between thorough waterings.
Soil Requirements: Fast-draining potting soil
Flower: Because it is a conifer, Norfolk Island Pines will produce cones, but as a houseplant, you're not likely to see this.
General Considerations: The Norfolk Island Pine enjoys misting with cool water, which will mimic its natural climate in New Zealand, where it originates.  If the air is too dry for too long, the tips of the needles will brown.  A home humidifier in heated winter homes will generally make them happy, as it will its human housemates.  Don't prune, as all growth will stop at the point of pruning.  Fertilize monthly during summer months with half-strength water-soluble plant food.

Where to Purchase: Commonly found in big box stores, garden centers and grocery stores, especially during the holidays.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Houseplant of the Week: Tillandsias

Welcome to the wonderful, slightly bizarre world of tillandsias! I fell in love with this plant a few years ago when I was on a trip to Nicaragua, where tillandsias grow in trees. Tillandsias are epiphytes, meaning they do not need soil to grow. Instead, they attach themselves to their host (trees, for example), but are not parasitic. They rely on the host plant for support only, and gather all their nutrients through their leaves from the environment around them. Tillandsias are perfect for open terrariums (closed terrariums should be avoided because they don't have enough air circulation), mounting on rocks or driftwood, and displaying in moss on tabletops. I love the varied, other-worldly forms, don't you?

Common Name: Air plant, tillandsia, tillies
Botanical Name: Tillandsia spp.
USDA Hardiness zones: 9-11
Size: Anywhere from tiny 1" to fairly gigantic 40"
Light Requirements: Bright but filtered
Water Requirements: Low to average (do not overwater).  Let dry out between watering. Soak tillies in water once a week for about 20 minutes, then shake the water out and allow to dry before replacing in your display. You can mist them in between waterings, or you can opt to mist them every other day in place of soaking. 
Soil Requirements: None
Flower: Many, but not all, tillies bloom. Flowers are usually a tubular shape and have bright colors like purple, pink, yellow, blue and white.
General Description: Tillandsias are the largest genus in the bromeliad family, with over 550 different species. They are native to large parts of Central and South America, as well as some southernmost parts of the United States. The most important thing to remember about Tillandsia care is good air circulation and bright light. You can place them outside during the warm months, but keep them out of direct sunlight. You can give them some water-soluble fertilizer, mixed at ¼-strength and sprayed on, every two weeks. Tillies do not need fertilizing, but if you want to encourage bloom and faster growth, it's recommended.
Where to Purchase: There are many online stores where you can order tillandsias if your local garden center does not carry them.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Houseplant of the Week: Devil's Backbone

They say the devil's in the details and it would seem to be so with this week's plant, Devil's backbone.   The really cool thing about it is the way its stems zigzag back and forth, doing so each time it grows a new leaf.  That's what first attracted me to it, but I also like it because it's super easy to grow.  There are variegated leaf varieties that are especially nice.

Photo: Costa Farms


Common Name: Devil's backbone, Zig zag plant, Slipper spurge
Botanical Name: Euphorbia tithymaloides (formerly Pedilanthus tithymaloides)
USDA Hardiness zones: 9-11
Size: 1' - 3' tall and about 1' wide
Light Requirements: High
Water Requirements: Low to average (do not overwater).  Let dry out between watering. 
Soil Requirements: Well-drained
Flower: Small red flowers at the tips of the stems. 
General Description: This is a poinsettia relative and likes similar growing conditions, although it's much easier to grow, in my opinion.  It is a native of tropical areas in North and Central America, including Florida.  When used there as an outdoor plant, it is drought tolerant, once established.  Inside, it may not bloom, but the interest is in the quirky stems anyway.  It has a smaller footprint, due to its upright habit, making it suitable for small spaces.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Houseplant of the Week: Rex Begonia

I started getting into Rex begonias a few years ago, and I killed a couple of them on the way to finding out what they like. Isn't that always how it goes? Nonetheless, Rex begonias aren't really that fussy, and for the amount of class they bring to the joint, they are well worth any special care they may ask for. This is definitely a "must try" for all you foliage lovers out there — intricate veining, metallic color combos and interesting leaf textures make Rex begonias irresistible.


Common Name: Rex begonia
Botanical Name: Begonia rex
USDA Hardiness Zones: Zones 10 - 11
Size: 12 - 18" tall and wide with leaves up to 5" wide and 9" long
Light Requirements: Shade in outdoor locations, and bright indirect light indoors
Soil Requirements: Rich, aerated, well-drained soil
Water Requirements: Regular watering — but with Rex begonias, learn to water them as they need it, not by what the date on the calendar says. Don't let them sit in water or get so dry that they wilt.
Flower: Insignificant
General Description: A rhizomatous begonia featuring stunning foliage, Rex begonias are primarily used as annuals outside or houseplants in North America. Outside North America, it's grown as a shady perennial in tropical and subtropical climates. Leaves come in shades of white, silver, green, pink, purple and yellow, and often have a metallic or iridescent sheen.
Special Care: Rex begonias will appreciate some extra humidity. Setting the container on a saucer with pebbles and water will help, as will keeping them away from drafts. Use a balanced fertilizer during the growing season.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Indoor Plant Decor Makes Amazon's Best Books List!

We are so excited to learn this week that Indoor Plant Decor is on Amazon's Best Books of the Year in the Gardening & Floral Design category! We're officially listed at #18, and we couldn't be any more pleased.

As you can see, we're in good company with our friends and colleagues Amy Stewart, Rebecca Sweet, Karen Chapman, Christina Salwitz, Pam Penick and others. This is a real honor, and we offer huge thanks to all of you who have bought our book and made it a success! If you haven't already purchased it, you can get it at your local Barnes & Noble or from Amazon, as well as many independent book stores and nurseries/garden centers. It'll make a great Christmas gift for your houseplant loving friends.

Hope you all have a good weekend — we're off to celebrate our good news this evening!

Cheers & Happy Gardening —

Jenny & Kylee

Monday, November 4, 2013

Houseplant of the Week: Aspidistra

Aspidistra is one of those botanical plant names that's just fun to say. It's fun to grow too, because it requires so little of you and its environment. It's a low-light plant, which almost always makes for a good houseplant specimen.

Wikimedia Commons

It's commonly called "cast-iron plant," which should tell you about its ability to endure a fair amount of benign neglect. You do have to at least water it every couple of weeks or so, but even then, if you forget, it's forgiving. Its classic form fits in just about any decor, making it a social butterfly of the houseplant world.


Common Name: Cast-iron plant
Botanical Name: Aspidistra elatior
USDA Hardiness zones: 7-11
Size: 2' - 3'
Light Requirements: Low to medium
Water Requirements: Low to average (do not overwater)
Soil Requirements: Well-drained
Flower: It does flower, but not usually as a houseplant.  It isn't grown for its flowers though, which appear at soil level in the spring and are cream with burgundy on the inside.
General Description: Aspidistra is a native of eastern Asia, with wide, strappy dark green leaves which grow at ground level.  There are variegated varieties that are especially attractive.  It's rarely bothered by common houseplant pests and is known for being a very tough plant that's easy to grow, though somewhat slow.  It was used often in Victorian parlors, and was a plant commonly handed down from generation to generation. When grown outdoors, it's just as tough, as long as it stays out of direct sun.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Houseplant of the Week: Sansevieria

Sansevieria. Mother-in-law's tongue. Snake plant. Whatever you call it, there's a reason why we use this houseplant so much. And why your mother used it, and your uncle and grandparents. It's so easy to grow that the best possible way to kill it is by giving it too much love.

Before you brush it off as being a "Grandma plant" or too old fashioned for more modern tastes, consider Sansevieria's striking architectural form and dramatic foliage markings. These features make it an updated classic, perfect for traditional and contemporary interiors alike. Although it's native to tropical western Africa, it'll grow outdoors in very mild climates, and makes a stunning indoor houseplant in virtually any location.


Common Name: Mother-in-law's Tongue, Snake Plant
Botanical Name: Sansevieria spp.
USDA Hardiness zones: 10 - 12
Size: 2' - 4'
Light Requirements: Low to medium
Water Requirements: Low to average (once or twice a month)
Soil Requirements: Well-drained
Flower: Light greenish-white appearing in the spring when planted outdoors, followed by orange berries. Although not impossible, Sansevieria used as houseplants rarely flower and fruit.
General Description: Sansevieria is a stemless, green succulent, featuring upright, stiff, fleshy sword-shaped leaves with leaf markings and margins in shades of grey-green, yellow and dark green. There are no serious pest or disease issues, although this plant will rot if overwatered or allowed to sit in water.

Friday, April 5, 2013

We Have a Winner!

Last fall, we ran a contest in which we invited readers to submit photos of their indoor gardening ideas for possible inclusion in our book, Indoor Plant Décor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants.  We received several entries, which made it clear to us that gardening in our homes is alive and well!  (Of course, we knew that!)

We saw some interesting plants, creative ideas, and above all, a passion for growing that isn't limited to a plot of earth in the backyard. Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit photos and designs for our contest.

It's time for the book to be released - that will happen in just 10 days! - and we're happy to announce that Steve Asbell's driftwood design will be featured!

Steve Asbell is a gardener and artist who lives in Florida and is author of the popular blog The Rainforest Garden.  He has a large presence on Pinterest, with a phenomenal number of followers there (12,500+).

Steve marries his love of plants with his creative talents, designing container gardens, and will be the author of his own book, due out in 2014.

Congratulations, Steve, on your own book and for sharing your design with us for ours.  You'll be receiving a copy of Indoor Plant Décor soon!