Category Archives: Houseplants

Cattleya Bloom – A Study in Patience

I’m not a fussy gardener, especially when it comes to houseplants. If a plant doesn’t perform well, I throw it out. If it gets diseased, I throw it out. If it gets an infestation of insects, I’ll treat it once or twice, but if that doesn’t work, into the garbage it goes. If it gets too big, I’ll try to take a cutting and propagate it, but if that doesn’t work, I toss it.

This is why it’s a little surprising that I allowed a cattleya orchid to take up space in the house when it didn’t bloom for 2+ years. The only thing that saved it was that was growing well, it had no disease or pest problems and I knew that these orchids take some time to reach blooming size.


I found a small cattleya orchid at Lowes in 2013. (Maybe tiny is a better word for it since it only had three leaves and was in a 2″ pot.) I’d gotten the hang of growing phalaenopsis orchids and wanted to try my hand at growing a cattleya.

As I said, the plant grew well. I kept it in a window with a south-east exposure so it would get a lot of light, something that cattleyas need. Every time I watered it, I’ll look to see if one of the new leaves was going to push out a sheath-covered bud.

It finally happened this year. A bud emerged and it opened into a flower this week. This orchid has finally reached blooming size and I should get more blooms every year. I’m glad I gave this plant some time to perform because it’s performance is pretty amazing. There’s something very satisfying in taking a tiny plant and bringing it to maturity – especially when it looks like this!

As these pictures show, this cattleya is definitely a keeper and a great payoff for my patience.









Thanksgiving Cacti – It’s All About the Temperature

cactusA few years ago I wrote a post entitled  Things I Learned About My “Christmas Cactus.”  In that post, I explained how I’d learned that the so-called “Christmas cacti” that you find in stores around the holidays are really Thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera truncate).

I also learned that while darkness can make the cactus bloom, temperature is even a stronger force causing this plant to want to reproduce. That made sense given the way that my cacti blossom. I never worry about light and darkness yet they bloom every year.

But right now I have proof that temperature really is a strong factor in getting this plant to blossom.

I have a pot with four different Thanksgiving cacti in it. I have it hanging on a curtain rod in a west-facing window. The plant blossomed well around the holidays and since then, I’ve basically forgotten about it. I’ve watered it when I think of it, but that’s all the care it’s received.

Thanksgiving Cactus - 1/2 in bloom

Thanksgiving Cactus – only on side in bloom

One day when I was watering I was surprised to see that half of the pot was filled with buds while the other half wasn’t. What caused this strange phenomenon? Temperature. The half of the pot with buds was the part closest to the window. We’ve had a cold winter so those stems have been kept very cool, especially at night. The part of the pot that had no buds was the side facing the room.

The other interesting thing is that whatever factors cause the cactus to bloom, they appear to stay localized. Branches of a cactus that were close to the window are blooming while other branches of the same plant that were facing the room aren’t blooming. That seems to show that whatever causes the plant to bloom isn’t some chemical that translocates throughout the plant. Instead, the factors that cause the plant to bloom only affect the areas that are exposed to the cooler temperatures.

While days are getting longer and the intensity of sunlight is increasing, the cool temperatures close to the window were enough to get this cactus to re-bloom – well, at least half of it. I will admit it’s a little strange to see a pot with only half in bloom but it just goes to show that when it comes to getting Thanksgiving cacti to bloom, temperature trumps all!


It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, It’s a Bird of Paradise Bud!

The coolest thing about plants is how they can surprise you. This week I was surprised by a bird of paradise plant that’s overwintering in an upstairs window.

Bird of Paradise Flower (By William Warby ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Bird of Paradise Flower
(By William Warby ( [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

I tried growing a bird of paradise a few years ago, but it was a disaster. The plant I had gotten was labeled as a white bird of paradise. The plant grew well, but it was huge! The leaves were well over 1 and 1/2 feet long and they were supported by petioles that were over 4 feet tall. The plant looked great, but it was just too big to overwinter in the house.

Come to find out, there are (at least) two different kinds of bird of paradise plants. The white bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) produces large white flowers and can grow to over 30 feet tall. No wonder the plant I was growing was too big for my limited space.

The more traditional bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) has orange, blue and yellow flowers and grows 3-5 feet tall. That’s a size that, while on the tall side, I can manage!

Last year I started growing one of these more manageable sized birds of paradise. After bringing it home, I transplanted it into a large pot and put it on a covered porch with a southern exposure. While it didn’t get a lot of direct sunlight, it was in very bright location. The plant grew well, and in the fall, I moved it into an upstairs bedroom with a southern exposure.

All I was looking to do was keep the plant alive until the spring. Everything I’d read said that it can take at least 3-4 years for a bird of paradise to blossom.

bird_edited-1That’s why I was shocked when I saw an inflorescence on this plant. As clear as day there was a 2 foot tall stalk with a spathe (a beak-like structure that protects the flowers) on top. Why I hadn’t noticed this before I don’t know; I probably didn’t see it because I didn’t expect to see it.

The fact that this bird of paradise is going to blossom lets me know that the plant I purchased at a garden center was at least a couple of years old. I also now know that the summer growing location of this plant was a good one for it.

It also shows that you never know when a plant will surprise you!

Finding Achimene Rhizomes

I’ve posted in the past about how impressed I am with achimenes. This hard-to-find plant is so easy to grow and it offers a very impressive show of flowers during the summer.

Hard to Get Achimenes

Hard to Get

Last year I discovered an online greenhouse that offers over 75 varieties of achimenes. Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista, California sells each variety as a package of 5 rhizomes. I have to say that I was very impressed with the rhizomes that I received from them. They were healthy and each variety was individually packaged with a plastic plant label that included the variety name and the address and website of Kartuz Greenhouses. (The only negative I would give to this site is that the list of achimenes includes no pictures. While there’s a written description of the flower, if you want to see it, you have to Google the name. With so many varieties, Googling each of them can get a little tedious.)

I tried three different varieties: Hard to Get, Caligula and Yellow Beauty.

Hard to Get was my favorite. The plants were large and filled with blossoms all summer long. As an extra bonus, this variety produced a ton of rhizomes! I started with 5 and I now have well over 40.

Caligula Achimene


I like the color of Caligula, but at the end of the season, there weren’t a lot of rhizomes for the next year. I’m assuming this is just a varietal difference; some plants multiply more than others.

Yellow Beauty Achimene

Yellow Beauty

Yellow Beauty was OK, but it was never covered with blossoms. I think that might be because the standard colors of achimenes are pinks, reds, whites, and purples. Yellow is an unusual color and often in plants, unusual colors didn’t have the vigor that you find in plants with the standard colors.

I’m continuing to look for new varieties of this plant. There are lots of achimenes on eBay, but I’m always a little hesitant to order plants from an unknown source. Also, most of the eBay listing are for one single rhizome. However, there are some really cool looking varieties for sale there. I might try one or two and see how it goes.

The basic varieties of achimenes that I found on Easy to Grow Bulbs hooked me on this amazing plant. I look forward to trying more varieties and finding which ones grow the best for me.



The Biggest Orchid

I have a number of phalaenopsis orchids that I’ve picked up over the years. I feel like I’ve finally mastered growing them. But this year I’m surprised at how well they’re doing.

One in particular is doing better than I would ever have expected. While this phalaenopsis had two branches last year, this year it has four branches coming off of the main spike. This isn’t happening because this is some fancy variety of phalaenopsis that I’m growing; this one came from the “renowned orchid supplier” known as Sam’s Club!

IMG_1734I think there are a few reasons this plant’s doing so well. One is age; this plant is maturing as the years go by.

I’ve also found that potting these orchids in a clay orchid pot with a mixture of 1/2 long fiber sphagnum moss and 1/2 orchid bark potting mix works well. The mixture of moss and bark allows the medium to be moist but also aerated. In addition, the clay pot is permeable to gases and helps with aeration as well. I also like that the clay pots are heavy and support the weight of the orchid.

During the summer I kept this plant in a bright spot and was careful about watering. But what I really think made the difference was that I fertilized the plant twice a month with 1/2 strength African violet fertilizer from Miracle-Gro during the spring and summer. I cut back on the fertilizer to about once a month during the fall since the orchid was slowing down in its growth.

This combination of age, light, potting mixture, water and fertilizer seems to have worked. I’ve counted over 40 buds on this orchid and the spike and branches haven’t stopped growing. I’ll be sure to post a picture when this phalaenopsis is in full bloom!

African Violet Propagation – The Pay Off

While propagation African violets is pretty easy to do, it takes time for the leaf cutting to root and grow plantlets. It takes more time for the plantlets to establish themselves and grow. And only when they’ve reached maturity will the plants start to bloom. Considering the fact that it takes 7-10 months for this entire process to occur, propagating African violets has to be seen as a labor of love and an exercise in patience!

The leaves that I put in potting soil back in the spring have finally completed this process. I’m growing five different varieties that I purchased from Lydon Lyon. What has surprised me is how different the grow habits of each of the violets are. These differences just seem to be part of the genetic make up of the plants.

My favorite of the group is “No Regrets.” The flowers are large and the same plant can have different combinations of pink and white. These are also the best looking plants of the group.

No Regrets

No Regrets


No Regrets

No Regrets

“Circus Fascination” is another violet that’s a keeper. The plants have dark green leaves and the flowers are an interesting color with different marking on each one. I also like the frilled edges of the flowers.

Circus Fascination

Circus Fascination

The one semi-miniature plant that I’m growing is “Blueberry Sprite.” I’m warming up to this plant as time goes on. The leaves tend to cup down over the pot and the individual blooms aren’t that interesting. However, the flowers are long-lasting and put on a nice show en masse.

Blueberry Sprite

Blueberry Sprite

I’m on the fence with last two varieties. “Solemn Promise” has very pale leaves and appears to be sensitive to over fertilization. The picture on the website was much nicer than what I’m seeing on this plant.

Solemn Promise

Solemn Promise

“Spectacular” has yet to live up to its name. So far, it’s just bizarre! The plants are just getting ready to bloom but each one is filled with suckers and all twisted up. If the blooms impress me, I might try to keep this variety going; otherwise it’s into the garbage to make room for other plants!

Whenever you’re working with any kind of plant, you never know for sure what you’re going to get until you grow it yourself. I’m surprised by how differently each of these violets grow. My labor of love has paid off with at least three violets that I’ll be keeping. 60% pay off? Not too bad in my book!






African Violets Propagation

Back in August I had posted about the soil fungus problem that I was having with propagating African violets. The good news is that a spray or two of a copper fungicide took care of the problem and didn’t cause any harm to the plantlets.

African Violet Plantlets

African Violet Plantlets

In late summer I was able to remove the small plantlets and pot them into individual pots. The challenge was finding pots. African violets can be a little temperamental and you don’t want to put them in too large of a pot. The roots need to be able to fill the soil quickly or you can run into disease problems. I needed some small pots but small pots are hard to find.

3 fl oz Cup as a Pot

3 fl oz Cup used as a Pot

Then I learned a trick for the Facebook group African Violet Nerds. Someone had posted that they use small plastic cups for the initial potting of the plantlets. I found a bag of cups at the grocery store that were 3 fl. ounce and seemed perfect for my violets. Plus I got 150 of them for less than $2 – I could never have found 1 or 2 inch pots at that price! All I had to do was snip a couple of holes in the bottom of each cup and I had all the pots I needed.

After the fungus problem, I was also searching for a potting mix in which to grow the plants. I ended up using three parts Optimara African violet potting mix with one part perlite. Optimara’s a big violet grower so I knew I could trust their soilless mix. I just found it to be a little to heavy for my liking so I added the perlite and have been pleased with the results.

plantlet 3After planting up the plantlets, I wanted to give them a humid location for a few weeks until they started to establish themselves. The best mini greenhouse I could find was a large plastic baby spinach container. The height was perfect and the lid allowed me to adjust it so that there would be some increased humidity but also airflow.

I didn’t lose one plantlet and I haven’t had any more fungus problems. Each plant grew and right now they’re starting to bloom. I’ll share the results of this process in the next post.