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Since 2001, I’ve owned a small plant care business in Albuquerque called Good To Grow. Since 2009, I’ve maintained this indoor and outdoor gardening blog.
Each Wednesday, I’ve been posting emails from readers who had questions about their houseplants. Most of the letters came from people who are not regular readers, but who stumbled across this blog because they had a specific houseplant question. When I could, I wrote them back with advice tailored to their specific question. I saved all these emails in a file.
Since my regular readers are so sophisticated with their houseplant knowledge, and because everyone has their own take on caring for plants, I wanted to turn the emails over to them and see what their advice would’ve been had the email come to them. On Wednesdays, I’ll post the original question, and on Thursdays, I’ll reveal the advice from the regulars, as well as my response, so we can see how we match up. It’s been an interesting experiment so far, I hope you enjoy. If you have advice, please leave it in the comment section or on my facebook wall.
Hi everyone! This week’s question that I’m going to share is an excellent one. Especially since there are so many photos on Pinterest and other sites that don’t offer any explanation or instructions on how to plant various plants.
Here’s the email I received:
I came across your blog and instantly felt at home! Thank you so much for sharing your green thumb wisdom and artistry with the rest of the world.
I’m a very new green bud and live in Canada (British Columbia), the province that has an upside of warmer winters yet the downside of rather soggy, rainy weather….. What a difference with the place where you’re writing from – desert!
Anyway, every week I’ve been going through cravings for different plants as like these were different food flavours….. And recently it became succulents. I see lots of pictures of succulents being plunked literally in everything, from the ceramic mug to the coca cola can. However, I have a burning question – don’t these containers need a hole and a good drainage??? How is it possible to grow such a gorgeous plant in something that looks completely out of place for a container or is it done for commercial purposes?
I would appreciate your advice and tips very much!
LOVE your vertical frames!!
Sincerely, [name withheld for privacy]>>>>
Yes, indeed. You see succulents planted in jars, in vases, in old coffee cans, shoes, soda bottles – on and on. What’s the deal with that? She has a good point – don’t they need drainage holes?
How would you answer her?
Leave your best advice in the comments section, or on my facebook wall. I’ll reveal your answers tomorrow, as well as sharing what I actually wrote her back. Hope to see you back here!
Recently I was contacted by a gentleman named Larry about my Mimosa pudica plant, (I call her Miss Mimosa). Mimosas are nicknamed Sensitive plants because their leaves close when you touch them, and they close at night, too. Larry saw one of my posts about Miss Mimosa and thought I’d be interested in a product, a Mimosa growing kit, that he and his brother created. They call their Mimosas “TickleMe Plants.”
Larry at TickleMePlant.com wrote, “As a science teacher for over 30 years my brother has been sharing his love of the plant each year in the classroom. I have been growing the plant since I was a child and later joined forces with my brother and created the TickleMe Plant brand with the goal of exciting children and those young at heart about nature, gardening, plants and science.”
Excellent work, Larry. If it were up to me, there would be a Mimosa in every classroom across the country.
Larry was kind enough to send me a sample, so let me walk you through how easy it is to grow these cute little plants. The kit came with seeds, instructions, a tiny pot and a mini greenhouse.
The first step was to soak the seeds in hot or boiling water for at least 24 hours. I ended up leaving these soaking for several days:
I filled the pot with soil, watered it, then placed the seeds in the wet soil. Then I put the pot in its new home, the greenhouse.
Next I put the greenhouse on my kitchen windowsill so I could watch the action. There were sprouts within a day.
They started growing like crazy:
In only a few weeks, it was time to repot them into roomier digs. I planned to use these little plants as gifts, so I sealed and painted some more clay pots so they’d look nicer.
Of course, as soon as I moved the pot of Mimosas, they collapsed from all the drama:
Cracks me up every time they move.
The little baby plants had grown some sturdy roots in a short amount of time. Good job babies!
I separated the roots gently:
And put a few plants into each pot (three total). You can see they are still collapsed immediately after planting:
But they were fine 20 minutes later:
So thanks, Larry. I think TickleMe Plants are a great name, great idea. I wish you continued success. Readers, if you have questions for Larry or would like to order classroom kits for your school, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 845-350-4800.
I’ll be back manana, hope to see you here.
It’s not even Halloween yet but I’m already thinking about Christmas gifts. I like to make my own gifts if I can, because I believe homemade gifts are more thoughtful. But also because they’re less expensive.
Families across the country are on tight budgets. If you’re running one of them, you should consider entering this fabulous contest from Timber Press. You and your family could make some of your gifts this year and save yourself money.
The cool new book, Concrete Garden Projects, looks like this:
From Timber Press’s website:
“If you like making things for your garden, you’ll love concrete. Durable, beautiful, and inexpensive, it’s also surprisingly simple to work with. Best of all, it weathers elegantly, softening around the edges to become more picturesque with age.
Concrete Garden Projects offers up an inspiring array of creative projects that can be made for next to nothing. Follow the easy, step-by-step instructions to make containers of all sizes, benches and stools, ponds and birdbaths, pavers and stepping stones — and even a barbecue.”
I already know from my cousin, Bill, about the rewards of working with concrete, so this book is right up my alley. I have three concrete planters that Bill made, and I love them.
For the contest, all you have to do is click here, and enter your email address. You could win a copy of the book AND a $25 gift certificate to Home Depot AND a set of rubber molds. The publishers need your email to communicate with you if you win – they won’t share it with anyone else.
Contest ends this Friday October 21st.
If you click here, you can see step-by-step instructions on how to make adorable little concrete tealights. It looks so easy! I think they’d make really nice gifts.
Timber Press “is a Portland, Oregon publisher of books on gardening, ornamental and edible horticulture, garden design, sustainability, natural history and the Pacific Northwest.”
I’ll be back manana, hope to see you here.
A few weeks ago, I swapped out the leaf hopper-chomped Petunias by my back door with pretty Pansies. I looooove me some Pansies.
Yeah, I think it’s pretty obvious how much I love them. They’re so cheerful, how can I resist?
The Pansies are much hardier than my delicate Cosmos flowers in front of the house, so they weathered the rain storm the other day like troopers:
It was raining in the morning when the sun peeked over the Sandia Mountains, so there was a morning rainbow. Which I love almost as much as flowers.
I’ll be back on Monday, hope to see you here.
I’ve been painting pots again. You can probably figure out what that means. That’s right – baby plants!
Today, we’re going to divide Sam the Aloe Vera plant into several smaller plants. He’s far bigger than he used to be:
Sam used to live on my kitchen windowsill, but when he got too big for that spot, I moved him in with Rosa the Jade and the E. Sill Band. Then he got too big for that spot, so he got his own small south-facing windowsill in the living room. Then he outgrew that spot, too.
Aloes don’t actually mind being cramped in a small pot – they can live happily like that for a long time. But Sam’s grown out of control. His leaves are flopping all over the place and he’s become top heavy. He’s outgrowing his container as well as his spot on the windowsill.
I haven’t been properly watering him lately, and to make sure I know it, he’s gotten some black spots on his leaves and brown tips on some of the leaves. The brown tips could be caused by lack of humidity in the air (which it is, this is the desert), but on this particular plant, I know it’s mostly his way of saying “I don’t like it when you forget to water me, then you dump too much water on me.” Which I’d done a couple of times in a row.
Because there are so many babies in the pot, I knew it was time for a big transplant.
I prepped for the transplant by painting clay pots and saucers for the baby plants. I find it relaxing to paint, and I love having pretty little colorful pots. Life’s better when stuff is pretty, don’t you agree?
I sealed the clay with a sealant I found at the craft store so water wouldn’t ruin the paint job. I could’ve also used a growers’ pot (a cheap plastic one) and placed it inside a decorative container if I was worried about the paint. But I wasn’t.
Once the pots and saucers were ready, I started in on Sam. I picked early morning to do the work, because it gets so hot here in Albuquerque during the day.
Step one, remove him from the current container:
Yeah, you can see he’s ready for new digs by how thick his roots are.
Step two was to break the plant into a million pieces:
Ok maybe it wasn’t a million pieces. There were three main stems and dozens of offsets. I started snapping off the babies and placing them in five of the new pots, which were filled halfway with high-quality potting soil:
I was doing normal maintenance stuff during the transplant, including snipping off those brown tips and black spots, and pulling off dried lower leaves. Aesthetics again!
I could’ve separated out the three big stems into individual pots, but I only had one pot available for Sam’s new home. So they all went into it.
Meet the reborn Sam:
Spiffy, eh? It would’ve been nice if I could’ve stood all of the stems up straight, but oh well – I’m the one who allowed them to grow all twisty and turned in the first place. At least there’s fresh soil and a lot more breathing room. Maybe that stem will grow up one day, haha.
Once Sam was fine, I turned my attention to the babies. I added more soil around the new plants, and padded them firmly in place in the center of each pot.
Here’s the family portrait I took afterward:
Aw, so cute!
Now, who’d like to buy an Aloe plant in a hand-painted pot? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? If you’re interested, leave a comment for me or shoot me an email. I have no compunction about breaking up a happy family (of plants, that is).
My Experts will be back manana in an all-new Friday Ask the Experts panel. We’ll be talking about fall. We’ll also have a new plant puzzler. Hope to see you here.
When I was a little girl, growing up on a farm in Indiana, I wanted a Barbie Dream House for my birthday desperately. Actually, I wanted a real Barbie doll desperately. I knew, as the fourth of five kids (in a family on a budget), a brand new one was out of the question. I rarely got anything but hand-me-downs, even on my birthday. My older sister didn’t like dolls, so there were no hand-me-down Barbies. Every once in awhile, a friend would take pity on me and give me her old Barbie. On these occasions, I’d be so excited that I would race home and begin playing immediately. Then my brother would come along, grab the doll, and pop the head off. Every. Single. Time.
Dad wasn’t going to waste good money on new dolls for me, much less a huge house for them. So one year, he steered the gift idea a different direction. He decided that we would make a miniature cactus garden together. It would be a great birthday gift for me, and I’d learn all about Nature and such.
I remember we had a crafts book that had a really pretty ceramic container planted with gorgeous plants, with quirky accents like colored rocks and beads. It showed step-by-step instructions how to make one just like it.
It was no Barbie Dream House, but I remember thinking, ok, yes, let’s make something especially for me!
Right away, things went awry. Instead of an elegant ceramic planter, he got a yellow tub. And he didn’t want to bother with pretty colored gravel from a crafts store – he just used gravel from the driveway.
That’s where the story stopped in my little girl head. I know we had that planter for awhile, but I don’t remember becoming enchanted like he promised. I probably just ignored it after that initial disappointment.
Even though it didn’t work out then, I appreciate how Dad tried instilling a love of Nature in me from an early age.
Recently I was exploring ways I could make a modern version of the cactus garden I remember from that crafts book.
Here’s what I came up with – it’s a Desert Fairy Cactus Garden:
This one has rhinestones. That has to make up for my lost childhood dreams, right?
I made this garden mostly with found items, so it would be hard to duplicate exactly. I’m going to show you how I made it, in hopes that it inspires you to make one with your family, or just for yourself. If you get the general idea of how to make a miniature cactus garden, you should be able to make one out of practically anything, based on your personal tastes and what decorations and cacti you have access to. I do not recommend yellow tubs or gravel from the driveway.
How To Make a Desert Fairy Cactus Garden
Imagine being seven years old. Remember when you were little and everything was magical? When fairies were a part of daily life, as monsters in the closet were a part of night time? When you could spend hours playing with toys, making up stories and characters? Can you remember?
Even if you don’t see the world like a seven-year-old does, you can still appreciate creating something beautiful for your home.
Today I’d like to show you step-by-step how to create a Desert Fairy Cactus Garden.
What’s a desert fairy? Desert fairies are similar to other fairies, except that they accept cacti for who they are, thorns and all. They make their homes anywhere cacti grow together.
If you create a cactus garden for your home, chances are the desert fairies won’t be able to resist coming to live there.
Step One: Choose an appropriate container.
For my garden, I used a tv tray that I found on clearance sale at Target. Here’s what it looks like:
The glass bottom was for putting photos inside to make the tray more personal. I didn’t care for that. It’s a little beat up because it sat outside for a spell, it was used briefly as another planter last summer.
It’s a wooden frame that seems pretty sturdy. Will it last for 50 years? Probably not. But because cacti require little water, it’s a good choice for a planter and should last a nice long time. Here’s the view from the bottom:
The key to a good cactus garden is to reduce the chance of root rot, the most common killer of cactus. To do that, you want good drainage (the handles on the side of the tray are good for that) so that water can’t collect near the roots. It also doesn’t hurt to add a layer of pebbles, stones, marbles, whatever you want, at the bottom of the container to provide an extra layer of protection.
Step Two: Limit Risk of Root Rot
I had lots of stones that I hadn’t recycled yet and/or couldn’t bring myself to actually wash. They had originally gone out as gifts in containers with a flowering bulb on top of them (click here for more Nature-inspired gift ideas). I didn’t expect to see them again, but lots of people gave them back to me after the flower died back, hoping I could reuse them.
It’s really not a good use of time to scrub the water marks off, but they would work great as a buffer at the bottom of a plant container. So I used ’em for that:
They’d been in a craft box in my office so I dumped them all into the tray. Then I discovered a dead bee body in the mix:
That meant, unbeknownst to me, a bee had at one point been happily buzzing around my office. It’s super to know that now.
Please, feel free to skip the bee carcass step if you’re playing along at home.
At this point, I remembered that I wanted to staple mesh over the handle holes in the tray-turned-planter so the soil would stay in but water would drain out. I should’ve done the mesh first – oopsie. I’d show you a close-up of the mesh but my stapling skills are laughable, so I’m not gonna. You’ll have to trust me when I say that the mesh is secure and it’ll help with drainage.
We’ll skip to the photo where I added a floral mat of sphagnum moss I found at the crafts store:
That’s to provide a layer of separation between the soil and the colored stones. It’s another layer of protection against root rot.
Step Three: Add the Potting Soil Mix
For indoor gardens like the one I made, it’s important to use high-quality potting mixes, the kind you find at your local nurseries. I found a small bag of Ferti-Lome cactus mix at Rehm’s Nursery here in Albuquerque.
The bags of soil at the big box stores, like the Miracle Gro they sell at Lowe’s and Home Depot, get left out in the rain, where they get infected with fungus gnats. It’s annoying. By spending a little more for high-quality soil, you save yourself the hassle of having gnats flying around your home.
Add the soil mix, pressing as much in there as you can:
Keep the soil below the lip, to prevent spillage when you go to water the planter.
Step Four: Start Adding Plants and Bling
I found some small bottles at a thrift store that I thought would add an otherworldly look, and placed them down into the soil:
Oh, the flower shaped candle holder is going to be the fairies’ swimming pool. Because everyone knows fairies need pools.
I checked out plants from a few different nurseries in town. My goal was to find a handful of compatible plants. They didn’t have to have exactly the same water needs, so long as they were similar. I was looking for different textures and shapes, and varying degrees of thorniness. Cacti and succulents tend to have shallow roots, so it wasn’t difficult to find suitable plants for the thinnish planter.
I cleaned the excess soil off the roots, then she went into the planter. I like how dramatic the planter looks already:
Also from Osuna Nursery, this Opuntia (of some sort, I think, it wasn’t labelled) has soft glochids and therefore didn’t hurt to handle. Very delicate though, so I had to be careful as I separated the two plants growing in the small container:
I planted each in different parts of the planter:
I had picked up three tiny cacti at Lowe’s a few weeks back because they were on sale and fresh off the truck. A Chamaelobivia ‘Rose Quartz’, Mammillaria elognata ‘Goldilocks’ and a Pilosocereus. Each were gently placed into the planter with the help of tongs and thick gloves.
Here’s the garden once the planting was finished:
The planter was big enough to give each plant its own space, and a little room to grow.
Step Five: Decorate!
Now the fun part, decorating! Beginning with decorative white sand from the crafts store:
When I poured the sand in, it naturally made dunes and valleys, which I kept rather than combing the sand even. It’s like a miniature White Sands, New Mexico!
Then I sprinkled lots of shiny things, including colored pebbles and rhinestones, throughout the planter. Because everyone knows fairies love shiny things:
Voilà, every seven-year-old’s dream garden. Well, most little girls don’t dream of thorns. But even so, this planter can be a great way to instill a love of Nature in kids of all ages.
So what do you think? Do you think you might try making a Desert Fairy Cactus Garden with your kids? I hope I gave you enough information to rev up your imagination to the possibilities. Let me know if you do make one, and please, take lots of photos.
I’ll be back manana with an all-new Ask the Experts panel. Tomorrow’s question is “Which, if any, houseplant would make a good gift for a college-bound kid?” Tune in to see how they answered, and for an all-new plant puzzler as well. Hope to see you here.
In case you were wondering: The plural of cactus is technically cacti, although cactuses is accepted, as is cactus. I like to use cacti only when it’s really obvious I mean more than one plant (because I don’t like how the word cacti sounds in my head), and cactus the rest of the time.
Happy Tuesday, my little apples.
I have a new planter to show off, and I’m stoked. Check it out:
Cool, huh? Here’s another look:
I love it. It’s a handmade concrete planter with good drainage, and its shallowness lends itself well to succulents.
It was made by my very own awesome cousin Bill, who lives in Philadelphia. Visit his Etsy shop here for more information about his planters and bowls. Thanks, Bill!
I went to a cactus and succulent sale this weekend here in the city. I wanted to find plants for my new planter. It was, um, interesting.
Have you ever met a plant person who prided himself on liking plants more than people? Yeah? Imagine a smallish room packed with people like that, each of them furiously trying to grab as many plants as they could. It was like the horticulturist version of the Running of the Brides at Filene’s Basement.
As soon as I walked in, I almost walked right back out. I do not like crowds, they freak me out. But I decided to brave it long enough to peek at the plants. Would there be unusual or rare plants there? The answer, it turned out, was beats me.
There were lots of pretty plants, but most of those were part of a show and not for sale. The ones that were for sale were well planted and healthy. The ones I saw anyway. Trying to snake around the room to look at the plants was challenging. Everyone was carrying cardboard boxes, which served as shopping baskets but also as shields, blocking pathways and thwarting attempts to get close to the plants. Elbows were being thrown. I can’t believe I didn’t see little old ladies throwing down – it was madness.
I knew my delicate sensibilities would be toast if I stayed too long.
So I grabbed a Sedeveria for its red color and a Glottiphyllum davisii (it’s like an ice plant, but weirder, from Africa) for its purpleness, and a couple other small succulents, and got the hell out of there. Well, I stood in line for a half hour to pay for the plants, THEN I got the hell out of there.
Later in the weekend, I threw some of the succulents into the new planter together:
It’s generally not a good idea to group plants based on color and not the plants’ needs. But I did it anyway. I wanted red, purple and green, so I planted red, purple and green. They have similar needs, so I decided to take a leap of faith about their ability to grow well together. Fingers crossed!
I also broke my own rule about not repotting a plant while it’s blooming. I cannot give you a reason for that. I just did it.
Here’s the planter in its new space:
Ah, yes, that looks nice. Almost makes the plant sale worth it. Thank you again, Bill. I’ll keep you posted on how the plants do together. Keep up the good work!
I’ll be back manana, hope to see you here.
A quick housekeeping note: I try to be really professional about posting Monday through Saturday, because the discipline of that is important to me. But so is real life – work, family, friends. There will be days I remember that this is not a professional site – I volunteer my time here – and on those days, I might just take the day off from this hobby of mine. That’s my way of explaining, a little, why I didn’t post yesterday.
Hi pumpkins, and happy Tuesday! Welcome back to my latest theme week, Vertical Gardens and Living Artwork!
Today, we’re going to play with succulents. Before we get started, a big fat disclaimer, aka, covering my ass:
Caution – Danger! Danger! Danger! Many succulents contain sap so it’s important to wear gloves when handling them! The sap can irritate the skin and make your eyes swell, so be very careful to wash your hands thoroughly and often, and don’t touch your eyes! Houseplants in general are apt to be poisonous, so tread carefully. I don’t want anyone to get hurt or swollen or itchy while experimenting with houseplants, succulents or otherwise.
Danger aside, I still think succulents are a great way to introduce kids to nature. They’re juicy, they grow really fast, and they’re funky. You can get a kid hooked on gardening for life with succulents, just play it safe, ok? Ok, good, we have a deal.
How To Create A Succulent Wall Hanging
There are a thousand ways to build your own wall hanging, there are a thousand containers and a thousand plants from which to choose. I’m going to show you how I made my most recent succulent garden in hopes that you get the general basics, and from there, you can let your creativity explode.
I knew I wanted to create a design to hang outside in my garden, so I started with a basket that I liked the shape of -it was deep, but not so deep it would look weird hanging on a wall.
I gathered the basket and the plants on my work station in the back garden:
The plan is that after it’s all planted and rooted in, I can take it off the wall (or fence), drench the whole container with a hose until it’s thoroughly soaked, then hang it back up again. I suppose I could just spray it with the hose while it’s on the wall, but that seems, I don’t know, rude or something.
By planting these little guys in a basket, I’m ensuring they’ll have good drainage. I wanted to make it easier for them inside the container, too. So I lined the bottom with gravel from my driveway:
Then, I’m not kidding, I made a mixture of Fox Farm Ocean Forest Potting Soil and gravel from my driveway. I really did, look:
How dork is that? Like mixing cake batter. Anyway, it was effective. Succulents appreciate a porous mix of regular potting soil and tiny rocks or sand even. You don’t want to plant in all sand or rocks, because they won’t retain enough moisture for the plants to thrive.
I decided not to secure the soil mixture like I had in yesterday’s post for a couple of reasons. One, I know this planter is going to stay indoors until spring, because it’s already September, and I don’t want to take any chances on these little guys getting too cold. By spring, their roots will have secured so well in the soil, that I won’t need anything to help hold the soil in place. There’s one more reason, but I’m getting ahead of myself again.
The planter was ready for the plants:
I love this first juicy fella. He was labeled “Haworthia,” which is not really very helpful:
Haworthia what? cooperi? cymbiformis? bayeri? I mean, I don’t care, I’m going to love him anyway. I’ll probably name him Larry and forget all about his particular cultivar. But I’ve been trying to get the correct names for my readers who like to know.
I looked at the labels while I was at the nursery, and asked an employee about them. He was about as useful as the label.
This one was labeled, “Echeveria.” Thanks, that’s again super helpful.
What type of Echeveria is it? I don’t know – after scrolling through pages and pages of pinkish bluish rosette succulents, they all start to look a little alike to me. My bad!
I planted five plants total, and added more of the potting soil mixture around the plants:
Aw, they look cute in there!
Ok, remember when I said I had one more reason for not securing the plants in the soil? It’s because I had another layer I wanted to add in order to help both secure the plants and retain moisture.
See, I’m already wondering how these guys will do in our hot desert summers. Once they’re outside, even if they’re not in full sun, the heat is brutal.
I had some moss leftover from previous plantings, so I decided to try using it:
Well, it sure looks pretty now. I’ll be mindful of watering through the winter months. And if the moss turns all brown and gross looking, I’ll pluck it off. No harm, no foul.
I couldn’t resist sneaking a peek at what it will look like:
Ok, I can’t stand it completely upright right after I planted it, but did it spark your enthusiasm? I’d love to know if you decide to try making a living wall hanging of your own. For indoors or out.
I’ll be back manana to continue Vertical Gardens and Living Artwork week. Instead of looking at my creations, we’ll check out what brilliant designers around the globe are creating – hint, they’re breathtaking projects! Hope to see you here!