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What would you do if you had a Dracaena that was hitting the ceiling, like this plant?

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

I asked you yesterday to let me know. The dilemma was originally posed by a reader of mine, and she and I had a back-and-forth dialogue about what she should do.

Let’s look at your responses first, then I’ll show you what I wrote to her.

Here are your responses:

Alissa wrote, “I don’t have advice to leave for this, but I sure am interested in the responses!! I love dracaenas!! I sure hope mine reaches the ceiling one day :) .”

She added, “Also, I love that you’re doing this plant problem Q & A in your blogs now!! I’m very excited about it.”

Thanks Alissa! I’m glad you are excited!

Jason from Gardeninacity wrote, “Um, cut a hole in the ceiling?”

Haha, that’s a good idea, unless she lives in an apartment!

Martha from Plowing Through Life wrote, “That is a big, beautiful plant! It’s certainly happy with the care it has received.

As for my advice, well, I’d likely go with air layering. Here is a link to a video on YouTube that shows how to do it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSSgG3stxQY

And here is a link to an article about the process: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/houseplants/propagation_airlayer.cfm

Excellent advice, Martha.

Ginny, Optician to the Stars, wrote, “I think I remember from a previous post of yours that you can just lop off the top (18-24 inches) and repot it without having to root it. I tried that with mine and it worked perfectly. As for the rest of the plant, I don’t know. Maybe cut it way back (maybe 24″ from the soil) and hope for the best? My dracenas have always put out new growth when I prune them.

I think one of the biggest problems is that the pot is too heavy for her to move. If she cuts it back to 24″ she should be able to shift it to a smaller pot. Then she could add fresh soil to the giant pot and put all the shorter cuttings in it to root.”

Also excellent, Ginny.

Kim wrote, “If she or he cut off one of the branches and planted it, the main plant would look lopsided. I think she or he should leave it alone and maybe thin out some of those leaves. My Dracaena looks almost like a palm tree now since I am always ripping off the leaves when they turn brown on the ends. But yeah, I’m going to say thin out some of those leaves with the brown tips to make it more manageable, even though its not answering the main question the person had!”

Interesting, Kim. The plant is already somewhat lopsided, as the lady had to prop it up against the wall. But thinning the leaves is not a bad idea.

So, here’s how I actually responded to her:

>>>>Wow, that’s one of the prettiest houseplants I’ve ever seen! You must be a natural.

Hey, I’m really sorry you lost your house, that’s so hard! I’ve never heard about a Dracaena being considered lucky, but I can see that yours is well loved. That can be a hint of your future – more love.

It looks to me like you have one main trunk, which breaks off into two stalks, each reaching the ceiling. What I would recommend is cutting one of them, down at its base, as close as you can get it to the main trunk. The cut stalk doesn’t need to root or anything – you can stick into the same pot, or start a new plant. You can let it sit out a day or two to scar, but it’s not necessary.

You would still have one stalk touching the ceiling. I’d leave that alone. The place where you made the cut will send out new shoots. You want those shoots to grow and mature before you’d think about cutting the other stalk.

Does that make sense? You should photograph before and after pics so you can see how much the plant changes!
Liza

She wrote back:

>>>>

Dear Liza,

Thanks SOoo much for thatJ  Now I just need the courage to do it!!

I shall get a pot for the one I will cut off.  Do I pull off some leaves at the bottom, so it goes in  the soil as a stalk?

How far into the soil so that it is stable – is 20cm okay or too much or perhaps doesn’t matter? (I so have NOoo idea!!)

Okay… I promise to send you a photo of my efforts and an update – once it is “happy” and still feeling loved again.

>>>>>

Then I wrote her back:

I know, it’s scary to cut something that big and healthy. Remember, you don’t have to do anything. You could just wait and see what happens when the plant finally hits the ceiling. It may be forced to send shoots outward, or those top leaves may bend. But hitting the ceiling certainly won’t kill the plant!

One reason to only cut one stalk is to take a little of the fear away because you’ll still have one stalk that reaches the ceiling.

Yes, I would trim some of those lower, older leaves before putting the cut stalk into dirt. I’m not good with metrics – how much is 20 cm??? It’s probably going to be pretty heavy, so you may need a pole or stick to help it stand up on its own.

If you don’t want to buy a new pot, you can plant the cut piece back into the original container, which would create a wider plant. Once it’s established, and there’s new growth from where the cut was made, you could cut the remaining stalk and put that one in a new container. It just depends on how many plants you want, how tall and/or bushy you want it.

If you do put the cut stalk back into the original container, you could lean it on the main trunk so it can stand on its own. You don’t want to plant it too deep in any container because it won’t have roots yet. For the few weeks after its planted, you should water just around the base of the stalk to encourage root growth (you can use a root stimulator, too). If the stalk is way down deep in the pot, you’re going to have a tough time promoting roots at the bottom.

One thing about pruning. Dracaenas are very forgiving. When they’re sold to nurseries, they arrive as just one big long trunk, which is then cut into varying sizes and put in pots. Three or four shoots pop out wherever a cut is made. They’re quite reliable. It seems scary to cut them, but don’t let fear stop you from at least experimenting – you’re not going to cut the whole plant down at once! Cut part of it and see what happens.

Lemme know how it goes!

Liza

>>>>

I never heard back from her about how her plant fared. But Dracaenas really are very forgiving.

Dracaenas will grow wherever you cut them. You can literally cut the stems into a hundred pieces and make new plants if you want to. I wanted to her confidence to grow, which I is why I suggested making the pruning a process rather than a destination.

Ginny, you nailed it – you remembered that I have talked about Dracaenas before, and correctly guessed my response. Martha, I wish I had thought to recommend air layering, because that would’ve worked as well. Everyone, thank you for your input.

I’d love to hear what you think. Was that fun? Was it helpful? Did you think my advice was way off base or a good recommendation? Have you had a plant hit the ceiling before, and if so, what did you do?

I’ll be back tomorrow with some puzzler action. Hope to see you back here.

Brrrr, it got cold here in Albuquerque! Frosty!

Apparently we have another storm slated for this weekend, which may make for a white Christmas. I’m not crazy about the cold (I’ll admit – I become a big baby when I’m cold), but I do love it when it snows in the desert.

Snow makes the desert look even more magical than it already does.

So, fingers crossed for that.

You still have time to guess the answer to the current puzzler, in which I asked if these plants were real or fake:

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, real or fake plant puzzler

It was a little bit of a trick question. If you think you know the answer, you can leave your best guess in the comments section or on my facebook wall. The deadline is tonight at midnight, MST (that’s 2am EST).

I’ll reveal the answer and the winner(s) tomorrow. No one keeps score of how often anyone has won, and since the prizes are imaginary, there’s no reason not to submit a guess. Even if your guess is wrong, you can still walk away with bragging rights for having played.

Hope to see you back here tomorrow.

Hello Tigerbeats, and happy Friday!

Welcome back to the Good To Grow site, and thanks for being here.

As most of you know, my Experts are on break for the holidays. So let’s admire their adorableness:

And move on to the plant puzzler.

???Real or Fake???

Last week, I asked if this Dracaena was real or fake:

Let’s see how you answered:

Nancy Popp Mumpton wrote, “I’ll have to say fake. What are those ripples on that leaf? Nancy the Plantastic Bestest. Oh, and I love gingersnaps!”

mr_subjunctive from Plants Are the Strangest People wrote, “Real again. Pretty sure.”

Dave from Our Happy Acres wrote, “I could have sworn that poinsettia was fake – oh the shame! I’m going with real on the Dracaena. I think I see a bit of brown on one leaf.”

Ivynettle from Letters and Leaves wrote, Real!
I have one of these, and I love it – such a cheerful colour!”

Martha from Plowing Through Life wrote, “A little tougher this week, but I’ll vote real. Love the idea of introducing myself as the ‘the Plantastic Bestest’!”

Claude from Random Rants and Prickly Plants wrote, “I, Claude the Plantastic Bestest deem this plant to be real.

That’s actually kinda fun. Didn’t impress anybody at the bar tho…”

Terrence from Dynamic Gardening wrote, “I’ll say that this dracaena is real, I had one of these before and in person its hard to tell whether if the plant is real or fake.”

That’s six votes real, one vote fake. Who’s correct? Maybe we need a wider perspective:

It’s real! Unlike fake plants, real plants have flaws. Nancy those ripples are not uncommon in Dracaenas. If a plant gets too little or too much water while trying to develop, the leaf will have imperfections. It happens. That’s why real plants are more interesting than fake ones.

The first person in with a correct guess was mr_subjunctive of Plants Are the Strangest People. Congratulations, mr_s.! You are the overall grand prize champion this week. Nicely played! You may multiply all the prizes by three and a half hats.

Claude, your epithet didn’t impress, you say? Ok. Tough crowd. How about this one: the Ruler Supreme Most Beloved Awesomest and Unique Being in the Free Natural World? Better?

I’d like each of you to use that epithet for the next week as a reward for playing my silly plant games. Tack it on to the end of your name when introducing yourself to someone, and say it like you mean it.

This week, I’m also going to award each of you a handful of fairy dust (to be delivered in the future), 13 extra credit points, two New Year moments, a congratulatory slap on the back, six gold stars and a pretend cruise to somewhere warm. I also wish you a loving 2012. I really appreciate you playing, thanks so much for being here!

Up next, the new puzzler:

???Real or Fake???

Is this Sansevieria plant real or fake:

Think you know the answer, smartyplants? Leave your best guess in the comments section (or on my facebook wall). You have until midnight next Thursday, January 5th, MST (that’s 2a.m. EST) to cast your vote. I’ll reveal the answer and the winner(s) after next week’s panel of Experts. Remember, the prizes may be imaginary but the link to your site and the glory of winning is oh-so-real.

Happy New Year everyone!

Hi enchiladas, and happy Tuesday!

My friend Tiffany went out of town for a couple of weeks and asked me to check her plants while she was gone.

I said sure, but I had my reservations. See, it’s not the first time someone asked me to help out while they were gone. Being responsible for other people’s stuff isn’t always easy. Or maybe I’m just not that good at it.

A few years ago, my friend Scott asked me to check on the dogs and chickens at his house while he was on vacation. Everything went great for the first few days. The chickens were adorable, the dogs were a blast.

Then early one morning, I walked in the house like I had before, and walked straight to the back door to let the dogs outside. They went bounding out, and I followed them, just like the previous few mornings. Except this morning was different.

On this particular morning, Stu, the littlest chicken, was loose. The Husky and I saw him at the same time. I was like “nooooooooo” and took off running for the chicken, screaming at the dog the whole time. Did you know Huskies are fast? Yeah, they are.

By the time I got to Stu, the Husky had chomped down on him and was holding him in his teeth. “Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!” I screamed and made the dog drop the chicken. Poor Stu! His feathers were all bent and he was completely freaked out. But the dog didn’t pierce the skin, so I thought, shew! That was close!

Thinking I’d just dodged a bullet, I put Stu back into the coop and went on with my day. I was feeling pretty good about things until the next day. When I found Stu dead in the coop with little beak stabbings all over him. Yup. This former farm girl didn’t know that the chickens would gang up on him because he was injured.

I tearfully and apologetically told Scott what happened, and he said something about “pecking order,” which of course made me feel worse because it was so obvious. Anyway, I didn’t watch the animals for him again after that.

I know a LOT more about chickens now. I’m just saying.

Tiffany didn’t have animals, just plants, so I felt better about not screwing that up, so I said yes, I’d check on her plants.

So I did, and the first one I saw looked like this:

Noooooooooooo! Then I saw her Hibiscus, which looked like this:

Noooooooooooo!

Wait, what? This was my first visit to her apartment, and already I let the plants down?

I quickly checked the others for signs of stress. Here’s her Pothos:

In case you’re keeping score at home, yellow leaves are bad.

The Philodendron and the Arrowhead plants fared a little better, but they were thirsty.

So what happened? How did her houseplants go from looking gorgeous like this one:

To the damaged plants I found? I wouldn’t know for sure until I asked her, but I figured a little detective work would help figure out what happened.

I started with the Bougainvillea. Here’s a better look:

The yellow leaves that are mixed with green tell me the plant was overwatered. But the droopy green leaves and the yellow leaves on the floor tell me the plant is thirsty.

How does that happen? Easily, actually. I have my plants on a weekly watering schedule, but Tiffany doesn’t. She gives them a little water every few days. When she was preparing to go out of town for two weeks, she gave them really big drinks of water, hence the signs of overwatering. When I showed a week after she left, they were already thirsty again, hence the signs of underwatering.¹

They also may have been stressed from missing her and being lonely in the apartment without her. She’s a student and they’re used to having her home studying all the time.

By the way, she has a great view:

My dilemma was to figure out how to give them a decent amount of water, but not too much. They needed to have enough water to last them until I came again the following week.

I did the best I could, and it was with great trepidation that I stepped through that apartment door the following week. Here’s what the Bougainvillea looked like:

Oh shew! It looks so much happier. Then I looked to the Hibiscus:

It still didn’t look great, but it looked sooooooo much better than it had the week before, thankfully.

This visit, I didn’t have the same anxiety about how much to water, because she was going to be home in four days – they just needed enough to last until she got home and resumed care.

And I was so glad I didn’t have to have a “I killed your chicken” conversation with her about the plants.

The next time she goes out of town, she can trust me. Unless she starts raising chickens between now and then. That would be weird, because she lives in a 7th floor apartment, but if she did anyway, I would gently direct her to get help elsewhere.

I’ll be back manana, hope to see you here!

—————————

¹ The Bougainvillea is also leggy because it wants more light. But I knew the leaves weren’t discolored because of light – the light in her apartment didn’t change, the amount of water she gave them did.

Hello peaches, and happy Friday! Hope your week has gone well!

Welcome back to the Good To Grow site, and thanks for being here.

You’re just in time for our Friday silliness.

On Fridays, we break out the high-end graphics and help you waste a little time at work. Let’s meet the experts, shall we?

Hi experts!

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiii Liza!”

You guys are pretty dang cute! That’s Tina, Thack, EZ, Dottie and Lewis. If you’d like to know more about them, please click here.

Last week we talked about how July is the month of vacation. It’s the month when families hit the forests and the beaches, we visit national parks and swim in lakes. So this week’s question follows that same theme. Here it is:

Q. Lots of families take their summer vacations in July. Please tell us about a vacation of yours that involved some “nature” destination (camping, ocean, Redwoods, lakes), and if you have photos of plants or trees that you took, please share those with us.

Expert Tina, you’re up first. What vacation destination do you heart?

A. I have many memories of going fishing and camping up north in Pilar. That is almost to Taos off the high road. I spent alot of time with family and nature. I even put my tent under a river! I did not know it was a river until the rain brought the water rushing right under me. My air mattress was floating. This was a great time.

That’s hilarious, Tina. But what a crappy way to wake up – you’re all asleep and at one with Nature, and then bam, the empty arroyo is now a raging river. No time for coffee, not even a granola bar. Talk about a lesson learned though – I’ll bet you’re a big fan of the high ground now, eh?

I’ve been to Pilar a few times. It’s such beautiful country up there in the mountains of Taos County.

Ok, great job, Tina. Thanks for being here.

Up next is Expert Tim Thackaberry. Thack, here’s the same question to you:

Q. Lots of families take their summer vacations in July. Please tell us about a vacation of yours that involved some “nature” destination (camping, ocean, Redwoods, lakes), and if you have photos of plants or trees that you took, please share those with us.

A. “You’ve reached the voicemail for Tim Thackaberry. I’m not available to take your call right now. Please leave a message after the beep.”

Oooh burn. Tim’s not here this week. Gee, I wonder if he’s on vacaaaaaaaaation? If so, I would say that’s taking the theme a little too literally. To which I would say, that’s awesome!

We look forward to your return, Thack!

Expert EZ Ed Johnson, here’s the question to you:

Q. Lots of families take their summer vacations in July. Please tell us about a vacation of yours that involved some “nature” destination (camping, ocean, Redwoods, lakes), and if you have photos of plants or trees that you took, please share those with us.

A. We couldn’t afford summer vacations when I was a kid, but it hardly mattered. I had miles and miles of backyard in the Jemez and spent every single day wandering.

Oh, nice! And really, that strikes me as fair. When you live in paradise, you don’t really deserve a vacation. Haha, just teasing. It’s a good thing you had a vivid imagination to take you places that you couldn’t physically visit.

I remember when we were young, growing up on the farm in Indiana – there was a whole slew of us kids, so Mom and Dad weren’t really able to take us on vacations, either – vacations meant laying outside on reclining lawn chairs, piled under blankets, falling asleep as we counted shooting stars. I think they were brilliant to convince us that was a way better time than going to say, King’s Island, which is where we all really wanted to go. Really, I’m not bitter.

Ok, great job, EZ. Thanks again for being here.

Up next is the sweet and lovely Dottie Correll. Dottie, here’s the question to you:

Q. Lots of families take their summer vacations in July. Please tell us about a vacation of yours that involved some “nature” destination (camping, ocean, Redwoods, lakes), and if you have photos of plants or trees that you took, please share those with us.

A. “Hi, this is Dottie, I’m not available, please leave a message.”

Ooh, again. Too bad, so sad. Dottie’s probably not going to be back for a few more weeks, sorry folks. I know, I’m crushed, too. I’m not touching her sunflower head.

Dottie, as always, we miss you when you’re gone, but we’ll welcome you with open arms when you return.

Ok, up next is the venerable Lewis Casey. Lewis, here’s the question to you:

Q. Lots of families take their summer vacations in July. Please tell us about a vacation of yours that involved some “nature” destination (camping, ocean, Redwoods, lakes), and if you have photos of plants or trees that you took, please share those with us.

What say you, fine sir?

A. In the summer of my youth I was called by my great Uncle Sam to partake in an adventure of epic proportions that sent me and many others into harms way to a land populated by different peoples, animals and plants. Before my eyes were many exotic plants and animals, creatures that I had never seen before. There were many nice folks even if many of them spoke a different language and a lot of hostile individual that cared not if I lived or died. The temperatures were hot and the humidity was horrible making for a most unpleasant environment. In this strange, terrible and beautiful place which sometimes was ok but mostly sucked, were places we were instructed not go because of the dangers that were present. Alas no words of warning did we heed but with reckless abandon we went forth   Awaiting us were robbers and thieves and women working the world’s oldest trade – cooks. Every where lurked an evil doer just waiting to abscond with a fool’s money. A person learns how to survive, how to keep themselves alive when faced with a life and death situation, but there are always good and beautiful thing about, if we look beyond our own paranoia. Near the rivers we crossed and the green covered hills we tramped over were many different and beautiful plants and flowers which for a moment you could appreciate. Simple pleasure come when we learn that life is our most precious gift and how fragile it truly is. As we have so lately and sadly learned again.

After my time in this strange, terrible and beautiful land, I was sent to other strange, terrible and beautiful lands to see island jungles on Guam and Southeast Asian rice paddies, villages and towering jungles with dense undergrowth so thick you had to struggle to walk 10 ft. But yet it could be so calm, shaded and serene you could almost forget the madness that reign beyond.  I saw much beauty and met many good people while I was on my adventure to foreign lands courtesy of Uncle Sam. But some things in our past haunt us; to this day I still curse, shudder and swear I’ll never go back to that strange, terrible and beautiful land called Texas.

Blessings to those in harms way today

Madam Blog Master please be aware that the pomegranates are not ripe and ready yet, when the first one falls off the tree and the ants do not get it, I will present it to you. Also if we can get the phone or address of the person who wanted a pomegranate we can get it to them. Offer still stands.

Hahaha! I’m sorry, it’s so bad, but I love, love, love it when people make fun of Texas. It’s really unfair, because when people make fun of Indiana, I get all hurt. But I figure if you’re from Texas, you sorta ask for it because the whole state gets up in your grill and is like, “I’m Texas, bitch, watch out! We’re so much better than all of you that we may just become our own nation.” Indiana rarely gets in people’s grills, and is usually more like “Pardon me,” “Excuse me,” “May I make you a sandwich or maybe some soup?” or “No, really, there’s more than corn, I can show you a covered bridge and some wheat.”

Wait, did you hear that? That was the sound of any readers I had in Texas slamming the door on my readership. We tease on the Good To Grow site, we tease.

On to Pomegranate talk, that’s right, they don’t ripen until Fall, right? Sweet Ginny was the one who asked for a tree, so I’ll get you two in touch with each other.

Thank you to the wise Mr. Casey for his talented response, and thanks to all the experts for being here. Or not being here. We’re thankful either way.

That does it for this week’s Ask the Experts. The experts will be back in exactly one week. Let’s get to last week’s plant puzzler.

Name that Plant Problem!

Last week, I asked what was wrong with this plant, a Dracaena marginata, or Dragon Tree:

Granted, it’s not easy to tell from the picture. But basically, the stem is so wet and stringy and hollowed out that the whole thing bends like a noodle. That’s not a desirable quality. It means something is terribly, terribly wrong. See how the outside is separating from the inside? That’s just not good!

So what’s wrong with it, and did anyone guess correctly?

mr_subjunctive from Plants Are the Strangest People guessed, “Looks like Fusarium rot, the poor thing.”

Oh, mr_s., you are so cute with your great big brain. I’m not sure how to tell the difference between Fusarium rot and regular rot – is there a regular rot that’s caused by overwatering but not a fungus, or does every overwatered houseplant automatically invite fungi?

Here’s what happened. I noticed about two weeks ago that this Dragon Tree stem – only one, not the rest – appeared to be rotting from the top down. Which is weird, but it’s a Dracaena, whatever, they’re weird. The very bottom, closest to the soil, had new growth, but everything else was a mess. Basically, I panicked and cut the stem off at the bottom, just above the new growth, and threw the rotten mess away. The next day, I went back with a new pot and new soil, and repotted the whole tree. It seems to be recovering just fine.

I gave it too much water. July in Albuquerque is sweltering, and I made the mistake of thinking this plant must be thirsty. Because I was. Stupid. He wasn’t thirsty – he’s in an office, and July is the time of year that plants begin to shut down. They’re used to the air-conditioning now, and really, they don’t drink much of anything from now until next Spring. I momentarily spaced that and caused this little fella a limb! Oops, my bad, little guy! Your friends are doing well!

So mr_s, you are a winner, in more ways than one. Martha and Ginny, I want to give you extra credit or something because a year ago, because someone did break off a chunk of stem so they could start a new one at home (I think – I didn’t witness the crime, only the aftermath), but that’s not what happened this particular time.

As always, there are no prizes for winning. Only glory and my gratitude for playing. Thanks everyone!

Now this week’s plant puzzler:

Name That Plant Problem!

What’s wrong with this plant?

Haha, I smell a story! Think you know the answer, smarty plants? Leave your best guess in the comments section. Again, no prizes or anything fancy like that. Just bragging rights and my gratitude for playing.

That does it for this week’s Friday edition of the Good To Grow site. Thanks for tuning in! Until we meet again, happy gardening!

One thing I like about life is its unrelenting cheerfulness.

Yesterday, I wrote about a pet peeve of mine – buying potting soil, only to get it home and realize there are Fungus Gnats inside. Grrr, I wrote.

Today, like magic, the pet peeve’s gone. Poof! The problem is solved – I no longer am going to worry about those annoying little Fruit fly lookalikes.

I had an interesting day, that’s for sure!

Before I tell you what happened to change my perspective, let’s back up a sec.

Fruit Flies Vs. Fungus Gnats

Both Fruit flies and Gnats are small, annoying bugs that you’ve probably seen before flying around your kitchen, or perhaps floating dead in your lemonade. Gnats are darker, but really, it’s hard to tell the difference with the naked eye. (Maybe that’s because I just don’t care – neither are acceptable in my home.*)

Fruit flies don’t normally live in houseplants – they live where there’s rotting food, like in composts, refrigerators, kitchen trash cans. Often, they’ll come home from the grocery store with bananas or other fruits. Hence the name. Get it? GET IT?

Haha, just kidding. Fungus Gnats, on the other hand, like wet places – wet soil, standing water, drains, plumbing. If there are plants in the house, they should be suspected first.

Clearing the Air: How to Kill Fungus Gnats

I’m going to assume that if you’re still reading, you’re generally a clean person and not one who would leave say, rotting chunks of pineapple at the bottom of your trash can creating a Fruit fly invasion. Why? Because I like to believe that of my readers – you’re adorable and clean!

So, from here on out, we’ll assume you’re battling Fungus Gnats. Here’s what to do:

First, check the soil of your houseplants to see if Gnats live there. Usually, you can see the adults crawling all over the soil. If you’re still not sure, stick your finger in the dirt – they will fly right in your face, leaving no doubt.

Second, once you’ve located the infected plant (or plants, as the *&^% Gnats multiply fifty million times faster than rabbits), pull it away from your healthy plants.

Third, check the plant’s saucer to see if it’s full of water. If it is, empty it.

Here’s the thing about Gnats – they need moisture to live. So either there’s standing water or the soil is really wet.

There’s no shortage of chemicals and toxins out there to kill insects. But they are not necessary.

Here are four safe alternatives to using pesticides to kill Gnats.

1. Use fly traps.

These yellow sticky traps are great! The adult Gnats are attracted to the yellow color, then they get stuck. Lay them on top of the soil, or attach them to the side of the pot. They get gross once they get filled up with dead Gnat bodies, but I suspect you won’t mind as long as they’re not flying in your face.

You can make your own yellow stickies using yellow paper and Vasoline or some other gooey substance. These were $6.99 for seven traps (which I cut into smaller pieces, easily doubling the number of traps).

The traps won’t help you with the larvae in the soil, however. For that, try one of these treatments:

2. Either repot the plant, replacing the dirt entirely. Or, scoop out the top two inches or so of soil and replace it. They lay their eggs in the topsoil, not the bottom. Remove the eggs, remove the problem.

3. Cover the soil with a few inches of sand, suffocating the eggs and forcing the moisture out of the soil.

4. Use clear plastic wrap to suffocate the eggs.

I had a Ficus tree that was infected with Gnats at one of my client’s office. It made me mad, because I had gone to Osuna nursery to get potting soil, Black Gold soil, because the last few times I’d bought Miracle Gro soil at Home Depot, the bag was infested with Gnats. The nursery people kept their bags of soil inside the store, so I figured the chances of it being infected was low.

I was wrong. Within a few days, everyone in the office was complaining about the flying bugs. So I broke out the yellow sticky traps first, and then, I went to town on the grower’s pot with clear plastic wrap. I kept it as tight as possible, so adults couldn’t escape and eggs would be suffocated. Took about a week, but it did the trick.

Rant? What Rant?

Yesterday, I was ready to rail against soil companies and places like Lowe’s and Home Depot, who store their potting soil bags outside in the elements, making them vulnerable to Fungus Gnats.

I’ve been really frustrated because it seems like there’s nowhere in Albuquerque to buy decent potting soil. When you’re in the plant care business, that’s important! Even if you’re not, you should be able to buy soil that at the very least isn’t already infected with Fungus Gnats.

But then something nice happened.

I stopped by a different local nursery, Jericho Nursery, which some of you may remember from my post about holiday plant gifts.

One of the employees was outside when I pulled up, so he immediately asked if he could help me find something. I asked about the yellow sticky traps for Gnats. As he was showing me where they were, he started to tell me that Fungus Gnats are a classic symptom of over-watering. I laughed and said I knew.

We got to talking, and I asked if he’d noticed how many bags of potting soil are already infected with Fungus Gnats. He looked at me quizzically and asked what I meant.

He said the potting soil they use isn’t infected. It’s called FoxFarm soil. Check out their website, they’re a family-owned farm, and seem really nice!

And there it was. Just like that, my pet peeve was gone. Why would I worry about Fungus Gnats again when I know now where to buy bug-free soil? This is my second visit to Jericho, and I do believe they have a customer for life.

There’s a Lowe’s five minutes from my house, and a Home Depot that’s not too far. It’s been so convenient for me to shop there for potting soil or the occasional plant. But I’m starting to realize how widespread the consequences of shopping there can be – I unknowingly buy infected soil, bugs break out in an office, my clients get annoyed, I scramble to kill the bugs.

Now, I know how to avoid all that hassle. Life’s fun like that.

Not to Kick a Big Box Store When It’s Down, But…

I visited the Lowe’s downtown (the one at 12th and I-40) yesterday to take pictures of the potting soil outside. Before I left, I couldn’t resist checking their houseplants for Mealy bugs.

Can you see the bug? It’s that white spot at about nine o’clock on the inside of the leaves. That’s pathetic, it was the first plant I picked up!**

Coming Up Tomorrow!

We’ll back manana with a new edition of Ask the Experts. Hope to see you there! Until then, happy indoor gardening everyone!

Disclaimers:

* It’s only fair to note my hypocrisy in my view of bugs. Awhile back, I scolded my then 13-year-old niece because she killed a spider she’d found on the wall by putting a band-aid over it and smashing it. “Why are you killing spiders?” I demanded. “What’s that spider ever done to you?” At the same time, I conveniently neglected to mention that I was in my own personal war against a steady stream of ants determined to invade my kitchen. I probably killed ten thousand ants to her one spider. So who I am to decide that Gnats must die? Because I’m human, and this is my house. I also decide what gets to live in my yard. Sorry, Gnats and Goatheads, better luck next incarnation!

**I’m totally taking advantage of the growing trend to ignore the rule of not ending a sentence with a preposition (I say lest you were just about to call the Grammar Police).

If you’ve been following along my new plant blog journey, you know I like low maintenance plants. I especially like plants that don’t need to root before you can plant their cuttings.

Last week I showed how to prune Jade Plants, also known as Money Trees, and then how you can simply stick the cuttings in dirt (after they’ve scarred over a couple of days). You can even stick Jade leaves in dirt and they’ll grow.

Jade (Money Tree) leaves are easy to propagate

Jade (Money Tree) leaves are easy to propagate

Jades have lots of company when it comes to easy propagation. Many varieties in the Dracaena family are the same way. Dracaena Marginatas, or Dragon Trees, for example, are super easy to propagate.

This Dragon Tree lives at a mortgage company in Albuquerque.

Dracaena Marginata

Dracaena Marginata

I cut the really wide-reaching one on the left, trimmed the stalk to the height I wanted, then stuck it in the dirt.

Dracaena Marginata cuttings don't need to root before planting

Dracaena Marginata cuttings don't need to root before planting

I did the same with another big stalk. The result is some good new growth down low to make up for the wild older stalks.

Dracaena Marginata

Dracaena Marginata

When I was watering the plants at the cereal factory, I pruned a Dracaena Warneckii.

Warneckii cutting

Warneckii cutting

Then planted the cuttings in one of their atriums. I hope they grow strong and tall!

Newly planted Warneckii cuttings at the cereal factory

Newly planted Warneckii cuttings at the cereal factory

I love that cereal factory. It always smells delicious and everyone who works there is sugary sweet.

Sansevieria, also know as Snake plants or Mother-in-law-tongues (because they’re difficult to kill), are another family of plants that don’t need to root before you can plant the cuttings.

Snake plant cutting doesn't need to root

Snake plant cutting doesn't need to root

Another favorite of mine is Wandering Jews.

Wandering Jew

Wandering Jew

I frequently forget to water mine, so it doesn’t look great. When it gets thirsty, the stems die off and look like this.

Half-dead Wandering Jew stem

Half-dead Wandering Jew stem

If you have a Wandering Jew, just clean off the dead leaves so you have a healthy stem, then put it right back in the pot.

Wandering Jew cutting ready to be put in soil

Wandering Jew cutting ready to be put in soil

Caring for houseplants doesn’t have to be a burdensome task. Most plants are waaaay easier than you can imagine.

I’d like to give a special shout out to James at James and the Giant Corn for the link even though I’m a newbie. Also to Mr. Subjunctive at Plants are the Strangest People, thanks for your posts, they’re great.

James, I think you’re right, horticulture is an intimidating word to many people. Plus, I’m not a horticulturist (as evidenced by the aforementioned thirsty Wandering Jew). Not crazy about planties (as in foodies) though – how about Plant Lovers?

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About Me

Hi! My name is Liza. Welcome to my blog and thanks for visiting! I'm a Midwestern gal now living in Arizona, after many years of living in and owning a plant care business in New Mexico.

Plants are living, breathing creatures, and if they're indoor plants, they are 100% dependent on human care. They cannot water themselves.

I can beautify your home, office, or patio with plants and flowers. I have 13 years of experience growing plants, and friendships.

Please let me know if you have questions or if you would like help with your plants or garden. You can reach me at lizatheplantlady (at) gmail (dot) com or follow me on Twitter, Lizawheeler7.

All photos are mine unless otherwise noted. All content is also entirely my hard work. If you'd like to use any content or photos, all you have to do is ask. If you take without asking, you are a thief. And thieves suck. So don't suck. We have a deal? Good.

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