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In my final installment of Houseplant Hacks today, I’d like to once again offer some useful money-saving tips. But this time, instead of buying plants, we’re buying plant supplies. All houseplants live in a pot and require good soil. All plants need to be watered. Many plants like to be fed fertilizer. Occasionally a plant is stricken with a pest and needs to be sprayed with a fungicide or insecticide. All of these actions cost money! We don’t want our houseplants to burn a hole in our wallets, so how can we save? Fortunately, there are several creative ways to cut cost when it comes to houseplant supplies.

1. Buy inexpensive pots

I adore looking at all the beautiful ceramic pots at flower shops and even department stores, but I try to resist buying them due to their high cost. houseplant-potWhile it isn’t bad to buy a designer pot every once and while, don’t break the bank and try to pot every single one of your houseplants in the most expensive pots out there. You can still get a nice-looking pot for cheaper.

2. Reuse plastic pots

Continue to reuse your old plastic pots and try sticking with the plastic pot the plant came with. You’ll save big and you might find that your plants actually prefer their cheap plastic pots. If you want to spice up a boring pot a little, consider decorating it yourself. Try wrapping it with ribbon, or even painting it!

3. Evaluate the potting mix you use

Potting mixes come in many different shapes and sizes. Be sure you aren’t spending more than you need to. For example, check your regular potting mix and see if it contains added fertilizer (= added cost). Do the plants you use this potting mix for need that fertilizer in the first place?

4. Make your own potting mix

An interesting (albeit a little more challenging) alternative to the pre-packaged potting soil is to make your own potting mixes. Several stores sell individual potting medium ‘ingredients’ like perlite, vermiculite, or sphagnum peat moss. Figure out what your plant prefers and make the mix yourself. You will save money ultimately because the fancy mixes often come with a higher price tag.

5. Consider cutting back on fertilizer

Related to point number 3 above, ask yourself if you really need to fertilize certain houseplants. For example, I only fertilize my orchids and my African violets even though all my guide books suggest I fertilize most everything else too. But these other plants are doing just fine without fertilizer! So experiment a little and see if you can save yourself some money (and time!) by cutting back on fertilizer.

6. Use home remedies for pest control

A houseplant owner’s worst nightmare is to discover a pest infestation on their plants. There are tons of commercial insecticides, fungicides, and other pesticides that you can buy to help control your problem. But sometimes your problem can be alleviated by just concocting a home remedy using ingredients under your kitchen sink. The Internet is a great resource for recipes for homemade mixtures people have used with success.

7. Buy in bulk

Last, but not least, just like many products, buying houseplant supplies in bulk will end up saving you money in the long run. If you can purchase a 25 lb bag of potting soil (and have a place to store it), then why not buy more now if you know you will ultimately use it all. In the same way, buying a larger bottle of fertilizer or pest control might be more economical. Just keep in mind the product’s expected shelf life so you don’t end up with waste.

Spotlight on the Phalaenopsis (Moth) Orchid

Have you ever gone to a greenhouse or flower shop and just marveled at the beautiful orchids? baldans-moth-orchidI used to stare at these intricate and fascinating flowers wishing I had the necessary expertise to raise them. You see, I thought that all orchids were highly complicated to grow, not to mention difficult to work with in my Zone 3 climate. But I was mistaken! Like many others, I have discovered that not all orchids are extremely hard to grow. The Phalaenopsis, or Moth Orchid, is increasing in popularity as a houseplant, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s inexpensive, easy to care for, and the gorgeous blooms can last for months.

  • Light: On average, bright indirect light is best. Although in my Zone 3 climate (short winter days), I keep my moth orchids in direct light in southeast facing windows and they do great. Light-green colored or even yellowing leaves may indicate too much sun, while dark leaves, a noticeable lack of blooming, or root/crown rot may indicate not enough sun.
  • Temperature: Normal home temperatures are fine.
  • Water: An effective way to water a moth orchid is to hold the plant over a sink, thoroughly watering it so water flows through the pot and out the bottom. Then wait for plant to nearly dry out before watering it again. Be extremely careful not to overwater and you should never let a moth orchid stand in water. When watering, be careful not to pour too much onto the crown and try to avoid using softened water. Water early in the day. moth-orchidsFinally, moth orchids enjoy humidity, so consider a light misting every once and while or add an outer humidity tray (filled with water) underneath your regular dry tray.
  • Fertilizer: Recommended. Use a balanced fertilizer or a high-nitrogen fertilizer if you are growing the orchid in fir-bark. Weak fertilizer more often is better than strong fertilizer less often. Non-urea nitrogen could be better depending on the medium. I use 30-10-10 (N-P-K) every other watering from January to August (1/2 tsp per gallon) and 10-30-20 Blossom booster from September to December or until buds are visible (1/2 tsp per gallon).
  • Soil: Moth orchids need to be potted in a bark mixture. There are special orchid potting mixes that you can buy, or else you could purchase plain fir bark medium and amend it with perlite and sphagnum moss.
  • Repotting: Re-pot your moth orchid once every 1 to 2 yrs in the spring or after the flowering period ends. When doing so, remove all the old medium, trim soft and rotted roots, and treat rotting root ends with cinnamon. Moisten the new bark a little and spread at the base of the pot. Add the plant, then work in more moistened bark to fill the pot. Keep the plant slightly drier for 2-3 weeks to promote new root growth.
  • Propagation: Propagating moth orchids is not particularly easy, nor is it particularly common. On rare occasions, moth orchids will grow young plantlets (called Keiki) on their flowering spikes. These can be carefully removed and repotted.
  • Toxicity: Considered non-toxic.
  • Pests: Fungus gnats can collect around the surface of the potting bark if medium is too wet for too long. Allow the bark to dry out well before watering again. Spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale are also possible, but not too common. They can be treated with insecticides or home remedy mixtures. If you put your orchids outside for the summer, be sure to carefully inspect them before introducing them back into your house.

aerial-orchid-roots

  • Miscellaneous: Moth orchids desire high humidity and enjoy slight air movement. Allow roots that come to the surface to stay there – they are beneficial aerial roots (see above photo). To encourage a second blooming on an existing flowering spike, cut off only the flowering segment of the spike when all the blossoms have expired. 80% of the time the plant will flower again within 90 days. After the completion of the second flowering, cut the entire spike off and repot the plant. If you want to encourage possibly fuller blooms next year, do not try for a second bloom on an existing spike. Just cut it off after the first bloom and allow the plant to regain maximum strength for the next season.

What’s next?

The Houseplant Hacks series is officially finished! Hopefully by now you’ve got some great tips to organize your space, time, and money when it comes to your prized houseplant collection.  I’ve enjoyed this series and I hope you have too!

Reader Reflection

How do you save money when buying houseplant supplies? Do you have any special soil mixes you use or any interesting pest control concoctions? Does anyone raise Phalaenopsis orchids and want to offer any tricks of the trade or show off any beautiful blooms?

phalaenopsis

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Last week I continued the series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas with some tips about making gifts that use arts and crafts. Today I would like to switch gears and offer a few ideas for homemade gifts using plants. If you come around this blog at all on Mondays, then you’ll quickly discover that I am a huge fan of plants! While there might not be as many options with this type of homemade gift as with general arts and crafts, you’ll quickly find that there are still plenty of good ideas to work with. Let’s start by brainstorming a little when it comes to gifts that can be made using plants.

Brainstorming plant gift ideas

Whether you are a green thumb or not, there are several great homemade gifts you can create using our green friends. gift-plantHere are just a few to get you started:

  • Grow a brand new plant
  • Take cuttings from one of your plants and start a new plant
  • Divide one of your plants (indoor or outdoor)
  • Save seeds from your garden plants (flower or vegetable) and package them to give away
  • Share in your garden harvest (e.g. canned tomatoes, dried herbs, etc.)
  • Decorate a pot
  • Make a pot
  • Dry flowers and create a collage
  • Pound leaves or flowers onto cloth

An example of a homemade gift using plants

A few years ago I spent a summer in Alaska working for the Unites States Forest Service. I got to meet all sorts of people who knew a lot about native plants and the interesting ways you could use them. Besides using some of the native plants for making jam and flavored honey, I also got to make some crafty gifts. My favorite was a process known as leaf or flower pounding. I discovered how fun and easy it was as soon as I struck the hammer for the first time. Let me explain.

To get started with leaf or flower pounding, you need a hammer, some cloth, and some leaves or flowers. The cloth we used was muslin because it has the qualities needed to get good results. Find a flat protected surface and lay down some newspaper or cardboard. Then choose your leaves or flowers. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Arrange your specimens in a pleasing way and then cover your design with the muslin. At this point you are ready to begin pounding. This part is pretty fun because not only do you get to pound a lot, but you also get to see the beautiful pigments from your leaves or flowers start to show through in your cloth. It’s really remarkable actually!

leaf-pounding

After you finish your design, you can let it dry and then find a creative way to display it. Framing is nice, but you might also choose to sew it onto something or make a collage. Keep in mind that you can leave it as is, but you can also try to treat your creation to help it last longer. I found a good resource about this here.

Having trouble finding a living plant because it’s winter where you live? You can certainly try leaves or flowers from your houseplants and you can also take a trip to the flower shop or a greenhouse to find good specimens. You’ll soon discover that not only will people love your gift, but you will become addicted to this fun process!

Homemade plant gift ideas from around the web

There are many great ideas floating around the web when it comes to interesting and creative plant gifts. Here are just a few I found:

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using plants? Feel free to share any ideas here.

Coming up next week

Next week we will learn about creative gifts you can make using food!

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Last week in Houseplant Hacks I talked about questions you should ask yourself before ever buying a houseplant. If you determined that you’ve got space, time, and a suitable environment in which to raise a plant, then the next logical step is to go out and buy one! It’s easy to drop a lot of cash on houseplants (trust me, I know!), so today I want to outline five ways you can spend your money wisely when picking out your new plant.

1. Get cuttings from a friend

The easiest way to save money on a new houseplant is to get cuttings from a friend. Not only will the cuttings be free, but you will have control over the size of your starter plant, the pot you put it in, and the soil you use. More than half of my houseplant collection is made up of full-grown plants that I started at one time from cuttings I received from other people.

So how do you go about getting cuttings? Simply eye up houseplants at other people’s houses and see if they have a plant you might be interested in. african-violet-leavesNot all plants can be propagated through cuttings, but many common varieties can. For example, last week we talked about the golden pothos and to get cuttings from it you only need to cut off part of a vine (be sure to get a few good nodes, the segments along the vine where leaves are attached). Then remove some of the leaves, place the vines in water for a few weeks, and wait for new roots to grow from the nodes. After good roots form, you can safely pot the vines into soil. With other plants, you can start the cuttings immediately in soil, like with African Violet leaves. Simply snap off a healthy leaf from a parent plant and after a few months in good soil, it will produce babies.

There are other ways to propagate plants besides taking stem or leaf cuttings. Some examples include adventitious roots (i.e. some plants produce plantlets that you can remove and pot elsewhere, like the spider plant) or plant division (i.e. some plants produce multiple crowns within their pot and can be divided, like the snake plant). Whichever way you propagate a houseplant, you will ultimately end up saving a bunch of money. It only takes a little more patience as you wait for it to grow to full size.

2. Buy a smaller-sized plant

The second most useful way to save money when buying houseplants is to purchase a smaller-sized plant to start with. For example, I visited a greenhouse about a year ago to buy a wandering jew plant. They had a few size options and the prices reflected the differences dramatically. It was much more expensive to buy the large attractive size, but only a few dollars to buy the small starter plant. I went with the starter plant and was pleased to discover that wandering jews grow VERY fast. Soon my starter plant was as big as the expensive full-size plant. Don’t pay for the extra size. Just have a little patience while you let your plant grow.

3. Buy a plant that is not currently in bloom

This tip does not always apply, but occasionally you will find circumstances where greenhouses or flower shops will actually charge more for a plant that is in bloom. If there is a difference in price, then look for the non-blooming plants and just wait for them to bloom in your home. The patience will pay off. Furthermore, often when you purchase blooming plants you have really no idea how long they have been blooming. What a disappointment to bring your new plant home and discover that it is done blooming just a short time later.

4. Buy seeds or bulbs and start the plant at home

This method is a little more difficult, but it can produce some money savings in the end. Flower shops usually make you pay for the time they spend raising a plant and getting it to bloom (see the above two points). Starting plants from scratch is another way to do that work yourself and save money. Some plants can be grown from seeds and you will quickly discover that seeds cost much less than a full grown plant. Also consider bulbs, like amaryllis, that you can start indoors and then perhaps plant outside in the summer if you want. You’ll enjoy not only cheap upfront cost, but an opportunity to watch your plant grow from start to finish (this can also be a great teaching tool!).

5. Consider where you buy the plant

My final point is debatable and I’ll explain why in a moment. One can argue that it costs much less to buy certain houseplants from a major chain store like Walmart than it does to buy the same kind of plant from a specialty greenhouse. For example, I can buy an African Violet from Walmart for $2, while my local flower shop charges $6.50. While the savings are obvious (and I’ve used this method many times to save money), it’s important to note a few potential downsides with this practice.

greenhouse

Just because a store might sell a plant for less than half the price doesn’t mean you are getting the same quality. I’ve heard horror stories of people buying cheap plants from chain stores and then in turn that cheap plant introduces a terrible insect infestation into their home and kills their entire plant collection. Furthermore, as long as we’re talking about African Violets, I can mention that my local flower shop’s violets are much bigger, in better shape, and are actually labeled with their true specialty hybrid variety. Walmart only sells what we call NOIDS, no-named plain violets that lack certain special qualities like spotted leaves or double blooms.

In any case, I’ve bought African Violets (and other plants) from both locations. You just have to decide what it is you want and you have to carefully inspect any plant you buy from any vendor. Saving money is great, but be careful not to sacrifice quality.

Spotlight on the Holiday Cactus

thanksgiving-cactus-flowerWhile we’re on the topic of buying houseplants, I want to spotlight a particular plant today that you will currently find on sale in many stores this time of year: the holiday cactus. These Schlumbergera hybrids come in several varieties and are most often referred to as the Thanksgiving Cactus or the Christmas Cactus. It’s interesting to note that most ‘Christmas Cacti’ for sale are in fact Thanksgiving Cacti. I have both a Christmas Cactus and a Thanksgiving Cactus and I’m happy to report that one is in bud and the other is in full bloom!

The good news is, no matter which variety you have (or which variety you think you have), these plants are very easy to care for and are hugely rewarding when they burst into bloom this time of year. But before you go out and buy one, be sure to read their care requirements below:

  • Light: Bright light in late spring through fall; moderate light in winter to early spring.
  • Temperature: Normal home temperatures are ideal during most of the year, but it is important to allow temperatures to get a little cooler in fall and winter to encourage forming buds.
  • Water: In winter, let it dry slightly between waterings, drying even more in fall to encourage buds; from spring through fall, keep soil lightly moist.
  • Fertilizer: It is fine to feed house plant fertilizer from bloom time to following autumn every other week (I don’t fertilize mine and they continue to bloom).
  • Soil: Ideally it should be well-draining cactus soil (sandy) and slightly acidic, but any good potting soil will do.
  • Repotting: Younger plants should be repotted annually, while older plants can be repotted every 2 or 3 years.
  • Propagation: Take cuttings. Twist stems off at the nodes (2 to 3 ‘pads’ should be fine) and pot into potting soil. Keep in indirect light until new growth appears.
  • Toxicity: Considered non-toxic.
  • Pests: Uncommon.
  • Miscellaneous: Holiday Cacti must be subjected to cool nights (low 50’s) or long nights (12+ hours) for 6-8 weeks to initiate buds. thanksgiving-cactusThis is not as hard as it sounds—just keep plants in a room where you do not leave the lights on all evening and night. During the blooming period, don’t move plants around too much because stress can cause buds and flowers to drop prematurely. Also, it is beneficial to prune after the blooming period ends to encourage branching.

What’s next?

After buying a few houseplants, you’ll need to find suitable locations in your home where they will thrive and where they won’t cause clutter. Next week I’ll discuss methods to organize your space when it comes to your houseplant collection.

Reader Reflection

Have you found any creative ways to save money on houseplants? Do you have a holiday cactus that is in bloom?

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It’s that time of year—the weather forecasters begin to hint at the white stuff coming soon, frost appears regularly in the early morning hours, and the harvesting season comes to an end. Autumn is the time of year that we celebrate our garden victories and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But autumn is also a time when we need to get ready for the next season, winter.

Make a list and check it twice

Last year I made some silly mistakes when conducting my annual fall clean-up tasks. For example, I forgot to empty the water out of my watering can before temperatures dipped below freezing and remained there. The following spring I had a cracked can that I had to replace because it leaked water. I also forgot to drain the water out of my hose before it was too late…fortunately I did not need to replace that. But this year I wasn’t taking any chances. I decided early on to get organized and create a comprehensive end-of-season checklist for myself. And I’m happy to report that I just finally checked the last item off the list this past weekend (winter comes early here!). Today I thought I’d share that checklist with you so you can rest assured that your yard and gardens are prepared for winter.

  • Mow the lawn one last time. One good thing about the onset of winter is that lawn-mowing can come to end until next spring. Decide when you’ll mow for the last time and then safely store your lawn mower for the season. If you have a mulching lawn mower, consider the benefits of mowing your leaves right into the grass instead of raking them.
  • Deal with leaf matter. No mulching lawn mower? Or perhaps you actually like raking leaves? Watch the trees carefully and track when they’ve lost all or almost all of their leaves for the season. Instead of simply bagging your piles and sending them to the dump, consider adding them to your compost pile or using them as mulch for your gardens.
  • Monitor your gutters. If you have a lot of trees that send leaves right into your gutters, be sure to watch and see that they don’t get too full to the point that water cannot flow properly. We have a tool to reach our high gutters that removes leaf clumps that gather in certain places.
  • Harvest the last of your vegetables and fruits. Pick the rest of your sensitive veggies before the first hard freeze and decide how to prepare and store them for the winter. For hardy veggies like carrots, consider leaving them in the garden over winter, but be sure to adequately mulch them so they’ll survive.
  • Dig up your annual vegetable garden. After the final harvests, dig up all the annual plants and add them to your compost pile if you have one (be careful not to add diseased plants to your compost pile). Or consider working some of the plant matter right back into the soil for added nutrients next year. Then turn the soil to prepare for the spring planting season. Be sure to mulch any perennials that will remain in the garden over the winter.
  • Leave most perennial plants standing. Autumn is a time for increased bird populations and many perennial flowers provide seeds for these passing migrants (e.g. cone flowers or black-eyed susans). Leaving disease-free perennial plants standing can also add beauty to the winter landscape.
  • Prune certain perennial plants for insect and disease control. While some plants can be left alone, you should consider the benefits of lightly pruning certain perennials to help prevent and control pests. Plants that would benefit from a little pruning include irises, daylilies, or columbines.
  • Collect seeds for next year. If you are a seed collector, now is the time of year to collect, inventory, organize, and store them for next year’s planting.
  • Bring in sensitive plants. Perhaps you put houseplants outside for the summer. Maybe you planted sensitive bulbs or other perennials and annuals in your gardens that cannot survive the winter. Or possibly you had nice collection hanging pots all around your yard. Regardless, you need to be sure to bring everything in before damaging frost if you are planning on keeping them alive.
  • Plant bulbs. While you might be busy digging up other plants, autumn is actually the time of year to plant your spring bulbs. Plan when and where you will bury the bulbs and adequately mulch the soil for added protection over the cold winter.
  • Start new plants. Due to cooler and wetter conditions, autumn is actually an ideal time to plant certain perennials, trees, and garden crops like garlic.
  • Remove and store garden accessories. Take out your tomato cages, plant stakes, cloches, or sensitive decorations and store them safely for the winter. Give them a good once-over and decide if they need repairs or replacement. Also try to clean them off so they’re ready when you need them next season.
  • Clean and store garden tools. Properly maintaining your garden tools will help them last much longer. Be sure to clean, dry, and safely store all your expensive equipment so you can use it again next year.
  • Clean and store pots. Pots can quickly become a nuisance if they are not cleaned and stored properly. Give them all a good wash and stack them in an organized fashion.
  • Drain and store your hose. As I said above, I made the mistake of forgetting to drain my hose last year before it totally froze. Fortunately it did not crack, but it certainly could have. After its last use, drain all the water out and find a safe place to store it for the winter.
  • Empty your watering cans. Many gardeners like to keep their watering cans full of water so when they want to give their plants a drink, they’ve got water ready and available. Don’t make the mistake I did last year and forget to dump the water out before it freezes. My watering can was plastic and it cracked so I had to buy a new one the following season.
  • Bring in liquid fertilizers or pesticides. Similar to the point above, be sure to bring all your garden liquids inside where they can’t freeze. Store potentially harmful chemicals in a safe place where children will not have access to them.
  • Straighten up the garage. Your garage (or shed) is where you will undoubtedly be storing all your yard and garden supplies for the winter. Be sure you’ve organized everything in advance and stored each item in a logical place. Believe me when I say that you will not want to be moving things around too much to try to find what you need when it’s the cold of winter.
  • Tidy up the yard. After you’ve done everything else, it’s time to just tidy up the yard a bit and tie up any loose ends before closing shop for the season.
  • Take advantage of end-of-season sales. This last tip doesn’t really belong on the clean-up checklist, per se, but it goes without saying that this is the time of year when pots, tools, or even plants might be on sale. Take advantage of this money-saving opportunity and buy now.

Reader Reflection

This is certainly not an exhaustive checklist, especially since everyone’s autumn clean-up needs will vary depending on many factors. Do you have anything you’d add to the list?

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