Recommended Reading?

trilliumfae(5)January 24, 2014

Well, since I've joined this forum a handful of days ago, I've learned quite a few things and one major thing above all - I have been raising my plants on a smidge of gained knowledge and a heap of luck and love. lol Up to this point, I'd consider myself proficient at "generalized basics of plant care". Not good enough. So I'm on the quest for more in-depth, reliable information.

I went to the bookstore yesterday to look for some good books on the subject of potted plant/house plant care. Most of them were coffee table books all about the pictures and not much in the way of information beyond the basics that I know (and some that I now question). The only book I did find (it's a small store) that seemed to know more than the generally accepted care was set in the southwest and spoke often of moving plants outside throughout the year during the day and transplanting the tropicals and succulents out of door. Not useful here in New Hampshire, a chilly zone 5 for most of the year.

Anyone have a favorite book, a favorite website where information is stated clearly? A great reference or guide? I've been trying to do more reading in the forums, but many acronyms, brand names and terms are foreign to me. Where did everyone get their start?

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zzackey(8b GA)

I got my start in a garden center in Pa in the early 80's. Learn while you earn program. Classes helped me alot. I go to 2 different counties plus my own for gardening classes given by the local Ag centers. A local library might be a good start for you. If you like the book you can find it online at Amazon. They have good used books of you don't want to buy new ones. Save some $$ for gardening supplies. :-)

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 3:08PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I'd suggest Reader's Digest Success with Houseplants. Sorry if it sounds hoaky, but it's quite comprehensive w/ many common houseplants (photos & care instructions) as well as pretty good coverage of the basics of light, water, mixes, fertilizers, insect pests, etc. Gave me a pretty good foundation.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2014 at 3:32PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I had a whole shelf of house plant & other gardening books but wasn't able to improve much in my results until I understood what was killing the ones that died. I've given a lot of the books away to friends who have showed an interest, in hopes that they lead to the same enjoyment I share. Books are an awesome way to get started with any kind of gardening/plants. If you like the book, get it, you'll enjoy it, and possibly enjoy sharing it at some point in the future.

After understanding more about the roots/soil, I've been able to arrive at NOT killing most plants. Not that plants still don't die occasionally at my house, just that it's no longer a common occurrence at all, certainly not by 'overwatering.'

Aside from letting some cacti/succulents get really dry, different amounts of sun, all plants of mine get the same basic care which is to focus on caring for their roots. This info has made a drastic change for the better for plants at my house.

The other piece of info that's most useful for me is to know a plants' origin. Not that I'm able to approximate different climates but it helps to make decisions about light exposure, moisture preferences (even in the 'best soil,' some plants like to stay dry, some like to stay moist.) Some can't handle the almost-frost temps my plants often experience before I bring most inside, so I need to know about these. I also know to avoid plants known to be unable to handle high temps and humidity. No matter what else I can do for these plants, AL weather will kill them. I still have a ton of books, which I enjoy browsing very much, but finding the specific info I want at any given moment on the internet is always going to be much faster for me.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 11:08AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Most of the books written on the topic of houseplants are conflicting in their advice, and they draw far too many contrasts in care strategies from plant to plant. 99% of the plants we discuss on this forum daily will thrive with exactly the same care, with ideal light requirements being the largest variable. I grow and have grown a huge variety of plants in containers, and every picture I've ever posted shows healthy, happy plants - even in the background of the subject of the photos. I treat ALL my plants alike (except cacti), other than light and bringing the houseplants indoors when it turns cold in the Fall. Same soils, same watering habits, same fertilizer and fertilizing habits ...... how can that be if every plant requires a different program for its care?

Plant books are almost ALWAYS written with the assumption you're going to follow the same patterns as 99% of the other houseplant growers. They assume you're going to grow in a crappy soil that doesn't allow you to water correctly or institute a reasonable nutritional supplementation program. Half of their advice isn't based on what's best for the plant, it's based on how to avoid the fallout from many of the choices they expect you to make.

Essentially, what Tiffany said above is that her growing experience was markedly changed for the better when she learned how to ensure a healthy root system. She also mentioned that she too, essentially treats all her plants the same. Correct me if I'm not on the mark, Tiffany, please.

Every plant PRIORITIZES its root system. What emerges FIRST from a seed? The root radicle. What comes first - root growth or top growth? Root growth ALWAYS precedes top growth. IOW, the roots must be in place to support the top before the top grows. If (the collective) you are hoping to increase your level of proficiency, it's essential to first understand that if you can't provide an environment that can support a healthy root system, a healthy plant is an impossibility.

If your houseplant book doesn't go into specific details about HOW to ENSURE your plant will have at least the opportunity to produce a healthy root system, it's not going to do you much good. It might be an enjoyable way to pass a snowy afternoon or rainy day, but it won't have addressed the issue that represents the largest step forward a container gardener can make - how to keep your plants' root systems happy.

Growing can be remarkably easy and rewarding, or it can be an ongoing source of frustration. If you think about it, it's easy to see you can't ask a plant to grow under conditions that force it to live at or beyond the limits it's programmed to tolerate and at the same time expect it to prosper, but that's exactly what most growers do.

The triangle formed by an appropriate soil, healthy watering habits, and a good nutritional supplementation program, is the underpinning of a healthy plant - and not at all difficult to understand. If you learn how to get that triangle right - the rest is remarkably easy. Green thumbs don't come by chance. If you want one, you need to know how to keep plants happy, and that takes a little effort.


    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 4:31PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Al, that's a correct nut-shelling of what I said, TY. I have over 250 different kinds of leafy tropicals, and cacti/succ. plants in the house, though in less than 100 pots... I feel like I can grow any plant that can handle the temps/weather here, as long as I don't rot the roots by putting them in mucky/soggy/airless/dense stuff.

Trillium, as far as NH goes, you're in great company. Many great house plants in your state and many points much farther north. I urge you to buy plants you see that you like (as long as you can get it home without freezing its' petioles off!) and assume that they will do great! If it wasn't reasonable to expect that, it wouldn't be for sale at a store near you. If you've seen a pic of a big, old one before, you can do the same. (With a few well-known exceptions such as ivy that always seem to be for sale but never seem to lead extended lives.)

What kind of plants do you find yourself attracted to?

- Tiffany

Clicked preview, but thinking more about this, there are so many plants that have all of these wild, fussy instructions and if one follows them, plants usually die, at least that's what happened to me with most of them. Then you see a pic of someone's plant who does not even know about all of the things they're supposed to be doing and not doing, and their plant looks great. They say something like, "I just treated it like the other plants. I don't think it's picky at all."

When I quit letting plants get pot bound, bottom watering, trying to increase humidity, misting, (all mythical stuff mostly about growing from the leaves-down,) in favor of just doing what I could to make sure roots were more healthy (growing from roots-up,) I'm very happy because, like said above, plants hardly ever die, usually look pretty good (when not stuck in a dark corner because they wouldn't fit nearer to a window for winter,) and bloom if they're supposed to (have reached a mature size/age, conditions permit.) Not that these things don't have proponents who swear by them, this stuff wasn't working for me, that's all I'm sayin'. Plants still get dropped, accidentally frozen, pests I don't notice soon enough, other stuff that happens. When I removed potential for root rot from the equation, it was a dramatic difference.

The other myth I'd advise you to ignore is when they say to let water sit so the chlorine can evaporate. Most municipalities no longer use a volatile (can evaporate) source of chlorinating water. Other substances such as lime (raises PH) and fluoride (makes a lot of plants ill,) both very common in tap water, are also not volatile. If tap water is necessary, letting it come to room temp is good, but sitting longer won't help purify it. Sources of water with nothing else in it are distilled, rain/melted snow, condensate from dehumidifier or A/C. I do use tap almost exclusively for inside plants, admittedly lazy, but that's only about 4 months here.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 6:04PM
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Excellent advice! Thanks everyone, especially Tiffany and Al. It really seems the best thing to do for my plants is to really get them out of the potting soil they're in and concentrate on healthy roots. Being a novice, I've never really done much research concerning a plants roots other than to learn about pot binding and dividing when needed - but then I'd put the plant back into rich, dense, moisture rich soil (often with those lovely little "moisture retaining pearls" because that's what I read or was told was best for the plant. I've definitely fallen for the "each and every plant must be treated differently" line at the greenhouse - I've been greatly advised there on what plant wants what soil, different ph's, different watering frequencies and fertilizers. Everything but what phase of the moon I should water them in and what color I should wear while doing it (I'm joking of course... although they would probably tell me that too if I asked them...) So I've always tried to get plants that they recommend as needing relatively similar care and have limited myself to what I should try.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 10:49PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

LOL! "Everything but what phase of the moon I should water them in and what color I should wear while doing it" That info is probably available somewhere... I'd guess 'full' and 'purple!' Don't forget to face south.

If your plants look fine for now, I wouldn't mess with them for a couple months yet, maybe a little longer depending on the particular plant.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 9:45AM
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