if your Plants were out living People lives....

gravyboots(7B)January 9, 2011

... what might they be doing?

My B. semperflorens & the oldest A. vera could go to a bar together, but the Aloe would certainly get carded, since it looks very young for its age. The P. scandens would have a Bachelor's degree, maybe even be doing some post-grad work.

The F. elastica could see an R-rated movie in the theater & the F. benjamina could probably get in too; it has a pretty thick trunk. The Schlumberga could buy smokes, but would get carded & might get thrown out of the store.

My C. comosum could drive the D. marginata, Monstera, Schefflera & C. elegans to a PG-13 movie. The new - :] - Aglaonema might be able to get in too; I think it might be tall for its age at 24"+. Maybe I'm over-estimating? I don't know just HOW slow they grow...

The oldest Epipremnum could probably drive the youngest around, but would have to change their diapers.

My newly adopted Aloe would be the biggest kid in the same preschool class with the Jade, the Pachira & possibly the Clivia - maybe its been held back once or twice?

The also new-ish adoptees Hylocereus & C. esculenta would probably be in grade school... the Hylocereus might even be in middle school with the P. erubescences.

My avocado, Spathiphyllum & C. amaniense "Fire Flash" (also new - thanks honey!) would all be in diapers, but certainly walking & getting into stuff.

I'd be visiting the headstones of B. rex "escargot," the grapefruit I planted after finding it sprouting in my breakfast (it DID make it to 10 though), several African violets & ferns, a quite mature Jade (it was older than me at the time - over watering, sigh), some ivies (hard to believe, but yes), an orchid (wood-heated cabin in the PNW forest was just too cold) & those are just the ones I remember!

So obviously my care regime isn't *brutal*, but I think I would categorize it somewhere between casual interest & benign neglect.

Now that I'm motivated to be a more responsible parent (the People-lives was just a hook, but I really am curious, so tell your stories!), I have some serious questions:

1. I've finally (!!) found some 3-1-2 fertilizer & I've the impression that "weakly, weekly" means about 1/4 strength, but is that too high for winter? (Everyone is in a warm room with southern exposure & putting out foliage.) When do I move up to regular strength - if ever? I'm asking because:

2. I want to prepare everyone to be repotted in about 6 months & give root pruning a try. Anyone have a favorite link to a good article on that? Or want to speak to it (probably AGAIN) on this thread? Should it be done annually?

3. And then do some top pruning! When is a good time for that? Is it different with woody plants like the Ficus & Scheff than "softer" plants like the Begonia? I want to induce back-budding in the woody plants, but encourage the Epi & little green Phil to do some climbing. And what about the Monstera & red Phil? The Phil is climbing, but scrawny. Again, anyone have any favorite links they'd like to share? Or, please feel free to spout off here :P

4. Wow, what a long post! I apologize if you're tired... I also just realized that there are about a 100 key-words in it, so it will probably show up in every single search from here on out!


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Gravy, (the top) sounds like a Steven King thread. lol

Weekly/weakly is a lot, no? Maybe 1/8th strength, better yet, 1/4 once a month. Depending on type of plant, daylight hours, soil...1/2-to suggested dossage starting from the end of Feb, or once growth resumes.

I use 1/2 dossage of chemical/non-organic fertilizer during growing seasons. Manufacturers want to 'sell' their product. Most authors who discuss fertilizing recommends 1/2 manufacturers dossage, even in summer. Except for manufactuers books like Hyponex. But truthfully, 'if you've ever read this book,' for some plants, they state to use half-dose to stop during dormant periods.

Organic fert, like Fish Emulsion, is applied as directed. I use FE 'as fertilizer' on succulents/cactus, ferns are alternated w/FE then chemical.

Pruning is best done in early spring. Don't toss those cuttings..Toni

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 2:36PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I started out reading this post thinking, "Wow! This is pretty whimsical stuff; but it DID get me thinking (again) about what will happen to all my bonsai trees after I'm gone? There is no one in the family who has an interest other than to oohhh aahhh at how cool they look. They wouldn't last more than a few weeks in the care of someone who didn't understand their care and individual needs to some degree.

Anyway, then I got to your questions. ;o)

1) How you can or should fertilize is directly linked to your soil and watering habits. I don't know what 'strength' it works out to be, but I water ALL my houseplants and indoor (tropical/subtropical) bonsai (glorified houseplants) at every watering with 12-15 drops of Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 in a gallon of room temperature water. I water thoroughly, until water is flowing freely from the drain hole into the plastic plates I use as collection saucers. I can do this because I use the gritty mix, which if properly made, holds no perched water, so I never worry about root rot or accumulating salts. I can fertigate (water + fertilizer) this way no matter what the light conditions are, because the concentration of fertilizer (measured in electrical conductivity and/or total dissolved solids [EC/TDS]) in the soil ALWAYS remains at low levels, and salts do not accumulate. The accumulation of soluble salts from tap water and fertilizer salts is hugely responsible for the steady decline and eventual demise of a very large % of houseplants, and it can be directly attributable to soil choice and watering habits usually dictated by that soil choice. I've discussed the dilemma involved with using heavy soils numerous times. You either water in sips to prevent root rot, which ensures an accumulation of soluble salts in the soil; OR, you water copiously and suffer the risk of root rot as a result of the soil remaining wet for prolonged periods. There ARE ways that can help you in Dealing with Water-Retentive Soils, and I've outlined some helpful tips if anyone cares to follow the embedded link.

Summarizing: If you're using fast soils that allow you to water copiously, there is considerable benefit in fertilizing at low doses all winter, keeping fertility levels in the adequacy range, but not above. If you are using heavy soils, you cannot fertilize so frequently unless you flush the soil of salts on a regular basis.

Fertilizing often at low doses offers the best opportunity for keeping o/a fertility levels at their lowest w/o creating a nutritional deficiency of any one nutrient. Your choice of a 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer ALSO contributes to the ability to keep fertility levels low, with no deficiencies, by supplying nutrients in a ratio extremely close to that which plants use.

2) Root pruning should be done on an as-needed basis. You can utilize this very useful guideline to decide when it's appropriate to repot: Growth starts to be inhibited about the time the root/soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact. You can pot up if you pot up before that occurs with no ill effects, but if you can lift the plant with roots/soil intact, it is best to do a full repot, which includes removing old soil and pruning roots. For some more vigorous plants, this might best be done yearly, and other plants may be able to go 5 years or even longer between repots, depending on their growth rates, but the guideline I offered is what greenhouse and nurseries use when they wish to maximize growth rates. Remember - to these operations, time is money; and it takes time AND money to pot up, so you can be sure this is an important consideration in maximizing growth.

In some cases though, the most rapid growth may not be what you want, so allowing the plant to remain tight in the pot may work to your advantage by slowing growth. We also know that the stress of tight roots can, in some cases, increase the profusion of blooms. Make no mistake though, you may enjoy the outcome of the intentionally induced stress, but the plant's perspective will be entirely different. Stress impacts growth and vitality, so we need to weigh our energy/stress management decisions based on a knowledge of the plant, not just based on our own desired outcome. Understanding how energy flows and changes in plants with the seasons, growth cycles, and their state of vitality, is really the only way to make informed decisions about what you can/should do and when to do it.

Most houseplants are best repotted in the month prior to their most robust growth period, so May-Jul for most in the US & Canada.

How you root-prune depends in part on WHAT you're working on, but root pruning is a regular part of how I maintain all my plants. Root-pruning and full repots ensures at least the plants CAN have to opportunity to grow to their genetic potential within the other limiting factors, while simply potting up ensures they cannot.

3) When you prune, you shouldn't just prune for the sake of pruning, or of reducing the size of the plant; you should consider what the effects of your pruning operation will be, both long and short term. Bonsai practitioners are intimately familiar with gauging plants' reactions to pruning. Pruning removes photosynthesizing machinery which the plant will try to replace by growing new leaves and branches on the parts of the plant that remain after pruning. Pruning can be as delicate as snipping off the apical meristems to halt branch elongation and force foliage to grow nearer the trunk on that same branch, or it can be as radical as chopping the entire plant off inches (or less) from the soil line. Each will produce markedly different reactions, and to what degree the plant will react depends on WHEN you do the pruning and how much reserve energy the plant has when you do it.

Short answer" Light pruning can generally be done almost anytime the plant is enjoying good vitality and removing the photosynthesizing machinery (leaves) won't present a threat to it's health. Hard pruning and extensive work is best done when the plant is full of energy and has a good portion of the most active part of its growth cycle in its immediate future. The exception to that rule is when the plant is in severe decline due to soil issues. If it's possible to wait until early summer to repot, that is best; then, let the plant recover, possibly for a full year to regain strength, before undertaking substantial additional work.

In bonsai, our trees don't always look perfect. We let them grow wild to gain energy, then we cut them back to the beautiful shapes you see in pictures. Most bonsai trees are only at their peak appearance for a short period every year and sometimes every other or third year. To maintain our houseplants in the best health, we sometimes need to realize that we need to take a time out to cut them back and fix root problems. Sure, this will impact their appearance temporarily, but in the long run, it ensures LONG-term good health and a long life. Most growers don't realize that cells retain their ontogenetic age. Those cells closer to the root/trunk union are always the most vigorous on plants. Cutting back hard to these cells forces growth from juvenile cells - and rejuvenates the plant. Think of what happens if you go into the landscape and cut back a burning bush HARD. A profusion of new branches emerges from the trunk and grow with amazing speed. You can get the same effect from your plants by pruning both above and below the soil line. It does take work if you want to keep a plant around for a lifetime and in good health.

Take care, GB.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 2:45PM
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ah-ha-hah, I knew the beginning part would garner some attention! Al, you probably have some plants that are considering mid-life crises Corvettes or getting their AARP cards soon :)

I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there that basically have a mixed preschool class or are elementary principals and hoping to shepard their plants to drinking age, so thanks for the detailed info!

I haven't started the fertilizer yet - or even bought it; I have to go to the Big City next weekend, since I can't find any in my neighborhood. I'll combine Toni & Al's advice because some plants are in pretty fast mixes (mostly bark & pumice), while others are still in soil. As for the FE, last time I used some of that, my cat about went NUTS - it was quite a scene: she REALLY wanted to get intimate with that smell, but it was wet, so what to do? - hilarious! (although different cat & outdoors... but I'm still a little wary)

The only plant that will be pruned specifically for shaping will be the Scheff; it'll get another 1/3 whacked, but it's got a nice stem coming right off the soil line from last time, so it's getting the message. Well, add the avocado.

The scraggly old F. elastica that remained in this house-share after the S.O. kicked all the bums out already had the main stem removed some time ago; it needs to be pruned to get some of that rejuvenating action. Probably only very lightly for now, since it's likely still recovering from ?? years in severely collapsed & hydrophobic soil. The red Phil could use a little revuj too...

The only other plant up for top work would be the D. marginatas - there are 2 that currently have the form of rotisserie prongs (attractive, no?). They would just have their growth tips removed. The main trunks are about 5" tall & the "prongs" - 3 each - are between 12" & 18", but skinny... what are the chances they'll thicken up with the tips lopped?

Anyhoo, thanks for the guidelines! I'll spend the next several months fattening everyone up.

PS: also removed from my care to the Great Greenhouse in the Sky are Kalanchoe, Pepperomia, Zebrina (I know, "unkillable"), several Jasmine, H. carnosa (also older than me at the time - darn mealy bugs!), Cryptanthus...

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 3:35PM
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Gravy, you best believe it grabbed my attention. lol.
Shame on you, giving underage babies fertilizer cocktails, lol, j/k.

Funny, your kitty-cats went crazy after you used FE. lol. There's an odorless FE, but never tried it. I have asked people who did, they said it's still noticable, but not as strong.
In autumn, I 'foliar spray' using FE as an insecticide. Your cats would really go balistic. lol..It IS strong!
Still, I rather sniff the smell 2-3 days, then put up with insects all winter. I don't use chemical insecides.

I don't understand what you said about your D. marginata. Did you say the trunk is 3" and stems are 12"? lol

Trunk thickens w/age. Give it time..Toni

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 4:31PM
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This is about what they look like, but without the flaming marshmallows, of course! The trunk IS quite a bit thicker, maybe 3x, than the "prongs" - they're long & skinny, as D. marginatas are wont to be... I've never pruned one & am hoping that they backbud (what's the emoticon for crossed fingers?!)

Toni, I bet you're running a full-on K-12 facility, with a day-care center for teen moms & some college kids helping out O.o

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 5:18PM
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We sell D. marginatas like that at the garden center where I work, marketing them as "candelabras". We also have ones with trunks twisted into a knot and ones into a heart. I think the last two are stupid, personally, but I can see the candelabra growing into an interesting plant. I'm interested to see yours after the surgery!


    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 11:01PM
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Gravy, I was hoping you post a pic of your Marginata, not marshmellows..lol..
Don't know which marginata you have.

Here's a pic of mine taken in '09..3 different colored marginatas are in the pot, but the green w/red edge is the oldest. I need to update pics..

Does your stems grow like mine?

Nancy, do the heart-shaped and braided sell fast? HD had braided marginats with a gold ball in the center of the braid. lol. Toni

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 11:48PM
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Nancy, I agree that the heart & knot sound corny - and the golden ball, too! As a grower, the "candelabra" makes perfect sense: cut out the middle & sell it as a separate single-stem plant, cut off the "candelabra" & sell it, then get another one going on the parent plant below THAT cut! I wonder how they get such exact back-budding to happen though?

Here's your pic Toni - not marshmallows this time :) but you CAN see the SO's stalled-out remodeling in the background. At some point, I will link a post-pruning photo, but that will be off in the future. My plants are dark green w/ dark red edges... you'll probably think they look a bit stunted for their age. This will be my first foray into fertilizers.

Here is a link that might be useful: D. marginata candelabra

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 11:49AM
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Gravy, so that's a Candelabra..'never heard that term before regarding marginatas, only Aloe.'

I like its shape. Never saw a marginata quite like yours. What's the problem? It looks fine to me. And your C. 'Fire Flash' is doing beautiful.

Gravy, are you going to 'The City,' this wkend to buy fertililzer? If so, are you going to start feeding this month? Toni

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 1:25PM
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Al, my first thought is to stipulate in your will that your live bonsai collection be donated to a public bonsai garden or arboretum or club that deals with bonsai. If I were you, I might actually make arrangements now... begin looking for a place that had interest in acquiring them.

It would be a shame to allow such a lovely collection, that you've obviously spent a good deal of time and effort on, to expire should anything happen to you. It bears thinking on...

    Bookmark   January 10, 2011 at 2:39PM
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Gravy, our candelabras look a little different than yours...I'll try to get pics tomorrow (haven't worked in a few days).

Toni, the ones with hearts have sold really well...we're down to two. The candelabras are either the second best seller or we just didn't get as many as the others. We have lots of knots left. I like the candelabra best.

I question what will happen to the hearts and knots as the plants grow? I'm imagining a fat lump in the middle of the trunk...not attractive!


    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 6:31PM
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Nancy...HD ordered 50+ Marginats w/golf balls in the center. They sat for months..Spider Mite haven. Some had Mealy, too.
I wouldn't mind one, lol.
How tall are the hearts where you work? Toni

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 7:46PM
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Hey Toni!

They are around 12-15 inches tall. I'll try to sneak a few pictures tomorrow.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2011 at 12:14AM
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Nancy, I looked at some images on the web & decided mine must be proto-candelabras! And Toni, there's nothing "wrong" with them, I would just like to get some more branching going while they're still relatively short.

I'm hoping that the 3 stems coming off each lowest trunk will thicken up into "real" branches after pruning to provide more support for the new stems, the ones created via back-budding, as they take their turns growing STRAIGHT up.

As for fertilizing, I do intend to start right away; no plant is actually dormant - all are actively growing new foliage, so light doses of fertilizer shouldn't hurt them & like I said, I want them all fattened up for the Big RePot/Root Slash-fest coming in June!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 3:49PM
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Brad,,,,patience, patience..lol..If your Marginata is growing, days are sunny or additional light is supplied, of course fertilzer won't hurt.
Please don't make the mistake, 'if I add more fertilizer than recommended, the plant will grow like Jack and the Beanstalk' lol

Do you know if big box stores sell Candalandras? I really like the shape yours is growing. I've never seen a similar Marginata. Braided w/golf balls, yes, never w/two sections.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 7:41PM
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Here's pics of the Dracaenas with a heart and a knot....

Close up of knot

Close up of heart


    Bookmark   January 15, 2011 at 11:15PM
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Brad,,,,patience, patience..lol..If your Marginata is growing, days are sunny or additional light is supplied, of course fertilzer won't hurt.
Please don't make the mistake, 'if I add more fertilizer than recommended, the plant will grow like Jack and the Beanstalk' lol

Do you know if big box stores sell Candalandras? I really like the shape yours is growing. I've never seen a similar Marginata. Braided w/golf balls, yes, never w/two sections.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 1:28AM
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I honestly don't remember where those 2 little trees came from - it is 2 3-prong trees in 1 pot... HD has never really been one of my haunts (none in the neighborhood until just a couple of years ago), so probably they came from Fred Meyer (our "local" W coast grocery/dept chain, AKA Kroger), the Grocery Outlet, or an actual locally-owned nursery or hardware store, but I've had them for years & couldn't tell you their current availability....and according to Nancy & my googling of the image, they're different than what are currently being called "candelabras," in that they are straight, not curled back on themselves.

If you were feeling brave, or picked up a couple of plants on the cheap, maybe you could probably achieve the look at home by cutting out the growth tip of a single-stem plant & pinching off all the back-buds you didn't want? Just guessing, as I've never pruned a Dracaena before! I'm still mystified how they get the new growth going so perfectly spaced & close to the top of where the tip was cut out!

Nancy, thanks for sharing pictures! Those are just funky looking little trees & I agree with you: I can't imagine them growing into anything but a snarled glob in a few years! But, I suppose many people don't keep their plants for that long anyhow, to address the original topic of the post ;)

Toni, I cross my non-heart-shaped marginata to fertilize only *very* lightly for at LEAST the next 6 weeks, then move up to lightly & maybe, after re-potting, move up to 1/2 strength for a couple of weeks before top pruning.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 10:41AM
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Well, since it was around 55* yesterday, actually raining (not the usual spitty drizzle we get) AND the homework was caught up with, everyone got to go outside for a little bit of a rain shower! Well, except the aloes & jade. The stove makes everything dustier & no-one's been out since late-late summer/early fall, so they were ready for a bath! I also busted out the coiling water wand my Mom gave me for Christmas several years ago, but I've never used - that thing's great! - and administered a longer, stronger shower.

Then, there was a group pot flushing & everyone got a little 1/8-strength snack. The scheff (& scheff's tip, now in a separate pot, but surviving) & benji also got sprayed down for scale again; I think I've got it on the run (hee-hee: imagining scale running :D), as there was hardly any & it's been several weeks since the last treatment - hooray!

Here is a link that might be useful: the gang's (mostly) all here

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 9:40AM
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Talk about out living the people who owned a plant:I have a heirloom Christmas Cactus grown from a cutting reputed to be brought across country via the Chisholm Trail. The Chisholm Trail was last used approximately 1860 something. I don't know where the mother plant is since the man who gave me the cutting died perhaps 10 yrs ago. Is it possible that I am looking part of a 151 yr old plant?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 8:10AM
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cats123(5 STL MO)

My Christmas Cactus is at least 50 years old. My aunt gave my Mom a cutting and later my Mom gave me that plant. My cats liked to lay on the Cactus so several large branches broke off and I potted those. It's seems possible to me that you have an antique plant.

If my plants were people, I think they would all be in a mental hospital. The cats have attacked all of them at one time or another and my husband is not a plant person. LOL

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 8:22PM
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If mine were people, they'd place me in a south facing, and their "wife" would keep sticking gnomes and other little figurines in my pot.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 10:01PM
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Christine S & Cats, those are amazing stories! (Except for the mental hospital... that Christmas cactus is old enough to maybe have rec'd shock therapy)

I really do think heirloom plants, or plants with a known history are fascinating. I still am upset at myself for killing my Mom's 30 year-old Jade in my early 20's, when it moved in with me.

Joe, after a couple decades of gnomes, you might end up traumatized too...


    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 10:48PM
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If I go, I know many people who would just as well bury them with me:-(

No a one person has any desire at all to care for mine while I am handicapped at the moment, let alone dead. I have to pull teeth and pay people to care for the few I have, all about 150 of them .

There is one plant that someone I know wants if anything should ever happen to me:-)


    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 12:36PM
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