BAGR 110 Blog: Low Waste Plant Parenthood

Caring for plants can connect us back to nature. Engaging with them on a daily basis either in our homes or in our gardens can help us understand the importance of preserving the natural world around us. In this blog, we do a deep dive into low-waste choices you can make to have a more sustainable plant collection and a more positive impact on the environment.

This blog is inspired by Episode 110 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Nick Cutsumpas of Farmer Nick.

Don’t get intimidated by the “zero” in “zero waste”

As a society, we often get intimidated and overwhelmed when we see something that says “zero.” Even if we strive for zero waste, we recognize that there are certain wasteful elements in our lives that are inevitable. 

Let’s face it—achieving “zero waste” is almost close to impossible. Instead, let’s try to reduce waste as much as possible and promote a “low waste” style of plant parenthood. 

We don’t need 10% of the population living a 100% zero waste lifestyle. We need 100% of the population making choices that lead them to be at least 10% more sustainable.

 

What is Waste?

To put it simply, waste is something that will end up in a landfill. Items that cannot be recycled should be considered waste. It is a growing problem affecting not just the environment but also our population.

Waste contaminates water if not disposed of properly and can get absorbed by fish and other aquatic life. This then spreads into the food chain and is now affecting the population.

 

Here are 3 low waste tips you can apply to your approach to plant care. 

 

Low Waste Tip #1: Reuse everything (or at least as much as you can)

Take a look at something, pick it up, and instead of the Marie Kondo style of, “Does it bring me joy? If not, throw it away,” try saying, “What kind of purpose do you have in my now?”

Here are some examples for upcycling your plant products: 

  1. If you buy a plant at the garden center and it comes in a plastic pot. Instead of throwing it away, save it to use for another plant, or try and return it to your garden center for them to reuse.
  2. Many companies now have lots of fantastic alternative types of packaging, whether it’s compostable packing peanuts, recyclable shipping containers, or even pots made out of rice. Try supporting companies that use sustainable packaging.
  3. Instead of tossing a glass yogurt container or bottle, upcycle it into a propagation vessel.
  4. If composting is available to you, instead of tossing your dead houseplants, annuals, and food waste in your garbage, compost them and use them in your garden in the years to come.

Espoma has always been a zero waste manufacturing facility and continues to strive to create zero waste during its manufacturing processes.

Here are some of Espoma’s sustainability accomplishments

  • < 1% waste of packaging materials
  • Recycling of skids and damaged pallets
  • Largest recycler of manure – Prevents millions of lbs. of raw manure from leaching into waterways

Low Waste Tip #2: Choose sustainably made, organic fertilizers and potting mixes

Plant roots require soil as a foothold. It contains nutrients that allow plants to grow. Putting them in high-quality potting mix or soil is an easy choice when trying to set your plant up to thrive. 

Anyone who wants to take care of the environment should not be buying from places that use potentially harmful synthetic fertilizers. 

As for quality soils, look no further than Espoma’s Organic Potting Soils. This contains a rich blend of only the finest natural ingredients. No synthetic plant foods or chemicals are used.

Low Waste Tip #3: Know your plant number!

This might be tough for some people to hear, but knowing your plant number not only saves you money but also saves your plants and your waste footprint! 

Say you have 50 plants and they’re all thriving under your care. Let’s assume that is your limit or plant number. If you add your 51st plant and then the quality of care suffers for the other plants, you might start losing plants in your collection due to overwhelm or negligence. That’s not sustainable. 

Before you bring a plant home, be honest with yourself and ask, “Do I have the space? Do I have the time and the right environment for this?” 

This is also a lesson in restraint—by taking a step back and knowing that you don’t need another plant in your collection: you limit waste and increase the likelihood of your plant collection bringing you joy instead of stress.

Protecting the environment

In today’s world that divides us, the environment is one of the things that can be quite polarizing depending on what views you have. But no one can disagree with the fact that we all use and require the natural resources the Earth so generously offers us.

Anyone who has been inspired by the vastness of the ocean, the awesome height of a redwood tree or the simple relaxation a hike can bring can understand the importance of nature. So all humans, in essence, should view themselves as stewards of the earth. 

Understanding your responsibility to the Earth doesn’t require you to move to a cabin and live off the grid. You can live in sync with nature and it can be done so in a way that does not detract from your lifestyle by making simple, sustainable choices that benefit you and the planet.

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About Our Interviewee

Nick is a “plantrepreneur” who is passionate about all things green. As a full-time plant coach, urban gardener, and landscape designer, Nick’s mission is to leave the earth greener than when he found it—giving people the knowledge and confidence they need to create their own green spaces in the pursuit of environmental action and social justice. 

Watch Nick and other rapid-fire renovators on Netflix, Instant Dream Home. This showcases Nick and his incredibly talented friends taking big risks and making painstaking plans to transform families’ homes from top to bottom in just 12 hours.

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BAGR 125 Blog: Palm Care 101

Large, gorgeous palms can bring the vibes of the tropical jungle right into your home. With huge leaves cascading over delicate stems, it’s hard not to love these beautiful plants. However, palms are notoriously tricky plants to successfully care for indoors. In this blog, we’ll cover how to not kill palms and how to properly care for them.

This blog is inspired by Episode 125 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Chris Satch of The NYC Plant Doctor.

Most Common Houseplant Palms

Palms are in the palm family, Arecaceae. One of the most common houseplant palms we see is the parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans).

 

Other common indoor palms include the fishtail palm (Caryota mitis).

 

and the areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens).

 

Indoor palms need filtered water and increased humidity.

Palms can unfortunately be quite finicky and a little more difficult than other houseplants. There are quite a few types of palms, but we will focus mostly on parlor palm care. 

Parlor palms do not like a lot of salts or hard water, because salts can damage the leaves and turn the tips black. 

Indoor palms also prefer more humid environments. Humidity and salt damage are both abiotic damage, which means they’re caused by a non-living thing and should affect the plant evenly and symmetrically. A trick for palm diagnosis is salt damage often looks black, while humidity damage is brown.

Watering Houseplant Palms

Because indoor palms are sensitive to salts, use distilled water or even better, rainwater. 

Watering palms can be very nuanced, because a palm is a thin-leafed plant and any plant with very thin leaves goes through water quickly. While you want the soil to dry out enough to prevent fungus gnats, you don’t want it to stay dry for long. 

A general watering rule for palms is to let the top centimeter of soil dry out, and then water again. Make sure they don’t get too dry between waterings.

Light Requirements for Houseplant Palms

The parlor palm is specifically sold as a low-light plant, but it really isn’t a low-light plant. Because palms are so slow growing, they need quite a bit of sun indoors. A bright, sunny window is a great spot for an indoor palm. 

Why Are My Palm Leaves Yellow?

If your new leaves are significantly paler than the rest, that’s an indication your palm needs more light. 

The Best Temperature for Houseplant Palms

Palms don’t like ambient cold temperatures and certainly don’t like cold drafts. First, indoor palms will stop growing if they get too cold. And once they do get warmer temperatures, they’ll actually wait to start growing to make sure their environment won’t get cold again. 

Houseplant palms really love warm, tropical “vibes” indoors so make sure your environment is around 65-80 degrees.

How Much Do You Fertilize Houseplant Palms? 

If you consider how palm trees grow outdoors, many of them grow in poor, sandy soils without many nutrients. To replicate that for indoor palms, they really don’t need to be fertilized often.

 To ensure your palm has healthy dark green leaves, try Indoor! Espoma’s organic liquid fertilizer.

Repotting Houseplant Palms

Indoor palms dislike their root mass being disturbed. When you do repot an indoor palm, try not to loosen the soil or disturb the root mass. Try to keep it as intact as possible. 

Pro tip: do not plant palms in terracotta pots. Not only does terracotta dry the plant out too much, but it also holds onto salts. Stick with plastic or sealed ceramic pots to set yourself up for success.

Houseplant Palm Pests

Indoor palms are also very susceptible to pests. Their thin leaves and clumped roots lend to many insects hiding in the foliage. Pests like spider mites, mealy bugs, scale, and aphids are all possible on indoor palms. 

To manage pests, take your palm outdoors for treatment when the weather is warm, if possible. Use a hose with a strong water blast to dislodge as many insects as possible. Use the force of the water to spray the undersides of the palm too, since many pests will cling to the bottom of the leaves. 

Then follow up with an insecticide like Espoma’s Organic Insect Soap

Don’t Get Discouraged!

If you decide to try and care for a palm indoors, know that this is not a beginner plant. You might need to try one or two varieties until you find the right fit. However, if you can get your palm in the right light with clean water, they can be a wonderful addition to your home as a WOW factor statement plant.

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About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

 

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Chris Satch is a professor at the New York Botanical Gardens and an expert in all botanical, horticultural, and plant-related topics. Often called The Plant Doctor, he has helped thousands of people with gardening or houseplant problems to achieve success.

With his M.S. in Plant Science from Rutgers University, and his vast experience doing plant research and working in the horticulture industry, he helps plant lovers find solutions for themselves and their businesses. 

​​Follow Chris:

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BAGR Blog 159: Houseplants that Bloom

This blog is inspired by Episode 159 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Lisa Eldred Steinkopf of The Houseplant Guru.

Houseplants are celebrated for their amazing foliage, but are often overlooked for another ability—the ability to bloom! To give us a better grasp of this beautiful subcategory, let’s dive into the must-knows of houseplants that bloom. 

How to Care for Blooming Houseplants

The main difference between blooming houseplants and normal foliage houseplants is light requirements. If you want to start caring for blooming houseplants, you need to have a good light setup.

Blooming houseplants require a bit more light. That can look like a Southern-, Western-, or an Eastern-facing window for natural light. If you have Northern-facing windows, you will need to supplement with grow lights.

The type of grow light you have will determine the amount of hours needed, but at most your blooming houseplants will need 12 hours of direct light. Inadequate lighting is often the culprit if your blooming houseplants don’t bloom. 

What Does a Houseplant Bloom Cycle Look Like?

Across blooming houseplants, there are long-day, short-day, and day-neutral plants that affect the bloom cycle. A day-neutral plant like the African violet (Saintpaulia) can bloom year round, as it’s not sensitive to day length. A short-day plant, however, will start blooming when the nights get longer, focusing on how much darkness they need.

Houseplants like poinsettias, kalanchoe, and cyclamen are all short-day plants, blooming in the Fall when nights are longer. Most of the annual flowers outdoors like snapdragons and marigolds need light for as long as possible to bloom, so they are categorized as long-day plants. These long-day flowers bloom best in Summer when day length is greatest.

If your plant is not blooming within a year, it may need something different. Often the key can be more light, but it could also be that it’s simply not mature enough yet to produce blooms. If you grow a citrus from seed, it won’t flower for six to seven years—but if you grow a cutting from a mature plant, it could bloom within a year. Consider a plant’s maturity for each variety before you write off your plant parent skills. 

Fertilizing Requirements for Blooming Houseplants

While sun and photosynthesis tend to be the most important factors in getting your plants to bloom, fertilizers can certainly help. An all-purpose fertilizer like Espoma’s Organic Indoor Houseplant Food is a great overall fertilizer. To help your blooms last longer, Espoma’s Super Bloom Booster that’s high in phosphorus will give your plants strong, healthy blooms. Opt for every two to four weeks if you choose a liquid fertilizer. 

How to Make Blooms Last Longer

To get your houseplant blooms to last as long as possible, focus on consistency. Blooming plants want consistent moisture, so do not let them dry out. Keep your plants in a well-lit spot, but not so hot that they become stressed. Be consistent with moisture and temperature during blooming and your plants will be happy. 

Now that we’ve covered some basic care for blooming houseplants, let’s go into some great starter plants for beginners. 

The 6 Best Blooming Houseplants for Beginners

The crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii) is a wonderful blooming houseplant if you have high light. It can even bloom year round with enough light. They come in many colors ranging from white. red, yellow, pink, and orange. 

Hoyas (Hoya carnosa) are another blooming houseplant that are great for beginners. The key with hoyas is to know they won’t bloom until they’re mature enough. It can take anywhere from three to seven years for hoya plants to reach maturity.

Air plants (Tillandsias) are next for beginners. While they need lots of light, they almost constantly bloom and grow. They will send out new pups, because once they bloom, they slowly die off. 

The holiday cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) is another great beginner blooming houseplant, and an often underrated one. Holiday cacti include Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving varieties, each slightly different in the shape of their stem segments. Their blooms also come in a range of colors including pink, orange, salmon, and white. 

African violets (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia) are another beautifully blooming houseplant that would be a great fit for a mindful plant parent. African violets prefer to never dry out and to be repotted about every 6 months. Their leaves and stems are easy to propagate, making them a fun houseplant to share with other plant lovers. Try feeding your violets with Espoma Organic Violet! African violet liquid plant food.

The goldfish plant (Columnea nematanthus) is another fantastic blooming houseplant that doesn’t need much light to bloom. Their blooms are orange and shaped like goldfish, looking like a sea of goldfish swimming when in full bloom.

Intermediate Level Blooming Houseplants

If you’re ready to move up to the intermediate level, here are three blooming houseplants to get you started. 

Orchid cacti (Epiphyllums) are a type of climbing cacti with flat, leaflike stems. Despite being a tropical succulent, they actually need stretches of cold before they will bloom again. Give them enough light and enough of a cold period, and you’ll be wowing everyone with these stunning blooms.  

Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae) are another long-blooming houseplant that are typically bought in their blooming stage. Their blooms eventually die back, but not before they send out new babies at the bottom.

While there are beginner orchids, there are plenty of interesting varieties for an intermediate plant parent to try. Dendrobiums, Cattleyas, and Miltonias tend to be a bit more care intensive. To troubleshoot why your orchid isn’t blooming, it can often be a lack of light. Orchids also need to be repotted at least every two years to ensure adequate air for their roots. Try Espoma’s Organic Orchid Mix potting soil to help with drainage and aeration. Apply Espoma Organic Orchid! liquid plant food to make sure your plant has the essential nutrients needed for successful growth. 

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For an in-depth look into blooming houseplants, make sure to read Lisa’s new book Bloom: The Secrets of Growing Flowering Houseplants Year-Round

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

 Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Lisa Eldred Steinkopf is The Houseplant Guru. She’s a blogger, freelance writer, and houseplant enthusiast who loves taking care of her own plants and teaching others to take care of theirs. If you love plants, want to know more, or are just looking to keep your houseplant plant alive, you’re in the right place!

Lisa’s new book Bloom: The Secrets of Growing Flowering Houseplants Year-Round celebrates the beloved houseplants we can grow for blooms in addition to foliage. It focuses on how to get many houseplants to bloom and how to keep them in bloom. 

​​Follow Lisa:

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BAGR 154: How to Build a Terrarium

This blog is inspired by Episode 154 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Patricia Buzo of Doodle Bird Terrariums.

Terrariums do so much more than encapsulate our plants within the confines of a vessel. They capture a feeling. They capture a sense of wonder that a simple potted plant just can’t do. We can create entire worlds within a terrarium, and even ecosystems. They become a place that we can escape into for a mindful moment and use to amplify our passion for playing.

In this blog, terrarium guru Patricia of Doodle Bird Terrariums and Maria from Bloom & Grow Radio break down the differences and similarities of terrariums, paludariums, and vivariums to equip you with the knowledge you need to set your first one up!

What’s the Difference Between Terrariums, Vivariums, and Paludariums?

In the plant community, a terrarium usually refers to a small glass jar or fishbowl that has only plants inside. It’s not going to house any type of pet. 

A vivarium, on the other hand, contains pets like frogs or lizards, but has plants too. It’s also typically much bigger than a terrarium.

A paludarium is a type of vivarium that’s usually an even larger enclosure. It incorporates both terrestrial and aquatic elements into it, so it’s like having an aquarium and a terrarium in one. It often houses animals like fish, lizards, or frogs in the top portion.

Benefits and Common Problems of Growing in a Terrarium

One of the benefits to a terrarium is being able to grow diverse plants that you might not have otherwise been able to, as they create a microclimate of higher humidity. Most miniature terrarium plants need very high humidity, which likely doesn’t exist in your home or garden! 

Another benefit of terrariums is that they can be portable. If you’re traveling a lot and miss your plants, you can simply place them in a jar and take them with you.

A common problem in terrariums though, is mold growth. The warm, humid environment creates perfect conditions for mold to take over and eat away at your plants. You can prevent mold growth by avoiding biodegradable items in your terrarium like sticks, leaves, and pine cones. Adding little creatures like springtails and isopods (aka rolly pollies) that feed on decomposing materials can also significantly reduce mold growth. 

How to Choose the Best Terrarium Plants

When choosing which plants you want in your terrarium, opt for smaller varieties of plants to avoid requiring you to keep sizing up your vessel. 

Take advantage of the high humidity terrarium conditions and choose humidity-loving plants. Look for plants in the terrarium or fairy garden section at your local nursery for options. 

Small and miniature orchids work really well in terrariums, growing only an inch or two high with pretty flowers. Peperomia Ripple (Peperomia caperata) grows well in a bigger jar and loves the terrarium environment. 

Asparagus ferns (Asparagus aethiopicus), the little tree plant (Biophytum sensitivum), jewel orchids (Ludisia discolor), and creeping figs (Ficus pumila) are also great plant options for terrariums.

How to Set Up a Terrarium 

Materials Needed: 

 

Step 1: Make a list of plants you want in your terrarium. Do a quick search of conditions they prefer, including light, temperature, and moisture. 

Step 2: For a humid-loving plant, choose a jar with a lid to maintain humidity. For a plant that needs to dry out a bit, opt for an open jar. You can find great jars secondhand at thrift stores or estate sales, but affordable glass jars are also available at home goods and craft stores.

Step 3: Layer your materials in your glass jar with horticultural charcoal, soil, and plants. Use aquarium tongs to place your plants in the soil and scissors to trim excess plant material. 

Step 4: Water your terrarium using distilled water. Use a spray bottle for moss and if you have rooted plants, pour a small amount of water onto the soil. 

Step 5: Add your bioactive creatures like springtails or isopods and place your lid on top for humidity-loving plants. (This is optional.)

Step 6: Put your completed jar in bright, indirect light and enjoy your new terrarium! 

*****

For a more in-depth look at building terrariums, vivariums, and paludariums, check out Patricia Buzo’s book, A Family Guide to Terrariums

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

 Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Patricia Buzo founded Doodle Bird Terrariums in 2008 out of her love of plants and creating unique works people would treasure. Each terrarium she creates is handcrafted using the highest grade plants and supplies, utilizing special tricks to carefully package these fragile vessels so they arrive safely.

Now, over 10 years later, she has authored the book A Family Guide to Terrariums, inspired many on her Instagram account, and has been featured in The New York Times.

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Beginners Guide to Growing Cut Flowers

Beginners Guide to Growing Cut Flowers

Growing flowers in your garden can be as appealing as growing food, because not only are flowers beautiful, but they’re pollinator magnets. Let’s get into the basics of growing cut flowers. 

This blog is inspired by Episode 128 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Brooklyn Sherri, owner of Petal and Herb Farm.

Why Are Seed Packets Important? 

Seed packets can be crucial in helping you understand all the components that go into growing your cut flower garden. They provide information on when to plant, how long until germination, plant description, growing habits, how deep the seed should be planted, and helpful details on growth and harvesting. Make sure you do your homework on the seed company of your choosing to make sure they fit your needs. 

What Is My Growing Zone? 

Your growing zone helps you determine how long your frost-free growing season is. If you’re in the U.S., you can find your USDA plant hardiness zone by entering your zip code. 

Once you find your hardiness zone, you can also search for the last frost date in your zip code. Your first and last frost dates will show you how many frost-free growing days you have in a season. This can help you figure out when to plant each of your cut flower varieties. 

What Growing Conditions Do Flowers Need? 

Most flowers prefer well-draining soil. If you’re starting with clay soil that tends to hold water, you want to amend it with compost or peat moss to provide more drainage. Additionally, you can mix in bagged garden soil, like Espoma’s Vegetable & Flower Garden Soil to add structure and drainage. 

Sun needs will also vary by flower, but a general rule is 6 hours of direct sun for flowers. Whether you’re direct sowing seeds outdoors or transplanting plants, make sure each variety is in a location with enough sun. 

Water requirements for annual flowers may be higher during Summer months, but in general, deep, infrequent watering is best. About one inch of water per week is enough. 

Fertilizing requirements will depend on the specific flower you’re growing. If you notice foliage yellowing, it can often mean your plant is low in nitrogen. Or if you have lots of green foliage but no blooms, that could indicate you have a phosphorous problem. Try Espoma’s Flower-Tone Fertilizer to get large, healthy blooms. 

 

Now that you know basic care for growing cut flowers, check out our list of the 7 best flowers to grow from seed as a beginner

1) Sunflowers

Sunflowers are some of the easiest annual flowers to grow from seed. You can directly sow them outdoors in full sun with minimal effort. They come in so many sizes and colors too! 

2) Zinnias

Zinnias are another easy annual flower to grow from seed in full sun. They only take about 60-70 days to bloom from seed, and there are tons of varieties like double flowered, dwarfs, cactus, and giant zinnias. They also come in a wide range of stunning colors! 

3) Daisies

Unlike sunflowers and zinnias, daisies are a perennial flower that will come back year after year. You can start them from seed outdoors as long as you keep them moist for up to twenty days. Otherwise, they grow great from transplants and continue to spread every year. They come in whites, yellows, pinks, and reds.

4) Sweet Peas

Sweet peas are an annual flower that can deal with cooler temperatures. Plant them in very early Spring and you’ll have beautiful pastel bouquets in a couple of months. Since they are vining plants, give them something to climb like a trellis.

5) Snapdragons

While snapdragons will need to be started from seed indoors 2-3 months before your last frost, the payoff in blooms will be worth it. Pay attention to the seed packet for best germination methods. The more you cut snapdragon blooms and create branching, the more blooms you’ll get. And snapdragons come in so many different colors that you’ll be creating gorgeous bouquets for weeks! 

6) Cosmos

Cosmos are another easy-to-grow annual that produce tons of Summer blooms. They come in a variety of heights and colors, and their long, slender stems make for an easy addition to any cut flower bouquet.

7) Strawflower

And finally we have the humble, yet unmistakable strawflower. This annual is another easy-to-grow flower from seed that can handle any soil quality you have. Its textured petals feel similar to straw and make gorgeous cut or dried flower bouquets. 

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To give your cut flowers a healthy start, try using Espoma’s Flower-Tone Fertilizer during the growing season for larger, more abundant blooms. 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

 Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Brooklyn Sherri is a flower farmer with many skills. She runs her own flower farm, Petal & Herb, where they produce flowers, vegetables, berries, herbs, and microgreens all on 5 acres of land in Colorado. Brooklyn also hosts Ya Grandma’s Garden & Houseplants on Clubhouse and teaches horticulture at The Cool Choice to improve the opportunities for children and families in her neighborhood. 

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Beginners Guide to Greenhouses

A Beginner’s Guide to Greenhouses

There comes a time in every plant parent’s life when we start to get curious and excited about having a dedicated space for all of our plants. If you’re an outdoor gardener, the promise of a greenhouse for seed starts and overwintering plants is even more exciting!

If you feel like you’re ready to take the leap of installing a greenhouse – whether it’s a small kit, or a large structure in your backyard – consider this blog a beginner’s guide to building the greenhouse of your dreams!

This blog is inspired by Episode 151 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Patrick Grubbs, founder of Greenhouse Info

Do Greenhouses Need Permits? 

Before you even begin shopping for greenhouses, you need to consider licensing and permitting. In the US, we have two authorities you should keep in mind when you’re building a greenhouse: zoning regulations and building codes. Almost always, you can simply contact your local government office and they’ll be able to tell you all of the required permits for an accessory building with a permanent foundation. 

The one exception? If you’re getting a small greenhouse (or a cold frame) where you don’t need to set up a foundation, those generally aren’t regulated since they aren’t really considered permanent structures. Usually, these are cheaper greenhouse kits that cost about $500 or less. 

What’s the Best Greenhouse Construction Material?

Here are the pros and cons to each type of greenhouse material to help you choose the best option for your space. 

Glass is a classic greenhouse material. 

  • Pros: it lasts forever and is easy to maintain. It’s a great long-term option for permanent greenhouses.
  • Cons: it’s expensive, fragile, and not a great insulator in general. Insulation is really important for greenhouses, especially if you’re in a Northern climate. 

Polycarbonate is one of the most common greenhouse materials. 

  • Pros: it’s strong, durable, and much lighter than glass. 
  • Cons: it starts to yellow and degrade after about 10 years, reducing the amount of light to your plant. Opt for the UV resistant choice to help it last longer. 

Acrylic is another common greenhouse material (brand names like plexiglass). 

  • Pros: strong and durable
  • Cons: fairly expensive and heavy, contracts with temperature fluctuations so you may need a special mounting solution to attach it. 

Polyethylene is another plastic greenhouse material. 

  • Pros: can buy rolls of plastic to replace material
  • Cons: flimsy plastic, likely only used as a temporary material as it’s really only good for one season

Should I use a Greenhouse Kit or DIY My Own Greenhouse?

For a beginner greenhouse hobbyist, a kit is a great option. It’s more affordable, has instructions, and great to start with. A smaller 6’ x 8’ kit that doesn’t need a foundation is a good option and will take a few hours to put together with a group of helpers. Once you get into more of the reclaimed windows and doors for a do-it-yourself greenhouse, carpentry skills are much more of a necessity. 

If you want a permanent structure with a foundation and electricity, it might be time to look into other options outside of kits. This kind of project could require a backhoe, 6’ holes, and electrical wiring to get it up and running. 

How Much Should I Pay for a Beginner Greenhouse? 

A standard 6’ by 8’ greenhouse kit is one of the cheapest starter greenhouses you can get. These kits will probably run you about $500 to $600 for a new kit. Pro tip: check Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for used greenhouses–you’ll often find some great options for a fraction of the cost. 

When you consider the extra components you need to buy, like fans and heaters, it’ll probably end up costing you around a thousand dollars for a very entry-level greenhouse that will satisfy.

What Direction Should My Greenhouse Face? 

The point of a greenhouse is to capture the heat from the sunlight and maximize the exposure your plants get. The best way to do that in the Northern hemisphere is to align the roof of your greenhouse going East to West. That will ensure you get the maximum amount of sun in both Winter and Summer. Keep in mind that this is the reverse if you’re in the Southern hemisphere.

 

What Kind of Floor Should My Greenhouse Have? 

The primary consideration for your greenhouse flooring is drainage. If you have a big greenhouse, you might have a foundation underneath like a concrete slab. And in this case, you need to be sure that any water you pour in your greenhouse can get out.

If you don’t have a foundation, you still have the same consideration regarding drainage, it’s just much easier to handle. It can be as simple as concrete pavers with gravel in between. That provides a flat surface, it’s easy to clean and walk on, and it’s stable. Since there’s space in between the pavers, there’s room for water to drain into the ground.

Greenhouse Ventilation Requirements

Greenhouses are super effective at their jobs. They can raise the temperature anywhere from five to 30 degrees Fahrenheit greater than the ambient temperature. You could very easily cook your plants if you don’t have proper ventilation. 

The first thing you need to do for all of your greenhouse air conditioning needs is to calculate the total volume of your greenhouse. Multiply the length times the width times 1.5 of the height, which accounts for the volume that isn’t really there at the top. This number will tell you the cubic feet of air in your greenhouse. 

You’re going to reference this number whenever you’re looking at ventilation or heating options. You want to try to cycle all of the air in your greenhouse in one minute. If you have a 10’ by 10’ by 10’ greenhouse, that equals 1,000 cubic feet of air. You then need to find an exhaust fan that is rated to push 1,000 cubic feet of air per minute. 

Greenhouse Fans

There are a couple types of fans for greenhouses. First is a shop fan or a desk fan, which works for pushing air around, but it’s not the most effective way to cool a greenhouse. 

And second is an exhaust fan that’s set into the walls of your greenhouse and moves air from inside to outside and vice versa. Usually these fans come in pairs so you can put one on each side of the greenhouse to circulate air efficiently. 

Greenhouse Vents

There are many different kinds of greenhouse vents, but the best options are solar vents. They have wax inside of them that expands and contracts when it gets warm, which automatically opens and closes the vents with no electricity. Most greenhouse kits you buy probably won’t have any ventilation built in, so make sure to factor that into the cost of building a greenhouse. 

Ventilation is a necessity for a greenhouse in order to control the humidity, temperature, and air flow. Plan to incorporate fans and vents for proper greenhouse ventilation. 

Managing Humidity and Mold in Your Greenhouse

Ventilation is your number one defense against humidity. A trick to dealing with root rot or mold is to have airflow underneath your pots.

Many greenhouses have plant benches and the bottom of the bench is actually a grate so air and water can freely flow through. This is important because it means the air accesses the plant roots, which is where plants take in most of their oxygen. Having that additional airflow dries out the potting media faster, which will help prevent mold and rot. 

What’s the Ideal Greenhouse Temperature and Humidity?

A good greenhouse temperature is around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but it all depends on what you’re growing. Opt for low humidity, especially in Summer, so temperatures are more bearable. 

To really control the temperature in your greenhouse, try a remote thermometer. It makes monitoring the temperature much easier, especially when dealing with snow and freezing outdoor temperatures. You can also plug all of your appliances into a smart plug bar. The bar allows you to connect to Bluetooth using an app, which helps you control temperature, light, and humidity from your phone. 

3 Beginner Greenhouse Tips from Patrick

Tip 1: A greenhouse isn’t necessarily the next step for improving your gardening skills. It’s a whole different category. Unfortunately growing in a greenhouse alone won’t make your plants healthier and happier: there’s a learning curve. Make sure you dial in the right parameters to optimize growth in your greenhouse to get those happy plants. 

Tip 2: You will deal with pests in greenhouses, but you have options. Greenhouses can actually give you enough space for a dedicated quarantine section of insect-ridden plants. You can use a corner shelf with all of your remedy supplies, far away from other plants. Put a sticky note with the date you placed it on the shelf, then transition it to the rest of your plants after about a month. 

You can also implement predatory insects in your greenhouse. Some great examples are ladybugs, praying mantises, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Just make sure you’re not purchasing the invasive ladybug

Tip 3: If you’re not in a place in your life where you expect to be there for a while, then a greenhouse probably isn’t the best option. It’s a big investment in terms of money, time, and space. Many of them are at least a 10 year commitment unless you have a way to transport it. You still have options, like a cold frame or something a bit smaller like a grow tent.

To learn more about greenhouses, check out Patrick’s website Greenhouse Info.

*****

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Patrick Grubbs has a B.S. in Biology, where he fell in love with plants through his first botany class. He’s published aquatic ecology research and authored several books related to succulents and gardening pests. 

Patrick has spent a great deal of his career split between science communication and hands-on permaculture and ecology projects. His passion is teaching other people to enjoy plants and animals the same way he does.

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Preserving Asian Heritage Through Seeds and Stories

Seeds not only provide us with food to eat, but they represent the future and allow us to reflect on our history. They are heirlooms, a connection to our ancestors and their stories. In this blog, we celebrate stories of Asian culture and connection to nature and food through seeds, with YC Miller from Kitazawa Seed Company

YC walks us through the importance of preserving our heritage through seeds with heartwarming stories from Kitazawa customers on how a simple vegetable can carry so much family history and pride. 

This blog is inspired by Episode 152 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed YC Miller from Kitazawa Seed Company

How Growing Food Can Reconnect Us with Our Heritage

YC didn’t grow up growing any Korean vegetables. Coming to them as an adult has played a huge part in how she has reconnected with their heritage.

Fifteen years ago, YC went on a heritage trip to Korea. For a portion of the trip, she worked on a farm. She recalls that experience as one of the first times she understood what roots really meant. It really spoke to YC’s soul about who she was as a person and created a deep sense of belonging. 

That moment served as an awakening of their heritage, but also a reconnection with food and the plants, vegetables, and agricultural practices that went along with that. Ever since then, it’s been a constant learning process through their work at Kitazawa Seed Company.

Many Americans, descendants of immigrants, share a similar experience in reconnecting with their culturally significant vegetables and stories of families bringing seeds over from their home countries. With their work at Kitazawa Seed Company, YC says it’s been a pleasure to be able to celebrate and honor that connection, and to be a source of seeds and food that help foster that connection.

How Two Brothers Built Kitazawa Seed Company

Kitazawa Seed Company was started by two brothers in 1917.  It is the oldest Asian seed company in the United States, specializing in Asian varieties. The brothers were selling seeds to Japanese farmers in California, and also providing traditional Japanese vegetable seeds to home gardeners who were growing them for their families and communities.

From 1942 to 1945 Kitazawa Seed Company was forced to abandon the business due to WWII. The Kitazawa family, along with all other Japanese-Americans, were moved and put into Relocation Camps during that time. The brothers restarted the business after the war. Many of their customers had relocated due to land ownership changes. This is when Kitazawa began selling and shipping seeds across the United States and really flourishing. It has continued the tradition of selling both to commercial farmers and to the home gardener. 

A major goal of Kitazawa has been to bring in seeds that are otherwise inaccessible. It started as a company that focused mostly on Japanese vegetables, because that was primarily the customer base. With waves of immigration from Asia to the United States, there’s been a changing demand for different kinds of Asian vegetables. Now Kitazawa has expanded its offerings to be able to provide vegetables for lots of different communities. 

Preserving Seed Diversity and the Immigrant Experience

Kitazawa strives to provide lots of hybrid seed varieties that are reliable, but they also value open pollinated varieties. If you were to grow an open pollinated squash variety in California and grow that same variety in New York, saving seeds year after year, those seeds would adapt to the different microclimates they were grown in. While they’re still the same variety of squash, certain traits would emerge, making them better suited for each region.

An interesting parallel to note is the similarity in the seed and the home grower who originally brought it to the United States. Seeds come from a different homeland and take on the soil, the air, and the sunshine from their new home. As seeds thrive, they continue to change and evolve. Similar to the immigrant experience in adapting to your new environment. 

As home gardeners, we may not think much about saving seeds. But it’s something YC highly encourages us to do to create more locally adapted, resilient seed varieties. 

Where and How Does Kitazawa Source Their Seed Varieties?

A lot of Kitazawa’s seeds are imported from Asia, where they have been working with many of the same reliable growers for decades. There are plans in place to consider more domestic production, especially considering supply chain issues and shipping. There are amazing people doing small batch seed production in the United States that are doing incredible work, specifically with landrace varieties. Landrace seeds have evolved traits naturally over time in response to growing conditions like pests, climate, and diseases in a specific location.

Kitazawa not only considers a particular variety, but also a high standard of quality when bringing in seeds. They grow out new varieties first so they can ensure the health and vigor of the seeds they offer to customers. The process can take several years to not only source the seed, but to also ensure the integrity of the seed packet they sell.

What Are the Differences Between Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino Eggplants?

One of Kitazawa’s new varieties is a Filipino eggplant. They have had customer requests for  years to carry a Filipino eggplant in their seed options. While they have lots of Japanese and Chinese eggplant varieties, none of them were quite right for their Filipino clientele. 

Traditionally, people think of a Japanese eggplant as being long, narrow, and purple. Generally the Japanese eggplants also have a purple calyx, which is the part of the eggplant that attaches to the stem. They are also quite firm with low moisture content, and often used for pickles. 

Chinese eggplants often have a green calyx and are lighter in color than the Japanese eggplants. Their texture is a bit creamier too.

The Filipino eggplant Kitazawa is sourcing is a greenish purple with a green and purple calyx. Generally, Filipino eggplants are more tender and a bit sweet. 

YC’s Recommended Kitazawa Varieties for Beginners

One of the great things about Asian vegetables is there’s such a huge diversity. There is something for everyone from the beginning gardener to the more experienced gardener and everyone in between.

For people who are just starting out, some of the easiest plants to get started are Asian herbs. There is a huge variety of Asian herbs from bunching onions that you can use in pretty much everything to Thai basil and all of the different kinds of perilla. 

And then there are types that YC would consider big payoff varieties. With a crop like peas, you can eat the shoots and the peas once they form. They’re easy to grow and you get a lot of vegetables for your effort. Japanese cucumbers are another wonderful option and fairly easy to grow with a trellis.

Kitazawa has a huge number of pak choi (or bok choy) available that can be easily grown in a container. They have a bunch of smaller varieties for small space growers. It’s a cold hardy vegetable you can grow in Spring and Fall. 

If that all sounds overwhelming, Kitazawa is always happy to give seed recommendations. You can give them a call and they’d be happy to help assist you. 

YC’s Favorite Recipe to Cook

Korean perilla is a Korean herb, and a very meaningful plant to YC personally, so it’s their go-to plant. She uses it in two ways: one, as a kind of lettuce wrap and two, she pickles it!

It’s really wonderful as a pickle or as a kimchi. Kitazawa carries many of the perilla varieties, including Japanese shiso, a Vietnamese variety, and a Korean variety. They’re also very easy to grow in containers! 

To learn more about different Asian recipes, check out the Kitazawa Recipe Blog

Visit  Kitazawa Seed Company

*****

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast 

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

YC Miller works for Kitazawa Seed Company, which specializes in offering the highest quality Asian seeds to delight the diverse palates of their customers. They offer over 500 seed varieties that produce dento yasai or traditional heirloom vegetables of Japan, to the Asian vegetables popularly found in farmers’ markets, specialty grocery stores, and restaurants. Now you can grow them in your kitchen garden, sell them at your garden center and grow them commercially.

​​Follow Kitazawa Seed Company:

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Bonsai Care 101

Picture of Bonsai tree

Bonsai Care 101

Bonsai trees–if you’re a millennial, you probably remember them from The Karate Kid movies. Did you know it’s actually pronounced “bone-sigh”? Bonsai means “to plant in a container or a potted plant.”

This blog all about bonsai care is inspired by Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai.

Can Any Tree Be a Bonsai?

There are 3 characteristics to look for to help transform trees into the bonsai art we know and love:

  • Smaller leaves. You’re trying to create a large tree shrunk down into miniature form–so if you’re using a trunk with very large leaves, it looks quite out of proportion with the overall size of the plant.
  • Plants with bark on them. You should have to work with woody plants to achieve the true bonsai form. All of the conifers like juniper and pine are great for this!
  • Look for plants with apical dominance. Apical what?! Apical dominance means the bud at the tip of the stem stops the growth that occurs on the other buds along the stem. It does this to become the dominant stem and allow woody plants to grow taller–which is great for bonsai shaping!

Are Bonsai Grown Indoors or Outdoors?

You may be wondering, “can I grow a bonsai as a houseplant?” And the answer is yes–but with a few caveats.

You need to figure out if it’s a tropical or a temperate climate tree. Temperate climate trees have four seasons and need to go through their life cycles outdoors–think oaks and maples.

Tropical climate trees do not survive freezing temperatures and suffer in below 55 degrees F conditions, so these would be better options as indoor bonsai plants. Ficuses like the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and the Pot-Bellied Ficus (Ficus microcarpa) would both work great!

If you want an indoor bonsai, try sticking with the subtropical and tropical climate plants. And check out the Top 5 Bonsai Trees (Indoor and Outdoor Options) with Bjorn from Eisei-en Bonsai for more variety options!

How to Care for Bonsai Trees

Now that we know more about what to look for, let’s jump right into bonsai care. We’ll cover all the basics for soil, fertilizer, water, light, and pruning. Buckle up, ‘cause we’re on this road of planty learning for a while!

What Is the Right Soil for Bonsai?

Since your goal is total control over the growth of the bonsai, you have to use almost entirely inorganic components when you mix your soil together. To make your own, try getting your hands on these 3 basic components:

  1. Expanded Shale: great for aeration and drainage
  2. Calcined Clay: holds a lot of moisture, but also releases that moisture & fertilizer back to the plants easily
  3. Aged Forest Products: also good for aeration, drainage, and root growth.

The particle size is quite large at 3/16 inch to ensure as much drainage and aeration to the root system as possible. Don’t want to make your own soil mix? Check out our Organic Bonsai Mix.

By keeping the plants in a mostly inert soil mix, you can then decide how much fertilizer to give the tree and the type of growth that you’re going to get out of the plant.

Bonsai Potting Mix

How Do I Fertilize Bonsai? 

Fertilizer is the key to controlling your plant’s growth. To keep the soil from clogging up, Bjorn recommends distributing bonsai fertilizer by adding synthetic or organic fertilizer to a tea bag and slowly allowing the nutrients to leach into the soil. Every time you water your bonsai, water directly over your nutrient tea bag.

So how much fertilizer and what type of fertilizer should you apply? That all depends on the stage of tree development.

  • Young Trees: at this stage you want to thicken the trunk of the plant. Use a very high-nitrogen synthetic or inorganic fertilizer, which produces elongating, inner nodes and bigger leaves on your tree.
  • Older Trees: with older trees, you’re simply in maintenance mode. Here you’ll need fertilizer that has a much lower nitrogen value and well-rounded, equal amounts of nutrients.

Bonsai Fertilizers

How Do I Water Bonsai?

Since you’re using a rockier, more aerated soil, you’ll be watering more frequently than you would a regular potting mix.

A good general watering rule with bonsai plants: Bjorn suggests checking on them twice a day and water when the soil surface is slightly dry. Stick to the basic schedule of checking on your bonsai morning and evening, and all should be well in the bonsai world!

Bonsai Watering Guidelines

How Much Light Do Bonsai Need? 

In general, you want your bonsai plants to have as much light as possible. Bjorn says the more light you have, the smaller the leaf size and the softer the branch structure. In the long run it will be easier to maintain that tree’s shape.

If you plan to keep an outdoor bonsai, morning sun and afternoon shade is best during summer. Indoor bonsai plants will need supplemental light, especially during the fall and winter months. Generally speaking, 12-14 hours of direct light is best for bonsai growth.

Bonsai Light Guidelines

How to Prune Bonsai? 

You might have guessed that pruning is one of the most important factors in creating a bonsai tree. There are two main parts to pruning: roots and shoots. Let’s go over both.

What is the difference between Root Pruning and Shoot Pruning?

Root pruning should happen every 2-5 years in spring when you notice water is no longer penetrating the soil and simply pooling on the surface. Remove a lot of the old soil with a root rake or wooden chopstick. You will inevitably remove some roots through that process, but removing that old soil exposes the outer and underside of the root system. Make sure you don’t prune back more than 20-30% of the roots. Then simply replenish the space you’ve created with new potting mix. Since the mix is fresh, make sure to use your hands to pat the soil within the root system of the plant and give it a good watering to help settle the soil.

Shoot pruning is also done every 2-5 years in late spring or early summer after new growth has appeared. Your bonsai should have put out about 6-10 leaves–cut it back to two leaves with dormant buds. Essentially, you want to look for those little bitty nubs that are right at the base of the leaves. As long as you’re counting at least two, you can cut them back.

Think about pruning like you’re always trying to push the growth back and create desired directionality in one direction or another within the plant. Make sure to avoid pruning your roots and shoots in the same year–that would be far too much stress on your precious bonsai.

Bonsai Pruning Guidelines

Bonsai is a Wonderful Practice for Mindful Plant Parents!

Are you someone who likes to interact with your plants on a daily basis, control all the elements, and look towards the future? Then the bonsai is a perfect fit for you! Caring for a bonsai is one of the most engaging and interesting hobbies you can get into. It really shifts your perspective on instant gratification, which will definitely make you think differently about not only plants, but also life in general.

Ready, Set, Grow!

If you’re ready to grow your own bonsai, make sure to check out the Eisei-en Bonsai YouTube channel with Bjorn and find all the specific guidelines for each tree variety along with tons of other helpful information.

Where can one buy a bonsai tree? If you’re in Nashville, Tennessee, you absolutely have to get one of Bjorn’s bonsai plants at Eisei-En Bonsai Garden. Otherwise, check out Brussel’s Bonsai online for plants, tools, and pots!

 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helped people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai

Bjorn Bjorholm’s bonsai love started when he got a bonsai tree for his 13th birthday after watching all the Karate Kid movies. Even though his first bonsai croaked (hello plant parent initiation), Bjorn was hooked and founded the Knoxville Bonsai Society in high school with his father. After graduating from the University of Tennessee focusing on Japanese language and business, he moved to Japan and began a bonsai apprenticeship for 6 years under Master Keiichi Fujikawa at Kouka-en bonsai nursery in Osaka, Japan. His tenure as an apprentice at Kouka-en was followed by three years as artist-in-residence, making him the first foreign-born working bonsai professional in Japan. Bjorn now owns Eisei-en Bonsai in Nashville, TN, the premier bonsai garden, nursery and school of the Eastern US.

Follow Bjorn:

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References

  1. Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio
  2. How Woody Plants Grow: https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/garden-scoop/2020-12-12-how-woody-plants-grow
    1. Used to describe apical dominance
  3. Temperate Deciduous Forest: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/biome/biotemperate.php
    1. Used for temperate tree examples
  4. Ficus benjamina: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-benjamina/
    1. Used for info on Ficus benjamina
  5. Ficus microcarpa: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-microcarpa-ginseng/
    1. Used for info on Ficus microcarpa
  6. A Bonsai Close-Up on Indoor Tropical Bonsai: https://prairiestatebonsai.com/a-bonsai-close-up-on-indoor-tropical-bonsai/
    1. Used for indoor bonsai light requirements

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Rubber Plant Care and FAQs

Rubber Plant Care Guide

Rubber Plant Care and FAQs

Rubber plants (Ficus elastica) don’t get enough credit in the tropical plant world. These humble plants are usually available at the garden center and always affordable, but they tend to get overlooked by some of the “sexier Instagram-worthy plants.” They can be hardy, growing into 6 foot trees from a small 4-inch pot, and come in beautiful variegated varieties. Rubber plants are fantastic for many more reasons that we’re going to dive into.

This blog is inspired by Episode 148 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Raffaele Di Lallo, founder of Ohio Tropics

Let’s first look at different types of rubber plants! 

Types of Rubber Plants

The two types of rubber plants are non-variegated and variegated.

Non-Variegated Rubber Plants: 

Ficus elastica ‘Decora’: typical shiny, green leaves [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’: similar, but larger leaves  [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’: gorgeous, super dark, almost black leaves and stems [PHOTO]

Variegated Rubber Plants: 

Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’: different shades of green, yellow, and cream [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’: beautiful pink variegation [PHOTO]

Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’: leaves are a little bit narrower [PHOTO]

PART 1: How to Take Care of Rubber Plants

No matter the variety of rubber plant you have, the care is almost identical. The only minor difference is that variegated plants need more volume of light than non-variegated plants. 

Rubber plants come from the Moraceae family, which also contains figs and mulberries. But don’t be fooled: rubber plants are actually toxic. If you break off a branch or leaf, you’ll notice a white substance dripping out that’s quite toxic to humans and animals. This white latex-like liquid was originally used to create rubber, hence the name rubber plant. Make sure to wear gloves when handling or pruning the plant. 

An easy-to-follow care plan for rubber plants is 1) make sure it gets plenty of direct light and 2) don’t overwater. Let’s get into more details below!

Rubber Plants Most Important Tips

How to Water Rubber Plants

Rubber plants need to dry out sufficiently between waterings. Your finger is your best friend when it comes to determining moisture in your potting mix. Use your finger to determine how dry the potting mix has gotten. If you have a small four-inch pot, let the top 1/2 inch dry out before watering it again thoroughly. If you have a much bigger pot (around 15 inches), let at least the top quarter of the soil (2-3”) in your pot dry out before watering again. 

Always water your rubber plant thoroughly and always have a drainage hole in your pot. Don’t let your soil completely dry out, or you risk stressing out your plant’s roots. How to water rubber plant

How Much Light Do Rubber Plants Need? 

Oftentimes rubber plants are labeled as low light plants, but they really are low light tolerant. You can’t overdo light for your rubber plant indoors! As a general rule of thumb, put your rubber plant right in front of a window, preferably a window with some direct sun. 

An Eastern-facing window that gets morning sun is beautiful, or a Western-facing window that gets afternoon sun is great too. If you live in the Northern hemisphere and you have an unobstructed Southern window, those tend to get a ton of direct sun. Now, if you’re in the Southern hemisphere, North and South are reversed and you’ll have to adjust appropriately.

When it comes to water, the more light you have, the quicker your soil is going to dry out, because your plant will be growing more. So if you have plenty of sun, then you have to monitor your plant a lot more frequently, because it’s going to dry out quicker. How Much Light for Rubber Plant

What Type of Soil Do Rubber Plants Need? 

A well-draining, all-purpose potting mix will do wonders for your rubber plant. Check out Espoma’s Organic Potting Soil Mix to get you started; it’s often the best soil for indoor plants. Adding in perlite or orchid mix will provide that extra aeration to make sure your mix is well draining. To get a good balance between moisture retention and drainage, use three parts all-purpose potting mix and one part perlite. 

What Type of Soil for Rubber Plant

How to Fertilize Rubber Plants

You can use any all-purpose houseplant fertilizer for rubber plants. There are two options: liquid fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer you can add to your potting mix. 

If you don’t like liquid fertilizers, you can always use a slow-release plant food  that you add to your potting mix when you plant your rubber plant. Those fertilizers generally last up to 6 months. 

Now that you know all about rubber plant care, let’s get into some frequently asked questions! 

How to fertilize rubber plants

PART 2: Rubber Plant Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from Raffaele di Lallo

Why Is My Rubber Plant Not Growing? 

Your rubber plant needs more light! If your rubber plant is in a far corner from your window, it might be time to move it to brighter light. Remember, rubber plants thrive in bright, direct sunlight. 

How Do I Get My Rubber Plant to Branch and Be Bushier Instead of Taller? 

Don’t be afraid to prune! Just hack it off wherever you want (just not all the way down to the soil) and chop off a good portion of it. Pruning your rubber plant forces new branches to form, resulting in a bushier rubber plant. 

You can also try air layering, which is propagating from stems still attached to the plant. Take a sharp knife and make a diagonal cut about halfway into your rubber plant trunk. Then add some sphagnum moss in the cut and wrap the entire branch with moss. Put plastic wrap around it and tie it on both ends. Over the course of a few months, it’s going to send out roots from where you cut it, which you should be able to see through the plastic wrap. Then you simply cut the stem right under your air layering and replant it. 

What Are the Best Ways to Propagate a Rubber Plant?

The first way to propagate a rubber plant is air layering, described above. This works especially well if you have woody branches already formed. Air layering takes a few months to achieve new root growth. 

The second propagation method is making individual node cuttings. Find the spot where the leaf meets the branch and cut it off on each side, leaving half an inch on either side. You’re basically left with a leaf and then part of the stem, where the node is. At that point, you can either stick the stem in water or soil to grow roots. 

Be aware that if you try propagating your rubber plant in winter, you might have a lower success rate and it will be substantially slower compared to trying it in spring or summer when the plant is actively growing

Why Are New Leaves on My Rubber Plants Smaller Than the Older Ones?

Number one, our conditions at home are nothing like ideal conditions in the greenhouses that these plants were grown in. That in and of itself could be a cause. 

Poor, inconsistent conditions could be your second culprit. Poor lighting and letting your plant dry out too much as its developing new leaves can also affect the leaf size.

Why is My Rubber Plant Dropping Leaves? 

Rubber plants don’t like to be moved, first and foremost. And if you bring your plant home and shove it in a dark hole, you will get leaves dropping off. Your plant is not going to be able to support all the leaves it had when it was growing in good conditions.

If your plant is horribly root bound, it’s going to be very hard to keep up with the watering required to keep the roots hydrated. This could also be contributing to dropping leaves. At that point, you really need to re-pot it in a bigger pot. 

My Rubber Plant Looks Healthy, But the Branches Are All Over the Place. Why Is This Happening?

Indoors, we don’t have the benefit of wind that strengthens plants outside. Because of this, our indoor plants may need a little help compensating. It’s totally okay to tie up your plant. Rafaelle uses a bamboo stake that he inserted right through the root ball, gently tying the branches that were getting unruly. 

Why Are the Edges of My Variegated Rubber Plant Browning? 

You might not be watering your rubber plant properly. Avoid letting your soil dry out completely or letting your rubber plant soak in water for too long. Once you get the watering right, make sure your rubber plant is supplemented with enough light! 

What Are the Tiny White Spots on My Rubber Plant? 

Those tiny white spots are called lithocysts and pose no harm to your rubber plant. They are cells that contain calcium carbonate. 

Which Rubber Plant Should I Get?

Now that you know how to care for rubber plants and troubleshoot any issues, let’s figure out which rubber plant is right for you! 

If you’re getting your first rubber plant and have never grown one before, Raffaele recommends sticking with a non-variegated plant, since they’re going to be a little bit easier to care for. ‘Robusta’ is a great beginner rubber plant. And if you really love variegated plants, try the ‘Tineke’ or the ‘Ruby’ cultivars. 

Want to learn more about rubber plants and houseplants? Make sure to check out Raffaele’s blog and brand new book, Houseplant Warrior coming out soon! 

 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helped people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Engineer and plant parent for more than thirty years, Raffaele Di Lallo knows that the world of houseplants can be full of confusing myths and conflicting care advice. Raffaele started his blog Ohio Tropics focused on gardening with a tropical flare in cold weather climates. It quickly became a blog all about houseplant care. Five years later and he’s still writing about all things houseplants! 

His new book Houseplant Warrior: 7 Keys to Unlocking the Mysteries of Houseplant Care demystifies every aspect of plant parenting and is set to release on March 15, 2022. Houseplant Warrior is particularly relevant for the beginner or any houseplant aficionado struggling with their houseplants. Raffaele teaches a holistic approach to houseplant care and understanding how all of the conditions work together.

​​Follow Raffaele: 

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