Since our job is about collecting new plants, quite often we end up with a few plants
which we don’t know anything about, not even their names, and we have to learn how to grow them.
The first step is always to ask a few questions on where the plant came from:
How much light was the plant receiving?
Was the plant being regularly watered?
Was the plant being exposed to the cold?
Did the plant ever flower?, etc…
Of course, always ask for the botanical name of the plant, which will make a lot easy for you to find lots of information about the growing conditions in books, on the Internet, etc…But, let’s assume that we don’t know anything about
Always try bright shade first, maybe a little sun in the morning or late in the afternoon, but never the hot full sun.
Plants do adapt to grow on several levels of light and most of the plants will grow under those conditions. Observe your plant for a few weeks and then you may be able to alter the amount of light, but always do it little by little. In most cases the change of light level will be toward more light to eventually full sun.
If your plant is producing nice sized leaves, with good color and producing flowers, you have already probably found a good spot.
If the leaves are getting larger and the plant seems to be stretching, you probably should increase the amount of light a bit. Also if the light level is not enough, the plant will produce few flowers or will not bloom at all.
If the leaf color looks a little bleached out and you start to find tan blotches on the leaves, you have probably given it too much sun.
By the way, always avoid placing a small potted plant in direct contact with the ground (dirt) which may bring diseases that will kill a small plant in little time. Always place them on benches, on top of a empty pot facing upside down, or a concrete block.
Most of the plants will tell us when they are thirsty. Many soft stem plants will wilt for lack of water and the wilting will start on the new growth. In others, the green color of the leaves will fade a little bit, and in some succulents the leaves and stems will show some wrinkles.
First, water your plant very well and them watch for those signs above, so you can get an idea of the water frequency needed for your plant. Of course you can always probe the soil with your finger to find out if it is dry, but a dry soil doesn’t always means that the plant needs more water. It is very important for you to never let a plant dry out too much and also avoid watering more than
Keep in mind: Normally plants that are growing fast need more water than plants that grow slow.
Plants in clay pots dry out much faster than plants in plastic pots.
Always make sure that your pots have a drainage hole.
Rain water is the best water that you can use.
Keep things proportionate. Big pots with small plants will hold too much water.
Dormant plants need very little water or no water at all.
Probably the most important thing about a general purpose soil is good drainage.
Components and percentages differs a lot but any good soil should contain at least a good amount of organic matter (compost, peat moss) and coarse sand or perlite.
For most of our plants, up to 8” containers, we use a mixture of Canadian peat moss, airlite (similar to perlite) and vermiculite. For plants on containers ”or larger we add compost bark and sand.
Most of the plants growing in pots will need to be fertilized in order to grow properly. Liquid fertilizer with a balanced formula such (20-20-20) are great but they have to be applied on regular basis (according to their label) to work well, sometimes every 2 weeks.
If you are like me and have a tendency of occasionally forgetting to fertilize some of your plants, then you should go for the slow release fertilizers like (14-14-14) which can last much longer than the liquid ones, on average about 3 months.
Always follow the labels of the fertilizer that you are
Keep in mind:
A lot of fertilizer doesn’t make the plants grow faster, on the contrary, too much
fertilizer can burn the roots and kill a plant.
It is a lot better to use less fertilizer and use it more often than to use more fertilizer and do it seldom.
Plants that are growing quickly need more fertilizer than the ones that grow slowly.
Don’t fertilize plants that are dormant.
This is the only condition that is hard to control. You can grow a tropical plant in cold climates provide that you give them enough warmth and light, but to grow a plant from cold places in a tropical area is much more difficult.
If you don’t know how much cold your plant will handle try to keep the minimum temperature above 55° F and on the opposite side don’t let the temperature get much higher than 80° F. Most plants will survive well within
There is so much to talk about insects that I could fill several pages with the blink of an eye, but that is not our intention here. There are several books and publications that specialize in this issue and that will go a lot deeper into it.
I just want to keep this simple, efficient and maybe show you another way to look at the issue.
Once I saw an old man eating a fruit with some worm holes on it, and I told him that he was probably eating some worms too. He replied saying: “If this fruit is good enough for the worms, than it must be good enough for me too”. Unusual, but wise. Indeed today I believe that a few insects here and there are actually signs of nature’s balance and good health.
For instance, we have a Solanum tree about 12’ in our nursery that is always being attacked by worms and a few mealy bugs at the end of the summer which coincide with a brief partial dormancy of the tree. By the beginning of fall, after a nice trimming the tree starts to re-sprout and flower again free of insects and will go clean like that until the end of next summer, without the use of any pesticides.
What we have to be concerned about is with heavy infestations that can either kill or do extensive damage to a plant that will take too long to recuperate.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Never panic when you see a few insects on your plants. A little damage may be acceptable, just monitor the plants affected closely.
2. It is always good to try to identify the insect if is possible.There is many good bugs that will go after the bad ones; learn to identify them.
3. A lot of insects can attack and damage your plants, sometimes for just a short period of time, but few can really kill a plant.
4. Some plants are really prone to insects. We already gave up growing many nice plants just because the insects wouldn’t leave the plant alone. Good plant selection is important.
5. Many insects can be picked by hand or rubbed of with a wet swab specially if you have only a few plants. Many insects come out at night (snail, cutworms, etc.)so it’s easier for you to find them at that time.
6. Try a few predatory insects. They may be more expensive than chemicals and not work as fast, but they have several good advantages:
- They provide good control.
- They are not toxic.
- Most chemicals insecticides act by contact, what I mean is, you have to hit the bad guy with the insecticide for the chemical to work. Unfortunately many bad insects know to hide very well under the leaves and in other inaccessible small places. The predatory insects will go after them and sometimes will move to other plants that you thought to be clean.
- They are fun to watch.
7. If you decide to spray, use the mild chemicals. Soaps and oils work very well against many types of insects (They will kill the good insects too). As well Bacillus thuringiensis works well for many types of worms ( caterpillars ).
Similar to insect control but harder to identify. For
- Select disease resistant varieties.
- Keep areas clean of debris and dead leaves.
- Try to keep the leaves dry, specially at night. (Water in the morning)
- Good air movement in between plants reduces the occurrence of diseases. Don’t jam your
- Avoid placing small plants in direct contact with the ground. Use benches or even an
- Separate a sick plant
- Clean and disinfect your
- Use soils with good drainage and don’t over water your plants.
THE FINAL STEP:
Of course the final step will be to identify your plant properly and learn the specifics
requirements for that particular species. One of the easy ways to identify a plant will be to take a flower, leaf or even a picture to a local garden center and ask for help. Garden clubs and botanical gardens are very good places as well. Of course we can also try the books, specially