Why you should visit a Botanical Garden.

Although somewhat unrelated to my subject of pets + plants, this is something that needs to be said. If you love plants – collect them, tend to them, obsessed with them, you need to visit a botanical garden. Many of the plants in your house and garden center are smaller versions of giant plants from different places all over the world, many reaching multiple feet in height.

Monstera : Leaf & Paw
I was in awe of this GIANT Godzilla size Monstera.

There are also a billion varieties of houseplants, like certain orchids, that are unfit for homes, but thrive in conservatories. The only way you would be able to experience exotic and rare plants like these is in a botanical garden.

Insanely impressive orchid.* Note: not official genus.

While in Massachusetts, I specifically sought out the Smith College Conservatory in South Hampton. The air was humid and warm, and had a calming scent of earth and dew.

Botanic Garden : Leaf & Paw
Let’s go!

In all, it contained several rooms which housed plants of specific origin and habitat. Like a goofy tourist, I wandered room to room, camera in hand, more excited than a toddler on Christmas morning.

Succulents
The Succulent House, also known as Phi Delta.

Being in New York, I don’t see many cacti, actually none, in a backyard. I have a few in my house, but our winters can be brutal. Yeah, we have lush green plants here, but I love a good rustic cactus, or better, lots of little friends.

Cacti - Leaf and Paw
Cactus Army or Cactus Party?

They were all grouped like this, like a tiny cactus army. It became more landscapey in the middle, with these larger cacti like this weird fellow. He definitely makes the artsy-plant-of-the-year list.

He’s neat.

As an individual who loves orchids, despite their hatred for me, I was in paradise. Plus, I didn’t need to take care of them, only to watch them never bloom for me again out of spite.

These tiny orchids smelled amazing!

This one even smiled at me. Or is that a wink? I don’t know.

Orchid: Leaf and Paw
I see a closed-eye smile with two big ears on either side. A happy orchid, nonetheless.

Speaking of spite, I posted on Instagram a few weeks ago about THIS:

Sigh.

I know from the many comments I received that I am not the only one who struggles with ferns. Especially maidenhair ferns, these picky little devils will succumb to the darkness no matter how much love I give. Here is one in the conservatory, on a bloody door, just growing rampant, with no care or help.

Whatever.

Can I just say that visiting this botanical garden also prompted me to save all  my chore money up and buy my own greenhouse. This year. I must, I just must. Look at those wiinnnnddoowws.

Arched windows bring me weak at the knees.

The highlight? The monstera. It’s obvious how much I love my Monstera, Monty, and I lost it when I saw this mama version. I posed, too, like a huge dork.

Monstera: Leaf and Paw.
People were staring at me like I was some kind of weirdo. Doesn’t everyone pose with giant leaves? If not, they should.

The only thing that would have made this experience better? Cats. Can someone open a cat/plant garden? Never mind, I will.

This leaf was bigger than my head.

My favorite part? Well, the monstera, yes, but it was actually the guessing game. All of my houseplant knowledge was put to the test. I learned so much more too, especially about different varieties, and how owning a green house is now a must. Did I mention I want a greenhouse?

Staghorn Fern: Leaf and Paw
Massive Staghorn Fern, mounted.

Unless you have ample funds to travel to Africa and Asia frequently, a botanical garden is really eye-opening. Considering most of the houseplants you and I own are from either of those countries, it was really cool to see them actual size. The conditions were perfect in the greenhouses, obviously, but dear lord, it was a sauna. I don’t recommend keeping a house 95 degrees and at 110% humidity to make your Monstera happy, unless you’d be happy at that ungodly temperature, too.

Botanical Garden : Leaf and Paw
Dorky photo number onebillion.

I did make some changes, though. When I got home I moved everyone around, focusing on what plants need more light, or humidity. I noticed Monty pushed out more leaves after seeing more sun, and my peperomias looked extra variegated after moving them into a shadier area. This is why I encourage every plant lover to find their nearest, or farthest, botanical garden and just spend the day. It’s amazing how much I info I absorbed and how much I actually knew about the plants I have.

Botanical Garden : Leaf and Paw

Personally, I can’t wait to go to another….any recommendations?

 

 

New Beginnings: Spring Plant Rituals

I’ve been waiting all month to do this post. Urban Jungle Bloggers’ topic for today only, April 27th, is “New Beginnings” and it couldn’t be anymore relevant to my life right now, in all forms.

I’m starting a new job, each plant is coming back to life post-winter, and I’m finally making progress on my Leaf and Paw book, which is set to come out this summer. All that aside, the most exciting part about all this, are my plants finally beginning to grow again.

Jade Plant : Leaf and Paw

Here in NY, as I’ve mentioned before, we have weird winters. Sometimes harsh, sometimes mild, either way it’s always a roller coaster and we still get one last hurrah snowstorm in April. For my plants that make it, which almost all do, it is always this last week of April I see their transformation. The tulips outside come up and my indoor plants sprout leaves in a day. Just this week my Jade (who snapped a few weeks ago) pushed out a tiny bitty leaf that was just too cute. My ferns are always fussy, but my little maidenhair fern (below) really suffered this winter. After I cut her back a couple weeks ago she’s releasing little branches one by one.

Given the topic of new beginnings, I wanted to share the indoor plant rituals I do to acclimate my plants into spring. I think it’s important for everyone to have a set of tasks for their plants to keep them happiest. And, because I’ve also began to propagate like a boss, I was urged to share my experience with dividing my monstrous Monstera, Monty.

The full Monty, in his glory.

My Rituals.

Preparation: As plants’ new beginnings take place, every spring I assemble my  basket that I keep my basic tools in. It includes one or more trimmers, isopropyl alcohol for bug removal, my spray bottle, and leaf shine. This is my go-to basket that houses everything I need to keep my plants healthy. Also on hand is my gallon jug of fertilizer (the jug is unsightly and unphotogenic) and favorite IKEA watering can.

Everyday: Once a day I greet my plant friends, open the curtains for light or place a select few outside on my enclosed porch. Spring weather can be unpredictable, so I only place them outside if it’s warm for most of the day.  I discovered Rudy, my rubber tree, loves Vivaldi and grew a great deal the first time he heard him. So, in the morning, I usually play Vivaldi while making breakfast. Rudy prefers the Four Season, and I do too. Plants also fancy jazz, especially Miles Davis. I can no longer play AC/DC in the morning, for reasons I will share another time.

Once a Week: Weekly, I check for bugs, more on that here, and give everyone a water. In my house everyone gets a similar amount of sun, so watering typically amounts to once a week. My Fitttonia and other thirsty plants may get an extra drink during the week if there’s wilting going on. It’s also important to aerate the soil so drainage can be better achieved. I was introduced to this idea from Houseplantjournal, who is an mild Instagram Celebrity and Plant Caretaker in neighboring Canada.

New leaf of my Staghorn Fern!

Once a month: Since I have a lot of large plants, their leaves inevitably get dusty. I used water for a few years but actually prefer a designated “leaf shine” formula since it works better with a cotton cloth. My rubber tree collection get especially dusty in winter and monthly cleaning helps prevent cat sneezes.         Every month in spring, I also check pots. Because there is new growth happening, pots that may have fit last spring can be a tight fit. The best ways to know if a pot is too small: aerials roots break from the bottom of the pot, there is constant stunted growth, or the plant is just blatantly breaking it’s planter.  Every 6 months to a year, I typically replant.

Even smaller plant need their leaves cleaned so they can better absorb sun to make new leaves!

Spring Propagation

As I mentioned above, I am super excited to be propagating! I briefly talked about it in this post, and after a few tries I’m getting the hang of it. Monty was my first challenge. Since I love monsteras and was terrified of killing him I read as much as I could about division.

A few people have asked my method of propagating a monstera, so this is what I did. He had some insane growth, resulting in Monty being completely round therefor impossible to position in my house. With my eyes closed (not really) I completely cut a chunk off so he can be against a wall. The trick is to cut a stem only with an aerial root protruding, like this:

I usually like to have the stem harden over a bit, so I left the cutting for a day and then placed it in water. Ta da!

Monstera, propagated.

I’ve been using a similar method propagating my Wandering Jew cuttings. I now have a variegated green, solid green, and purple. Below is my family in water, growing roots, almost ready to be planted.

 

And this is my Monty cutting, just planted today. Wish me luck and hooray for spring and new beginnings!

Supporter of 

Pests: What to Look for on Indoor Plants

Leaf&Paw.com

It’s time! Finally, the weather is warm and you can open your windows after a long, cold winter. However, winter is harsh on indoor plants, and usually leaves them with pests problems. I’ve listed the typical pests I look for on my plants, complete with photos of my once infected friends. My plants are just as excited about spring as I am, and they deserve a makeover before their favorite time of year.

Monstera Deliciosa sun damage.
Some damage may be caused by winter conditions, like dry heat.

In New York, winter can be horrible, but I’ve embraced it after my indoor plant collection has grown. It gives me a time to get in touch with them, check for pests, learn their watering patterns and sunlight tolerance, and how they like their coffee. Come summer, they spend most of their time on my enclosed porch or outdoors. My house becomes empty and a bit pale without the jungles in every room. To be honest I love having everyone in my house, but know they are much happier in a humid porch. On the plus side, my house  suddenly becomes much bigger.

Plants on porch
Everybody outside for the spring.

Pest problems are common in winter though; harsh heat, dry conditions, and cold drafts do a number on them. I usually loose one or two every year just because I live in an historic house with irregular heating spots. Keeping plants alive all winter is hard. My hedgehogs need a warm temperature, so most of my rooms are a toasty 69-71 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it dry for indoor plants that love humidity. And that’s like, all plants.

Cats and plants sunbathing.
Cats and plants sunbathing. Typical all day affair.

Speaking of temperature, it gives pests a breeding ground. All winter and, especially once the weather warms, I check for bugs. I search undersides of leaves, stems, tops of the soil and all crevices. They’re are sneaky little bastards and can be anywhere. ANYWHERE. So bring out your best Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass and go bug hunting.

What you see: Tiny white fluffy things on stems and leaves.

The Pest: Mealybugs

Mealybug pests
Mealybugs on my Jade.

These are mealybugs and the most common indoor plants problem. They offer nothing to the world and only suck plants dry of energy leaving them to slowly die a horrible death. They are small and fluffy, usually surrounded by some kind of webbing and are a bloody mess if you squish them. That being said, destroy them upon first sight. They’re most commonly under leaves and along the stems. If there are only a few (and look at the WHOLE plant), take a cotton swab/ball drenched with rubbing alcohol and place over bugs. This will suffocate them. Either wipe them off or remove with tweezers until all visible bugs are gone. If there is any white fluff  embedded in leaves, dredge the section in alcohol as well. Place plant in quarantine until there’s no sign of the devil creatures.

Mealybug pests on Bird of Paradise
Mealybugs on Percy my Bird of Paradise.

If it looks more like a house party of mealybugs, use your best judgment. Try the alcohol method as many times as you need, but if there’s a lot of bugs you will need to go to your nearest garden center for their best systemic pest removal. A systemic is a pesticide that gets absorbed into the roots and stem and continues to work even after the initial applications. This will have to be applied outside, and always follow pesticide directions thoroughly.

Mealybug pests on Bird of Paradise
More on Percy, he didn’t have a good winter.

What you see: Brown or white flecks on leaves

The Pest: Scale

Scale pest damage on Staghorn fern.
You can see the light green spots where the scale was. Also, a fern hand!

I’ve never had a problem with scale until I blindly purchased a Staghorn fern from a garden center. He was covered in little white and brown specs, which I didn’t notice until I got home. It wasn’t mealy bugs, but scale pests, and they were slowly sucking life out of my new plant. My fern above shows where each scale bug was, you can actually see the chlorophyll depleted. So, so sad. I actually used a combination of dish soap and water to get rid of them, about 2 Tbsp per gallon of water. I submerged the top of the plant and left it for a few minutes. Anything left on the plant I handpicked off slowly, and, hours later, he was good as new. Ferny is on the mend, but the scale scars are still around. Lesson learned-  always, always check plants for bugs before buying.

White Scale on Staghorn Fern
Bit of white scale on my fern.

What you see: Tiny gnats flying around the soil

The Pest: Fungus Gnats

While the name “fungus gnats” is enough to make be barf, these are the worst pests of the bunch because they are incredibly annoying. The don’t just buzz around plants, but food, pets, people, your mouth, eyes, computer screen, sugary drinks, coffee, dear lord make it stop! So I did and here’s how.

Fungus gnat pests
DEAD fungus gnats. The best kind.

This took some digging. Literally. They live in the soil of houseplants so you can’t actually see them. The larvae feeds on fungi in soil, plant roots, or starter plants and seedlings. These then grow into the monsters you see flying around your head at night. Soggy wet plants are their favorite, so check your soggy plants without drainage holes first. Sometimes gnats leave a slimy trail on the top of the soil, but that’s not always visible. You really have to dig.

Fungus gnats
Getting rid of fungus gnats using sticky traps.

The first step, once you find the infected plant, is drying it out. The gnats can’t survive without sign fugusy water, so by drying the plant out you are killing the larvae. Next drain any extra water that is left after watering your plant (this includes water in saucers). Step two is to put the plant outside or in another location until the gnats have died down. If that isn’t an option (maybe it’s winter outside), secure some fly paper all around the top of the soil. Monitor how many get stuck everyday then rejoice when the paper is clean. If you want to go the extra mile, clean up any debris or dead leaves or roots around the plant.

Moisture meter!
I love my moisture meter for detecting water levels in big plants. This guy is a rescue on the mend, he suffered from severe under watering and mealybugs.

There are other pests of course I haven’t mentioned, but these three are the top offenders. Keep in mind that if a pet-friendly plant is infected, don’t use chemicals (such as insecticides) on them. If the plant is then ingested by a cat or dog, they can cause serious stomach issues. After all, chemicals are poison, even “organic” ones. The most natural approaches for pest removal I have listed above, using isopropyl alcohol, dish soap, and fly traps pose no threats to pets. Always be mindful of furry friends when destroying pest enemies. I hope this helps and happy spring!