Crotons are valued for their colorful foliage and are available in pot sizes from 4 inches up. These are not long-lived plants and cold temperatures will result in sudden leaf drop.
Scheffleras are fast growing tropical plants and may need frequent repotting. It’s not uncommon for them to get too large, so something to keep in mind. Variegated varieties (with white or cream in the foliage) are slower growers.
Tropical Hibiscus are hard to pass up when in flower. However, the need plenty of light and warm temperatures and can have a number of insect issues. These, too, can be fast growers, but unlike the Schefflera, the Hibiscus can easily be pruned and managed. ANDREW MESSINGER
Selloum philodendrons make good low-to-moderate-light houseplants, but vine types should be trained on a stake. Most vine plants want to climb. Easily managed with pruning, there are several varieties. No real serious insect or disease issues. ANDREW MESSINGER
Among the Dracaenas, the marginata types make great houseplants. The species has green foliage with reddish margins in good light. Others, like this variety, can be green and white, while the Tricolor is cream, red and white and slower growing. When they get too tall they can be “topped,” resulting in branching stems. ANDREW MESSINGER
Among the Ficus, the decora varieties make good, low-maintenance houseplants. Some varieties have dark to almost black foliage while others can have hints of red, green and white. Fast growing but easily pruned to maintain size and shape. ANDREW MESSINGER
Want to grow your own lemons? The Meyer lemon is the most popular and is available in small to large plants. Lemons need bright light and will only flower (and fruit) when the night time temperatures are 10 degrees cooler than daytime temps. Great plants for conservatories, sun rooms and brightly lit windows. ANDREW MESSINGER
Palms were the classic houseplants of the 19th and 20th centuries. In most cases, they should be considered temporary or disposable, as they are prone to a number of insects and diseases. ANDREW MESSINGER
Once considered a plant for only accomplished gardeners, orchids are now so inexpensive that they are nearly disposable. Getting them to rebloom is the challenge, but when they do, there’s an incredible sense of accomplishment. Some are very easy, others, much harder. Flowers often last for weeks to months. ANDREW MESSINGER
Small and inexpensive houseplants are the perfect way to start a collection and learn about the plants with little expense. Many are available in 4-inch pots (like these) and make great starters. ANDREW MESSINGER
Cacti and succulents are slow growing, need plenty of light and can be quite fascinating when they flower. Great for children since they require little care but be sure to teach that the spines, even the tiniest, can be dangerous. ANDREW MESSINGER
Even though the hours, days, weeks and months seem to be blending together, it’s not the fact in the nonhuman world. Our lives have been changed, but the clock keeps ticking. The seasons continue to change, and we need to keep that in mind when it comes to our gardens, landscapes and plants. You may lose track. Mother Nature doesn’t.
With this in mind, I thought I’d remind you that your houseplants, both the ones indoors and out, need your attention. Now! The ones indoors need to be cleaned up and carefully examined, while the ones we have outdoors need to be even more carefully cleaned up, examined and brought back indoors. Many are sensitive to the seasonal temperature and light changes, and while you may want to keep them outdoors longer, this is really the time to think about bringing them in.
So, let’s start with the ones you already have indoors that never went out. They need general cleaning up and to be carefully looked at for signs of insects. At the very least, they should be brought outdoors on a nice day and given a shower. Use your hose with a fine mist or spray. Starting from the top, simply spray the foliage — top and bottom — to wash off dust and grime. Look carefully at the leaves and stems. If you have a 10x loupe, use this as part of your investigation. Look for aphids, two-spotted spider mites, scale and mealybugs. Also look at the soil to see if you’ve got fungus gnats. These will look like small fruit flies that hover around the soil surface.
What you find will determine what course of action you might take. If you purchased clean plants, chances are they have remained clean, but finding an insect problem in the dead of winter results in a problem that can be nearly impossible to control. Finding unwanted visitors in September gives you at least the chance to take some corrective action in the form of soaps and oils that can be very effective controls. Even the water you spray on your plants can control spider mites for several days, but if you want complete control, it takes longer and persistence.
Aphids can be knocked off the plants with water sprays, but a single spray of insecticidal soap or oil will also knock them out. They are most likely found on flowering plants like begonias, tropical hibiscus and fruits like the Meyer lemon. Scale insects, which include mealybugs, are much more difficult to control and this can take weeks to months. In some cases you may decide it’s not worth the effort, in which case don’t bring the plant back into the house. If you do decide to meet the challenge, you need to get as much done now, before the plants are brought in. In most cases, you will need to use a horticultural oil. However, some plants are sensitive to these oils, so read the label first.
It’s not a time for repotting unless absolutely necessary. If you do any pruning, don’t expect a fast recovery as most of these plants are going into their period of slow growth and recovery. Feeding your houseplants should also be reduced over the next several weeks as the plants will be growing more slowly and in need of less nutrients.
The routine for houseplants that you’ve had outdoors on a patio or deck are the same, but on these plants there’s a better likelihood of insect visitors. In these cases, though, the scale insects (which don’t fly but crawl at the speed of slugs or slower) are less of an issue unless the plants have been in physical contact with another plant that has these issues.
We’re also inspecting for insects in the soil like beetles that only come out and feed at night, aphids and spider mites. Same procedures as on the indoor plants in terms of inspection and controls with the exception that you want to pop the plant out of the pot (if possible) and examine the soil for beetles and other bugs as well as snails and slugs. Inspect the bottom of the pot for slugs as well. For spider mites, spray the plants two or three times a few days apart (top and bottom) and by early October try to get them back indoors. Here too, not the time for lots of pruning or repotting.
And if you don’t have enough plants in the house, it’s the perfect time to go out and shop for some. Nurseries and garden centers are trying to clear out their inventories. If you want to buy something a bit more exotic, greenhouses like Logee’s can ship you plants in a day or two, and the weather is perfect for shipping at this time of the year.
Before you go on a shopping spree, consider where the plants will go, what size is appropriate for the spot and what the lighting is like. You can spend three bucks on a small plant that will fill the space over time or hundreds of bucks for a Meyer lemon tree full of fruit and blooms. In this case, smaller is always better. Let the plant fill the space instead of trying to find a plant that’s right for a space — when possible.
Know which plants are long lived (like jade plants) and which can be maintained pretty easily. On the other end, there are Dieffenbachias and Dracaenas, which can fill a space pretty quickly and then become a problem. Sheffleras may look great but they make awful houseplants. However, there are dwarf and compact varieties of many of these plants, so the onus is on you to do your homework or, at the very least, ask for help and read the label.
Don’t forget the kids. They should have their plants as well and the responsibilities that go along with caring for a living thing. Teach them the basics: temperature, humidity, light and water. All in moderation. It’s a teaching moment or moments that will stick with them forever. And you as well. Younger kids are always fascinated by Venus fly traps (though they can be challenging) and Aloe vera is fast growing for full sun and has lots of lessons. Cacti can also be inexpensive but stress the dangers from the spines even if they are tiny. Keep growing.
Monitor now for Japanese beetle grubs in your lawn. Do this by digging 1-square-foot sections of sod about 4 inches deep and inspect the soil for “c” shaped grubs with dark heads. Fewer than 4 to 8 per square foot is OK. More than that and you need to think about control. If you find high grub populations, talk with your landscaper or garden center staff. Groups of crows or other birds pecking at the lawn are usually a good indication of a potential grub problem. Look and see. More on monitoring grubs here: northeastipm.org/schools/pests/white-grubs.
Don’t leave dropped fruit or vegetables on the ground. They attract rodents as well as yellow jackets and these wasps are not to be encouraged. If you are using an organic fertilizer for your lawn, now is the time to make your last application for 2020.
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