Frequently Asked Questions 2021

Tony Fulmer

Chief Horticulture Officer

January

With our short daylength and the fact that many days are virtually sunless, what houseplants are a good bet in my low-light north and east-facing windows?

Check out any of the many varieties of:

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) – Great for the interesting variations in foliage color tones, can be used in smaller pot sizes as a table plant, mature sizes are tall enough to work nicely as floor specimens. 

Philodendron - Everything in fashion and design ebbs and flows, and Philodendron in all their diverse forms are “in” again- big time. That’s because you can place them in your very darkest rooms, water when you think of them, and they’ll flourish. 

Snake plant / Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria) – For those that remember the one Grandma had, you may be familiar with the mottled green one or the green with the gold edges, it’s time for a trip to Chalet to see what’s new. The diversity of forms and leaf shapes is too cool. This is the plant for people that claim a “black thumb” or to get kids interested in having plants in their rooms. Think of them as camels (the plants, not the kids) and water them when you think of it. Drier is better than wetter. If a plant is needed for your darkest room Snake plants are a great choice. 

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) – An abundance of pretty dark green leaves shaped a bit like sails, and with time comes the bonus of white flowers that last and last. Best when watered as soon as the soil feels dry to the touch. And the four genera above aren’t just pretty faces. All these beauties have a great rep for capturing indoor toxins!

 

I’ve never had paperwhite Narcissus before and really enjoyed them. You could practically see them grow and before you know it they were flowering. Can you re-bloom them like you can Amaryllis?

No, forcing them to flower in stones and water is very taxing, depleting all the bulbs’ stored food reserves. So, it’s not an endeavor that’s worth undertaking- doesn’t work!

 

Having taken many classes from your Learning Center I’m feeling much more confident about my basic plant knowledge. My neighbor, on the other hand, bought a plant from the grocery store two weeks ago which appear to be crawling with mealybugs. He thinks I’m a horticulturist so I want to steer him in the right direction.

The first action is to always isolate an “infested” plant. That means solitary confinement in a room with no other plants. Then he should assess the value he places on the plant, as a mealybug infestation is going to be an ongoing campaign and not a one treatment, slam-dunk control. If he decides to launch the battle he should consider starting with the Systemic Insecticide granules that are applied directly to the soil. They are watered in, go into the soil solution and are translocated through the roots into the leaf and stem tissue. The insects take up the insecticide when feeding on plant juices and “Ba-boom”, they’re gone.
Another way to supplement control would be the use of topical sprays including earth-friendly insecticidal soaps. NOTE: Insecticidal soap must directly contact the pest to affect control, and has no residual after it dries.

 

Leave it to Chalet to have cool orchids I haven’t seen anywhere else. Those Paphiopedilums you have in “Indoor Plants” are amazing, but I’d love the care basics so I succeed with the two I bought.

The “Paphs”, or Lady’s-slipper orchids are, indeed, kind of other-worldly with their pouched flowers and unique colors. Here are tips for success with them: 

* Temps: Green-leaved types are perfectly happy with nights as low as the 50s, with a day-time range from 70-80°F. They tolerate lower humidity than the Phalaenopsis orchids.

* Light: Will tolerate the same or even lower light than the Phals, making them very low light-tolerant. Forgiving.

* Moisture: When in active growth keep surface lightly moist. If plant is resting and dormant, let bark surface dry between watering.

* Fertilization: These are not heavy feeders. Water 1-2 times a month with a very dilute water soluble orchid fertilizer.

* Repot only when: The bark has decomposed to the point where chunks aren’t recognizable, the plant is clearly bursting in its pot, or if you wish to divide the plant. Paphs are easy, they’re fun, and usually garner lots of compliments because many people have never seen them before.

 

Winter or not, I’ve got the bug to be gardening. Is it too early to start seeds?

Microgreens or sprouts aside, unless you’ve a great indoor light set-up or a greenhouse, it’s too early to start most things that you’re wanting to put out in the spring garden. Starting seeds too early in insufficient light yields tall, weak, lanky seedlings. You can, however, plan your garden and do your seed shopping as the seed racks start arriving early to mid-January.

 

I usually toss my Amaryllis after it finishes bloom, but it was so pretty this year I’m considering saving it to re-bloom next year. Is that difficult / tedious?

That depends upon your definition of difficult. Deadhead by cutting the “finished” flower spike down to the neck of the bulb to prevent energy being wasted on seed production. Then start fertilizing with a high phosphorous (the middle number in a fertilizer analysis, ex: 10-15-10) fertilizer on a regular basis (say, every 2 weeks). This fertilization is crucial as it takes a tremendous amount of stored food to re-build the depleted bulb. Keep the leaves growing in the pot as an indoor houseplant or sink the pot in the ground in a semi-shaded area of the garden (generally, full sun all day can scorch the foliage) after danger of frost has passed in mid-May. Keep feeding and watering until early fall (October).
Before frost lift the potted Amaryllis and put in the basement, immediately starting to withhold water to force the bulb into a dormant state. When all the leaves have yellowed cut them off at the neck at the neck of the bulb. During this time cool temps, darkness and lack of water should be the order of the day. After a rest period of 8-12 weeks when the bulb has sufficiently “rested”, leaves /and or flower buds will start peeking from the neck of the bulb. The cycle of life and flowering start anew!

 

Unfortunately due to a whacky condo layout the only logical place for me to do my plants is a north exposure. So, they’re forced to be in the poorest light situation. Should I fertilize to make up for that?

Fertilizing seems as though it might be the logical solution to compensate for low light intensity, but isn’t. In the winter when day length is shorter and we go for days on end with no sun most plants go into a resting phase. When they’re resting they don’t need or want those nutrients. But if you keep force-feeding them you may just succeed in pushing the plant into producing lank, weak-stemmed growth.
So, December through mid-March, water and let ‘em rest. The exceptions would be orchids (that are generally in nutrient-free bark or sphagnum moss) or any plants where you’re seeing active production of new leaves (perhaps because you have a greenhouse, greenhouse window, or all day south exposure). Those you can feed over the winter.

 

What do people mean by perennials “frost heaving” over the winter?

Frost heaving is the result of extreme alternating freeze/thaw cycles. Candidate plants for heaving are: either planted late in the fall and didn’t have a chance to get established; plants that have naturally shallow root systems; or plants that weren’t mulched. These plants will pulling out of the ground with the tops of their root systems showing above the surrounding soil line. Root exposure to cold temperature and the drying effects of wind can result in devastating losses.
What to do? On winter days above freezing walk your perennial border scouting for frost-heaved perennials. Put a foot down on either side of the root ball and press gently back down into the ground. Yes, it does further compact our clay soils, but it’s a situation with no good alternatives. Strongly consider mulching these “heaver” perennials to keep the ground frozen. I recommend the Chalet leaf mulch.

 

When should I contact your Landscape Division to start the design process?

ASAP is always the right answer. The seasonality of our climate often lulls the majority of us into overlooking landscape planning and design until spring. Be the one who plans ahead, contact us now at 847.256.0561 to start the process. And it’s a multi-step process from initial contact to installation as you might expect. Be prepared for spring with your plan in hand!