Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Nina went through a spell a couple months ago, not long after the Pellionia pulchra started climbing up the side of the terrarium, where she would hide underneath it on the wall, sometimes for long periods. Like her more recent goth phase, I suppose I'll never understand what was going on, but it seems to be over.

Sheba, meanwhile, has been meeting the boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata), on the rare occasion that one makes its way indoors. (Maybe it's just earlier in the season than it feels, but it seems like we should have way more of them in the house than I've seen so far. I'm not complaining; just puzzled.) She didn't appear to understand quite what the bug was for, but she diligently followed it around anyway, pawing at it occasionally to see what it would do.

I occasionally realize that I give Sheba more credit for intelligence than she deserves. I mean, for a dog, as far as I can tell, she's plenty smart, but I guess I've read too many stories about the dog that jumped into the river to rescue the baby, or woke the family up when the smoke detector didn't work, or ran in the house to tell everybody that the robbers were hiding in the old barn and then ran back out again to disable the transmission on the robbers' van and call 911. 'Cause when she freaks out over something, I assume that there's something there to be freaked out about, and then I get freaked out, but so far it's always turned out to be nothing. She almost never barks, but when she does, it's usually because one of the neighbors has slammed a car door. Occasionally she growls really intensely at nothing in particular; the only time we've been able to figure out what it was, it turned out to be the husband's shadow, moving around on a shelf full of plants. On one memorable occasion, she barked and growled like crazy in the plant room, long enough that it sounded serious, so I went to see what was the matter and found -- the husband, weeding, in the back yard. Why she couldn't tell it was him, I have no idea.


The point of bringing this up is that Sheba freaked out at this Halloween decoration on Monday:

She was jumping around it (sort of trying to charge it and run away from it simultaneously), barking, growling -- basically losing her mind over it. I had to drag her away from the thing. On Friday, the walk took us by the same house, and she was very interested in it again, but she didn't bark at it. Maybe she was just surprised to see it for the first time?

I don't know. Whatever might be going on in her head, though, it was a reminder that she is, after all, only a dog, and less than two years old. Whatever canine powers of perception and intuition she may have, she's not magic. More like a nearly silent toddler with really good hearing and strange obsessions with houseflies, squirrels, and tennis balls.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Last Glycine max Post Of The Season

I had a different post planned for today, but it was going to involve a lot of manipulation of graphics, so I wound up not having time to work on it. Fortunately, they harvested the soybean field behind the house on Wednesday afternoon (Very dusty!), so I can now bring you the Exciting Season Finale of the Glycine max saga.

Technically, of course, there's more to the story than this: I could show you pictures of the empty field, which is the real end of the story. I figure it's better to end the story on the photogenic stuff. Or, you know, the more-photogenic stuff. I don't know how into soybeans everybody is, but I'm guessing you're probably more into soybeans than you are empty fields. Let me know if I've miscalculated.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pretty picture: Epidendrum Moon Valley

Not sure I'm entirely pleased with how these pictures turned out, but I'm not sure why. Perhaps I'm feeling the lack of a wide, whole-plant shot. (Nothing I can do about that now, alas; I have to work with the photos I took in March, and if memory serves, I was feeling a bit rushed that day, because I was worried that the batteries would die on me.)

I have zero direct experience with Epidendrum; we never had them at work. In fact, I think the orchid show at Wallace's that these pictures come from is the only time I've ever seen them in person at all. It's possible that I may have seen hybrids with some Epidendrum ancestry at work; wikiposedly they hybridize with other genera in the Cattleya Alliance.

I'm also nearly positive that I've seen pictures of Epidendrums being grown outdoors, on some blog or another, but I couldn't find it. A few of them are sufficiently cold-tolerant to be grown in the warmer areas of the U.S.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Question for the Hive Mind: Hoya carnosa

I've had this plant for over four years now, moving it up from a 3-inch pot to a 4-inch and now a 6-inch, and it's behaved itself admirably for most of that time. This spring, though, it started to do this:

The leaves wrinkle and then eventually turn yellow and fall off. Usually this is a stem-by-stem thing: one stem will wrinkle and yellow and die, and then another one will go a little later. Lately, though, they're all going at once, and I don't know what to do about it.

It's in the plant room, between two H. carnosa 'Chelsea' plants which are both doing fine, and there are a couple other H. carnosa varieties elsewhere in the room that are also fine; whatever the issue is, it's specific to this plant.

I topdressed the plant a little after this started happening, which didn't help, but otherwise haven't messed with it. It's been a while since it was repotted, though 1) when this started happening in the spring, I checked the roots and they seemed fine, and 2) everybody says Hoyas like to be rootbound anyway.

With most succulent-ish plants like this, wrinkling leaves would mean the plant's too dry, but it's not getting any drier between waterings than the 'Chelseas' next to it, and when I tried watering more often for a while during the summer, the leaves didn't wrinkle, but they still turned yellow and dropped.

So I'm hoping that someone out there has seen this before and knows how to fix it. Help.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open Letter to Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses

ADDED 1/9/12: I found out today, more than a year after this post first went up, that a day after it went live here at PATSP, most of it was duplicated at as a one-star review.

I not the person who posted it to Yelp as a review. I don't recognize the name of the person who did. They did not ask permission to do it. I would not have given permission had I been asked. I've asked Yelp if the above is sufficient grounds to have the review taken down, and we'll see what they say.

It also happens that most of the criticisms I have for Pierson's in this post -- though accurate at the time -- have been addressed to some degree or another, which is also part of why it distresses me that this has been allowed to stand as a permanent (or internet-permanent, anyway) evaluation of their business. I wrote it because I was frustrated with them and wanted them to do better, not because I wanted to hang it around their necks forever.

ANOTHER ADDITION 1/11/12: Yelp did remove the review.

ANOTHER ADDITION 1/16/12: My more recent evaluation of Pierson's: The Brick Joke.

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17-18 October 2010

Dear Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses,

I am writing this letter to let you know that I'm going to stop visiting your store at 1800 Ellis Blvd NW in Cedar Rapids, IA, for a while. This isn't over any one particular thing, just a lot of little things that have been going on forever, that I finally got fed up with on a visit to the store last Friday.

It started out looking promising. Your sign out front said houseplants were 50% off, which is usually the only time I can afford to buy any of your plants. So that was exciting. And when I looked around in your tropical greenhouse, I did find something I wanted to buy: you had two different Pedilanthus varieties that I'd never seen in person before. Although they didn't have prices on them (because you almost never have prices on anything), I figured they were probably something I could afford. This is an increasingly rare experience for me, finding a plant I haven't seen before, so I was briefly very pleased with you.

But when I checked the plants closer, I found problems. The stems and leaves were spotted with a gray-white, fuzzy fungus.

I realize you're selling the plant at 50% off, but the plants should still be healthy, no? I mean, this plant couldn't have been there very long; I'd last been there on August 15, and you didn't have them then, so at most it had been in your care two months. You guys are supposed to be in the business of keeping them alive, healthy, and pretty.

So what gives? It took me all of five seconds to figure out what was going on: you stuck Pedilanthus, a genus which is fairly prone to fungus if its leaves get wet, underneath hanging baskets. The baskets get watered, the water drips down, the Pedilanthus gets wet, therefore fungus.

And there was all kinds of stuff like that going on in there, that someone who knows anything about tropical plants should know better than to do. The Dracaenas were defoliating from the bottom: that means they're too wet. The cacti were standing in water, in the shady greenhouse, again, just like they were in May. You may as well not carry cacti at all, if you're going to keep them sopping wet and in the dark. That's the sort of thing I expect from Home Depot, not an independent garden center that's been in business for decades.

This picture is actually from May, but they still looked like this in October. Probably not the same specimens in October that were there in May, obviously.

You have a flat of 4-inch pots by the window that have been taken over by weeds. Whatever the plants in those pots originally were, they're not there anymore: why are the pots still there? You don't need that stuff on the sales floor. Some of your 3-inch tropicals were tangled up in one another so badly that I couldn't have pulled one out to buy even if I'd wanted to. Others of the 3-inch plants were dead because at some point they tipped over and nobody set them upright again, so they couldn't be watered. Five seconds to right a plant is too much effort? You have 4-inch ferns that are down to their last two fronds, and nobody's bothered to pull out the dead fronds. Whiteflies fluttered out when I bumped some of the Hibiscus. (Admittedly not entirely your fault: it's been a bad year for whiteflies in Eastern Iowa. But even so. You're thinking you'll cut the price in half and sucker some customers into taking these plants home? Shame on you.)

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Enlightenment.'

The Brugmansias still have aphids, just as they did in August. Your Cissus rhombifolias and your Columnea hanging baskets were mostly dead, and where they weren't dead they were yellowing. There was a piece of Euphorbia lactea sitting on the table next to the plant; it looked like a customer or someone had knocked it off accidentally, but nobody's bothered to pick it up. And who, exactly, do you think is the market for a $30, bloomed-out, half dead Phalaenopsis? Why would I bother, when I can go to Lowe's and get a healthy one fresh off the truck for $15?

The list goes on and on and on like that. Which, if it had been the first time I saw fungus, or the first time I saw bugs, or if you always got everything right except tagging and pricing the pots, then I'd just assume that you were having a bad day, bad month, bad year. But these things have been going on forever. Eventually, I had an epiphany: y'all don't care about the plants. You might or might not know how to grow them, but it's obviously not a priority. Nor is scheduling enough hours for the employees to clean up the debris and the dead plants. Instead you put everything on sale at half price and hope that the customers will sort things out for you, while you focus your attentions on the poinsettias that just came in, because that's where the money's coming from this winter. And, okay, fine, but your tropical greenhouse currently has problems with overwatering, fungus, and whiteflies. Can you name three things that are especially likely to ruin the sales value of poinsettias, just off the top of your head?

I know you've had a rough last few years: the flood hit you pretty hard, and the economy crashed right as you were re-opening the store, which couldn't have helped. I know it's poinsettia season and the tropicals are not your priority. I know you're an independent garden center and you have a lot of competitors, some of whom can get better wholesale prices than you can. I know you're really more of a florist than a garden center anyway. I know it's expensive to have people on the payroll, especially in the fall when people are mostly not buying garden-related merchandise and there's not a lot of cash coming in. I know you've been in business forever, and you've always done things this way, and it's worked fine for decades so clearly you know what you're doing and if some blogger wants to tell you how to run your business then he can go fuck himself.

Maybe so. But you've lost this particular customer for a solid year or two, all the same.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Site-related: Blogiversary

Today is the third anniversary of PATSP's first post, hence the Gazania photos. (If you're new: Gazanias are the official celebratory flower of PATSP.)

Good to Grow just turned one a few days ago, on October 12, as did All Andrew's Plants. Life Among the Leaves had its first birthday a few days before that (Oct 8). This seems like a disproportionate number of houseplant-related blogs to all be launching in the same month. I mean, there are lots and lots of blogs out there, so it stands to reason that there would also be lots and lots of blogs starting in October, but it still strikes me as interesting. Is there something about October that makes people want to start houseplant blogs?

I don't know. I personally started PATSP in October because I'd started working in the garden center in August, and it took me two months to decide that I wanted to write a blog, decide that I had enough stuff going on at work to write about, and write a few introductory posts so there'd be something to look at when and if people arrived to read it. Nothing special about October per se.

But on the off chance that there is something special about this time of year, and that there might be people reading this blog right now who are just waiting for a title or something, let me throw a few title ideas at you. (If you don't have a blog and want to use one of these, feel free to take one. It's not like I need more than one blog.)

If you spend as much time playing video games as you do propagating plants, perhaps you should consider the title First-Person Rooter. (The address is available.)

Or maybe you're more into cactus and succulents. I think Cactus Makes Perfect would work nicely for any succulent enthusiast with an experimental, trial-and-error approach to indoor gardening. Or outdoor gardening, too, I suppose. It might also work if you're a Three Stooges fan. ( is available.)

Alt-rock fans with a harsh approach to underperforming plants might blog at The Violent Stemmes, though I think it would maybe have to be a group blog to make any sense. Or maybe it wouldn't make any sense regardless. Not sure about that. ( is available.)

Oh yeah -- I should probably mention that they're all going to be puns like this. Sorry I didn't think to warn you earlier. I realize that puns are the lowest form of humor, and that even when people find them amusing, they still groan, and that puns fall flat if the audience doesn't know the references. But they're not boring, at least: a groan is better than a meh.

If it helps, it was fairly hard work coming up with them, and that's time I'm never going to get back. Spreadsheets were even involved. (Truth.)

A photographer with a special fondness for botanical and nature photos might write at Leafcake Pictures. Especially appropriate if there's a little artistic nudity possible. ( is taken, though devoid of posts, but is available.)

The one I'd personally be most interested in reading, Curses! Soiled Again!, would be the daily musings of a supervillain, with emphasis on his/r home garden, houseplants, and other hobbies. Who wouldn't want to watch the Joker's ficus tree grow, check out the blooms on Mytzlplyk's orchid collection, or hear about the spider mites on Magneto's crotons? Am I right? ( and are both available.)

Anyway. Just throwing them out there. If any of these speaks to you, feel free. 'Tis the season.

And here goes year four.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Random plant event: Dieffenbachia cane sprouts

I don't know whether houseplant books still mention it, but a fair number of the books I have talk about propagating Dieffenbachias from cane sections.1 One is supposed to take a plant with a long, leafless stem, cut it into pieces three or four inches long, and lay them on their sides in moist soil. Eventually, new growing tips will emerge from the nodes of the cane, and the piece of stem will root, and then at some point you wind up with a new plant.

I've tried this a number of times now, under different conditions, and sometimes it's worked, and sometimes it hasn't. The first time, which worked, I laid pieces of stem (I think from the cultivar 'Sparkles,' though I've never been able to pin down the variety for certain) down on regular potting mix, and kept it all in the mini-greenhouse,2 and most of the pieces wound up sprouting new plants.

The second time, which didn't work, I did the same thing but used shorter pieces, only one or two nodes long, of I think 'Tropic Snow.' All of those rotted immediately.

There was also an attempt to root a decent-sized NOID cane at work, that WCW brought in from her other job, which rotted and died pretty quickly too.

Presently, I'm trying a different, and much more time-consuming, approach, which involves rooting stems in water first, then cutting off and planting the rooted portion on its side in soil. It feels stupid and wasteful, because the stems will produce roots all the way around the stem, and then when you plant the stem, half of them wind up on top, where they dry out and die. But even so, it works, and if the original cutting is long enough, you can repeat the process after you've cut off the rooted part.

It's a long and roundabout process, so it's no wonder that the growers don't use it in mass production. And also you don't always wind up with a pretty plant when it's over; they tend to turn out with thin stems, and it's nearly impossible to get a Dieffenbachia to sucker indoors.3 In this particular case, the plants I'm propagating were spindly, unattractive plants to begin with, so I'm not losing anything by turning them into additional spindly, unattractive plants. And it's a much more accessible method than tissue culture.


1 The Griffith growers' guide mentions stem-section cuttings as a means of propagating Dieffenbachia, but then goes on to say that nobody in the industry actually propagates them that way, that everybody uses tip cuttings or tissue culture instead. The stem-section method, he says, is "better suited to hobbyists and collectors than commercial growers."
2 The mini-greenhouse has been out of service since we moved to the house, because the plastic got ripped up during the move, and it was pretty flimsy plastic in the first place, and it would be falling apart from age even if it hadn't been ripped up. Instead of that, I now mostly use plastic clamshell-type containers (e.g.). If the plant in question is short enough, those work just fine, and for taller plants, I have plastic containers from pre-packaged salad mixes.
3 I've managed it, but it felt like a cheat -- I buried the stems deeper. It won't give you a big fluffy mass of suckers around the plant's base, and sometimes you won't wind up with any new suckers at all, but occasionally planting deeper will rouse the plant to throw out a new stem, and so far doing this hasn't killed any plants. It also sometimes happens that a Dieffenbachia that gets cut back will replace the one growing tip you cut off with two growing tips, though that's not a good way to get a thick, fluffy plant either. When it comes to the smaller Dieffenbachias, my personal experience is that it's never going to be as fluffy and full as it was when you bought it, and it's best to accept that early on. The larger varieties are usually only one or two stems planted together to begin with, so suckering isn't really an issue, and I personally find the larger varieties like 'Tropic Rain' and 'Tropic Snow' easier to grow, so I prefer them on both counts.