Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Walkaways Part 5, plus, Plant Room Panic

Life here has been more chaotic than usual lately, because of the blizzard last week. It all seemed to be going pretty well: I was disappointed with the amount of snow we got, but there were substantial winds, as promised, and I enjoy having weather. Then I noticed that the plant room, which ordinarily contains about a third of my plant population, was down to 60F/16C, and this was around 5 PM: the forecast was for it to continue to get colder for the next twelve hours or so.

And I panicked, as I sometimes do, and took a lot of the more temperature-sensitive plants out of the plant room and stuck them in the basement, and then I ran out of room in the basement so I started putting them in the kitchen. I subsequently ran out of room in the kitchen, living room, and my office before the migration was complete, and this is stack-on-any-open-surface running out of room, not place-in-designated-plant-areas running out of room like I always am.

Part of the reason for the panic was because, in the process, I found two plants that were dead: an Astrophytum myriostigma and a Gasteria NOID. I don't know for sure what happened to either of them: the Astrophytum in particular had had sort of a rough life (it was kind of top-heavy, and then got knocked out of its pot about every six weeks since we moved to the house), and the Gasteria was near the floor where the temperature was the coldest, plus both of them had been watered semi-recently. Maybe they were dormant and didn't like that. So there's circumstantial evidence that both of them were actually my fault, not the weather, but in the heat of the moment, this was evidence that they were ALL GOING TO DIE if I didn't move them out of the plant room immediately.

The husband, meanwhile, was stapling (?) blankets over the windows. We found fans to blow warmer air into the plant room. Everything got turned upside down, and the plants that stayed in the plant room more or less had to do without light for a couple days, though blankets and fans got the temperature back up around 72F/22C more or less immediately. Which made moving everything seem kind of unnecessary, but whatever.

The husband then spent a couple days in the plant room, installing some heavy curtains, which in theory can be drawn the next time the plant room gets too cold. It's not a perfect system, as the curtains are probably going to catch on plants and pull them over the next time the curtains have to be drawn, but knocking over a couple plants is still better than panicking.


I suppose it depends on which plants.

All of the above is to explain why, last Sunday, I went back to visit my old job. I really needed to get out of the house; I'd just posted the Cactus Blindness post and felt, as one does, an urgent need to photograph more cacti; and a couple spots had just opened up in the plant room, which needed to be filled. . . .

But here's what I didn't buy.

Anthurium x 'Marie.' The file name says 'Maria' because I was briefly confused, but 'Marie' is correct.

This wasn't a particularly serious contender: it looks an awful lot like my Anthurium "hookeri," though the dark purple/black leaves are kind of interesting. They only turned color, I'm told, once they arrived in Iowa and started getting direct sun, though, so the odds of keeping the color in the house were pretty slim. Plus, if I'm going to spend $25 on an Anthurium, I'm still holding out for a Anthurium podophyllum.

Still, makes 'Marie' sound pretty interesting: apparently its chromosomes are kind of a mess, so individual plants are prone to do odd things (double spadices on the flowers, weird branching, etc.: you can see a picture of a deformed 'Marie' spadix here, and other Anthurium nervous breakdowns, plus those of a few other aroids, are here), and I do kind of find that appealing. We'll see.

Episcia NOID.

This Episcia, on the other hand, didn't tempt me at all. I'm this close to renouncing gesneriads and all of their works (only 6 left, 2/3 of which are Nematanthus). But I appreciate seeing them in the garden center. I mean, they're pretty and everything. I just don't want to bring one home to kill.

Cactus NOID; my best guess is Ferocactus gracilis, but this is fairly likely to be at least half-wrong.

Might come back for this guy, though. As I've mentioned before, I seem to be very focused on buying cacti lately. Some of the reason for going to the garden center in the first place was because the Stenocereus thurberi in the cactus blindness post had been calling me from afar. I also bought what I really hope is a Myrtillocactus geometrizans; previous attempts have been foiled by erroneous labeling and my inability to tell the difference.

So what haven't you bought recently? (Please say poinsettias. Except you, water roots. I already know about you and the poinsettia, and I'm very disappointed. Now go to your room and think about what you've done.)


Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

[blush] I know... I'm ashamed; I thought I was stronger than this.

I guess I'm just going to have to go to Home Depot and pick up a few other plants to pay for this sin. Poor me...

Joseph said...

Impatiens namchabarwensis. (go ahead, google it. You'll be drooling.) I had a heck of a time finding it, but finally paid through the nose for 7 seeds on ebay! But OOH I'm excited!

Anonymous said...

What haven't I bought? Almost anything that's covering surfaces in every grocery store, hardware store, etc. and that means the dreaded poinsettias. And kalanchoe! Everywhere! And rosemary plants tarted up to look like Christmas trees, that will expire in the most dreadfully slow way in homes all over the state as a result. The holidays have a horrible effect on the plant world. No wonder cacti are so appealing (if they wouldn't glue those dried flowers on them). BTW, cold here too and I know what you are up against as plants get shuffled hither and yon to survive the dropping (indoor) temps.

our friend Ben said...

Okay, I haven't bought any poinsettias or cyclamen or paperwhites (gack, that overpowering smell) or any other Christmas plants, if you don't count a wreath. Fortunately, I have Christmas cacti and orchids in bloom now to take up the slack. (I won't mention the African violets since you're dissing gesneriads.) But there IS something I definitely think you should buy, which is called something like a Buddy Heater or a Heating Buddy or God only knows what (can you tell we haven't unearthed ours yet?). It's a propane-powered heater that runs on small cans of propane. I got one for the greenhouse a couple of years ago to protect it from power outages (mercifully, I haven't had to use it yet), along with a number of tiny propane canisters just in case. It's apparently quite safe and efficient. I got mine at Cabela's. It might help heat up the plant room so you don't have to frantically haul plants when the temps drop. Of course, if you don't have a power failure, maybe a simple space heater would do the job, too...

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ said...

I had a poinsettia in my hot little hand yesterday at Target and it almost forced me to put it in my cart. But I WON! I left without it! Going cold turkey is tough, but I feel so powerful today!
I think you should get more succulents (especially cacti). Most don't have to be watered in the winter and the plant room can get very cool. They thrive and flower great with this treatment! They are so surprising and interesting and a lot less work than other plants.

Anonymous said...

I have not replaced my Soleirolia soleirolii, despite there being a lonely one in a 4" pot, on a shelf with a bunch of spider plants. The last one succumbed to spider mites, and as I'm not convinced I've gotten rid of them (lookin' at you, Musa sp.) I haven't replaced it. No matter how bad I want to.

Nor have I gotten another banana, but I really really want to. Like 1 20-quart pot in the living room isn't enough! ^^;

Ginny Burton said...

I haven't bought . . . anything! Because, like you, I am dealing with a house full of plants that want to be outside and I'm having to promise them that spring is just around the corner (knowing that they can't go outside until LATE spring).

There's one plant you haven't bought that surprises me, considering how you love your Murraya paniculata. And that's Osmanthus fragrans. What a fragrance! It loves being inside, bless its little heart, has glossy dark green leaves, and blooms constantly all fall, winter, and spring. Then in the summer it moves outside and builds up its strength. So why isn't it at your house? Or at least mentioned in your blog? (Is there a search function anywhere? I can't find it if there is.)

Ginny Burton said...

Just thought of something else -- you can fill up the bathtub in the plant room with hot water to keep the room warmer and more humid. Even if you haven't got the shower connected to the plumbing yet (have I missed a post?) you can boil water on the stove and fill the tub.

Your husband must love plants almost as much as he loves you, to put up with such extreme measures (e.g. moving the plants, fans, et al).

Happy Hermit ( said...

Oh , I understand the panick , I did about the same thing the other day , My plant room kept dipping below 60 , so I had to go to walmart and buy a few heaters and a humidifier to keep my babies happy.

I lost a few as well , my poor sad lithops finally gave out , as did my Dieffenbachia's and rosemary.

I brought all my african violets and a few other much loved plants to my bedroom and back bathroom to keep warm in case we lost electricity
to the plant room.

Even my husband who could normally care less got all mushy and kept trying to find room for everyone (plants) IN the house. I think he near cried because we lost the lithops , he really liked them.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried those plastic window film insulating kits? They'll keep the cold drafts out without blocking the light. They're probably easier to put up than stapling blankets, too!

mr_subjunctive said...

Water Roots:

Yes, perhaps if the new poinsettia is substantially outnumbered by other new plants, I'll let it slide. This time.


I don't know about drooling, but it's interesting. How long before you start the seeds?


I don't mind the rosemary nearly as much, just because I don't see them everywhere like I do the points. In theory, they could be held over the winter, though, right? I mean, we never had terribly good luck with rosemary at work, but somebody must be able to do it, no?

our friend Ben:

Ugh. Paperwhites. I know. I don't mind them at all, except for the smell, but boy howdy: the smell is more than enough. I don't get how people can stand to have them nearby, I really don't.

It's not so much that I mind gesneriads as that gesneriads clearly mind me. I don't mind other people having them, but I'm just right on the edge of swearing off the whole family, and have been for a while now.

We do have two space heaters in the plant room, and did when the blizzard was happening as well. The problem was just that they weren't putting out enough heat to keep up with subzero temperatures and 35 mph winds. (Also, the plant room is on the west side of the house, and the wind was out of the west-northwest, so the plant room was getting hit hard.) And we do have a generator now, which we haven't really tested yet as far as running the entire house off of it, but it should be enough to keep the heat on in the house.

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ:

Hooray (on the poinsettias)!

I do have a fair number of succulents already: the genus Aloe alone is 70 plants out of my 804. The stuff that needs really high light and the stuff that needs precisely-timed watering don't tend to do well for me, which eliminates certain options. But depending on your definition of "succulent," something like 30% of my plants already are succulents, as opposed to only 6% cacti.

mr_subjunctive said...


Really? Spider mites on Soleirolia soleirolii? I've never heard of such a thing. Not that I doubt you, I'm just surprised: we had fairly hardcore spider mite issues at work, and I don't remember it ever being a problem for the Soleirolia.

Ginny Burton:

I'd heard of Osmanthus, but had to look it up to see what you were talking about. As far as I can recall, I've never had the opportunity to buy one, and I don't remember seeing them on the availability lists from our suppliers at work, either. I'll keep an eye out in the future.

The bathtub can't be used to hold hot water yet, because there's no plumbing at all. Right now it's just a metal tub with no drain or faucet, and the husband has been keeping tools in it. He's not happy with how building walls up around it went, though I have yet to ask what this means, exactly. I would hate to have gone through that much noise and fumes and stuff for nothing.

And, well, he likes the plants well enough, I guess. I've never gotten a real good handle on how much he puts up with because he likes the plants, and how much he puts up with because he likes me. But he puts up with a lot, for whatever reasons.

Happy Hermit:

I have a really hard time with Lithops. At work, it was difficult not to accidentally water them in the process of watering other stuff. Wouldn't have been a problem at home, but I was intimidated enough that I never bought one. I did get Fenestrarias twice, and that went bad almost immediately, both times. I just don't have that much restraint, to be able to not water.


We looked at window plastic kits; I'm not sure what made us decide not to do that. Our windows shouldn't be the problem anyway: we replaced them all with brand-new, super energy-efficient ones when we moved in. And the walls are insulated, so that shouldn't be the issue either. And yet.

For now, it looks like the curtains, plus two space heaters and two fans, will work well enough: when I woke up this morning, the plant room was around 74F/23C, and we had a cold night last night (officially 2F/-17C). We also had basically no wind, too, so as long as we don't get wind and cold at the same time again, we won't probably even have to close the curtains. But we'll see how that goes. In any case, I think it's unlikely that we'll have to move all the plants out again this winter, because as I'm putting them back, I'm trying to stick to plants that can handle down to at least 50F/10C. It'll all have to be rearranged in the spring, when the heat-sensitive plants need to get moved down to the cooler basement, but if the mass exodus is only twice a year, I think it'll be manageable.

Diane said...

I bought a poinsettia at the grocery store. I like them, so there. What I did not buy was a 12" Beaucarnea recurvata in a broken pot on the Lowe's clearance rack. The only reason I didn't buy it was there was no tag and employees are hard to find.

I also thought hard about, then walked away from, a cool cactus NOID that looked like it was covered in cotton. I always kill barrel-type cacti and decided to let it live in peace.

Anonymous said...

I always walk away from cacti and succulents, even tho' I love them. I seem to be able to kill them all, even tho' I've tried just about every method there is to keep them alive. I also have to walk away from Moonlight Philodendrons because I love them and I already have 4.

Nathan said...

nice photos and a well written blog. I look forward to reading more.

Benjamin Vogt said...

I think you should get rid of all your plants. Look at what they're doing to you. No one should be this attached to living things. (I'll go slap myself now, or you can, or both.)

Andrew said...

Today I managed not to buy a mini-Cattleya, some other member of the Cattleya alliance, an Oncidium Sharry Baby, and something loosely similar to this.

Tomorrow I may decide whether I want to take the other member of the catt alliance or the last one on that list off my plants I didn't buy list. I'll take pictures of both at any rate.

The problem is we've suddenly started getting so many interesting orchids in at work and it's really throwing me off because we usually only have one interesting orchid at a time!

Emily said...

I only barely managed to avoid buying the Black Friday $1 poinsettias at Home Depot. But I was strong, mostly because a public atrium was redecorating for the holidays the day before and decided to throw away perfectly happy guzmania and crotons. I saved 6 plants total, hauling away my score in a grudgingly provided trash bag. I did succumb to purchasing a new salmon-flowered schlumbergera earlier this season, though, but I walked away from a brilliant red and a white one, so that should count as restraint.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I suspect they are spider mites. I'm an amateur bug-identifier, though, so I could be wrong (and I kind of hope I am!)

They might surprise me and be something else, but they're little and yellow and ten-legged (I think) and leave classic spider mite bronzy-dusty damage spots. They got down into the dirt in the Soleirolia and I couldn't get them, not with water spray and not with insecticide, so the plant did not live for long. It finally got exiled to the balcony to live out its last days.

Now I just have to get the rassafrassing bugs out of my Musa and Codiaeum. Humbug.