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Marimo 101

December 5, 2016

The name of Marimo (毬藻, Aegagropila linnaei) originated from Japanese botanist Tatsuhiko Kawakami (毬 ‘mari’ = ball and 藻 ‘mo’ = generic term for aquatic plants). Native to previously glaciated areas of the world including Japan, Russia, Iceland, and parts of North America – the Marimo’s round shape is the result of freshwater lake motion. Marimo moss, as it’s known, is not actually moss at all, but a freshwater, filamentous green algal colony – that’s totally Instagram-worthy. Although Marimo live in water, they’re not as slimy as you’d think they are! They’re actually quite fluffy, almost velvety, in nature. We like to think of them as ‘plant pets’.

Pet Marimo - The Sill

Pet Marimo – The Sill

The lakes that Marimo have evolved in are alkaline, calciferous lakes. For the optimal health of Marimo at home, water should be filtered, alkaline, with a pH higher than 7. Because Marimo balls live at the bottom of lakes, and roll along the bottom with the current, they receive little light. In caring for your Marimo – try to keep it out of direct sun. An hour or so of direct sun is tolerable, as long as the temperature of the water stays cool. Freshwater lakes, especially at the bottom where Marimo live, are cold, and temperatures can range from 5C to 35C. Like most plants, Marimo do not like sudden temperature changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I care my Marimo at home?
Clean, cool water – and minimal light!

2. What type of light source do I use?
Moderate to low, natural or artificial light will help keep your Marimo happy and healthy. An hour or so of direct sunlight is fine, as long as it is far away from a window, and the Marimo’s water doesn’t heat up.

Trio of Marimo balls - The Sill

Trio of Marimo balls – The Sill

3. Do I need to change the water? What water do I use?
Although tap is OK, we prefer to use either brita-filtered water, or bottled water that’s Fiji water or Icelandic water and has a guaranteed pH of about 7-8. If possible, change your Marimo’s water once every two weeks.

4. What should I do when changing water?
Gently squeeze your Marimo to remove any dirt trapped in it’s fluff, then roll your Marimo back and forth on a soft surface, like your palm, to help it retain its circular shape.

Gently roll your Marimo in your palm to help it retain its circular shape - The Sill

Gently roll your Marimo in your palm to help it retain its circular shape – The Sill

5. How long will my Marimo live?
Marimos are slow growers – growing one or two tenths of an inch a year. However, the world’s largest Marimo is almost 40 inches in diameter, making it an estimated 200+ years old. Your Marimo can last for decades with the proper care and environment.

6. Help! My Marimo is changing in color. 
A yellow or brown Marimo is a sick Marimo. Your Marimo could be receiving too much sunlight, have an infection, or its water quality could have decreased. We recommend washing your Marimo under running water, replacing its water, and adding some salt. Make sure to use aquarium salt – not table salt! You can find it on Amazon, or at your local pet store. Add this directly to your Marimo’s container – about 5% of your water volume.

7. How long can a Marimo last without water? 
If conditions are ideal – Marimos can live for one month without water.

Marimo balls - The Sill

Marimo balls – The Sill

8. Will my Marimo float or sink?
Your Marimo will spend its majority of time at the bottom of its container, like it would in its native lake environment. However, a Marimo does perform photosynthesis, and makes oxygen. These oxygen bubbles may make your Marimo float up to the surface of the water for a period of time. The more sun your Marimo receives, the more oxygen it will produce. You can also make your Marimo float by squeezing the water out of it, but we don’t recommend toying with them too often – they’re happiest when left to float or sink on their own.

9. Will my Marimo reproduce? 
Your Marimo might reproduce when large enough and kept in a large container. You will see a bump growing on your Marimo – that’s a baby Marimo in the making. We do not recommend forcing your Marimo to reproduce by splitting it in two – more often than not, it will not be able to bounce back.

10. Is there anyway to get my Marimo to grow faster?
Marimo are slow growers! Be patient. Lower water temperatures, better water quality, and an extremely diluted amount of fertilizer can help. More light equals more growth, so a few hours of sunlight can also give your Marimo a boost, but be very careful not to cook your Marimo in direct light.

11. Can my Marimo survive in a fully sealed container?
A Marimo can survive in fully sealed container, but we recommend picking one with a loose lid, which will allow your marimo to breathe with its environment.

Happy Marimo - The Sill

Happy Marimo – The Sill

12. Fun Fact
According to a Japanese legend, there were two lovers who longed to be together. One, the daughter of a tribe chief; the other a poor commoner. When the chief forbade them from being together – the couple ran away, fell into the water, and became Marimo balls – able to live together forever. Because of this, Marimo balls, sometimes referred to as ‘love plants’, are thought to bring luck, love, and happiness, and have the ability to heal a broken heart.


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Carotenoids 101

November 15, 2016

Ever wonder what makes a tomato red or yellow?  The answer is a class of molecules called carotenoids that have great importance to plants – as well as people.  They have so much importance serving as vitamins and pigments, that we cannot live without them.  They are responsible for the colors of autumn foliage – the bright reds, oranges, and yellows.  They are responsible for the color of many ripened fruits – carrots (for which they are named!), corn, beets, and pumpkins. They are also responsible for the colors of flowers, and even responsible for the color of egg yolks! 

an Echeveria with orange flower buds

an Echeveria with orange flower buds

There are over 600 known carotenoids, which are split into two general classes: Xanthophylls and Carotenes. Xanthophylls contain oxygen, while Carotenes, which are purely hydrocarbons, contain no oxygen. Both classes have long, unsaturated carbon chains.  This means that they have numerous double bonds along long chains, and the ability of conjugation – the ability to allow electrons to pass freely along the molecule.  This, in turn, gives the molecule the ability to absorb light.  Longer unsaturated chains = more blue light absorption, which leaves the returning light to be hues of yellow, red, and orange. Chemically speaking, this is how carotenoids get their color! 

sunflower by Olia Gozha

sunflower by Olia Gozha

If we still have your attention – we know it’s a lot to absorb (wink, wink) – let’s talk about what carotenoids do, the differences between the two classes, and what it all means.  We’ll start with animals. Because animals, and humans, are incapable of synthesizing carotenoids , they must be taken in via their diet.  Carotenoids are then stored in the body’s fatty tissue.  Exclusively carnivorous animals obtain them from their prey’s fat!  Think of a flamingo for example.  The rosy pink color of a flamingo’s feathers is due to their diet of algae, larvae, and small crustaceans such as shrimp – which are all rich in carotenoid pigments.  Some might argue that carotenoids are used as ornamental traits in animals because they can be a visible indication of the animal’s health, making them helpful when selecting potential mates. 

flamingos by Seref Yucar

flamingos by Seref Yucar

Carotenoids are also used in vision, eye maintenance, and development – due to their ability to absorb high-energy, damaging blue light.  Xanthophylls are used in the eye to protect the rods and cones from light damage.  High-energy light excites electrons of eye molecules, and the electrons can be safely passed to the Xanthophylls until they rest at a lower energy state.  This helps prevent eye molecules, rods and cones, from forming free radicals and damaging other parts of the eye.  

In plants, Xanthophylls carotenoids play different, but similar roles.  Xanthophylls are involved in photosynthesis, and are currently thought to quench excess high energy electrons in high light environments.  This means that, as high light hits the plant, too many electrons are stimulated to a high energy state, and they are passed to Xanthophylls to quell down.  If they are not quelled, then high energy electrons will break free and form free radicals, damaging other molecules.  In fact, these Xanthophylls molecules are partially responsible for plant variegation!  Plants are thought to have evolved variegation in order to deal with high light environments.  Too much light excites too many electrons, so chlorophyll production is reduced, and xanthophylls are increased, providing a sink, or buffer to all those high-energy electrons.  This also partly helps to explain why plants lose variegation when brought to lower light conditions.  No excess light means no excess damage, which means chlorophyll production is increased, and variegation is decreased. 

fall foliage by Providence Doucet

fall foliage by Providence Doucet

Similar to the example above about plant variegation, because chlorophyll is not present in autumn foliage – the yellows, oranges, and reds of the carotenoids are predominant. These hues are also seen in ripe fruit – after the disappearance of chlorophyll.

autumn leaves by Aaron Burden

autumn leaves by Aaron Burden

Molecules from the Carotene class are also involved in photosynthesis, but sort of in the other direction.  They help capture light and push the excited electrons to the chlorophyll molecule, assisting in photosynthesis.  In ripening fruit, it is thought that carotenoids help protect the inner developing seeds and fruit by absorbing the higher energies of light.  The secondary benefit of carotenoids is the signalling of fruit ripening, and pollinator attraction.  Whether or not plants happened to have evolved this mechanism, or whether this signalling mechanism to pollinators and fruit-eaters co-evolved with animals, remains to be seen.  As far as we know, carotenoids are mainly responsible for light-mediation and gene expression.   

pumpkins by Corey Blaz

pumpkins by Corey Blaz

So when you’re taking a stroll through the park admiring the fall foliage, or through the produce section at your local grocery store, remember there’s a lot more to those hues than what meets the eye.


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Carnivorous Plants

November 14, 2016

Our in-house plant specialist Christopher Satch talks carnivorous plants. Have a plant care question for Chris? Comment below and we’ll tackle it in an upcoming post. 

Carnivorous plants have been all the rage lately – but they might seem more difficult to take care of than even the notorious Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata), right?  The truth is, everything you know about carnivorous plants is probably wrong.  To fully understand why, we’ll need to learn some ecology…


Dionaea muscipula, Venus Fly Trap, tato grasso – Own work CC BY-SA 2.5 (image)

Carnivorous plants are polyphyletic groups of plants that trap insects to acquire nitrogen.  They have evolved in environments that are so extreme, that the need to capture nutrients outweighs any energy investment into specialized carnivory structures.  Many carnivorous plants live in bogs, which are high in sunlight, perpetually wet, acidic, and nutrient-poor.  In many bog areas, the waterlogged soil is so acidic that any minerals that would be there have dissolved and washed away.

The NJ Pine Barrens, like many bogs, has extremely clean, salt-and-mineral-free water – in fact, the aquifers that lie beneath the NJ Pine Barrens are one of the cleanest in the entire country!  These acidic conditions and poor nutrient soils prevent most other forms of plants from growing there, with the exception of mosses, liverworts, some species of pine, and so on.  The New Jersey Pine Barrens is one of the few places on the planet with relatively unchanging flora types, having the same heath, oak, pine, and other plant species since the early Cretaceous Period. (Even with species stability, many carnivorous plants are endangered in the wild, so please do not collect plants from outside!)


Dionaea muscipula, Venus Fly Trap, Mnolf – Own work CC BY-SA 3.0 (image)

And it just so happens that many bogs, where the majority of carnivorous plant species have evolved, are in temperate climates or colder (NJ has a few native species, as does NY).  Therefore, many species of carnivorous plants have a winter dormancy.  So, if you have a carnivorous plant that looks dead – it may just be hibernating.  Many pitcher plants (family Sarraceniaceae), and even the famous Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea spp.), have some periods of dormancy.  However, it’s important to know exactly what type of carnivorous plant you have – because tropical pitcher plants (family Nepenthaceae) do not have any dormancy. They’re native to tropical Asia, and may be kept alive for a year-round display.


Pitcher plant (Nepenthes sp.) found in Mount Hamiguitan Range, San Isidro, Davao Oriental. Taken from Nov 29-Dec 1, 2009 CC BY 2.0 (image)


Anatomy of a pitcher plant.  This one is a Sarracenia (image)


S. leucophylla, common along coastal plains until they became endangered.  Photo taken by Brad Adler, edited/enhanced by Noah Elhardt – Scanned slide CC BY-SA 2.5 (image)

There are even aquatic carnivorous plants (Utricularia spp.) called bladderworts which use a hydraulic suction trap to capture aquatic insects.  Within that same family Lentibulariaceae, are terrestrial butterworts (Pinguicula spp.) whose leaves are sticky like flypaper.


Michal RubešCC BY 3.0 cz (image)

There are four general trapping mechanisms that have evolved across carnivorous plants – pitfall traps, flypaper traps, snap-traps, and bladder traps.  Bladder traps are unique to Utricularia (aquatic carnivorous plants), and consist of a triggered aquatic vaccum that sucks aquatic insects into its trap.  Pitfall traps are modified leaves that have curled-in on themselves and fused, to create a pitcher.  This pitcher is the pitcher of pitcher plants, and is coated on the inside with low-friction slime and digestive enzymes.  Insects fall in easily, but cannot escape.

Snap traps, like in the Venus Fly Trap, use hair-triggers to sense when an insect has landed in the appropriate place, then snap shut through a quick hydraulic flux in the hinge of the trap.  Flypaper traps – common in sundews (see photo below) and butterworts (Drosera spp. and Pinguicula spp.) – are perhaps the most rudimentary as they are only modified trichomes, filled with sticky glue-like substances and digestive enzymes.  Trichomes are plant “hairs”, and exist in the plant ancestors and related species.


A sundew With Insect (Drosera sp.)  NoahElhardt assumed (based on copyright claims) CC BY-SA 3.0 (image)

Now that we know a little bit about the diversity of carnivorous plants, caring for them is easier than you think.  The key, like with many houseplants, is to recreate their natural habitat.  Carnivorous plants need direct sun daily.  That means right next to a window, with southern and western exposure being the best.  The native environments are extremely clean and free from salts that come in regular tap water, so it is important to water them and keep their roots perpetually moist with distilled and purified water.  I have gotten away with using bottled water, which has added salts that may be too much.

And here’s the biggest misconception about carnivorous plants –  do not feed them!  That’s right.  Just.  Don’t.  Do.  It.  The biggest killers of Venus fly traps are those who feed and constantly harass the traps.  Think about it.  The success rate in the wild of catching a bug is pretty slim, yet they get by.  There’s no need for you to feed them.  They have literally evolved to catch bugs all by themselves.  And there are plenty of small bugs around the house (and dust) which they can feed off of just fine.  Harassing the traps just exhausts the plant to death, so don’t do it.

Carnivorous plants are sensitive to water and humidity, and coexist with mosses.  Therefore, a terrarium with a closed lid will be best for them.  I recommend using a glass terrarium – and lining the bottom with a pinch of soil and 3-4” of live, sopping-wet sphagnum moss.  Pop the plants into the moss, place in a warm, sunny window, and add the lid.  Literally set it and forget it until you need to add more water.  The ideal water line is at the 2nd inch of the live moss.  The plants with the highest success rate with this method are pitcher plants, followed by butterworts, then everything else.  A carnivorous plant terrarium is a fun project to put together – and a unique conversation piece for all to enjoy!


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Tastemakers: Tylor Rogers

November 2, 2016

This edition of our Houseplant Tastemakers Series features “your local plant boy” – Tylor Rogers. Not only are we envious of Tylor’s personal houseplant collection (check out his Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’), but we love Tylor’s genuine passion for plants which is evident by scrolling through his Instagram feed. This young Instagramer proves that houseplants aren’t just a hobby for the retired. Check out our Q&A with Tylor below! 

Tylor Rogers captured by Sam Davis

Tylor Rogers captured by Sam Daniels

Name: Tylor Rogers
Location: Valparaiso IN//Chicago IL – I split my weeks between the two places.
Occupation: I am a barista back at home in Valpo, and then I’m also fortunate to work at Sprout Home Chicago!
Favorite Plant: Oh man, that’s a hard one. I go through phases where I’m obsessed with a certain plant and then the next week it could be something completely different. I would have to say that a Variegated Monstera deliciosa has been my favorite plant since I’ve been into plants though.

Tylor Rogers in his element by Sam Davis

Tylor Rogers in his element by Sam Daniels

What’s a week in the life of Tylor Rogers like? 

My days usually are pretty busy. When I’m not slinging coffee I’m working around plants! Between my two jobs, I work 7 days a week. I really enjoy staying busy and for the time being I love what I’m doing! I’m crazy about plants and coffee so it only makes sense that I would find myself surrounded by the two. Working at Sprout Home Chicago is very fulfilling, I’m constantly learning about new plants (and constantly adding to my plant gang).

Sam @ Home

Tylor @ Home

When I’m not working I typically spend my time hanging around my plant jungle that is my room. I also really enjoy finding different conservatories/greenhouses to explore. Adventuring through new parts in the city also excites me.

What’s a secret skill you have?

I’m very receptive, I pick up on peoples needs very quickly and it makes working with others very easy. I also know how to get down on the dance floor, which not too many people know!

What’s the best present you’ve given or received?

PLANTS! Always plants. Some of my favorite plants in my collection have been gifts. I also think gifting a plant fits any occasion. You can always find room for another.

Sam and Penelope

Tylor and Penelope

If your space was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab to save?

My jungle pup Penelope! She’s an English Bulldog and I’m lucky enough that she doesn’t mess with any of my plants. She only enjoys napping next to them.

What’s on your to-do list today?

I am finishing up writing a letter to my girlfriend Krysten, who’s studying at Indiana University, making my daily plant rounds, (I don’t stick to any type of schedule, you kind of get a feel for which plants need more maintenance and being diligent about checking them has worked best for me), I work at Sprout Home today, after I’m going to a plant auction (of course), and then lastly I’m going out to sing karaoke and to a club with my friend in Chicago!

A pencil cactus looms over some of Tylor's houseplant collection

A pencil cactus looms over some of Tylor’s houseplant collection

What is your favorite plant and why? 

Really all of them! I’ve been obsessing over Anthuriums lately, there’s so many different plants within that genus that its hard to pick just one. Really anything with unusual foliage or that’s considered rare will draw my attention.

Do you have a green thumb?

Not to toot my own horn, but I would say yes! It would be a little difficult to take care of my 100+ plants at home if I didn’t have a green thumb. I counted earlier this week, 86 of my plants are in my bedroom! That’s not saying you can’t have a green thumb too! Reading up on plants and not being afraid to lose a couple in the process will help you cultivate a plant hobby! I actually just killed an air plant earlier this week, but thats okay!

Tylor's Houseplants

Tylor’s Houseplants

Any plant care tips you can share?

RESEARCH! Half the fun of having a plant gang is learning how to take care of your new friend. There’s a ton of plant books out there to help you, and google is there to help 24/7. With winter approaching and us cranking up the thermostat, our plants need extra love too! Invest in a humidifier and keep those tropical plants happy! Lastly, houseplants should bring you joy, if you find one of them is being more of a nuisance to you, don’t be afraid to give ‘em away or toss it out. This is something I still struggle with! 😉

Tylor's Anthurium crystallinum

Tylor’s Anthurium crystallinum

What tops your houseplant wish list?

There’s so many different plants on my wish list that it’s hard to keep track! Most recently it was an Anthurium crystallinum, but just this week I got one from work (Sprout Home)! Anything that I find unusual always makes it onto the list. The list is never ending!

(all the incredible plant photos above were taken by Sam Daniels – iamsamdaniels.com@iamsamdaniels


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Spooky Plants

October 28, 2016

The weather is changing, the leaves are falling, and Halloween is creeping up around the corner – no pun intended!  Creepy times call for creepy plants, which begs the question – did mother nature create some botanical oddities?  She sure did!  In Kingdom Plantae, there are all sorts of horrifying plants – from vampires to werewolves to nutrient-sucking parasitic plants! Check out some of our favorite oddities below – you may want to add them to your Halloween decor this year… 

NuMex ‘Halloween’ By Fiachna - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42100732

NuMex ‘Halloween’ By Fiachna – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Capsicum cultivar NuMex ‘Halloween’ Ornamental Chile Pepper 

Peppers are part of Solanaceae, the nightshade family.  Although ornamental peppers are actually edible, we wouldn’t recommend trying them – they’re incredibly and unpleasantly spicy in comparison to the grocery store version.  The ‘Halloween’ pepper, bred by the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, is known for its purple-tinged foliage that gets darker with more direct sunlight, and its pepper fruit that start as dark purple (almost black), then ripen to orange as carotenoids are synthesized.  Grow the ‘Halloween’ pepper indoors or outdoors in as much sunlight as possible for year-round flowers and fruit. (Image


Bat Plant By Meneerke bloem - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Bat Plant By Meneerke bloem – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tacca chantrieri, Bat Plant

Hailing from Southeast Asia, the Bat Plant belongs to Discoreaceae, the yam family – yam as in not sweet potato, which is in Convolvulaceae. The flowers of the Bat Plant can grow up to 12 inches across and its ‘whiskers’  can grow up to 28 inches long. It somewhat resembles a bat in flight, hence the nickname. Definitely a must-have for halloween-themed gardens – the Bat Plant thrives in a shady spot with high humidity. (Image


Doll’s Eye By Rizka – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Actaea pachypodia, Doll’s Eyes Plant

Creepy is as creepy does, and Doll’s Eyes Plant is no exception.  Belonging to Ranunculaceae, one of the most poisonous plant families on earth, this plant is native to Eastern North America.  Also known as white baneberry (bane = meaning poisonous/deadly), the white fruit form in late spring, and stay white as they mature – an oddity in the botanical world.  The black stigma scar from the flower creates the illusion of each berry being an eye.  Talk about the feeling of being watched in the woods! And the “doll” nickname doesn’t help with the creepiness factor either. (Image


Dracula Orchid By Eric Hunt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dracula Orchid By Eric Hunt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dracula spp. Dracula Orchid

The Dracula Orchid, native to Central and South America, is a true orchid, but unlike a lot of orchids, which prefer warmer climates, the Dracula Orchid surprisingly prefers cooler weather and a shadier spot.  This Genus of orchids was named for its unusual spurs on its sepals, which are blood-red color in some species, and sometimes the center of the flower appears to have fangs. Perhaps the blood-red ones have already taken a bite out of the living? (Image


Monk’s Hood By Schnobby - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Monk’s Hood By Schnobby – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Aconitum spp. Wolfsbane/Monk’s Hood

Wolfsbane (again, bane as in deadly), or Monkshood is also a member of Ranunculaceae – and is poisonous to the touch!  Gardeners are advised to wear gloves when handling this plant.  Wolfsbane/Monkshood poison has been known to kill people, and the symptoms are immediate.  With such poisonous nature, it has been mentioned in literature and movies such as “Dracula”, “Wolf Man”, and “Cycle of the Werewolf”.  While its uses in literature vary from transforming people into werewolves, to killing werewolves, the real deal is a heart-stopping toxin.  It gets the name monk’s hood because its flowers resemble the garb of medieval monks. (Image


Witch Hazel By Neptuul - Own work, CC BY 3.0

Witch Hazel By Neptuul – Own work, CC BY 3.0

Hamamelis virginiana, Witch Hazel

The one and only witch hazel, popular as a topical treatment for skin irritations, actually has a semi-mythological history.  Belonging to its own family, Hamamelidaceae, it is one of the only plants in the entire world that bloom in the dead of winter – with snow on the ground!  Because of this virtue, some say that the plant was ‘bewitched’ and is magical.  Others claim that the name originates from the Old English wych (also spelled witch), which comes from the Old English wice, meaning pliant or supple, which also gives us wicker and weak.  “Witch hazel” was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra.  But if this is true, it does not account for the fact that Hamamelis flowers in the winter, whereas Ulmus glabra does not, thereby making Ulmus glabra not-bewitched.  This play on words is as confusing as it is bewitching, considering Hamamelis is not that pliable. (Image


P.S. Have a specific plant question for our in-house expert Chris Satch? Comment below and he’ll answer it in an upcoming post! 

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Seasonal Plant Care Tips

October 25, 2016

Christopher Satch, head of Plant Science and Education here at The Sill, shares his top four seasonal plant care tips below. No green thumb required. 

Autumn is here!  The days are getting shorter, the sun hangs lower in the sky, and most importantly, it’s getting colder.  Your house plant buddies that are taking a summer vacation outdoors need to come back indoors.  Moving plants inside is more than just physically moving them inside- you have to check them for insects, acclimate them to the lower light, trim old growth, possibly repot a few, and optimize your indoor conditions as well. 

Philodendron - The Sill

Philodendron – The Sill

Acclimate the light!

An old horticulture adage says that “even the shadiest spot outdoors is equivalent to the brightest spot indoors”.  Outdoors, light scatters in all directions, whereas indoors, light comes from only one direction, the window.  Bearing that in mind, if your cacti have been sun-bathing all summer, if they do not acclimate to lower light levels before going indoors, they will go into shock and start to look sickly.  Same deal for other plants.  Start them all off by putting them in the shade for about a week before moving indoors.  This will allow them to get used to lower light levels.  

Clean and trim!

Over the summer, your plant has probably bursted over the sides of the pot with new growth, or has shunned older leaves in favor of newer ones.  Remove all dead tissue from your plants.  Do not be afraid to trim your plants, if you do not wish to repot it.  Some plants like Monsteras respond well to a yearly trim or repotting.  Otherwise, if your plant has truly grown monsterous, depending on the plant, you can either split it, or repot it.  We at The Sill have plenty of pots for your plants to have new homes!  Do this before spraying with hort oil, after the plants have acclimated for a week.  Take this time also to dust the area where the plants will go- just to be sure that spider mites haven’t made their home there. 

Repotting a Jade Plant - The Sill

Repotting a Jade Plant – The Sill

Check plants for insects!

Not all insects are bad, but the ones that cling to your plant and make a nest indoors usually are.  Spray all plants coming indoors the day you bring them in with horticultural oil, neem oil, or insecticidal soap.  These oils and soaps work by making the exoskeleton frail, and plugging the air holes, thereby killing the insect.   Spider mites, which are known indoor plant killers love to hitch rides indoors, and have even been observed to ride on dust!  Make sure you dust your home to help prevent any hitch-hikers. 

Watering a Monstera / Healthy and Happy ZZ - The Sill

Watering a Monstera / Healthy and Happy ZZ – The Sill

And for your permanently outdoor collection,

Fall is for bulb planting!  Plant all spring ephemerals/bulbs now to ensure a robust burst of spring flowers next year.  Clear the garden of dead plant matter, as this is where pests overwinter- dead leaves now make for dead plants later if the leaves aren’t composted or removed.  Possibly plant a cover crop like nitrogen-fixing clover- to enrich the soil for next year’s plants.  Remember that what goes out of the soil into the plants, must be replaced in the soil.  It’s the Law of Return- all nutrients taken from the soil, must be replaced for a healthy soil and good yields.  The same goes for your houseplants, but on a smaller scale.  Fertilize well during phases of growth, and whenever you take from the plant tissue- living or dead. 

P.S. Have a particular plant care question for Chris? Comment below! 

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Plant-Themed Halloween Costumes

October 19, 2016

With Halloween two weeks away – we’ve rounded up our favorite plant-themed and budget-friendly costumes from around the web.

1. DIY Cactus Costume – via Studio DIY!

Cactus Costume by Studio DIY

Cactus Costume by Studio DIY

All you need is a green dress, some yarn, and a glue gun. And if it’s a bit chilly on Halloween day – simply add green leggings, or swap the dress for a hoodie and sweatpants! We’re also a fan of Studio DIY’s Pineapple Costume.

2. Houseplant Halloween Costume – via Oh Happy Day

Houseplant Costume by Oh Happy Day

Houseplant Costume by Oh Happy Day

We can’t promise you’ll look as cute as this kid, but we still think it’s a killer costume. Bonus points that it won’t show how much Halloween candy you’ve ate. Visit Oh Happy Day here for step-by-step instructions.

3. Cacti Couple Costume – via Brit + Co

Cacti Couple by Brit + Co

Cacti Couple by Brit + Co

Another take on the cactus costume (optional title II: “a couple of pricks”). If you don’t have green bottoms laying around, opt for brown khakis instead and be a cactus potted in a terra cotta!

4. Flower Pot Costume – via Buzzfeed

Flower Pot Costume found on Buzzfeed

Flower Pot Costume found on Buzzfeed

Although we couldn’t find the original tutorial for this costume, it’s definitely DIY-able with a quick trip to Home Depot and your local craft store. You could even skip the silk flowers altogether and go just as a pot. We recommend going with a plastic planter – much easier to cut the bottom out of and walk around all day in…


Behind The Scenes, Plant Care, Plant History

Pumpkin Spice Season

October 11, 2016

It’s officially Pumpkin Spice season! Which makes us curious, if not Starbucks, where did pumpkin spice come from? And what about it makes it so popular? To begin, we have to go back a few thousand years… (pre-Starbucks, that is.

view from above: latte and succulent

view from above: latte and succulent

Pumpkins are within the plant family Cucurbitaceae, and are related to cucumbers, squash, watermelons, cantaloupes, and gourds. The species, Cucurbita pepo, produces the pumpkin. The pumpkin itself is botanically a fruit – not a vegetable – as it comes from a flower, and has seeds. Being native to the New World, pumpkins were first domesticated in Central America about 7,500 years ago. These pumpkins were small, hard, and bitter – dramatically different from the pumpkins of today. They were grown primarily for their flesh, rather than their seeds.

Cucurbita pepo is a vining annual, able to be planted in most parts of the United States after the danger of last frost passes. It will take the whole season to produce pumpkins. It has been a vital part of the Native American planting tradition called “three sisters” – where gourds (pumpkins), corn, and beans are planted together. The corn provides a trellis for the beans, which provide the nitrogen for the corn to use, and the gourds cover the base of the bean and corn plants, and the surrounding area, suppressing any weeds that might try to grow. 

pumpkins galore

pumpkins galore

Like many plants that were domesticated, the wild ancestor of today’s bright orange pumpkin was small and came in different colors. Through selective breeding, the largest and most orange colored ones, and least-bitter ones, were chosen, consumed, and regrown.

After French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding “gros melons.” The name was translated into English as “pompions,” which has since evolved into the modern “pumpkin.” When the European settlers came to America, the native peoples shared with them the pumpkin as a food.  Spices were added to the pumpkins to make them more palatable.

today's traditional pumpkins

today’s traditional pumpkins

Pumpkin spice is actually a spice for pumpkins. In-fact, pumpkin spice contains no pumpkin at all! It is made up of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Merely a flavoring for pumpkin, the spice was marketed in the 1930s as “pumpkin pie spice” by popular spice and seasoning companies like McCormick. It was eventually shortened to simply “pumpkin spice”.  

So does your pumpkin spice latte actually contain any pumpkin? A little pumpkin puree, maybe.


#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, Interview, Plant Care

Meet the CSU Horticultural Club

October 6, 2016

Like a spelling bee, but for plants. 

We first came across CSU Horticulture Club on Instagram. A student-run organization within the Agricultural Sciences College at at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado dating back to the 1920s – the undergraduate CSU Horticultural Club funds their organization by growing plants in the University’s campus greenhouses and selling them to the student body.

CSU Horticulture Club

CSU Horticulture Club

With the money the group raises, they travel to farms, orchards, vineyards, processing facilities, nurseries, botanical gardens, and national competitions to gain a further understanding of the agricultural industry as a whole. “Our executive officers work together to create a club environment that strives to provide opportunities that encourage professional development and success in plant sciences,” explains Melissa Schreiner, the club’s social media officer and MACHS member.

horticultural guru Dr. Jim Klett

horticultural guru Dr. Jim Klett

Their faculty advisor, Dr. Jim Klett, is a horticultural guru and has been running the campus’s annual trial gardens for the last 30 something years. Dr. Klett also runs the MACHS Plant ID team – where selected students in the horticulture club compete in several categories of plant sciences. The Mid American Collegiate Horticultural Society (MACHS) is a competition and conference that tests students in woody and herbaceous plant identification, plant judging, and their general knowledge of plant sciences! This 4-day conference is an opportunity for students to interact with peers, horticulturists, and plant scientists – all while touring the chosen university.

The Living Rainbow trial garden

The Living Rainbow trial garden

This year’s MACHS competition starts tomorrow at Northwest Missouri State University. Eight students from CSU, the only school in the state of Colorado with qualifying members (and a top ranking horticultural program), will be attending to represent the state of Colorado in plant sciences and plant identification. These students have spent an entire year studying and preparing with Dr. Jim Klett for this competition! “The CSU MACHS team has some of the most passionate plant loving people I have ever met in life,” remarks Schreiner.

In the field

In the field

We were able to get inside scope as to what’s on the team’s plant wish list – see below – and we’ll be sharing their competition scores (along with rooting for them) these next few days. Join us by following their trip on their Instagram feed here – or checking back here on The Plant Hunter next week.

CSU Horticulture Club

CSU Horticulture Club

CSU Horticultural Club’s Favorite Plants: Rhytidocaulon ciliatum, Euphorbia supressa, Hawthorias, Tillandsias, Hippeastrum ‘Red Lion’, Drakaea glyptodon, Amaryllis, Bromeliads, Rhus typhina, Hoya, Euphorbia turbiniformis, Ephorbia horwoodii, Jewel Orchids, Hawthoria, Tillandsia, Optunia, Tricrytis, Lepanthes teliopogoniflora, Plumeria, Consolea, and obviously many more

CSU Horticultural Club’s Favorite Colorado Natives: Populus tremuliodies, Pedicularis groenlandica, Castilleja chromosa, Aquilegia coerulea and elegantula, Anemone patens, Dodecatheon pulchellum, and the edible Rubus idaeus var strigosus

P.S. Great news! 

The CSU team won second place at MACHS! Even more amazing, one of CSU’s own MACHS members, Jackson Burkholder, took home first place overall as an individual out of a total of 44 participating students. All of Burkholder’s team members placed in the top half of those 44, too.

A big congratulations to the CSU Horticultural Club! 


#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, Houseplant Tastemakers, Interview, Plant Care

Tastemakers: Darryl Cheng

October 3, 2016

Our team has been a huge fan of the Instagram feed @houseplantjournal since we can remember, so we’re thrilled to finally feature the man behind the feed, Toronto-based Darryl Cheng, in this edition of our Tastemakers series

Meet Darryl Cheng


Darryl and a Monstera deliciosa

Who is Darryl Cheng? 
By day, I’m a business analyst for a tech company. In general, my job is to understand client requirements before delivering a product. By nights/weekends, I spend time with my fiancee; take care of my plants; play music (piano, vocal, guitar – I’m the music director at my church); play sports with my brother/friends; play with my niece.

What’s your ideal ‘happy place’?
A garden nursery of tropical plants.

Darryl plant hunting

Darryl plant hunting

What’s your favorite thing about living in Toronto?
Definitely the variety of neighborhoods. I work in the bustling downtown area but live in a peaceful, yet accessible suburb.

What T.V. show do you love to binge watch?
Star Trek Voyager

What can’t you leave your house without?
My iPod. Yes, I still use one for music.

Have you always dreamt about working with plants?
I still do since I’m technically not paid to work with them. If The Sill comes to Toronto, please hire me!

Darryl in his element!

Darryl in his element!

Can you explain what the House Plant Journal is and how it started? 
House Plant Journal is the result of my love for photography and house plants. The thing I love most about plants is how they grow and become a long-term friend (well, most of them). I started documenting my plant hobby on Tumblr because it was easy to use its tagging system to find my photos on a particular topic: I still frequently refer to them when I get asked questions like “how do you propagate pothos?” or “what did your monstera look like when you first got it?” I just wanted a reference to my personal experiences with house plants. I moved to Instagram to share my more artistic photos, “plant art”, and time-lapse videos. More recently, I started a blog where I hope to instill the very basics of house plant care. I’ve also started a Youtube channel but I’m having difficulty finding time to shoot and edit videos these days.

Darryl's Houseplants

Darryl’s Houseplants

Do you have any tips for aspiring plant parents that you can share?
This mostly applies to indoor tropical foliage plants:
– If you want to keep a plant alive for a few weeks: you must give it adequate light and water.
– If you want to keep a plant alive for a few months: you must aerate the soil.
– If you want to keep a plant alive for a few years: you must repot and refresh the soil.

Plant Portrait

Plant Portrait

What’s your coolest plant find?
During a trip in Hong Kong, I spent an afternoon wandering their Flower Market district – 2 blocks of plant shops! It was really cool to see all the different varieties of plants their suppliers provide. I found many cool plants but I’d say the coolest would have to be three intertwined blades of a type of snake plant I had never seen before (photo below). Unfortunately, plants are strictly controlled items and I would never have been able to bring any home to Canada.


Snake Plant in Hong Kong flower market

Your Instagram feed is so inspiring! What is your favorite picture that you have ever posted?
Thanks! In fact, I should thank @thesill for twice featuring my photos! My favorite photo would have to be the ones of my plant shelf (photo below). The landing of my stairway receives so much bright indirect light from my skylight, it seemed a waste not to have some kind of shelving system just for plants. I know I’m very fortunate to have such ideal lighting for plants, which is why I share it often. (P.S. Check out Darryl’s Instagram feed here!)


Darryl’s plant shelf makes use of vertical space

How many plants do you own?
I would estimate 100 to 120 if you combine my home, office, and church plants.

When did your love for plants begin?
I’ve helped my mom in the garden since I was a child but it wasn’t until we moved into our current house, which features two large skylights – that’s when I went plant-crazy indoors. I love to see new growth and flowering – signs that a plant is happy living in my home.

Time for a drink

Time for a drink

What plant would you recommend for a person with a super busy schedule?
Sansevieria – they look good without much attention (photos below); they tolerate completely dry soil; they don’t need too much sunlight.


Darryl’s impressive Sansevieria (snake plant) collection


Cylindrical Snake Plant close up

What is on your to-do list today?
Survey my jungle to see which plants need water or other attention. Honestly, it’s impossible for me to keep any kind of watering schedule but it’s a testament to the notion that you should be watering the plant whenever it needs and not by adhering to a schedule (great tip!). I need to queue up my next few Instagram posts. Sometimes I’ll even type out the captions beforehand – I put a lot of thought into some of them!

What is your favorite plant at the moment? 
Snake plants – I’ve been collecting different varieties as I find them.

Bookmark these links, immediately: 
– House Plant Journal Blog
– House Plant Journal on Instagram
– House Plant Journal on Youtube


P.S. Think you or someone you know would be a great fit for our Tastemaker series? Shoot us an email at info@thesill.com – or tweet us @TheSill