#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, How-to, Interview, Plant Care

Fertilizer 101

March 29, 2017

Christopher Satch, head of plant science and education here at The Sill, gives us the 4-1-1 on fertilizer – just in time for the start of the growing season… spring!  

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The fresh smell of soil in the morning really does it for me. It really does it for your plants, too. Fertilization is one of those things that tends to get overlooked by most novices, but it can be quite important for the long-term health of your plant. Fertilizer should be thought of as vitamins for plants – not plant food (plants make their own food via light and photosynthesis). There are a few rules surrounding fertilization, and even the types of fertilizer that you should use.

Rule 1

Fertilization should follow growth, and the pace of growth. Spring is the start of the growing season. If you’re going to fertilize your plants – it’s best to do it in the springtime, when those vitamins will really come in handy. Use a slightly weaker dilution than the package recommends. Like with watering, it’s always better to under-fertilize than to over-fertilize! Do not fertilize if you’ve just repotted – new potting soil will provide enough new nutrients for your plant. (You can fertilize a month after repotting).

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Plants that grow faster should be fertilized more often than plants that grow slowly. For example, a begonia should be fertilized more regularly than a snake plant, and even more regularly than a cactus. That being said, if new growth on a plant you’ve had for a while is visibly smaller than previous growth, if the plant has been stagnant for months (not to be confused with a plant being dormant in the winter!), or if there is a clear indication of nutrient deficiency – you can fertilize your plant.

Rule 2

Plants that do more – ought to be fertilized more heavily. Fruits, veggies, and spices all need the most fertilizer because those plants are in production and fruiting regularly. For every leaf or fruit that you take from a plant, you’re also taking all the nutrients that went into that product, i.e. that leaf or fruit. It goes without saying that the plant needs the nutrients to grow the leaf or fruit in the first place. Flowering plants need a little less fertilizer than crop-producing plants. And other plants that just grow vegetatively need less.

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Rule 3

Know thy NPK values! What are NPK values? It’s the ratio of the three most-consumed macronutrients that plants need (that should be in your fertilizer) – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. These values will usually be given on the label of the fertilizer box, for example: you’ll see 10-15-10, or a similar variation, on the label. If a value is not given, then we’d skip that fertilizer altogether and find another brand to use.

Rule 4

Know thy micronutrients! Micro-nutrients are just as important as macro-nutrients. Why micro? Because plants need less of them – even though they are just as important. Micronutrients include: calcium, magnesium, boron, iron, zinc, sulfur, nickel, manganese, copper, and molybdenum (but not necessarily in that order). Each micronutrient serves a role in plant enzymatic, cellular, and developmental functions. For example, calcium is involved in cell-wall thickening, and lack of calcium can lead to necrotic buds as well as mottled growth. You generally don’t have to worry about these for your houseplant. For your outdoor plants though, you do have to worry about these.

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Rule 5

Know the difference between organic fertilizers and chemical fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are made from some decaying organism, whether it be a fish emulsion, bat guano, or kelp – it’s coming from some other organism. Great in theory, but tough in practice, to make sure that organism naturally provides the right amount of nutrients for your plant. Chemical fertilizers are actually made from ground up minerals, which allows them to be formulated to be the correct amount of each macro and micro nutrient.

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Not convinced to go with a chemical fertilizer over an organic fertilizer? Remember that everything is a chemical of some sort – even water is technically a chemical. So, both organic and ‘chemical’ fertilizers accomplish the same job, just in different ways. Fish emulsion and chemical fertilizers deliver the same nitrates, the same potassium ions, and the same phosphates to plants. So, is one “better” than the other? Not really. Chemical fertilizers just happen to be more concentrated, and are usually more affordable. But it’s totally a personal preference.

Questions about fertilizing? Leave a comment below.

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care, Plant of The Month, Style Tips

Meet the Tillandsia (Air Plant)

March 27, 2017

AirPlant

MEET THE TILLANDSIA

Air plants, Tillandsia spp., are native to Central and South America, the southeastern United States, and the West Indies. Instead of using roots to absorb water and nutrients from soil – they use their specialized leaves to absorb both from the air and sun, hence their common name: air plants!

In their native habitat, air plants also grow high up, usually attached to other plants, like trees, or rock formations. When it rains or there is moisture in the air, their special scales called trichromes transfer the water to storage areas inside the plant.

Air plants can be incredibly adaptable and can tolerate a wide range of conditions. They prefer bright to medium, indirect light – and high humidity. They’d be happiest in a bathroom or kitchen with a sunny window.

DIVERSITY

There are about 650 recognized species of air plants, and the diversity in appearance among them is truly remarkable! They can be seen in colors from a silvery white to red and pink to bright green – and many have stunning blooms that can last for several months, even indoors.

The Tillandz - Air Plants + Holders - available at TheSill.com

WATERING AND CARE

Most Tillandsias are native to humid climates – so they appreciate high levels of humidity indoors, too. We recommend misting your air plant daily (or couple of days depending on your schedule) to help keep humidity high. Placing your air plant next to potted plants in your home will be a great help too, as the air plant will be able to absorb the moisture that evaporates off the other plants when they’re watered.

In addition to misting your air plant with warm water multiple times a week, a once-a-week (or every other week) soak for about 10 minutes can do wonders. After soaking, gently shake your air plant to help remove any excess water and decrease the possibility of rot.

Fortunately, air plants are not typically bothered by insect pests. Scale and mealy bugs are the most common – but are easily eradicated with a short soaking of the plants in soapy water.

The Tillandz - Single in Yellow - available at TheSill.com

AIR PLANT CARE

SUNLIGHT
Bright to moderate, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight.

WATER
Mist frequently with tepid water (increase frequency in spring and summer months); in addition, soak once a week or every other week. Make sure excess water drips off air plant, or help it with a gentle shake.

HUMIDITY & TEMPERATURE
Prefers average home temperate and normal to high humidity. Keep air plant in a well ventilated area with plenty of air circulation!

COMMON PROBLEMS
Curling or “rolling” leaves can be a sign of dehydration, while mushiness and discoloration can be a sign of over-watering. Have an unhappy air plant at home? Send us a photo via email at help@thesill.com and we’ll try our best to diagnosis it for you.

AIR PLANT TIPS

  • Ample air circulation is paramount to the health of your air plant. If you’re looking for a container to keep your air plant in, opt for one with large holes allowing for air flow, or a fun plant stand.
  • Although air plants thrive in sunny conditions, they can fry in full sun. A good rule of thumb – if it sun is too strong for your skin, it is too strong for the leaves of your air plant. Make sure to keep your air plant in a partially shady spot where it receives bright to moderate, indirect light.
  • Like with other houseplants, increase your air plant’s watering schedule from late spring to early autumn when days are longer and the sun is stronger. For example, if you mist your air plant 2x a week during the winter, increase misting to every other day (or even daily) during the summer.
  • Although tolerant of lower temperatures than most common tropical houseplants, make sure to keep your air plant in an environment that’s above 50 degrees F at all times.

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care

Dog-Friendly Houseplants

March 23, 2017

We know fido likes to sniff and sample just about everything you bring home… so in honor of #NationalPuppyDay (aka the best day ever?) we’re sharing a few of our favorite dog-friendly houseplants. You probably won’t be able to crush your canine’s curiosity, especially if they’re a pup, but at least you know you can let them safely investigate!

Our Pet-Friendly Houseplant Picks
  • Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) 
  • Staghorn Fern (Platycerium) 
  • Lemon Button Fern (Nephrolepsis cordifolia ‘duffii’) 
  • Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exalta)
  • Watermelon Peperomia (Peperomia argyreia) 
  • Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)
  • Ripple Peperomia (Peperomia caperata) 
  • Rex Begonia (Begonia rex) 
  • Parlor/Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea elegans) 
  • Polka-Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) 
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) 
  • Calathea (Calathea spp.) 
  • Haworthia (Haworthia spp.) 
  • Hens and Chicks (Echeveria elegans)
  • Blue Echeveria (Echeveria glauca)
  • Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum)

Above are only a few of our favorites – chosen because they’re all relatively easy to care for – but there’s plenty more options out there! Visit the ASPCA’s website to browse their extensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants. And when unsure, going with a Peperomia or Fern is always a good bet. Most of their species are completely non-toxic.

Keep in mind, too, that toxic does not equal fatal. Plants can have different levels of toxicity, and can cause different symptoms. See this article on Gardenista for more info.
#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care, Plant of The Month

Meet The Monstera

March 13, 2017

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Meet The Monstera

Don’t let their name fool you – these plants are not scary at all 😉 Below you’ll find all the plant care tips and tricks you need to know to help keep your Monstera deliciosa happy and healthy.

The Monstera, nicknamed the ‘swiss cheese plant’, is native to Central America. Monsteras are characterized by the natural holes in their broad, green leaves – and their irregular, bushy growth!

Monsteras belong to the Aroid family – and are one of the few Aroids that produce edible fruit, which both humans and animals can enjoy. They rarely flower outside of their native tropical habitat, but if placed outside if a semi-tropical climate, they will have a better chance to. The individual flowers are borne on a fleshy spike and are covered by a bract, known as the spathe.

History

Monsteras were formally introduced into the botanical world in the early 20th century; however, many of the indigenous peoples of Central America were already familiar with them! In 1949, Eizi Metuda, a Japanese-born botanist, was the first person to properly describe Monstera. Recently, Monsteras have become super popular in fashion and design – with clothing, home goods, and even tattoos featuring the swiss cheese-like leaf popping up everywhere.

Diversity

Monsteras come in many shapes and variegations, which help the plant to blend in to its native surroundings. The two most popular species of Monstera are: Monstera deliciosa (pictured in this post) and Monstera adansonii (also called Monstera obliqua). Both can be popular houseplants, and can be distinguished by the shape of both their leaves and their leaves’ holes.

TheSill_Monstera

Monstera Care 101

Sunlight

Bright to medium, indirect sunlight. Avoid bright, direct sunlight (which can burn your plant’s leaves) – filtered, ‘shady’ sunlight is preferable!

Soil

Monsteras can tolerate many different types of potting soil, but a well-drained loamy soil is best.

Water

Water your Monstera weekly – and make sure that the soil has dried out completely in-between waterings. During the warmer months, you can water more frequently as it will dry out faster.

Generally, your plant will visibly droop when it needs more water. Try not to overwater your plant – or keep the soil wet for too long – because it will encourage root rot. In the winter, you can water less frequently, about once every 1-2 weeks should be sufficient.

Humidity and Temperature

Tropical natives – Monsteras prefer a more humid climate, but normal room humidity will do. Try to keep the room temperature between 65°F – 85°F if possible. (It is best not to let it get below 60°F!) 

Size

With the right conditions – the Monstera will ideally reach a height of around 3-5 feet tall, and can have a spread of even wider! Monsteras grow more horizontally, as opposed to vertically. “Wide and wild”, we like to say.

Fertilization

You can fertilize your Monstera during the spring and summer months (i.e. ‘the growing season’) once every 3-4 weeks. Just follow the directions on whatever fertilizer you choose. We do not recommend fertilizing during the winter.

Common Problems

If given the right conditions – Monsteras are super easy to take care of. They are generally a pest-free plant; however, if pests appear, treat them as soon as possible with weekly sprays of horticulture (Neem) oil and regular wipe-downs of the plant’s stems and leaves.

1) Symptom: Leaves turning brown and crispy at edges

Cause: Under-watered, high salts, or potassium deficiency. Give your plant a good soak!

2) Symptom: Wilting/drooping green leaves and stems

Cause: Under-watered, or too constrained by current pot. Give it a good soak, trim leaves, or re-pot if watering doesn’t fix the wilting. 

3) Symptom: Yellowing, with bright yellow leaves. Can be drooping, too. (Usually the leaves at the base of the plant will yellow first.) 

Cause: Over-watering, rot or root disease. Let your soil dry out completely. 

P.S. Shop Monstera Plants

Vist The Sill Shop in New York City – or shop online at TheSill.com (*due to size, the Monstera deliciosa is currently available for NYC delivery only.)

 

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care, Plant of The Month

Meet the hardy Haworthia

March 6, 2017

THE HAWORTHIA

A genus of succulent plants native to South Africa, Haworthias can vary in shape, color, and size – there are over 150 accepted species of Haworthia – but share many common attributes, such as a central rosette, fleshy dark green leaves, and small white flowers (when in bloom). Their hardiness and adaptation for semi-shaded conditions has made the Haworthia a popular garden and container plant for both indoors and outdoors.

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Haworthias, like many succulents and tropical plants, use CAM photosynthesis, a type of photosynthesis that evolved in plants as an adaption to arid environments. In CAM photosynthesis, the stomata (leaf pores) are only open at night, which allows the plant to conserve water and consequently be drought-tolerant – making it a perfect pick for a forgetful or busy owner.

The Sill Mini - Haworthia

PLANT CARE

LIGHT – Bright light. A few hours of direct sun, or a whole day of filtered/indirect-sunlight.

SOIL – Haworthias can tolerate many types of soils, but a well-drained loamy soil (potting soil) amended with sand is best.

WATER – Before any watering, make sure that the soil has completely dried out. In the summer, water frequently as it dries out (in a sunny location, we’d estimate this at every 1 to 2 weeks) to encourage growth. In the winter, water less frequently, like once every month or two. Haworthias can survive drought for months (!), but ideally would not like to be subject to that. Do not overwater.

FLOWERS – Haworthia will flower when mature and large enough if the conditions are right. It will produce small white flowers on a spike.

TEMPERATURE – Normal room temperature will do – between 65-85ºF (18-30ºC) is ideal.

FERTILIZER – You can fertilizer Haworthias during the spring and summer (once every 3 months), if you want. We do not recommend fertilizing Haworthias during fall and winter.

HUMIDITY – Normal room humidity.

Haworthia close up #plantporn - The Sill

TOUBLESHOOTING

YELLOW LEAVES – Almost always a sign of overwatering, but occasionally due to nutrient deficiency. Let the soil dry out completely before the next watering.

WRINKLES – A sign of under-watering – give your Haworthia slightly more water.

NO FLOWERS Be patient! Haworthia not only have to be mature to flower (generally a few years old), but also need the right conditions. Haworthias will flower only during the warm months.

TOXICITY – Haworthia are considered by the ASPCA to be safe to cats and dogs (i.e. non-toxic)! Their sap may irritate the skin, so make sure to wash off any sap after handling.

SHOPPING

The Haworthia is available both for NYC Delivery and Nationwide Shipping in our locally-made Ezra, Calvert, and Jules ceramic planters. Care instructions + 30-day guarantee included.

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Shop for delivery in NYC: Haworthia and Ezra, Haworthia and Calvert, Haworthia and Jules

Shop for Nationwide Shipping: Haworthia and Ezra, Haworthia and Calvert, Haworthia and Jules

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Plant Care, Plant History, Plant of The Month

March Plant of the Month: Oxalis

February 28, 2017

Meet our March Plant of the Month – The Oxalis! 

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ABOUT THE OXALIS

Oxalis is the largest genus in the family Oxalidaceae, representing about 800 of the approximately 900 known species within the family. They are often referred to as wood sorrels, false shamrocks, sourgrasses (we do not recommend tasting them), or a plethora of other common names. Of the species in cultivation, Oxalis triangularis is the one most commonly found as a houseplant. 

In the wild by Kurt Stüber (image 1; image 2)

In the wild by Kurt Stüber (image 1; image 2)

In the wild, Oxalis are usually herbaceous perennials in warmer climates, or herbaceous annuals in colder climates. The leaves for many Oxalis species are palmately-compound and trifoliate, meaning three leaflets radiate from a single point, making them superficially similar to clovers. However clover plants are from the genus Trifolium, in the family Fabaceae. Both Oxalis and Trifolium have been associated with the Shamrock, a traditional Irish symbol.

A quick way to identify whether your plant is an oxalis or clover is to look at both the shape of their leaves and the shape of their flowers. An Oxalis leaflet is heart-shaped, and their flowers have multiple petals; while the leaflet of a Clover/Trefoil is oval-shaped, and their flowers round: 

Oxalis (image 1) vs Clover (image 2)

Oxalis (image 1) vs Clover (image 2)

While the leaves of the Oxalis are trifoliate, the flowers are pentamerous (five petals), and can vary in color from white, pink, red, or yellow. The Oxalis produces a small capsule fruit containing several seeds. In many Oxalis, the capsule, when dry, can shoot the seeds as far as five meters! It is no surprise then that Oxalis species can dominate plant life in local woodlands.

OXALIC ACID

Although some types of Oxalis are edible, or produce edible tubers, a main characteristic of members of the Oxalis genus is that they contain oxalic acid – hence the genus name. Oxalic acid gives the plant a sour taste, and in very large amounts, can be considered toxic. However, oxalic acid is also present in foods found at your local supermarket: broccoli, spinach, and brussel sprouts, among others. The risk of actual poisoning from oxalic acid is highly unlikely from regular foods. However, Oxalis plants are high in oxalic acid, and if consumed, must be cooked thoroughly to destroy the excess. Oxalic acid in high doses binds to all the free calcium ions in the body, causing a calcium deficiency. Even with this, Oxalis, have been used in traditional herbal tonics by humans around the world for thousands of years. 

Oxalis Acid; Edible variety of Oxalis tuberosa (image 2)

Oxalis Acid; Edible variety of Oxalis tuberosa (image 2)

NYCTINASTY

Many Oxalis exhibit a phenomenon known as nyctinasty – the rhythmic circadian nastic movement of plants in response to the onset of darkness (video). The plant can sense light quality and type via its phytochrome receptors. Depending on which kind of light the plant’s photoreceptor protein absorbs, the protein can switch states.

Illustration: Charles Darwin (1880), The Power of Movement in Plants

Illustration: Charles Darwin (1880), The Power of Movement in Plants

Many plants use phytochrome to establish circadian cycles influencing the opening and closing of leaves associated with nyctinastic movements. The movements are mediated by pulvini (sg. pulvinus) – the joints bulging with cells at the base of the leaflets. These joints are responsible for plant movement, independent of growth! This ‘pulvinar movement’ is caused by changes in turgor pressure – or the osmotic flow of water from an area of low solute concentration, outside the cell, to an area of high solute concentration, inside the cell’s vacuole.

The pulvini release sugars and potassium ions, which cause a drop in turgor pressure in the cells, as the water follows the solutes out of the cells, and the cells ‘deflate’. The drop in turgor pressure in the pulvini is what causes the characteristic drooping of the leaflets.

Oxalis triangularis with closed leaflets; Watch time-lapse video

Oxalis triangularis with closed leaflets; Watch time-lapse video

Phytochromes are responsible for light-sensing, and two main phytochromes are responsible for most of the action: Pr and Pfr. Pr is the inactive form, where Pfr is the active form. Pr absorbs Red light – and is converted to Pfr. Pfr absorbs Far Red light – and is converted to Pr. Red light is higher energy red light, usually in the 600 nm range, and is produced in large quantities by the sun. While, Far Red light is usually in the 700 nm range, and can travel further than Red light.

When the sun is out, the plant knows it is daytime by the high amount of red light, which converts the inactive Pr to the active Pfr. Pfr then goes to signal other plant processes to occur. If a plant is shaded, other plant leaves may block red light, but allow far red light to go lower into the canopy. If the sun is setting, Far Red light, although being lower energy, bounces around more than Red light, and Pfr is converted to the inactive Pr – thus signaling to the plant that it is night time! And this signal, the conversion of Pfr to Pr, causes the drop in turgor pressure in the pulvini, which then causes the drooping/closing of the leaflets of the Oxalis. 

THE HOUSEPLANT 

Oxalis are excellent indoor plants because not only do they come in a range of colors and sizes, but also because they are so prolific. In fact – they are so prolific that they are considered to be ‘weeds’ to gardeners and greenhouse growers worldwide. If kept as a houseplant, many will go through a dormant phase in the wintertime, especially if they are not receiving enough light. If your Oxalis is unhappy during the winter months, give it a small dose of fertilizer and a bit more light – and it should eventually bounce back. 

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OXALIS PLANT CARE

SUNLIGHT: Medium light to bright, indirect light. Can handle a few short hours of direct sun.

WATER: Water weekly! Allow the potting soil to dry out before re-watering – about 2 inches down should be dry to the touch. Water more frequently during the warmer months, and fertilize during the growth period. Generally, the plant will droop to show that it needs more water. Do not overwater or keep the potting soil wet for too long, as this will encourage root rot.

HUMIDITY: Any humidity level will do.  Normal room humidity is fine.

TEMPERATURE: 65°F-85°F (18°C-30°C). It’s best not to let it go below 60°F (15°C).

COMMON PROBLEMS: It is generally a very easy-going plant. It may get spider mites, which you should treat as soon as they appear with weekly sprays of horticultural (Neem) oil and regular wipe-downs of the plant.

I. Symptom: Leaves turning brown and crispy at leaf edges

Cause: Under-watered, low humidity, high salts, or potassium deficiency

II. Symptom: Wilting

Cause: Under-watered

III. Symptom: Yellowing (difficult to see in red cultivars), possible black stems, mushiness

Cause: Rot or root disease; over-watering 

PRECAUTIONS: Irritating to cats, dogs, and humans if consumed. Best practice is always to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and pets.

P.S. IN (OR NEAR) NEW YORK CITY? JOIN US THIS MARCH FOR AN OXALIS WORKSHOP AT OUR NYC SHOP! LEARN MORE HERE

 

#PlantPorn, #PlantsMakePeopleHappy, Behind The Scenes, Interview, Plant History, Style Tips

The Orchid Show: Thailand at The New York Botanical Garden

February 23, 2017

Last Thursday we had the honor to attend The New York Botanical Garden’s press preview for their annual Orchid Show.

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The NYBG’s Orchid Show is a spring tradition for New Yorkers. Almost at the end, but not quiet yet, of a long, cold and drab New York winter – we crave the warmth and color that’s abundant inside the Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

The theme of this year’s Orchid Show was Thailand. The 15th annual show paid homage to the wealth of orchids (over 1,200 native species), acclaimed tropical gardens, renowned orchid breeding, and rich cultural history of the Southeast Asian nation.

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NYBG’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was transformed into a classic Thai garden, complete with a sala centerpiece and hanging lanterns throughout. A sala (ศาลา) is a traditional open pavilion with a signature sweeping roofline that is used as a meeting place or space for relaxation and reflection. Found throughout Thailand, they offer visitors protection from the sun and rain.

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Trees and shrubs were pruned and trained into fanciful shapes, recalling the ancient Thai garden tradition of mai dat, and small ponds and pools were home to floating water jars filled with colorful orchids. Elephants, also symbolic of Thailand, flanked the Conservatory’s iconic reflecting pools, and traditional bamboo screens created multiple vignettes throughout the large space.

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The leading producer of cultivated orchids for over a century, Thailand is the world’s biggest exporter of native and hybrid tropical orchids. Because of the country’s hospitable climate – orchids have become almost synonymous with Thailand. Inside the Conservatory, orchid varieties that have helped Thailand earn its international reputation as a center for orchid horticulture and breeding – like Vanda, Dendrobium, and Paphiopedilum – were proudly on display.

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Dendrobium Orchids

NYBG horticulturalists assembled thousands of flowers from the Garden’s research collections, as well as from the finest growers across the country. The timing had to be perfect for the thousands of orchids used to be in bloom. It was spectacular – the Conservatory was filled with orchid varieties of every conceivable color and shape.

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The tour was led by Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections and Curator of the Orchid Collection, and Christian Primeau, NYBG’s Conservatory Manager who oversees NYBG’s extensive tropical and subtropical plant collections, and was the exhibition’s designer.

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We were lucky enough to chat with both Marc and Christian after the tour to learn more about what they hoped visitors would gain from the experience. In addition to enjoying the beautiful show, Christian hopes visitors will learn a little about Thai history and Thai gardening, and gain appreciation for Thai cultural. Marc hopes visitors will also get a glimpse into NYBG’s monumental education, research, and display efforts – The Orchid Show being a perfect example of those continuous endeavors.

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It’s worth noting that since 1990, the NYBG has been a designated ‘Plant Rescue Center’, charged with nurturing and bringing back to health orchids that have been collected illegally in the wild and seized at international borders. Marc Hachadourian along with Matthew Pace, PH.D., Assistant Curator in the Garden’s William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, are at the forefront of modern orchidology and conservation.

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And their top plant care tip for indoor gardeners at home? Analyze your space’s conditions – and choose your plants accordingly. With so many wonderful options to choose from, don’t base your first choice off looks alone. Find what will thrive.

The Orchid Show: Thailand at The New York Botanical Garden runs through Sunday, April 9th – and it is not to be missed!

*All Images Courtesy The New York Botanical Garden 

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care, Style Tips

Growing Bulbs Indoors – By Fix

February 21, 2017

We’re thrilled to feature a guest post by our friends FIX on growing bulbs indoors below! 

MEET FIX: The Fix blog is a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing readers expert content to make life easier. They cover everything in and around your home, like landscaping, gardening, outdoor activities, green living and home maintenance. From products to projects, FIX provides readers with a daily fix of content from our experienced and knowledgeable team of writers.

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FORCING BULBS: Recreate Nature In Your Home 

The often dull, dreary months of winter can be a down time for many gardeners – sunshine is limited and outdoor gardening is typically at a standstill, making us yearn for the days of colorful flowers and cheerful scents. And while it’s true that many gardening activities need to wait until the weather warms up again, there is a clever way to trick Mother Nature into playing nice. It’s called “forcing bulbs.”

All those beautiful flowering bulbs that offer spectacular bursts of color and scent in the spring garden can be coaxed into brightening up your home during the winter. “Forcing” bulbs simply means that we are encouraging them to flower earlier than they would on their own. So if you can’t wait until the warmer months and your home and your mood need a foretaste of spring, you’re reading the right article.

How Does This Work?

If you’re like many gardeners, you like to understand how things work. Flowering bulbs have biological clocks that tell them when to sprout roots and leaves, when to bloom, and when to enter dormancy. Chilling time, whether the bulb is in the ground during the winter or in your refrigerator, breaks the cycle that allows the plant to begin growth. So, when we force bulbs to bloom earlier than they normally would, we are recreating nature inside our homes in a shortened time frame. In short, we are tricking the plant into believing it’s spring.

Another interesting fact is that most bulbs have everything they need stored inside the bulb, requiring little additional care aside from water. Bulbs are amazing self-contained food storage systems that are highly adapted to living underground and thriving on their own – never needing fertilizer.

anatomy-of-a-tulip-bulb

Which Bulbs Can Be Forced?

Nearly any flowering bulb can be forced to bloom early, but flowering bulbs that would naturally be in the ground during the cold winter months will need chilling. These include tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, crocus, snowdrops, and Iris reticulata. These gorgeous bloomers have a wide range of flower colors, sizes, shapes, and scents, so plan ahead to have the best display possible.

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Exceptions to the Rule

Up until now, we’ve been talking about forcing bulbs that need chilling time to bloom. There are a couple of flowering bulbs for which chilling time isn’t necessary – amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus (often simply called paperwhites). These bulbs typically grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-9 and aren’t used to what we would normally call “winter” with cold temperatures, so no chilling is necessary.

Once you plant these bulbs in soil or in water, expect them to flower within about four to eight weeks. Because these bulbs are so easy, they are some of the most popular ones to force indoors.

Amaryllis: Many gardeners collect different amaryllis bulbs because they are so beautiful, offering a range of colors from red to white, lilac, and peach, single and double blooms, and intriguing forms.

Paperwhites: These heavily scented blooms are usually white, but some newer selections are pale yellow and have lighter scents. While many people love the intense paperwhite scent, a little goes a long way, so you might consider having just one or two indoors.

How to Force

Both bulbs that need chilling and those that don’t can be “planted” and displayed in soil or in water. The only difference between the two is the chilling time, so if you are using amaryllis or paperwhites, simply omit the chilling step.

  1. Purchase bulbs in the fall – choose those that are large, firm, without noticeable bruising or nicks, and have not yet begun growing roots.
  2. Choose a container that is at least twice as deep as the bulbs to allow for root development, and fill it halfway with soilless potting mixture.
  3. Plant as many bulbs as you can in the container without letting them touch (aim for about a quarter of an inch in between), tip side up.
  4. To add two different bulbs to one pot; layer the larger bulbs on the bottom with the smaller ones on the top. It’s best to use bulbs with similar chilling times.
  5. Cover the bulbs with the mixture, leaving the tips showing, water them thoroughly, and cover loosely with a paper bag.
  6. Place in cool (35-45 degrees) and dark place for chilling – see “How Many Weeks to Chill” for chilling time. Monitor temperature and soil moisture regularly. Soil should be damp but not wet.
  7. When green sprouts emerge and roots start poking out of the bottom, it’s time to move them to a warmer location inside your home.

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To force bulbs in water: Use the same steps above, but use a glass container (usually clear), with a base of pebbles, marbles, or glass rocks. Set the bulb on top of the pebbles and add just enough water to cover the base of the bulb. There are specific “forcing vases” that have a distinctive shape to hold the bulb up, but, theoretically, any glass container will do if the bulb is not submerged in water. Forcing bulbs in this manner is a beautiful way to see the entire plant, with roots flowing in the water below.

Caring for Forced Bulbs

Caring for forced bulbs is easy. Place the containers in bright indirect light, like in a windowsill, by a bright window, or on a tabletop that receives sufficient light. Keep the soil damp but not wet, and when the flowers have totally faded, place them (bulb and all) into the compost pile. Most forced bulbs have used up their supply of energy and will not likely bloom again – it’s possible that if you plant them outside in the ground, they may eventually rebloom, but that could take several years.

forcing-bulbs-in-water

Decorating Tips

Forcing bulbs is a charming age-old practice, so decorating with these bloomers is a sure way to add elegance and sophistication to your interiors. While you can certainly pop a bulb or two in a pot and call it good, consider extending their decorating potential with these suggestions:

  • Use decorative household items like teacups, gravy boats, and soup tureens to display forced bulbs, matching the size of the plant to the size of the container. Note: Because these items do not have drainage holes, pot them up in an ordinary container to chill them, then carefully replant them into the more decorative container for display. Water only sparingly to avoid rotting; check soil moisture regularly.
  • Tuck green moss in between bulbs when planting several in a pot, or simply surround one bulb with a layer of moss.
  • Group identical clear glass cylinders together and tie a colorful ribbon around them.
  • For forced bulbs with tall stems (tulips, daffodils), gently tie a ribbon around the stems to keep them from flopping over.

Article and illustrations above contributed by FIX

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Plant Care, Plant History, Plant of The Month, Style Tips

Plant Care 101: No Green Thumb Required

February 13, 2017

Learning a new skill is a proven, and positive, way to fight the winter blues. Having something new to concentrate on and look forward to can stimulate your mind and give you greater pleasure in everyday life. And we could all use a little bit more ‘happy’ this winter, right?

Winter_PlantCare101

With that in mind, we’re sharing our team’s “top ten” houseplant tips with you below. These general tips were compiled with the thought in mind that it’s not a green thumb you’re lacking – but a starting point with concrete suggestions in plain english that you can easily digest and follow.

Not only will learning to pick and care for the perfect plants be therapeutic this winter, but so will the plants themselves. Plants have been proven to boost moods, increase creativity and productivity, convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, and naturally filter our indoor air of harmful toxins.

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OUR TOP TEN PLANT CARE TIPS

1 – Pick your plant based on your light

Our #1 rule of thumb is to determine the amount of sunlight your space receives, and to choose your plant accordingly! If you’re not sure just by looking – start by figuring out which direction your windows face. If there’s something outside your window – a large tree or building, for example – that could obstruct sunlight, make sure to take that into consideration, too. Generally speaking:

South­‐facing windows = bright light

East/West­‐facing windows = moderate light

North­‐facing windows = low light

Remember that while nearly all plants prefer bright light – be careful to protect them from intense direct sun. If the summer sun is intense enough to burn your skin, it’s certainly too much for your plant’s leaves! To protect your plants from burning, draw a sheer curtain during the day or move them a foot or two away from the window.

2 – Be mindful of your social life

Be sure to consider your daily schedule, travel frequency, and general forgetfulness (nothing to be ashamed about!) while you decide on a plant. If your absent-mindedness or crazy work schedule is what stands in the way of plant ownership – pick a plant that thrives from neglect. For example – if you have bright light, try a low maintenance succulent or cactus; if you have low light, try a low maintenance snake plant or ZZ plant.

3 – It is better to underwater, than to overwater

Beware of over-watering; it’s the easiest way to kill a plant! You may be tempted to water your plant on a strict schedule, but the best thing to do is to water it only when needed. Always check the soil first before giving it a drink. 

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Keep in mind that environmental and seasonal changes can throw your plant’s watering schedule off. For example – plants need less water in the winter, when they’re growing slower, days are shorter, and light is less intense. But if you’re blasting your heater… their soil might dry out quicker, and they might need more. A telltale sign your plant is past due for a watering? Wilting leaves or soil pulling away from the sides of the planter. If the soil is darker in color and sticks to your finger, your plant should be fine for the time being.

P.S. Always use tepid water to water your plant. Water directly in-to the soil, around the base of the plant. Let the potting soil soak up the water for about 15-­‐30 minutes, then empty any remaining water from the saucer.

4 – Increase humidity when necessary

For plants that prefer more humid conditions such as ferns, ivies, or tropical plants, don’t be afraid to mist them using a small spray bottle in-­between regular waterings. During the dry months of winter, grouping your plants together also helps to create a humid microclimate. A humidifier can help, too, and is an added bonus for your skin.

Keep in mind that drought-­tolerant plants like succulents and cacti do not need added humidity – they don’t mind being dry! In fact, their native habitat – the desert – is pretty damn dry, and that’s how they like it And that brings us to another rule that pretty much applies to every single houseplant, and all these tips: 

RECREATE YOUR PLANT’S NATIVE ENVIRONMENT (as best as possible, of course)

Most tropical plants prefer high humidity and moderate light, while most desert dwellers prefer dry air and bright light… 

Ferns on the rainforest floor in New Zealand (Image by Julius Bergh)

Ferns on the rainforest floor in New Zealand (Image via Julius Bergh)

Cacti in the desert (via In-The-Desert.com)

Cacti in the desert (Image via In-The-Desert.com)

5 – Keep your plant’s environment as stable as possible

Plants, just like us, are most comfortable between 65 and 75 degrees F. Extreme fluctuation in a plant’s environment can seriously stress them out. Do your best to avoid placing your plant near temperature hazards like vents, radiators and exterior doors, which might create hot or cold spots and drafts.

6 – It’s totally OK to forgo fertilizer

If you’re a plant novice, it’s totally OK to stay away from fertilizer. Too much fertilizer is another easy way to kill your plant. Plants get their minerals from the soil, and their food from the sun. Houseplants tend to not need fertilizer as often as outdoor plants do. It is possible to have a healthy houseplant without additives. If you do choose to fertilizer your plant, it’s best to only do so during the growing season (i.e. spring and early summer) and follow the general rule of thumb ‘less is more’. Most store-­‐bought fertilizers should be diluted with water before use.

7 – Purchase a healthy plant from a reputable source

Do your best to buy a quality plant from someone or somewhere with a little expertise. In most cases, you’ll want to stay away from department stores and supermarkets, where plants are stored in basements and dark warehouses, and instead stick to your local nurseries, garden centers, and specialty stores or florists. Definitely give your plant a once-­‐over before purchasing: watch out for yellowed leaves, powdery mildew, leaf spots, brown leaf tips, weak or wobbly stems and other obvious signs of poor plant health. 

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An added bonus of purchasing from a source with plant expertise – they can answer your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask, either. Most people who sell or work with plants, love talking about them

8 – Show a little extra TLC in the beginning

Show your plant a little extra attention in the beginning of your relationship. When you bring a new plant home for the first time, establish a routine of checking in with it every 3 to 4 days. A little extra attention can go a long way – and it can be pretty therapeutic, we promise. Slight environmental changes can cause fluctuations in the

frequency of your care, so best not to just assume “every Monday is watering day.” Besides, it’s nice to check in and say “Hi” to your plant every few days. Watching it adapt and grow can be fulfilling.

9 – Do not be afraid to repot

A common misconception – repotting does not necessarily mean putting your plant in a new planter, but rather, changing your plant’s soil or potting mix. This is because plants receive some of their nutrients from their soil. Great news if you love your planter. But if you’re looking to splurge on a new one, try to choose one no more than 2-­4 inches larger than the current planter, depending on your plant’s current size – i.e. you do not want your plant swimming in soil, which can lend itself to overwatering, and eventually root rot. 

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10 – Make sure your planter has drainage

Most plants are sold in plastic grow pots, which are not meant for long-term growth! More often than not, the plant has already overgrown it’s plastic pot at the nursery, and needs to be repotted into something more substantial. We recommend picking a planter slightly larger in size than the plant’s current grow pot, in a reliable material like ceramic, terra cotta, or fiberglass. If your plant’s new planter does not have a drainage hole at the bottom of it to allow excess water to escape from the potting soil – it is extremely important to create makeshift drainage. You can do this by lining the bottom of your planter with rocks to create crevices for the water to drain into. Here at The Sill, we use lava rocks because of their porous nature. This added precaution helps you from overwatering your plants in the long run.

P.S. Plant Care questions?

That’s what we’re here for. Leave a comment below, swing by The Sill Shop, reach us via email at help@thesill.com, or watch this awesome video of Chris Satch – head of Plant Education here at The Sill – by our neighbors Digg.

 

#PlantsMakePeopleHappy, How-to, Interview, Plant History

Living Sustainably – by GoGreen

February 7, 2017

We’re thrilled to feature a guest post by our friends GoGreen on living more sustainably. 

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GoGreen is an online guide for sustainable living and global green news. It reports on environmental topics that inspire readers to share and take action.

Their mission is to shine light on the biggest issues in sustainability from eco-friendly technology to animal welfare, applaud companies taking steps towards greener practices, and support legislation that will reduce our carbon footprint, and discoveries in green energy.

LIVING SUSTAINABLY IN NYC 

Conserving energy plays a significant role in lessening the effects of climate change. It helps to reduce the emissions being released into the atmosphere. This is more than just regulating smoke stacks from businesses or cars spewing fumes from their tailpipes. Each time we leave the light on, after exiting a room, or allow the water to keep running while we brush our teeth, or don’t insulate our windows so that we have to blast the heater or A/C, we waste energy and contribute to global warming.

With the rise in popularity of sustainable living, many think you must live a ‘country life’ – make everything, grow everything, and do everything yourself. If you can afford to do that: great. The problem is many of us live in cities because we work. We need our jobs to help pay our bills and care for our family. We need a form of income to give us the means to donate to charity, or enjoy some entertainment after a hard week of work. Yet, living in any city, even New York City, does not mean you can’t live sustainably. You can make the choice to “go green” regardless of your location!

To illustrate, New York City has a higher cost of living than many other cities – but, the wages are usually higher too. And, in New York City, it’s rare to find someone who actually owns and drives a car. So, you can easily save money on gas and cut down on car emissions if you take public transportation, walk, or bike to your office. When shopping for clothing, you can buy almost everything secondhand in one of the city’s many thrift stores. Being that you live in New York, you’ll probably find an even larger and more stylish selection of secondhand clothing! You’ll start to wonder if you’ll ever need to buy anything brand-new again.

Photography by Sidney Bensimon (credit)

Photograph by photographer Sidney Bensimon (credit)

And, to return to the point of not driving – walking around New York is quite fun. There’s great people watching, and so many new establishments and sights to explore. You couldn’t do any of these things in the country where your closest neighbor could be over a 30-minute drive away. Not to mention, simple actions such as cutting down on water, electricity, and plastic use can be done in any city.

New York City has the lowest carbon footprint of other major American cities because people live in smaller apartments, in a smaller space, and take public transportation. Plus, in 2009, the City Council approved the Green Buildings Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing commercial, government and residential buildings. (See how NYC compares to other cities around the world here.)

Since New York is a progressive city, they also offer many recycling programs you can conveniently utilize. In a similar vein, there are a wide variety of coworking spaces to save on building costs, rent, and space usage.

So, if you thought you had to move to a forest to live the green life, you were wrong. You can live quite sustainably in one of the most highly-respected locations on earth, New York City!

Photograph by photographer Sidney Bensimon (credit)

Photograph by photographer Sidney Bensimon (credit)

 

SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES OUTSIDE NYC

There is an increasing number of sustainable urban communities that are being developed. When you visit one, you might ask – “Why aren’t all cities built this way?” Naturally, the 21st century is nothing like the 20th… Cities need to grow very differently than they have in the past.

The consumption of rural lands for suburban development threatens future food security; the reason is most cities initially grew where soil conditions and farming were best. Resources are diminishing at an unbelievable rate. According to the Global Footprint Network, human consumption of resources is creating an ecological deficit.

Simple actions such as running too much water, not recycling boxes, purchasing new clothes, and driving gas-fueled cars has a significant impact on our environment. We are consistently pushing the boundaries of sustaining renewable resources though, and should be paying more attention. This is why it is critical to stick to sustainability practices.

You want to secure the earth’s resources for the future, which also helps to promote environmental, economic and social prosperity. This is also why it is important to invest more in sustainable communities in order to help address this potential malady.

A sustainable community is one labeled as a “healthy environment” where residents can prosper socially and economically, while helping to maintain the environment together. It is a community where environmental responsibilities are shared.

Benefits of living in a green home 

When you live in a green home, you not only get a better return on your investment, but you also have a positive impact on the environment.

  1. Economics. When you use durable materials, they last a long time and you save on the cost of replacements or regular maintenance. Some states will even offer tax rebates for living in a green home. The long-term savings is realized because green homes use less energy, and so, you have lower energy bills. In addition, your home value goes up as consumers are attracted to lower utility and maintenance costs.
  2. Improved health. Sustainability means leaving with fewer toxins. Green homes take advantage of non-toxic materials. During construction, this means that lowered amounts of toxic waste are emitted into the air. Plus, green homes have purer ventilation systems. The air is cleaner, which promotes a healthier indoor environment.
  3. Better environmental impact. Using clean energy sources and renewables decreases our reliance on fossil fuels. Recyclable materials also lower the negative emission on the environment.
Features of sustainable communities
  1. Housing is much more affordable. When a community is densely built, it can offer a larger share of apartments and townhomes. These are a lot less expensive than detached homes. Moreover, when the availability is larger than the demand – it also lowers expenses. Furthermore, higher-density housing has lower maintenance costs than single-detached homes.
  2. Cuts down on transportation cost. If communities are walkable, then less travel by automobile is needed. The goal is to have many destinations close by and good transit services. When families can leave the car at home, it results in lower maintenance, gas, and insurance costs. Some can even give up their car completely.
  3. Better work-life balance. If household expenditures are lower, fewer hours of work are needed to support the home. As a result, families can spend more time together. They have more opportunities to live life, as opposed to living to work.
  4. Lower hardship on households. Climate control and transportation costs are lower in sustainable urban communities. This means that overall hardship on households also goes down. When energy costs go up in the future, this will have a huge impact on household hardship. Sustainable living can keep energy costs down.
  5. Efficient infrastructure. Less infrastructure per capita means less maintenance of roads and utility infrastructure. If the population density is higher, then infrastructure only needs to be maintained where the population is centered. Plus, infrastructure can now be built more efficiently.
  6. Better use of public facilities. In sustainable communities, libraries, parks and community centers are easily reached. This helps access, especially for those that don’t have cars. Also, if an area is more densely populated, it means that one library or pool can serve more people.
  7. Improved delivery of water and wastewater services. Since everything is closer together, the distance that water and wastewater must be pumped to households is lower. It makes for better efficiency over communities that are spread out. It also saves on the energy needed to pump water.
  8. Leaves land available for future growth. Designing housing and commerce to accommodate a higher density means that more land will be available for future growth.
Sustainable communities around the nation

One of the most sought-after divisions is Village Homes in Davis, California. Here are some of the features:

Village Homes (credit)

Village Homes (credit)

 

  1. Pedestrian lanes for walking and cycling. Vehicle access is by back lanes only. Plus, grocery stores are within walking distance.
  2. A sweat equity program allows low-income construction workers to buy homes.
  3. Narrower streets produce less storm water run-off.
  4. All homes are passive solar designed, which include solar hot water and natural cooling. There is also more space for trees, with reduced pavement. This lowers the ambient air temperature, which means a decreased need for air-conditioning. Household bills in this area are 1/2 to 1/3 less than those in surrounding neighborhoods.
  5. Much of the residents’ food is being grown in the neighborhood, due to agricultural space. There are commercial fruit and nut orchards, a commercial organic produce farm, home-scale garden plots and edible landscaping throughout pathways and roads.

Other examples of sustainable communities in the U.S. include Pacifica Cohousing, Earthaven EcoVillageArcadia, and the Weaver Community Housing. Other notable sustainable living  ideas include tiny houses, like the Triangle Tiny House movement. And Raleigh Cohousing is developing cohousing for senior citizens – expected to be completed by 2019.

Sustainable communities are on the rise for reasons mentioned above and more. Wouldn’t it be nice to see America booming with usable with farmland as it once was generations ago?

Article above contributed by GoGreen. Read more on sustainability on GoGreen.org