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Growing Unique Houseplants that You May Have Never Heard Of


Houseplants add color, can improve indoor air quality, and reduce stress but many times we grow the same plants over and over again. This can be due to what you were raised with and/or what is available in your area. But, there are numerous other plants that make wonderful houseplants and are conversation starters. Why is this? It is the creative name associated with these plants. So pull out those plant catalogues entering your mailbox and plan on growing something unique this year.

EARTHSTAR (Cryptanthus)

The name of this plant comes from what it looks like. If you view it from above, it does look like a star. The interesting fact of this plant is it is actually a bromeliad. While you may be used to seeing bromeliads growing on the side of trees, this bromeliad grows in soil. To be successful in growing this unique houseplant, you first need to mimic the natural environment, which is Brazil.

The first step of this process is to select a moist environment. In homes, this means that you will need to find a space for this lovely plant in a bathroom or kitchen. If you are lucky enough to have a heated greenhouse, this is the best option but…….there is another choice that will create the second best environment and that is a terrarium. *Please note:  the plant in the terrarium is not an Earthstar.

While you can use a commercially labeled container (terrarium), why would you when you can easily make one. The keys to this approach are it needs to be clear and have some form of a lid. Also, for this particular plant it also needs to be wide.

Once you have your container, the next step is the soil selection. This plant loves a soil that holds water but does not remain dripping wet. A good formulation is an all purpose potting soil mix with some Sphagnum moss added in. Prior to adding this to your terrarium, make sure to add drainage material and horticultural charcoal.

After planting your Earthstar in the terrarium, water the soil in and place the lid on. Only water when you see the soil drying out and/or it feels dry. Another task you may want to do when you water is fertilization. This houseplant should be fed a balanced fertilizer that is half strength once a week or when you water during the growing season.

Beyond being placed in a warm room, the Earthstar requires indirect sunlight.  The reason for this is two-fold first, if this plant is found on the ground in its natural environment and the light is filtered through the trees. The second reason is the fact that a closed container exposed to direct sunlight will heat up too much and cook the plant inside.

BLUE CHALKSTICKS (Senecio serpens)

What makes this plant unique is the color and the growth habit but…….do not confuse it with Senecio mandraliscae. Since both plants produce blue looking flowers, the true difference comes from the flower color. The Senecio serpens produces white flowers while the Senecio mandraliscae produces a yellow flower that resembles a dandelion.

When it comes to growing this plant, it is pretty easy but there is one requirement that it is particular about and that is the soil moisture or lack of. Blue Chalksticks is a succulent. It requires a dry soil but for proper growth, it does require some water. Keeping the soil at the proper moisture level is the hardest part of growing this plant. A simple tip is to use the right kind of soil. In this case, you can use a bagged cactus soil mix but if the bag feels a little light this can mean problems for any succulent. Why is this the case? Well, the reason is that the bag contains finely ground up wood pieces. This can cause the death of the plant. A better approach is to make your own soil with equal parts of all purpose potting soil and sharp sand.

Once the soil is made, fill a shallow container and place the container on a sunny windowsill that receives at least 8 hours of sunlight a day.

As stated before, this plant does require some water for proper growth but how much? During the spring and summer, you can water your succulent with an inch of water a week. During the fall and winter, only water your plant once a month with around an inch of water.

In one year, this plant can grow to 18 inches in height and 24 inches in diameter. Once it reaches this height, you will begin to notice that the stem begin to lean over. To keep it looking its best, you will need to prune. This process should only occur in the early spring and begins with cleaning and sterilizing the pruners with rubbing alcohol. Next, cut the stems of this plant down to the last lower branches. These branches should also be covered in a papery covering that is tan in color. When making the cut though, make sure that it is at an angle. This will allow the stem to healer better and prevent water from pooling on the stem.

What can you do with the cutting? Since this plant so easily roots, I would suggest to give some of them to your friends to share the wealth. But prior to that, remove the lower leaves of the cuttings and push them down into the potting mix. Before you know it you will have new Blue Chalksticks.

CORKSCREW RUSH (Juncus effuses)

Beyond the common name of Corkscrew Rush, this plant also goes by the botanical name Juncus spiralis. The reason for this is the growth habit of this plant, which resembles a spiral or corkscrew.

Due its unique growth habit, this plant looks wonderful by itself but there are a few extras that you will need to provide to keep the plant healthy. First, due to the fact that this plant naturally grows in a bog, it requires moist soil and high humidity. Using a potting soil that is high in peat moss will keep the soil moist. When it comes to the humidity requirement, simply placing the container on a humidity tray will keep the surrounding environment moist. As far as temperature goes, the average 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit will work fine.

In the spring, divide the plant. Begin a fertilization program with half strength balanced fertilizer applied to the plant once a month from spring to fall.


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Keep Some Birds Away

When you have worked very hard to grow your grapes, fruits and vegetables, it's hard to not be bothered when birds come in and take the best of everything!

A few tricks that work well are: netting over grapes, mylar strips tied to branches of your fruit trees, even blow up owls work.

If you use a blow up owl, or scarecrow, keep in mind to move them every few days so they appear to "move." Othewise the birds get wise fast and they are no good.

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