Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Myths about Succulents

I adore succulents and am frequently surprised by the myths about their environment and care.  
Teaching about succulents is one of my favorite lectures.  Essentially a succulent is a plant that has developed a system where the leaves, stem or roots become more fleshy when storing water for future use.  Generally plants need to store water when they grow in an environment that is dry - like a desert.  Plants adapted to growing in dry environments are xerophytes; so succulents are often xerophytes (but not always.)  

Queen Victoria Agave Succulent
Myth 1) Succulents need a lot of direct sunlight - FictionSucculent plants need light but they thrive in filtered light not direct sunlight. In the real world young succulents grown next to their parent or other large plants. This provides filtered light. Like other plants, there is no fast rule of thumb for light levels needed.  However, if new growth on the succulent is paler green (or whatever color it is typically) and elongated (stretched out), then it needs more light. If the side of the succulent that generally faces the light source is yellowing, tanning, red or indented (drying out), it is getting too much light. Move your plant around to find it's happy spot and note that this will change throughout the year. Remember to rotate :)

Myth 2) Succulents go dormant in wintertime: FictionMost cactus and succulents have an active period about 1/3 of the year an are dormant for 1/3 of the year and in transition for the rest!  However, they are not all dormant at the same time of year. Some succulents are winter growers and others are summer growers. For example, many Aloes are winter growers. My aloe changes colors and looks fairly sickly in the summer - I have to move it out of the sun at that time. 

Myth 3) Succulents don't need a lot of water - Mostly FactDuring their active period watering can be frequent and dilute  fertilizer applied. As the succulent moves into dormant period, reduce the frequency of watering. Each plant has different needs - so a little experimentation is good. I start with a good watering (water coming out the bottom of the pot) once a week ingrowing season and once a month in the dormant period. Then I adapt to see who they individually respond. Others water when the soil is completely dry, then water thoroughly and then let dry. The challenge here is a dry soil mix can be very challenging to get properly moist. In addition there are some "jungle cactus" like the Christmas Cactus which should never have their soil dry out. (Epiphytic cactus(jungle cactus) evolved where it was warm and humid. They adapted to growing in trees, so they tolerate shady moist conditions. I water my hand-me-down Christmas Cactus every three days.)

Myth 4) All Succulents are cactus - Fiction:  Common succulents include cacti, begonia, bromeliad, agave, crassula, sansevaria, and euphorbia. All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are Cacti.

5) Succulents all grow in deserts - Fiction Jungle Cactus grow off ground in warm/humid situations. Some succulents live under arctic conditions and others are cold hardy. For example, here is a picture of some Hens & Chicks that are in my Chicago garden. sedums are succulents which die back in this zone, but remain perennial

6) Succulent sap or juice is healthy - Fiction: While the sap or juice from the Aloe plant is beneficial for healthy and digestive health, this is not a fact. The sap from euphorbia is frequently a skin sensitizer and in some cases, if in contact with the eyes, may cause blindness. For example the Poinsetta and Crown of Thorns are poisonous if ingested and are skin irritants

7) Succulents should be planted in sand - FictionThe most important consideration potting soil for succulents is drainage.  The soil must be porous so that water penetrates easily and drains away quickly. A soil that remains wet for long periods of time can quickly kill the roots of most succulent plants. There is no one recipe for a succulent soil mix; however 100% sand is not advised.  My succulent soil mix is 2 parts by volume of a potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part small size gravel.  Or if I have no stones I use 1:1 mixture of potting soil and perlite.  If sand is added to a mix, use the coarsest type you can find and treat it as the gravel in the recipe. 

My Great Grandmothers Christmas Cactus
Large Potted Jade Tree Succulent

8) Succulents like tight roots/small pots - Fact: Most succulents thrive in a container that seems way to small for them. See this picture of the mature jade tree I have relative to the size of the container.  These plants should be repotted every two years - however, the size of the container need not necessarily be increased. It is more important to remove spent soil, any damaged roots, and refresh the potting mix. 

9) Succulents thrive on neglect - Fiction: They require less care than roses or some other plants. Certainly the snake plant doesn't need a great deal of care, however, I would say they can sustain a great deal of neglect - but they won't thrive without proper care (light, water, fertilizer, repotting)

Well this is just a little start about succulents. They are a great addition to your houseplant or garden collection. Yes - you can grow succulents even in a cold climate. Check out some tips on propagating the succulent sedums and general succulent propagation for other varieties.

Today I'm singing Marty Robbins' Tumbling Tumbleweed;


Teresa Marie

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Start Thinking Spring - Shows, Events, Road-trips

This weekend the first spring flower show starts in Chicago, thus kicking of several months of events that culminate in the beginning of spring and ethnic fest etc. in Chicago. 

As I did last year, here is a listing of events from Iowa - Wisconsin - Illinois - Michigan. I was searching out potential weekend adventures and road-trips and thought I might share with you all. Maybe provide some ideas, or just save you some time on your own searching.  All links and information was accurate as of 1/24/2013  If you find other shows or errors herein please note in comments! Thank you

Transparent tips on Succulent
Succulent Container Garden

(Succulent pictures just because I think they are so pretty and I spend too much time with them this time of year :)  )

Monday, January 21, 2013

Update on Garfield Park Conservatory Rebuilding 2013

What is going on with rebuilding Garfield Park Conservatory you ask?  I provided to updates on the status of Garfield Park Conservatory Hail Storm Damage in July 2011 and the subsequent capital campaign.  So where do things stand now. 

DISPLAY HOUSE STATUS AS ON 1/21/2013 - temporary panes in place and all rooms open to the public.  The photos here were taken from a tour on 1/20/2013. (Take the tour people, it's awesome!)

All the broken glass was removed, and the panes of glass damaged in the display houses were replaced  with temporary poly-carbonate sheeting.  This temporary roof is able to keep the plants protected from cold/rain and keep the environment inside the rooms steady. A great place to observe this is at the entrance to the Show House. Stand in the entryway from the Palm house and look up at the roof in the Show House and at the roof in the Palm House - you will see the difference.  The temporary poly-carbonate pane has lines in it, glass is clear (or dirty!).  Once you notice this difference, check out the roof in the Desert House. Here not all the panes of glass were broken and you can spot all the temporary ones one you know this trick. 

The light coming in through the poly-carbonate is not as high as that through the glass.  So winter pruning (done every year because of reduced sun) seems even sharper this year.  

Fern Room, Garfield Park Conservatory
Jan 2013
Sugar From The Sun Exhibit,
Cavendish Banana; Jan 2013

Extensive construction to recreate the permanent roofs in the public display houses should start this year (2013).  This will have to take place after the danger of frost in spring and fall. Global warming yes, but not enough to leave the collection at the Conservatory open to Chicago weather!  Most likely the Fern room, Aroid House, Show House, and Desert House will all be closed during the construction. The website will hopefully have a schedule and notice of what rooms as open when. 

Garfield Park Conservatory, Propagation
Greenhouse, Jan 2013
BACK OF HOUSE STATUS AS OF 1/21/2013 - back up and running.

While most people visit the 2.5 acres of display houses at the Conservatory, there are more acres under glass in the back-of-house. These are the propagation greenhouses which support research and development of the collection as well as plants for display. 

The damaged propagation greenhouses were repaired during the summer of 2012.  Here is a photo of the cactus propagation house with many of the plants which were recently sold. 

Volunteers will shortly begin growing plants and seedlings for sale in Spring 2013, and other plants for sale in the gift shop all year round. 

The conservatory continues to solicit donations for the One-Pane-At-A-Time capital campaign.  Also consider becoming a member (more events are member only, or member early, I love the reciprocal membership at other botanic gardens and parks), or just pitching a few bucks into the box when you visit. Everything appreciated. 

Singing the Watersong...

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wilting Sansevierius - Causes and Cures

My Wilting Mother-in-Law Tongue Plant
Help I’m Wilting and I can’t get up….…this was the cry from my snake plant ( good luck plant, mother-in-law's-tongue,  devil's tongue, Sansevieria).   I have had this plant for several years. I had just pulled it inside from a glorious summer al fresco, and split it into two large pots.  It seemed fine for a few months. Then it started wilting, and a wilting houseplant is a cry for help. 

Sansevieria is a strong plant, it’s in office spaces and given to people who can kill just about anything else. So I was perplexed as to what was going on and consulted every source I could find on-line and a solution.  Here is what I learned:
1) Know what “healthy” looks like for your plant
2) Know what about your situation is unique. Take into consideration the environment that your plant is in (Potting soil, container size, lighting, heat, drafts.
3) Understand the causes of wilting for the plant in question
4) Experiment and learn to listen to what your plant is telling you – what other people tell you to do may not work for you.

A Healthy Sansevieria
There are many different varieties of Sansevieria. In a walk through the garden center and Garfield Park Conservatory I snapped several shots which are included here.  Almost all the plants display the characteristic tall and erect form. Snake plant leaves may be striped or marbled pattern, vibrant to dull green, or yellow and white.  I think I even saw a chartreuse one once.  The color of the plant may impact the amount of light it needs. I have some placed against interior north walls with very little indirect light. I have others in east facing windows with plenty of sun.  I've had snake plants thrive in areas which offer full sun to dense shade; most grow best in persistent indirect light.   I plant most in cactus mix but occasionally will use regular potting soil. Once I even planted in a container in regular garden soil (not advised.)  The latter was a demonstration of what not to do – but that darn Sansevieria survived for over two years in rock hard soil.  In the conservatory we had one Sansevieria that was placed under a hole in the roof, and it was constantly water logged for several months. It was just fine.  Thus it’s safe to say snake plants will survive poor soil conditions, at least for a period of time. However if optimum soil and light and water conditions do not exist, in time, you may experience pests, root rot, or the dreaded wilt.
In the photographs below are several different types of Sansevieria. The photos were taken at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory Desert Room. 
Mother-In Law, Baseball, Moonshine, Variegated, and Longhorn Sansevieria (Snake Plants)

My Unique Situation

Here is where I admit all the things that I had done with these sansevieria that were not up to par.  First off I had them outside in all kinds of rain – that seemed fine, and at the end of the summer I decided to divide them when I brought them back inside.   This was the first problem – I replanted them to shallow and without  sufficient support considering the mature height of these plants.  There was an immediate hit to their health – which I chalked up to being re-potted   I later tried to add some support and tied them up, but a large number of leaves were already wilting and folded off to the side.

During transplantation I was able to see that the roots were in solid condition and there were wet areas of neither dying plant tissue nor fungal growths.  There were also not any insects or infestations. I had good soil mix and balance of fertilizer – so these were on the plus side.

Secondly,  I did not use the right container. The pot for the Sansevieria is way too large for the number of plants it holds. It is also much too deep. However, for the room it is in, I like the larger base pot – which also helps to keep it from tipping over from the dog. Plus I just loved the blue. This was an aesthetic decision, not one for the plants health.  With an over-sized container the plant might get too much water and have root rot – or not enough if the roots are shallow (as with some succulents.)

Lastly with respect to light – they are placed in a west facing window with a few good hours of direct sunlight each (non-gray) day. Good filtered light.  There was no discoloration of the leaves, e.g. yellowing, which would indicate excessive sunlight. So I felt comfortable with the lighting situation on this pair of containers.  Note that the containers are in the bay window, directly above the heat vent.

The causes of Sansevieria Wilting

My research says thee possible reasons for wilting leaves on a Sansevieria plant are:

1) Over or under watering
2) Improper lighting (too little makes them flip over)
3) Infestation (such as thrips)

My Experimentation

I quickly rules out lighting and thrips- and moved onto experimenting with watering.  I found it very interesting that both over-watering and under-watering could make the leaves droop, bend, wilt or begin to look wrinkly. 

OVER-WATERING: Over-watering is the most common problem for houseplants, so why not develop root rot easily, especially in containers. If you  suspected root rot you can check to see if the soil is moist or wet on the surface and down a few inches. Also pull gently on one of the outer leaves and it comes off easily at the soil level, and the root stinks and is mushy; then sorry, it's got root rot. Best solution here is to throw the rotten parts away – and repot what remains in the new soil.

Up until this point I had been watering the plants every other day when they were outside, and when they came inside I was watering them every third or fourth day. To which my friends cried “What? That’s too much!” I did not have root rot, but I cut it back to the once a week or less per recommendations from garden centers and websites. This went on for several months – and I did not see any improvement in the plants. Upon checking the soil with my hands, I knew that it was dry for several inches into the pot. This convinced me that less water was not the issue.

UNDER-WATERING - Then I realized that several factors were dictating that my Sansevieria needed more water than usual.  First off the pots are too big, and the soil mix promotes drainage – so the water quickly hits the bottom and doesn't stick around much for the plants. Secondly, the containers are right by the heat vent which will accelerate the need for water. Lastly they are in a good light area, which could also mean more water.

So, I went the other way and started watering every four days, and then every two days. Watering means 3-4 cups of water each time, not a complete soaking.

While there are still some bent leaves, there is not solid new growth and vibrant color back in the plants. I’m so happy that they lasted through all these trials and told me when they were happy. I regularly check the soil to a depth of 2-4” to make sure I’m not watering too much, and I apply cactus fertilizer every other week. (If the tips of the leaves turn brown – that’s too much fertilizer) I also rotate the plants and make sure to prop up some of the leaves against the glass – they top 3 ft tall, so I think they have earned a little support ;)

Like many succulents, Sansevieria grow very slowly – it may take time to know if something is wrong or if you fixed it. You may need to play with light exposure and watering to get your plant healthy.

So my parting shot for today is of the Zulu Sansevieria. I love how wide and tall the leaves are. There is just a hint of red along the edges of the leaves. In the pot on the right, I can just hear it asking me to repot it and take part home :)
Zulu Sansevieria
All the best;

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review - Chicago Antique Malls (Part 1)

When not in the garden I'm in the antique mall! I am passionate for antiques - specifically late 1800's early 1900's oak furniture, especially anything with a barley twist :)  I extend my mom's collection of Manhattan Glass (depression) and Croesus (depression made 1897-1919)  Plus I've developed my own collections - mostly antique boxes, and barley twist "stuff."  In the winter - when I am not in the garden, a very enjoyable weekend is browsing through antique malls and flea markets. 

Over the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to visit several antique malls in the Chicago area. Thought I would share some impressions and tips - as well as the "treasures" I found. This Blog discussed the following retail locations (links to their websites):

1) Wolff's Flea Market, Palatine, IL

2) Lincoln Antique Mall, Chicago, IL

3) Volo Antique Mall, Volo, IL

4) Chicago Antique Center, Chicago, IL

$10 for two wood frames
Wolff's Flea Market: I saw an ad for Wolff's Flea Market and headed up there for the first time.  There was a$1  entry fee.  Being wintertime there were only roughly 46-50 vendors.  Roughly half of the vendors had an assortment of old furniture, jewelry, war/weaponry,  artwork and frames, collectibles.  The other half were selling everyday items - clothing, perfumes, cosmetics, kitchen wares.  There is a strong sense of being in a weekend street fare. I liked that. Sometimes I'm in the mood to dig through and search, and the bargain for everything. This was a great site for that. I have a feeling that it will be much more fun in the summertime.
$10 for organizer cart

My finds at the flee market were four fold.  I found two nice wood frames, with glass intact for $10. I didn't even bargain with the vendor, both agreeing it was a great price. I would have paid $10/each. I didn't want the artwork, I was buying frames. Honestly why buy any new frames these days? I will be able to use as is, or repaint the frames and create something wonderful.  Second find was a very colorful organizer rolling cart.  I could use this in my craft/sewing area to help organize items. Another option is to organize my growing piles of gardening and planting information. I liked that this was mobile and had a nice metal top. No issues here.  They were initially asking $25, here a little bargaining paid off. Lastly, it's nice that each vendor is right there. You can talk to them about their offerings, and bargain as you wish.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Recycled Cast Paper Ornaments or Cards (or seed bomb)

Molds and Cast Paper Results
When I go to craft fairs or high end paper shops, I am drawn to the hand cast paper items. To me it evokes the Victorian age which I so enjoy. Hence, over time I've developed my own technique to create home-made cast paper ornaments or cards from 100% recycled materials - in a fast and easy way! The batch that I have shown here I am using for Valentine Cards and hang-tags on teacher gifts.

One thing I enjoy doing is marrying my crafty side with my gardening side. I do this by adding seeds into the cast paper items and encourage recipients to plant them! The cast paper tags become seed bombs. When using seeds, be be careful to not leave the casting wet too long to keep the seeds from germinating. Also don't heat it up too much to dry it to avoid reducing the seed viability. Here's my prior blog on seed bombs BTW.

Take a look at this approach and let me know of any tips for enhancing the process or the outcome! I've included lots of pictures to help see how this works.

Recycle Materials Needed:

  • Old papers from the recycle (newsprint, white paper, junk mail, etc.) Note that the color of the cast paper will be drawn from what goes in - so if you want white, put in WHITE. My ornaments almost always come out shades of grey or blue because I am indifferent at this point.
  • Dryer Lint - yup, no need  to buy cotton linter. Been there done that - and the felt from the dryer works just fine for me. (If you want really permanent decorative pieces you might want to consider purchasing, because lint will be multi-colored and textured which may not be suitable for your needs)
  • Water - lots of it :)
  • Optional: Spent Tea leaves or coffee grounds (provide antique look when using 100% white paper)
  • Raw Materials for Recycled Cast Paper Ornaments,
    Gift Tags or Seed Bombs
  • Optional: Last years or left over seeds! Keep it to very small ones like poppy seeds.Or if larger hand place them in the mold (See the directions below)
Utensils / Tools Needed:
  • Blender (a strong one!)
  • Strainer
  • Cookie or candy mold (I like use Brown Bag Cookie Art by Hill Design) Those with deeper impressions will work somewhat better
  • PAM spray
  • Sponge and/or towels
  • Other: Rolling Pin, drying rack, oven, microwave
OK here is my tried and true process!
Steps to Make the Casting:
1. Rip up the paper into small pieces
2. Fill the blender with water - about half full. You need lots of water to get you slurry moving. All the paper needs to absorb water and float.
3. Add the paper in batches and blend until at least oatmeal like consistency. Be careful not to add too much paper at once because the blades will jam.
Pulp and hands on water removal.

4. Empty the contents of the blender into a sieve and squeeze out as much water as possible. See in my picture above my batch looks really disgusting - both in color and texture.
5. Spray the cookie mold with Pam - very generously. 
6. If you are adding seeds, mix them into the pulp at this step if they are small seeds.
7. Take a handful at a time and firmly press into the cookie mold. Continue the process until the mold is filled edge to edge and slightly over the top. Over-mounding is fine. I find that the thicker you make the pulp - the stronger the pressed result. I never go over the top edge of the mold, and I never go much thinner than 3/4 full.
8. Take your sponge or towel and press the wet pulp in order to continue to remove water. You will  need to wring out frequently.
9. I like to take the last step a rolling pin to make sure that the surface is as flat as possible. 
Press into mold firmly, and flip onto cookie sheet
10. If you are using larger seeds, you can press them into the surface at this point and then roll again to keep a flat surface. Do not leave the seeds on the top too much, they may have issues in the oven or microwave.
11. Next - FLIP your wet casting onto a Pam'd cookie sheet (or plate). Yup, don't wait for them to dry in the mold. They can be extremely difficult to come out when fully dried (because I don't buy specific release agents perhaps.) Plus when I start this project I like to make ornaments in volume which is not possible if you only have one mold working at a time. If you have removed the water, this should be easy. With the mold resting upside down, gently start with one edge and slowly lift until the paper releases itself. Do not pry or pull the wet pulp/casting out of the mold. If it comes apart you can try to push it back together on the tray - or just add a bit of water and start from step 6 again. 
12. Now the pulp needs to dry fully. There are several options.  I tend to oven dry and then microwave (I tend to be a bit impatient to get the first one done to start coloring.) OK you can dry by:
  • Air dry - will be at least overnight if not several days. Care needs to be taken that the casting does not also mold, or if you have added seeds that they do not germinate. When they are dry enough to handle, move them to a wire rack so that there is airflow on both sides. 
  • Oven Dry - pop the cookie sheet into an oven at about 125-150F (51-65), you can go as high as 225F (107C) but may get some discoloration.   Keep an eye of these as the edges will dry first and may burn. It will take several hours - but that depends on how much water you took out in the steps above. When you can handle them, I like to put the wire rack under them to improve airflow while in the oven. 
  • Microwave - I zap a plate with one card on it for a few minutes at a time. When possible to handle, flip over. 
In the picture at the right you can see the varying shades and drying process. I will keep pulping and molding until I run out of counter space and/or oven space. If the ornaments are not completely dry - they will curl over time. So take care with this step.

To finish off your masterpiece you may choose to paint them or spray them with a varnish or other finish.  I usually put down one coat of varnish and then use Sharpie markers to complete and coloring. The paper can be very porous so paint colors might come out a bit strange. Kids can have lots of fun with the decorating process (they also love the mushing out the water part!)  You can embellish with sequins, glitter, and more. 

If you are making an ornament or gift tag, a hole can be made by punching through an ice pick, using a leather punch, or even a Phillips Head screw driver. Make the hole well into the thicker part of the design. Also When you tie the ribbon/cord (or here Raffia), knot it directly above the ornament and then make the loop beyond that. This way the swinging or rubbing of the cord is against itself rather than against the fragile paper edge.

With smaller castings, they can be placed onto card stock and used to make interesting greeting cards. You could also place them onto fabrics and then into an old frame for Victorian-esk artwork.

Happy Crafting;

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 1% in the Gilded age: Dreihaus Musem Chicago

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of exploring the Dreihaus Museum in downtown Chicago.  Click the link for more information and the background on the website which is really good. My pictures included below in no way do justice to this experience. I do use the work experience deliberately - while there is phenomenal artwork, word work, furnishings, etc... the Dreihaus Museum left me with a superb visualization and awe for life in the Gilded Age as one of Chicago's uber-elite.

Entry Hall and Staircase - The Driehaus Museum
In a nutshell this residence was built by one of Chicago's elite. It was commissioned by Chicago's Fist National Bank President, Samuel Mayo Nickerson, in 1879, after the Chicago fire..  When the house was built, it was one of the most expensive residences in Chicago.  The home was nicknamed the "marble Mansion" for it's extensive use of variety and volume of marbles use from entry to top floor.  The estimated cost was $450,000. Today - it would be $$$$ Millions.   It is clear that cost was no issue and all considerations were to impress visitors as well as create a showplace for their vast art collection. As the years passed, the residence changed hands and was until recently an office and gallery.  Luckily Mr. Dreihaus purchased the building and spearheaded it's restoration and  opening as a museum.   It is difficult to describe the richness. Would visitors in the 1880's have been equally impressed? I definitely think so. I hope it continues to impress for generations to come.

THANK YOU Mr. Richard H. Dreihaus.  Chicago could use more people like you to help us preserve our legacy and open it up to the public.