Friday, April 5, 2013


Kind of like ‘milk and cookies’ … if you’re going to do a piece on cacti, then you can’t forget to mention succulents … right?

The previous article entitled Tidbits and Handy Hints for Cacti was published on March 23, 2013.

Is this a succulent?
Succulents can be confused with cacti.  How so?

At the beginning of the last article sited above, this statement was made “A cactus will always be a succulent …” followed with a brief definition of a ‘succulent’; however, not every succulent is a cactus!

Now, isn’t that interesting?

Some succulents are ‘tougher’ than others!

Remember, all plants can store water to a degree.  But, succulents excel at it!

Question:  How could a change in weather affect a succulent?

Cold weather – especially frost - can cause the water in plant cells - like a succulent has - to freeze.  The result is damage in the form of limp, misshaped or discolored tissue.

So, the natural make-up of a succulent could put it at risk in cold weather.  That being said, make sure you ‘read the fine print’ on what care each plant requires if your plant will be spending time outdoors.

According to the ‘plant care page’ of one website, it put succulents in two basic groups – ‘hardy’ and ‘soft.’  Both came in a range of colors, shapes, and textures.  In addition, they can easily multiply and are low maintenance. ‘Hardy’ ones are hardy to zone 5, unless noted differently.  ‘Soft’ will die outside in frost.

Another website that sells succulents stated that all of their plants are hardy for zone 3 to 9, unless noted otherwise.

Don’t assume.  Look up each plant individually to ensure it is the plant for you!

Here are a few succulents - not cacti - you may be familiar with:
Soft Yucca with white blooms!
  • Aloes (most folks call Aloe Vera) are known for soothing burns and healing cuts.
  • Agaves are used to make a sweetener and tequila.
  • Yuccas resemble the top portion of a pineapple.  Some grow at ground level and others tree-like with a trunk.

See the photo of several Yucca plants with the tall grass to the above right?  The Yucca in the middle has fresh white blooms on it!

Now, look at a close-up of a Red Yucca bloom below.
Red Yucca bloom!
Notice the reddish pink flowers that bloom most of the summer?
The bottom of a Red Yucca has slender, fountain-like foliage that is pretty slow growing. 

Guess what?
The photo at the beginning of this article is a Hoya “Rubra.”
Hoyas are succulents too!  They enjoy climbing in tropical forest found in Australia, Indonesia, China and India.  You may also recognize Hoyas by the common name wax vine, wax plant or wax flower. 

More information on a Hoya “Rubra” may be found by visiting:

Hoya– Is a Keeper! published on October 12, 2012.
Hoya“Rubra” - Tidbits and Tips to Care for! published on October 24, 2012.
So, are you ready to test your knowledge of cacti and succulents?  I found a great website with a fun little quiz to see if you can correctly identify 20 images. 

Go to:
Cactus or Succulent Quiz
Once you are there … locate and then click on the green link Begin Quiz!  (Don't forget to come back here!)

I started learning about cacti and succulents about 3 months ago … give or take.  The 1st time I took the quiz, I got 3 wrong.  So, I studied some more.  The 2nd time I got them all right! 

I just took the quiz a 3rd time.  I got 7 wrong!  What does that mean? 

I guess I need to go back to school!
How did you do? 

Regardless, I think we both deserve some ‘milk and cookies!’  Don’t you? 


Saturday, March 23, 2013


Most would probably consider cacti to be ‘champions of drought’! 

Cactus in bloom!
I was surprised, though, to discover there are two very different groups of cacti.  Did you know that? 

A Desert Cactus is the first one that most people might think of growing in dry, desert-like conditions.  The other group is found in wet rainy, tropical areas.  It’s called Jungle Cactus! 

Before we start looking at the differences, let’s spend a minute or two on what all cacti have in common: 

  • Only cacti have an areole or cushion, which hairs, wool or spines (not thorns) grow from.  This is where either (1) a new shoot will grow from, or (2) it will flower and/or fruit! 

  • Cacti are slow growing. 

  • Don’t be misled; all cacti need water!  Some more than others. 

  • A cactus will always be a succulent, which means it has the ability to ‘store’ water in its ‘fleshy tissues’ (root, stem or leaves) designed to conserve moisture for future needs. 

  • The sap of a cactus is clear and watery - not milky white and sticky. 

  • When watering, the soil needs to be able to drain quickly.  In other words, you do not want the water to ‘sit’ on top and slowly drain, like the sand in an hour glass. 

  • If your cactus is in a container, then do not let it ‘stand’ in water. 

  • Check for moisture before adding water.  It’s best to water cacti - less - rather than too much!  If the tissue is ‘mushy’ and turning colors, it’s an indication of rot! 

  • When selecting a cactus, avoid one that is leaning to one side or deformed, which is a result of low lighting.  Once it is misshaped, it is hard to correct!  In addition, inspect your plant for scale, insects and mealybugs. 

  • Some cacti will leaf and even flower!  If a flower is present, it will be unique in structure. 

  • Cactus can get ‘sunburned’ similar to people!  This is especially true, if it is not yet ‘established.’  Keep a lookout for ‘scorch.’  If you see it, then make necessary adjustments to provide relief! 

Now, let’s look at the differences between the two groups of cacti. 

Desert Cacti
This group can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, i.e. small flat, round or cylinder shaped plants; some are segmented, shrub-like, or sprawling; others are like a large pillar or giant tree. 

Desert cacti grow in the soil – ground level - in their native surroundings. 

In lieu of pure sand, most cacti do best in fertile soil that is rocky and has good drainage. 

Desert Cacti, in general, prefer (1) more sunlight, (2) higher temperature, and (3) less moisture than a Jungle Cactus. 

Therefore, it’s best to verify you have the correct group of cacti. 

Keep in mind, dry does not necessarily mean hot!  Have you seen pictures of cacti in the snow?  I have.  It’s beautiful! 

So, take the time to investigate what USDA Zone a particular cactus is hardy in just like you would any other plant. 

Jungle Cacti
This group generally doesn’t have a big spine; are usually thin or flat; and tend to trail. 

Unlike a Desert Cactus, Jungle Cacti live either in a tree (for support, not as a parasite) or on a rock. 

In its natural surroundings, a Jungle Cactus gets nutrients from dead leaves, as well as, other debris left in cracks and crevasses or in the air (you know … like from birds droppings).  So, it’s best to try to duplicate the same type of loose and airy soil that drains quickly. 

This group can not handle the harsh conditions found in a desert! 

Before adding water, see if the top ½” of soil is dry. 

A few Jungle Cacti you might be familiar with are as follows: 

  • ‘Thanksgiving Cactus’ (Schlumbergera truncata) with a flower that tips up and blooms two times a year. 

  • A ‘Christmas Cactus’ (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) with a flower that hangs down (like a pendant on a chain) and blooms two times a year, as well. 

  • ‘Easter Cactus’ (Hatiora gaertneri, according to the USDA database) with a flower that rotates and may only bloom one time a year.  Evidently, this one is not as easy to grow.  To help identify this one further, it has soft bristles at the end of each segmented stem.  See the photo below. 
See the bristles at the end of each segment?

NOTE:  Parents, if you choose to use cacti, please be mindful of your ‘little ones’ and their curious minds.  Even a tiny spine can cause big pain! 

So, if you are drawn to cacti, don’t get ‘stuck’ with the wrong one.  Make sure the one you pick is truly a ‘champion of drought’ and not one that would prefer a rainy jungle!

Monday, March 18, 2013


Not too long ago, I found some information on what may help us to identify plants for dry conditions. 

I realize an obvious choice for many may be something we find in a typical desert scene – sand, cacti and tumbling tumbleweeds. 

Not all daisies are the same!
Although a Gerbera has fuzzy leaves and stems,
this daisy requires its fair share of water!

A tumbleweed is “a plant that breaks away from its roots in the autumn and is driven about by the wind as a light rolling mass” according to Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. 

What if you do not live in a desert?  Do you have other choices?  What if you prefer other plants? 

Is it possible to have a nice shade tree; a hedge of bushes; or a plant that blooms without it looking like you live in a desert? 

The answer is yes!  That is, once your plant has been ‘established.’ 

For more information on ‘establishing a plant’ please see drought tolerant or drought resistant – which is it? published on January 13, 2013 for more information. 

The following is simply a guide.  Unfortunately, there are exceptions that apply to the list below. 


aromatic – foliage on plants. 

According to what I found, the essential oils (that smell so good) can help protect a plant from the sun. 

Examples:  Sage.  (Gray-green leaves.  Perennial.  Zone 4 to 10.)  Lavender.  (Mounding.  Perennial.  Zones vary.  Some handle humidity better than others.) 

The two herbs mentioned above will need soil that drains well and will need to avoid over watering to prevent rot! 

Exception:  Basil is an herb that smells great, but does not work well with dry conditions!  It requires consistently moist soil. 


smooth/waxy/hairy – stems and/or leaves. 

These characteristics help the plant hold in moisture and reduce the amount of water lost through transpiration. 

Examples:  Wax Myrtle.  (Evergreen bush or small tree.  Smells great!  Native in some areas.  Fast grower.  Zone 7 to 11.) 

Black-Eyed Susan or Gloriosa Daisy has fuzzy foliage.  (Short-lived Perennial.  Native in most states.  Fast grower.  Zone average 5 to 9.) 

Exception:  A Gerbera Daisy (which happens to be one of my favorites) needs regular watering.  See the photo at the beginning of this article.
Obviously, not all daisies have the same needs.  (But, if you do decide a Gerbera is worth the extra water, then watch out for moisture-loving pests like slugs and snails which may find your leaves irresistible!) 


silver/gray – foliage. 

This feature is easier to see from a distance, but works closely with ‘texture.’  You see; the color is usually the result of white hairs covering the surface of the leaf.
Lamb's Ear
See the fuzzy leaves?
Examples:  Lamb’s Ear has soft fuzzy leaves.  (Perennial.  Could be invasive in warmer climates.  Zone 4 to 10.)  See the photo to the right. 

Dusty Miller is fuzzy too with fern-like foliage!  (Perennial.  Zone 3 to 9.) 

NOTE:  Sometimes a lighter color leaf can take more sunlight, while a darker color may require more shade. 

SIZE …  

small – perhaps, firm leaves.
This may help the plant hold in moisture and reduce the amount of water lost through transpiration. 

Abelia in bloom!
Examples:  An Abelia bush produces tiny leaves and flowers white/pink blooms in the summer.  New growth is found on long shoots.  See the photo to the left.  Best if not sheared.  (Evergreen.  Zone 5 to 9.) 

A variegated Ligustrum bush has small rounded leaves with dense branching.  (Evergreen.  Zone 5 to 8.) 

A Southern Magnolia tree has large firm leaves which can handle drought. 


finely-cut – leaves with deeper ‘sinuses’ (indentations between the lobes of a leaf). 

This may help the plant hold in moisture and reduce the amount of water lost through transpiration. 

Examples:  Shumard Oak tree or a Texas Red Oak for alkaline soil.  (Deciduous.  Zone 5 to 9.) 

Exception:  An Oakleaf Hydrangea produces beautiful blooms but requires moist, organic, fertile soil.  So, just because it is shaped like an Oak; doesn’t mean it is one! 

ROOTS and …  

deep tap, fibrous or large and fleshy stems 

Plants with this type of root system have the capacity to reach down in the soil to collect and store water for future needs.  Isn’t that interesting? 
Lilyturf (Liriope)
Example:  Lilyturf (Liriope) is a groundcover which produces stalks of blue flowers in the early part of summer.  This can be somewhat invasive because it has rhizomes.  It can handle dry conditions better in shade than sun.  (Evergreen.  Zone 6 to 10.)   See the photo to the right.

Rhizomes are both slender and long or fleshy and thick stems which grow along horizontally or beneath the soil. 

Exception:  Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon) kind of looks like a ‘baby version’ of Lilyturf; however, this one definitely needs even moisture and requires more shade.  So, this one would not do well on its own in dry conditions! 

Alright!  It looks like those of us not living in the desert do have some choices after all. 

Now, we have a little bit to work with on our search for the right plant in the right spot.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Below you will find a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ shot of an Arrowhead plant.  Question:  Which photo was taken first - Photo A or Photo B?

I know there is a big difference between the two pictures; but, I promise it is the same plant … well … almost!

I have a confession to make.

Photo B was taken first on October 2, 2012. 

Photo A was taken last on February 4, 2013.

What happened? 

That’s a good question.  I wondered the same thing!  Perhaps, you are like me … ‘been there … done that!’ 

Allow me to back track a bit. 

This is one of the plants we received when my grandpa died.  We have had it for more than 3 years now. 

Photo B shows it in Grandma’s white porcelain container. 

Actually, the Arrowhead plant is still planted in its original plastic container, which is much smaller than Grandma’s.  To compensate for the difference in size we have it sitting on top of a disposable plastic storage container (creating a ‘false bottom’). 

MISTAKE:  Grandma’s container does not have a hole in the bottom for drainage.  So, if we water the Arrowhead plant too much, it will ‘stand’ in water, which leads to rot! 

This pretty little houseplant is special to us!  So, remember that when you read what I am about to write.  I really did have good intentions! 

Back in October, we still had some warm weather but knew it would be changing. 

Our Arrowhead plant lives outside during warm weather on the table underneath the covered patio.  It receives morning sunlight.  The rest of the day it receives indirect sunlight.  Notice how bright the highlights are in the variegated leaves?

Variegated - October 2, 2012
In an effort to get rid of any unwelcome critters, I thought it would be nice to ‘rinse-off’ our Arrowhead plant before bring it inside.

So, early one warm sunny day I carried the plant over to the grass; turned the water hose on real low; and carefully examined each leaf as I gently washed it off. 

While I worked my way through the plant, I noticed a ‘stinky smell’ coming from the soil.

I thought ‘maybe it smells that way from ‘standing’ in water.  I’ll fix the problem by airing out the leaves; allowing the soil to dry out; and making sure it doesn’t ‘stand’ in water from now on.’

MISTAKE:  I kept moving the plant around to keep it in direct sunshine for the rest of the day … to make sure it was dry!

It wilted.

I think the leaves tried to ‘bounce back’ … but to no avail.

Living inside did not make a difference.

It was pitiful!

The health of the plant continued to decline.

As a last attempt to ‘save the plant’ we took some cuttings and put them in a couple of glasses of water in the windowsill to root.

Meanwhile, all 3 containers (Grandma’s, the one the plant was in, and the ‘false bottom’) were washed out.

After a few days, my mom replanted some of the little plants that had started to produce roots in the now clean original plastic container with fresh potting soil.
I am happy to report the following:

  • Some of the original plant survived!
  • It continues to grow and produce ‘babies.’
  • The Arrowhead plant does not stand in water, and the soil does not smell bad!

So, I think its legacy will continue, after all!

They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’  See my friend’s plant?

My friend's Arrowhead plant!
She has had this plant for about 8 years now.  Look how huge that leaf is compared to my hand.  Wow!

This plant currently measures about 3 ft. 6 inches wide and 2 ft. 3 inches tall.

It has outgrown a hanging basket.  It’s too heavy to lift!

The container it is in sits on a small white bench to allow the vine to cascade over the edge.

Can you see a little bit of the bench at the bottom of the photo below?

Plant on bench.
In warm weather the Arrowhead lives outside and is permitted to grow ‘wild.’  The runners grab hold of the ground with its aerial roots.  Before my friend can move it inside, she has to cut the vine loose!

Once it is inside, the Arrowhead is given a ‘haircut’ occasionally to keep it under control!

When I told my friend about my own experience (mentioned at the outset), she said one time she ‘noticed a ‘stinky’ smell too.’
Of course, she had a much better solution.  This is what she did:
  • Carefully washed the dirt off of the roots.
  • Scrubbed the container with a little bit of dishwashing soap; rinsed it well; and dried it with a towel.
  • Used the clean container and new potting soil to replant the Arrowhead.  (She used potting soil with little beads of slow-release fertilizer … good for up to 3 months.)
  • Gave it a trim.

… and the rest is history!

What about you?  Do you have an Arrowhead plant in your home or office?  Would you like to know more about it too? 

An Arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum) can also be referred to as an Arrowhead vine, Goosefoot vine and white butterfly to name a few.

This plant is available in a variety of colors.  It is frequently grown as a houseplant.

Following is a list of preferences for this tropical plant:
  • Warm temperature to avoid damage.  One place suggested a minimum of 59°F and another place wanted you to avoid anything below 35°F with an ideal range of 65-75°F.  Otherwise, you will need to protect it from cold weather!

Sudden changes in temperature or dry spells can cause leave to turn yellow and wilt.

Lighting varies according to the type of plant.  Regardless, it is important to limit the amount of direct sunlight to avoid bleaching!  A variegated leaf plant may loose its ‘highlights’ in low lighting.  A solid green leaf plant can handle shadier conditions better.
  • Low to medium light – green leaves. 

  • Moderate to bright light - burgundy, pink or white leaves.

  • Rich organic soil is ideal.  Good drainage is important.

One suggestion was to use the same mix used for an African Violet.

  • Check the soil for moisture before watering.  If the top 2” are dry, then add water.  Keep the soil moist - not wet – to avoid rot.

I should not have allowed my ‘stinky’ plant to completely dry out!  You can tell your plant needs some water if it ‘droops.’

  • Tropical plants crave humidity!  To compensate for any that may be lacking, lightly mist the foliage with room temperature water in the morning.

Avoid fireplaces and hot air vents!  A brown edge on the leaves could possibly mean it needs more humidity.

  • Remove any growth that is diseased or damaged.

Treat your plant if you see signs of Spider Mites, which cause pale foliage with a reddish tint on the bottom of the leaves.

  • Wipe off or rinse the leaves to remove dust or discourage pests.

Just remember to not put your poor plant in direct sunlight afterwards, like I did!

  • Go easy on the fertilizer!  Use a basic one for houseplants.  Remember, it’s better to do a little than too much!

This is a tricky one.  A brown edge on the leaves could also mean it has too much salt in the soil from ‘salty water’ and/or ‘salt build-up from fertilizer.’  So, you will have to be the one to determine which is which.

  • Trim it to keep your Arrowhead plant ‘bushy.’

This is true even if you want runners to cascade over the edge.  If your plant is ‘leggy’, then give it a trim to encourage more growth in the middle.

FYI - The above information is a combination from 6 different sources.

I hope you have found this beneficial.

I sure did!

Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time to ‘undo’ the damage I did.  I can, though, try harder to prevent future injury to my Arrowhead plant.

What about you?  Do you have a story to tell too?

Friday, January 18, 2013


Hey!  I’m back.  Thanks for waiting!  The other day we were looking at the meaning of ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘drought resistant’ plants.
"An apple a day ..."
In addition, a list was provided of ‘What may contribute to how quickly a plant is established?’ 

If you have not already done so, you’re invited to visit drought tolerant or drought resistant – which is it? published on January 13, 2013 for more information. 

In the above mentioned article, did you notice the warning? 

Similar to a baby, a new plant or one that is newly transplanted will need (a) time to develop a strong root system, and (b) more water - not less – until it is established.  That is true whether it is considered ‘tolerant’ or ‘resistant’ to drought, or not! 

As was promised, following are some tidbits for plants dealing with drought or “a prolonged period of dryness.”  Let’s begin with what you can do to help a plant endure less water?

Once your plant is establish, less water will be necessary if some or all of the following conditions are met:

  1. If you control weeds that would, otherwise, rob your plants of precious water, nutrients, and room to grow.
  2. If organic mulch is used to delay the evaporation of moisture; keep the soil cool in the summer and warm in the winter; assist in weed control; and contribute to the health of your soil as it decays.
  3. If you make sure the condition of the soil is healthy.

For more information on ‘What are 5 things that soil needs?’ see HelpfulTidbits – Understanding Soil for Plants published on May 27, 2012.

Next, let’s review some clues a plant may give if it needs water.

Telltale signs that your tree may be under stress from drought:
  • The leaves of a tree with hardwood may wilt in various degrees.  At first, it may not be so easy to detect leaves starting to wilt; next, the leaves will temporarily droop during the day and recover at night; and finally, the leaves will completely wilt with no relief overnight and little or no recovery with watering. 

  • Depending on the tree, leaves may curl; get crispy; get scorched; turn yellow and/or brown; and drop from the middle and lower part.

  • A tree may grow less or stop growing all together while under stress or even as a delayed reaction.

How do you know if your tree is dead or is simply in a ‘survival mode?’

... twigs the width of cooked ...
  1. Collect a few small twigs about the width of a cooked spaghetti noodle to test the condition of the wood.
  2. Try to break one twig at a time.  If it is brittle and ‘snaps’ in two, then it may be dead.  If it ‘bends’ and doesn’t break easily, then it might be alive still.
  3. Now, scrape the bark with your fingernail.  If it is moist and green under the bark, then it might still be alive.
  4. If in doubt, let some time pass.  Come springtime, look for new growth!

Keep in mind, a tree in stress can have an increased risk of disease and insect issues.

What is ‘the best medicine’ for a tree that has been under stress from lack of water?

  1. You need more than one ‘good soaking!’  Allow water to slowly penetrate into the ‘thirsty’ soil.  Avoid frequent ‘splashes of water’ that contribute to a shallow root system.  Instead, water deeply - but less - often.  This will encourage the roots to travel down into the soil for a healthier plant.
  2. If you are using an automatic sprinkler or irrigation system, make sure it is working properly.  Repair any breaks or leaks that could prevent an even distribution of water.
  3. Water during the cooler time of day – like early morning – to reduce evaporation and give the plants time to ‘dry-off’ before nightfall.
  4. Try not to water when the wind is high.
  5. Avoid fabric, plastic, or gravel from ‘smothering’ your plants.  Remember, the soil needs to be able to ‘breathe.’  Use organic mulch instead.
  6. Hold off on fertilizer.  (This may be a new thought to you too!)  Wait until your plant is ‘back on its feet’ before feeding it food.  Remember, less fertilizer is better than too much.  Otherwise, you run the risk of ‘burning’ the plant.  (I guess it is like a person getting over dehydration.  You start with a liquid diet and gradually introduce food again.)

By all means, give your plant some time.  If it takes time for a plant to ‘stress’ from a lack of water; it will take time for a plant to ‘recover’ with a supply of water.

There is a saying that goes “An apple a day will keep the doctor away!”  Another expression is “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

So, if you find yourself dealing with limited water, please keep in mind the tidbits listed above.

Allow time and provide ‘TLC’ when establishing plants considered ‘tolerant’ or ‘resistant’ to drought.

Try to ‘prevent’ problems by satisfying the requirements needed to endure a dry spell.  Look for signs of trouble.  Make any necessary adjustments to ‘cure’ what is ailing your plant.

In return, your ‘baby’ plant will reward you by growing into a beautiful plant you can be proud of!