Horticulture Report: January 2013

Indoor Palms

By Gena Goddard

Of the 200 or so palm species only a few are able to be grown indoors where the climate is so challenging for any plant.  The palm has to adapt to low light, extra dry air, drafts, and being in a confined space. It also should be a slow grower so it stays house size.  The following 3 palms have been selected because they are suited for indoor growing and they are commonly sold.

Rhapis excelsa "Lady Palm"

Rhapis excelsa “Lady Palm”

The first is “Lady Palm”, Rhapis excelsa. It grows 6-8ft tall and makes a clump of brown hairy stems with dark green glossy leaves.  It grows slowly from underground rhizomes.  The leaflets are palmate like “a lady’s hand” and the leaf ends are saw-toothed unlike most palms.

Chamaedorea elegans "Parlor Palm"

Chamaedorea elegans “Parlor Palm”

The second is the “Parlor Palm” Chamaedorea elegans. It is the palm seen in Victorian homes in the movies. It is a slow grower, growing to 6-7’. It tolerates low levels of humidity and light, though it prefers medium to high humidity and brightindirect light.

Howeia forsteriana "Kentia Palm"

Howeia forsteriana “Kentia Palm”

The third is the Kentia, sentry or thatch palm Howea forsteriana. It is a slow grower eventually growing to about 10’ tall. Like the others it tolerates indirect light but needs good drainage.

Care:

I have three Lady Palms which I take outside in a shady place on my deck when the last frost is past, white in our USDA Zone 7B is sometime in late May. Palms can stay outdoors until threatened by  frost in Oct/Nov.  Before bringing them indoors, prepare them for their winter home by clipping off dead leaves and spraying them off a few times with a strong blast from a hose and inspecting leaves for insects.  Inspect all leaves very carefully for any bugs and if you see any spray plant with Safer pest control before bring plants indoors.  Place our palms indoors next to the big south facing sunny window and cover any furnace vent openings located close to them with a piece of carpet. They may suffer some indoors during the winter, but they survive so they can thrive and grow next year on my deck.

There are two things I have learned about palms:

1) They do not like to get too dry, so when the soil is dry down to about an inch I water them thoroughly.

2) You can’t prune palms to make them shorter. They only grow from the ends and once that is damaged the whole stem dies. This also means if they get too tall for their space you must give them away, or find a place indoors with more height.

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Christmas Cactus

 Scientific Name: Schlumbergera

A Christmas Cactus in full bloom makes an extraordinary gift for gardeners, and non-gardeners, alike.  With proper care a Christmas Cactus is very long lived.  Mine is almost forty years old and still provides an amazing display of flowers every Christmas season.

Christmas Cactus Care:

Light/Temperature:  Prefers a warm location with bright indirect sunlight. Shade it from intense sun and keep the plant away from heater vents, fireplaces and cold drafts.

Soil:  Plant in well draining potting mix made for succulent plants. Its ideal soil is composed of equal parts of garden loam, leaf mold or peat, and clean course sand.

Water:  A Christmas Cactus is a tropical succulent, it is NOT a true cactus, therefore it requires more water than a true cactus. Its watering needs vary with air temperature and humidity, but in general keep the soil just barely moist throughout the year. But, do not over water or the stems will get flabby and droop,  and don’t under water either or the stems will be shriveled and limp. Note: if your plant tends to dry out and/or wilt frequently, then it’s time to re-pot it into a slightly larger container.

Fertilizing: Supply plant with a weak solution of houseplant fertilizer every two weeks.

Flowering:  The secret to good bud production is cool temperatures and extended darkness.

Cool temps: The best temperature for bud development is 55F-61F degrees for a period of 6 weeks.  Start providing cool temps in November for Christmas blooming.

Extended Darkness: The plant also needs 12 hours of darkness every night for 6 weeks.  You can accomplish darkness by covering the plant with a cloth each night or move it into a dark area overnight.  For cactus to bloom at Christmas time, darkness treatment should start in early October. Then, when buds start to appear increase its light exposure.  Do not move the plant when it starts blooming, because it is sensitive to location during this time.

Color:  Flower colors ranges from pink, white, yellow, salmon, fuchsia, red and any combination of these.

Rest time:  In February, after it has bloomed, the plant should have a rest period, so during this month water it sparingly and stop fertilizing.

Re-potting:  A Christmas Cactus blooms better if slightly pot-bound, so re-pot only when needed every 3-4 years.  Re-pot the plant into a slightly bigger pot in the spring when it is not in bloom.

Propagation:  Propagating Christmas cactus is easy. Cut a y-shaped segment off the tip of the plant, this cutting should have 2-3 joined segments.  Allow the cutting to dry for a few hours and then plant it in moist peat & sand soil mix, insert about a quarter of its length below the soil surface. Place it in a well-lit area, avoid direct sunlight and water it sparingly to prevent rotting.  In two or three weeks the cutting should show signs of growth at the tips of its leaves, these are usually reddish in color. Once it has rooted transplant it into a pot.

submitted by Carlotta Lucas