Updates (4/3/21): What’s growing?

1. Garden prepwork

My seeds arrived!! I started them right away, since I’m kind of late to start my garden. I expect to probably buy at least a few starts since I’m still learning how to raise seedlings. My greenhouse has 72 cells planted. I bought my seeds from Chauly’s Favorite Seeds, and apart from the great selection available, she was super generous with my order! I am honestly thrilled to be planning my garden, and I have a ton of seeds leftover.

My seed starts! Something is germinating even just days after planting. Super cool!

2. Cacti and succulent seeds germination

My cacti and succulents seeds are chugging along, and I’m waiting excitedly for them to sprout. I wonder if I need to supplement their light or temperature conditions, but they get excellent indirect light from the window that warms them up during the day. Since the containers are so foggy with condensation, I’m having a hard time getting photos! I also hesitate to open them up, and I think I’m going to try to avoid doing so for as long as I can.

Some Selenicereus sprouts.

3. Terrarium moths

I’ve been seeing moths in the terrariums I planted moss in a few weeks ago. They don’t really seem to do a whole lot so I’m just letting them hang out.

4. New plants on the way

My online order is taking a while longer to ship than I anticipated, I guess because plants are propagated uniquely for every order, and so a few weeks (or months? 😰) are needed for rooting and acclimation. For the number of plants that I ordered, and for the price I’m getting them, I don’t mind waiting. I’m just afraid I’ll get impatient and bring home more plants in the meantime!!

5. New growth

As spring is dawning, I’m noticing a lot of plants pushing out new leaves: ZZ plants, ric-rac cactus, Pilea involucrata, blooms on my spring cactus, hoya and Monstera deliciosa; hopefully my cacti and succulents follow suit. My aquatic plants aren’t looking fantastic, nor are my rabbit’s-foot fern or my Rhaphidophora tetrasperma cuttings. I hope some warmer weather and sun help turn things right around for them! The semester is coming to and end and I’m really feeling the heat. I hope to keep on top of things as I’m getting busier.

It’s been a pretty busy week so I don’t really have any other updates! Thanks for checking in! 🙂

Updates (3/27/21): What’s growing?

1. Plant chores

The part of the stem of my rhaph that sits below the soil.

Much of my past weekend was spent repotting plants, mostly just to check on roots. I found by repotting that many plants had good root development, but some were somewhat constricted by poor potting (by me) last year. I made sure to give my plants stakes that needed them, and I’m looking forward to a happy spring!

The (mostly) healthy roots of R. tetrasperma.

One plant that is bothering me is my Rhaphidophora tetrasperma. Despite many unsuccessful propagation attempts, I’m kind of at a loss for what to do. The plant also had roots coming out of the top of the soil, but the plant wasn’t rootbound like I thought. I wonder if this plant was a tissue culture or something; apparently there was some drama last year about the species that I’m not totally familiar with.

2. Aquatic plants

Beginning my aquatic plant journey with a tank, some pebbles, and two plants. The red one is Xyris sp. ‘Red’, and the other is Syngonanthus sp. ‘vichida’, both of which are suffering a little bit, though I hope they pull through.

3. Garden updates (& haul)

I ordered seeds online and bought pots, a mini greenhouse, and potting mix for the spring! The seeds haven’t arrived yet, but I plan on starting them indoors and transferring them outdoors in (hopefully) a few weeks.

4. Spring blooms

My winter cactus (Christmas cactus) has bloomed! I’ve been watering it (and my spring cactus) with an orchid bloom booster to help them along. Though my poor Christmas cactus seems confused, I’m thrilled to be expecting my first ever flowers among my houseplants. I placed my spring cactus closer to the window and am drying it out a little to hopefully coax out some flowers. Only time will tell!!

5. Cacti & succulent seeds updates

(Top, from left to right: Blossfeldia liliputana varieties, Lithops sp. Bottom, from left to right: Rhipsalis ramulosa, R. horrida v. Madagaskar, Selenicereus sp. mix)

(Top: Carnegiea gigantea (Saguaro – protected species), Pilocereus azureus, Pygmaeocereus bylesianus, Myrtillocactus geometrizans. Bottom: Opuntia sp. mix.)

Not a ton of updates here, other than a few rogue sprouts of lithops, selenicereus, and some other species. No signs yet of life for the Rhipsalis, opuntia, nor Blossfeldia liliputana, though :(. Seeing algae growth in some of the containers, which tells me that there are some nutrients available for the baby plants. I’m considering moving some of these into a larger greenhouse container to conserve space, though I am still waiting to start those other seeds.

6. Plant purchases

I spent $60 on eight new plants this week, bringing my total for the month up to 16 new plants, not counting any seedlings, propagations, or outdoor plants. This is the most plants I’ve brought home all at once (possibly ever before), after a long dry period over the winter and fall not buying any new plants. In my defense, I only bought small, inexpensive plants, and I think I’ve pretty much reached maximum capacity! One important goal I have for myself this year is to reduce unnecessary purchases, and limit myself to only bring home plants I really love. So far, the plants I brought home this month have been thriving, minus a couple of unfortunate cases, and I really do love them. Next month, I want to avoid buying new plants and really focus on the ones I’ve got, especially now that I’ll be able to do some outdoor gardening!

What new plants have you brought home this spring? Let me know!

Annual plant care: Cacti & succulents

Spring is right around the corner, and I expect most gardeners (and houseplant collectors) are gearing up for the growing season. Apart from your weekly, monthly chores that are needed to keep your plants happy and healthy, each Spring there are a few things you should do to check up on your plants and prepare them (and yourself!) for another year. My focus for this weekend was to check up on my desert plants, and the work I did applies to most succulents, cacti, and other desert species.

Repotting

Generally, plants that have fully filled up the space in their pots need to be repotted. Desert plants usually don’t have root systems that are that deep, and since they grow relatively slowly, they don’t need to be repotted that frequently.

Many of my first plants were succulents and cacti, and I was forced to reckon with some questionable choices in potting when I was first starting out. I removed pebbles that I used as top dressing, and scooped the soil out gently with a spoon. I massaged the root ball to remove excess soil.

Sedum sp.

Succulents like well-draining potting mix. To refresh the soil of some of these, I mixed about 1:1 ground peat moss to perlite. Terracotta pots are also porous, and help succulents dry out quickly. I didn’t repot any of my succulents into bigger pots; I didn’t think any of them needed it.

Haworthia/gasteria sp.

When I originally planted some of these succulents, I filled the bottom of the pot with pebbles, though I think that was a rookie mistake. A few pebbles near the drainage hole helps prevent a bunch of soil washing away during watering, but there are few advantages to adding more than that. As you can see, the soil mix I used for these plants was super well draining.

Myrtillocactus geometrizans ‘blue myrtle cactus’

I was pleased to see healthy roots on these cacti. If you are handling cacti with particularly sharp spines, use a strip of cardboard to grip the plant.

Boobie cactus

I was disappointed to see little root development on this cactus, which cost me a pretty penny last summer. It was shipped to me bare root and I think they probably all rotted away. In any case, the stem felt firm (not mushy) and I replaced (“refreshed”) the potting mix with some new stuff.

I added a bit of slow-release fertilizer to the top of all of these plants and replaced the pebbles as soil cover. All of these plants were due for a watering, so I gave them all a good drink of water afterwards.

Propagation

Spring is the best time to propagate plants, and succulents and cacti are no different. If you’re looking for a sign to behead your leggy succulent, this is it.

Unfortunately I’ve been struggling with my variegated opuntia and couldn’t figure out why, but when I was checking the roots I found that some of the stems were beginning to rot. Since they were pretty mushy, I used a sharp pair of shears to cut above the rot and left the cacti out overnight so that the cuts could callus over a bit. I planted them in new soil, washed the pot that they were in really well, and watered it.

Opuntia monacantha monstrose (?) variegata

For unrooted succulents, you should basically pretend like they have roots like your other succulents: unless you’re giving them especially bright light, I would avoid watering them frequently. I usually use a soil top dressing to stabilize my succulents and make them look a little prettier, though I’m choosing not to do this for my propagated cactus so I can use a moisture meter to make sure I’m not overwatering it.

Euphorbia trigona ‘African milk tree’

This is the exact same process I used to propagate my Euphorbia trigona a few weeks ago, another succulent plant that I unfortunately mistreated. This plant is weird and extremely toxic, like other species in the genus; if you choose to propagate it, be careful to avoid touching the white latex sap that it bleeds if cut. This is also a plant to keep away from children and pets. According to Bev, this is a fast grower. I’m super glad that she shared a cutting of her plant with me!

Final thoughts

As long as you give them some space, succulents and cacti will be just fine. Since they don’t get big, they’re really great to collect. Which succulent variety is your favorite? Let me know!! 🙂

Propagating cacti from seed

Last summer in a succulent-obsession episode, I bought cactus seeds with the intention of growing my own baby plants! I think the weather is finally going to be warm enough for the coming few weeks for my plants to start indoors. I am choosing a fairly low-maintenance approach for my seedlings, but there are several ways to more effectively germinate them, according to what I’ve seen.

Supplies

The method I’ve chosen for my propagation requires the following materials:

  1. A clear, clean, airtight container. I am reusing a plastic container.
  2. Distilled water. I want to avoid any contaminants (dissolved salts, chlorine, metals, etc) that may be present in my city water.
  3. Growing medium. I am going to use a mix of perlite and peat-based seedling potting mix that I’ve had forever. You may want to use grit (sand/gravel) and/or omit the peat. This choice is dependent on how frequently you plan on watering your baby plants (if you choose to water them at all), the humidity of the growing container, and the degree to which the air is circulating in the container.
  4. Permanent marker (not pictured). Just to write the date sown and any other information about the seedlings.
  5. Seeds. I will be using 3 jungle cactus seeds for this container: Rhipsalis and Selenicereus.
  6. Cold brew coffee. You should probably drink something yummy while you plant your own seeds!

Putting everything together

I’m using a closed container without a drainage hole, so I am leaving a little more than an inch (2-3 cm) of perlite at the bottom of the container. Be sure to wet it down (not excessively) with distilled water. For better drainage, use a container with holes in the bottom, and this layer isn’t necessary.

Here I mixed my top soil layer, about 1:2 peat to perlite. Be sure to moisten the soil at this step with distilled water (and possibly a few drops of liquid fertilizer…) which I forgot to do. If the rest of your setup has better drainage or better air circulation, less perlite (drainage, grit) should be needed.

Here’s my container, filled with my soil mix about another inch (2-3 cm). Make sure the soil is moist (but not waterlogged) at this point before introducing the seeds. If you water after, you may cause the seeds to be washed deep into the soil, giving them a harder time to reach the surface.

I sprinkled 3 rows of about 10-12 seeds. These were really tiny: if you have especially small granule-sized seeds, you may want to fill a tiny container with a pinch of seeds, and an appropriate (maybe like a teaspoon) size amount of grit or sand, shake it up, and sow that instead.

I added a thin layer of soil above the seeds, and I closed the container and put it in a bright, warm location.
The biggest threat to these baby plants is probably going to be pathogenic bacteria, fungus, or mold. If you want a higher germination success rate, you may want to sterilize by some method the container, soil, water, and wear gloves while sowing your seeds. Until your plants have sprouted and grown over the course of a few months, leaving the container completely closed will prevent the growth of pathogens. That being said, based on only a basic understanding of immunology, growing seedlings without any exposure to pathogens may make them weaker in the long run to diseases. This is why I chose not to sterilize my materials. It’s kind of harsh, exposing your seedlings to pathogens that might kill them, but by doing this we can select for healthier plants. Diseases that destroy the human immune system (like HIV) pave the way for fatal secondary infections, and without prior exposure to plant diseases, I fear that my seedlings may be at a disadvantage once they are mature enough to be potted up.

Obviously, we should act to stop the spread of infections or parasites that disrupt the health of our plants. Keeping them clean, pruned, and with adequate resources to survive, we can give them everything they need to stay healthy on their own, though we may want to avoid unnecessarily depriving them of a strong immune response. Obviously, this argument does not extend to all living things, especially since we have technology and systems to treat disease and produce strong immune systems among populations.

Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to share some updates on the seedlings! Thanks for checking in.

Everything you need to know about terrariums

Whenever I’m thinking about new ways to grow houseplants, I skim the pages of an antique book I received over the holidays: All About House Plants by Montague Free, written in 1946. Though it was first published over 70 years ago, the book is full of useful information that is doubtlessly still relevant today. Though this book is a useful reference on almost any topic any beginner or experienced horticulturist may seek guidance on, I especially enjoyed reading the chapters on terrariums and container (small arrangement) gardens.

There are a number of benefits to keeping terrariums rather than potting multiple plants separately: one, there’s a greater diversity of plants at your disposal, as humidity, a factor that usually restricts the scope of houseplants to low-humidity tolerant species, is no longer a limiting factor inside a closed (or partially closed) container. Arranging many plants together, especially in a container with glass (or plastic) walls, the humidity surrounding the plants is greatly increased as opposed to a lone plant exposed to dry household air. Second, there is an aesthetic that terrariums or container gardens provide that single houseplants don’t; namely, with a good eye for arranging them, we can create mini-habitats or environments to appreciate indoors. Terrariums also, depending on their construction, have fewer needs than some houseplants. Some closed container gardens can survive without added water or nutrients for months or years, which is totally fascinating, but may be a benefit for newer enthusiasts or those with limited time to care for a large collection of plants.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who creates aquatic vivariums (both exclusively with plants and with aquatic animals) as a hobby, and I was reminded that the scope of many houseplant collectors (or fanatics!) is limited by the poor growing conditions of the home, which usually has poor humidity, poor light, and unnatural elements in their water. Many of these issues can be remedied with grow lights, humidifiers, or water purification (dechlorination), but all of these require modifications to our own living environments. With closed containers, we can bring all kinds of new living things indoors without significantly changing our own living conditions to accommodate our plants. Though there’s nothing wrong with turning your bedroom into a mini-greenhouse, my point is that closed containers offer a new frontier for plant parents, some of whom may be feeling interested in adding new, uncommon species into their homes and collections.

Building a terrarium

Step 1: Choosing a container

For our terrarium, you could choose a smaller container, such as a jar or a fishbowl, or maybe a larger tank. Consider some of the following points when choosing a container:

  1. Drainage hole:
    • A container with a hole will need more frequent watering, but will be less likely to rot your plants.
    • A container without a hole will need less watering, but more attention to ensure that the soil isn’t overwatered. A drainage layer of pebbles (or clay pebbles) may be a good solution.
    • Without a drainage hole, be especially careful about fertilizing, as there is no way for excess nutrients to flow. Avoid burning the roots of your plants by diluting your fertilizer.
  2. Size of container and opening:
    • A small container will dry out more quickly, and possibly need attention to ensure it isn’t outgrown quickly. Pruning (or replacing overgrown plants) may be needed sooner.
    • A small opening at the top of the container (such as a glass bottle) will prevent you from manually planting individual plants and adding substrate; a funnel and aquarium forceps/tweezers/tongs (what are they called??) may be needed.
  3. Closed or open top:
    • Air circulation is important to ensure that mold/fungus/rot don’t harm terrarium plants.
    • A permanently open container will have better air circulation than one that is closed for all/part of the time, but will dry out faster. As long as the container has walls that surround some of the plants, the humidity will be greater than that of a regular potted houseplant.
    • A closed top container (for part or all of the time) may need brief periods of fresh air to prevent rot/mold. Remember though, that rapid environmental changes may shock and kill plants.

Step 2: choosing plants

Since the choice of container will determine the environment for your plants, it is important to try to choose plants that will suit the conditions of the container you choose. There are several examples below, but here are some considerations:

  1. Choosing slow growing plant species:
    • Will the plants you want to grow require frequent pruning? If so, maybe you should consider other species.
  2. Choosing small plants:
    • Cacti, succulents, cuttings, peperomias, small ferns, mosses, spathiphyllum, bromeliads… Starting small may make your work easier later on. Consider buying plants grown specifically for terrariums/vivariums if you aren’t sure.
  3. Choosing appropriate species for the terrarium environment:
    • If you’re creating a high humidity environment, avoid adding plants that are adapted for drier conditions. Succulents won’t be suited for a high humidity, tropical setting, for instance, just as a maidenhair fern will not be suited for an arid environment.
    • In a low humidity (dry) environment, stick to dry-adapted species like cacti, succulents, grasses, essentially any plant with a waxy cuticle.
  4. Anticipate the aesthetic you want:
    • Before planting your terrarium, brainstorm the ‘look’ you have in mind, and maybe put in on paper for reference. Variety in form (growth habit), color, and size are all huge factors that will draw the eye around the arrangement. Depending on your experience, the variety could be as dramatic or as subtle as you desire, but you shouldn’t sacrifice the health of your plants for aesthetics. Make sure to choose plants that suit the habitat of your terrarium and have similar needs. Your arrangement will look less pretty if your plant(s) is/are dead.
    • Do you want to add non-living or living associates with your plants? A terrarium could easily be converted to a vivarium or fairy garden with some additional research of microfauna that would suit your environment, or with little decorations here and there.

Step 3: putting everything together

With your materials (including but not limited to container, soil, plants, and water) you can begin to plant your terrarium. Be flexible and patient, since the rest of the work is up to you and your intuition! Make sure to leave your newly planted terrarium in a bright spot that won’t be hit by direct sun, and let it acclimate for a day or two before making any drastic changes to its environment. Major issues were hopefully prevented by brainstorming and doing some research before, but using skills of observation, hopefully you can identify and mitigate problems that come up. Is the environment too wet? too dry? Is there a pest issue? Is there (in)sufficient light? If you have a closed container with high humidity and dying plants, you probably overwatered.

High humidity terrarium plants

Centerpiece plants

  • Jewel orchids – rather diminutive, but offer showy blooms (link)
  • Ferns – depending on your choice of cohabitants, a tall fern could dominate your terrarium and create a lush vibe (link)
  • Begonia sp. – a colorful begonia could set the stage for your terrarium, with tons of cultivars and distinct varieties; a more understated variety could easily compliment your terrarium, too; don’t forget about their blooms, either! (link)
  • Calathea sp. – though sometimes hated for being difficult in low household humidity, calatheas offer unique patterned foliage and love humidity (link)
  • Carnivorous plants – a good choice if you are worried about fungus gnats, carnivorous plants have special needs and would thrive in a specially planted terrarium (link)
  • Peperomia sp. – with so many varieties, colors, and forms, there are literally hundreds of candidates for you to feature a peperomia in your terrarium (link)
  • Aroids – typically appreciate tropical conditions, but perhaps too fast growing: philodendron, pothos, scindapsus, monstera, anthurium, syngonium, etc.

Accent plants

  • Pilea involucrata – can grow tall, strong green, with gorgeous textured leaves (link)
  • Peperomia meridiana – green foliage, with bright red stems; super pretty peperomia! (link)
  • Spathiphyllum sp. – peace lily family, with smaller foliage reminiscent of philodendron; neutral, but pretty (link)
  • Fittonia sp. – stays fairly low, but can add a flair of red, white, or pink depending on the cultivar; also a good indicator of water conditions, drooping dramatically when thirsty (link)
  • Pellonia sp. – vining species with dark green leaf tops and deep red below (link)
  • Selaginella sp. – spikemoss, somewhat intermediate between a moss and fern; gorgeous reaching foliage with red undertones (link)
  • Ferns – if a huge arching fern isn’t your thing, a smaller one may fit in perfectly in the frays of your terrarium (link)

Ground cover

  • Mosses & liverworts – so many varieties exist, and many make good ground cover; choose a moss that will be suited for the conditions of your terrarium, whether that’s semi-aquatic, high humidity, or low humidity (link) (link)
  • Ficus pumila/punctata – small, low growing figs, forming dense mats (link)
  • Peperomia prostrata – string of turtles, or potentially try another low-growing peperomia species; this likely will require lower humidity and infrequent watering (link)

Low humidity terrarium plants

Cacti and succulents will be your best friends in a low humidity, desert or arid condition terrarium; succulent arrangements can be pretty without the demands of other houseplants.

Varieties

  • Cacti – so many options available, with tons of sizes; check out my recent article about cacti; growth habits include columnar, globular, and with pads; avoid jungle cacti, which are not suited for high sun, and low humidity
  • Aloes – tons of varieties, hybrids, cultivars not limited to Aloe barbadensis, the typical medicinal plant
  • Agave – similar growth and needs as aloe, but a bit tougher
  • Haworthia, gasteria – somewhat related to aloe, but with unique growth patterns; typically can add a lush, dark contrast to the light greens and blues of your typical succulent
  • Echeveria – maybe what you picture when you think ‘succulent’, so many varieties, easy to propagate, with a broad spiral of leaves
  • Jade – can grow quite large, and potentially a nice centerpiece; try growing it as a bonsai
  • Portulacaria afra – elephant bush, tolerant of full exposure to sun, and bright red stems
  • Sedum – burro’s tail succulent and related species, good at trailing
  • Peperomia graveolens – drought tolerant pep species with leaves like hard taco shells
  • Euphorbia – crown of thorns, E obesa, E trigona, many diverse species with all kinds of growth habits; look out for toxic white latex sap
  • Lithops – not the ideal candidate, only requiring water few times a year; prone to rot, but rather interesting plants
  • Snake plants – tolerant of bright light, but possibly too fast a grower and too large to be planted in a small terrarium

Final thoughts

The maintenance and construction of a terrarium is a long process, but can be a very rewarding mode of artistic expression, along with the care and love for plant life. As always, it’s important to be kind to yourself if you make mistakes along the way, which all plant collectors are prone to do now and again. Use your knowledge to create a habitat that demonstrates your passion for plants, whether it be for their incredible diversity, unique habits of growth, or simply for the life they can bring into the home.

The wonderful world of cacti

One variety of my Myrtillocactus geometrizans. Let me know if it looks sick to you…

The family Cactaceae is a wonderfully diverse group of succulent plants, with around 100 genera and over 1500 species, spread across three (or four) subfamilies. Unique to the Americas (excepting Rhipsalis baccifera, the only species found elsewhere), cacti have evolved to survive in some of the harshest environments, with waxy, succulent stems, spines, and an array of growth habits ranging from small spiky barrel cacti, tall arborescent saguaros, opuntias with pads, and jungle cacti that grow epiphytically in tropical forests.

Growing cacti indoors

I will try to avoid making sweeping generalizations here, but with so many unique species, it is a little hard to cover them all. Here are some tips for cactus care indoors:

WaterDesert cacti:
• Summer – water after soil is completely dry
• Winter – water after several days (up to 2 weeks) of totally dry soil
Jungle cacti:
• Summer & winter – water when pads/stems are tender or shriveled, or when soil is noticeably dry
SunDesert cacti:
• Brightest light possible
Jungle cacti:
• Bright, indirect light
Soil mixDesert cacti:
• Gritty, fast draining
• Add plant safe (clean) sand or grit to mix
Jungle cacti:
• Chunky, fast draining mix
SpinesFor spiny cacti (not all varieties have sharp ones) wear gloves when handling, or bend a piece of cardboard to clamp the plant if you need to handle it.

The adaptation to tolerate drought make cacti good indoor houseplants, and help them survive in natural environments where water is scarce. Above all else, remember that cacti are tough plants; if you are unsure if they’re thirsty or not, it’s probably safer to wait a few more days (or weeks).

Growing in the midwest (or at higher latitudes)

I live in a climate with harsher winters and poor light during the winter. It is especially important during this time (if you live in a similar environment) to avoid overwatering your cacti. I typically wait 2-3 weeks in between watering for my plants that live in 4-inch terracotta pots, but they would probably be fine for 4 or maybe 6 weeks if I forgot to water for a while. In the summer, make sure to water a bit more frequently (allowing the soil to fully dry in between), and provide good sun if you want your plants to be the happiest. I believe some immature cacti species can tolerate lower light conditions, but they may not thrive.

Growing in the desert (or at lower latitudes)

Without a winter season, but with year-round sun and higher temperatures, care for cacti is different in this part of the world. I might recommend seeing Becca de la Plants’s YouTube channel, where she (at some point I think she might have moved lol) cared for cacti and succulents in the desert.

Other notes

Cacti make fantastic beginner plants due to their high availability, low cost, and high resistance of underwatering. Their small size and slow growth make them good for container gardening, and allow collectors to keep a lot of them at once.

Rhipsalis sp.; possibly baccifera

Propagation

For cacti with segmented pads or stems, simply twisting one off, letting it callus over, and sticking it in soil should be enough for roots to form. Water it like you would any of your other cacti.

For cacti with unsegmented pads or stems, such as columnar cacti, it’s necessary to make a top cutting of your plant. With a sterilized, sharp blade, make a division at some point on the stem of your plant. Depending on the girth of your cactus, it may need to callus for several hours, or maybe a couple of days. Wait until the wound is totally dried out before planting in cactus soil and watering it like usual.

Avoid placing propagating plants in harsh, direct sun, as there are no roots for the plant to rehydrate.

Final thoughts

Honey, get a cactus. Even under the most harsh conditions, they root themselves down and keep growing, slowly but surely. The plant is a symbol of resilience for a lot of people, and for good reason. It’s kind of saccharine, but I feel like cacti are a good reminder that we can grow even when things are really tough, which is kind of nice. After all, even if you’re struggling, your cacti will be fine until you’re ready to care for them again. 🙂

Opuntia monacantha variegata

Plant prices: What are plants worth?

Monstera Thai Constellation; a plant that seems to have polarized plant parents, as its cultivation is letting hobbyists grow cheap(er), more accessible variegated monsteras, maybe to the chagrin of Albo borsigiana owners.
Photo by Huy Phan on Pexels.com

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you may have noticed houseplant prices skyrocketing in nurseries, on Facebook marketplace, and from online sellers. What gives?

Economic theory

I don’t know anything about economics, but I will quote a close friend who is familiar with the subject. “This is all wack as hell.”

As houseplants have become trendy, so have “rare” plants; I don’t think I need to re-explain the discourse that I’ve read in Facebook comments over wet stick prices. The long and the short of it is, a lot more people are trying to buy rare (“rare”) plants now than a year ago, so sellers have an opportunity to raise prices. This is a fairly lucrative opportunity for hobbyists, who are able to find buyers online on Facebook or Etsy for the plants they have growing in their home. The drama within all this, however, is inexperienced (dare I say… ignorant?) sellers and desperate buyers selling and buying high, driving prices to wild margins.

Wtf is a wet stick?

It’s possible to propagate some plants using just a stem cutting, as long as it has a node. Aroids share a similar growth pattern, where new leaves grow from the stem at a node, which can also grow roots (in order to stabilize the vine as it attaches to trees or a moss pole). Even if the leaf is dead, it is possible to propagate a stem cutting as long as there is a node for roots and a new shoot to form. Some sellers sell these for absurdly high prices, even though propagation success isn’t promised.

I personally feel kind of bad when I see someone online buying a plant for way more than I know it’s worth, but I don’t know if I can blame sellers for trying to trying to take advantage of our society’s capitalist machine. As people project their pride on the diversity of their collection, and the value of social capital on Instagram is constantly rising, it makes sense that the whole “rare plant” craze is snowballing. That being said, I think we as plant owners ought to reconsider how we value our plant collections.

Dracaena (formerly Sansevieria) trifasciata ‘Laurentii’. I never bought one of these plants: I propagated in soil and in water from plants my parents had.
Photo by Charlotte May on Pexels.com

The case for cheap plants

Like many plant parents, my plant collection grew from water propagations, supermarket plant sections, constant plant care fails & an undying drive to learn more about plants as living things that I share this planet with. When I bought new plants, I didn’t know what to expect with care and usually bought plants because they looked interesting. Snake plants and pothos are still some of my favorites: they propagate easily, grow readily, come in a million hybrids and varieties, and are truly fantastic tools for beginner plant hobbyists because they are so cheap (less risk is you kill them) and available nearly everywhere.

In assigning a dollar value to plants, we risk overvaluing plants that suck, but are scarce (for instance, like every rare aroid ever) and undervaluing plants that are super fascinating, but widely cultivated. By going after rare plants, we’re also chasing trends that will inevitably die off once C**** Farms gets their hands on them and starts doing tissue Monstera Thai Constellation tissue culture. We ought to buy plants that we like, and care for them because of the intrinsic value that they have as living things. I stopped buying plants last year because I was running out of space, but still propagated, traded cuttings, and decided to wait to invest in plant I really wanted. I was thrilled to finally buy a common Peperomia obtusifolia a few weeks ago for only six dollars, and I can’t wait to watch it grow and to propagate it in the Spring and Summer.

The irony of the rare plant pipeline is that the demand driving production makes these “rare” plants more accessible, which is exactly what happened with Pilea peperomioides a few years ago. The plant is not difficult to propagate, and today it’s incredibly easy to buy at Walmart or something. Even though this whole deal with capitalism is pretty frustrating, it proves that the value of plants is essentially nothing in the grand scheme, and it is up to us to decide how much (or little) we value them.

Let’s normalize trading cuttings again

I truly feel like trading cuttings is the great equalizer within the plant community, though it’s sad that COVID-19 is complicating actual in-person chances to spread the love of plants.

Not only does plant trading give you low-stakes opportunities to learn about new species/varieties/cultivars and their care, it gives that same chance to others. I feel lucky to have a lush, (fairly) happy Raphidaphora tetrasperma (which I’ve seen sold as a rare plant online), but its stubborn, reliable growth makes me really unconcerned about sharing cuttings with others. Propagating and trading builds stronger relationships, and also gives you plant insurance later on if your mother plant is overwatered, has pests, or just inexplicably dies.

To be totally honest, simply sharing your plants with others is the best way to show your love for your collection; here is a living thing that I share my space with, and it has brought me joy which I hope to spread to someone else. Having high expectations about the outcome of your plant trade is fine, as long as you don’t have a bad attitude if you end up disappointed.

Cheap plants for sale; never appreciated

The saddest story ever might be that of the clearance shelf houseplant dying alone at the supermarket. Here are some ideas for adding new plants to your collection at a low price:

  • Clearance shelf/ orchids that have already bloomed/ plants that just need a little love (AS LONG AS THEY’RE PEST FREE!!)
  • Dracaenas, Peperomias, pothos, snake plants, succulents/cacti, terrarium mini-plants…
  • Online sellers with cheap options
    • Hirt’s garden has cheap options and variety
    • Logee’s
  • Pet store plants
    • Josh’s Frogs has mini-sized plants, lots of variety, and cheap options
    • These options work especially well in container gardens, and some do just fine with low household humidity. Do some research!

Are you looking for more hot takes on the latest plant drama? Subscribe!! 🙂

Photo by Richard Fletcher on Pexels.com