Episode 73 – Happiness with Houseplants (even gardenias!)

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Sure, we’re in the middle of winter – but fortunately, we’re also in the middle of a houseplant renaissance to help us through these dreary days. Join us at the YouTube link above or on your favorite podcast platform as we talk about how pothos has gone from ho-hum to va-va-voom, and talk about the good that houseplants can do for mood and spirit. 

Here’s Rick’s Lim-A-Rick for this week:

I’ll continue to be encouraging

Even though my plants are embarrassing

I nurture, coddle even scold

As I manage the household

Sometimes it’s tough plant parenting. 

Over the years, I have heard from a lot of people asking if they can grow our shrubs indoors. Either they like the plant so much and they don’t have any outdoor space where they can grow it so they’re looking at the indoors as an alternative, or they want to grow a plant that isn’t hardy in their area and think bringing it indoors is a solution, or they just like it so much and want to look at it all the time. But the fact of the matter is that the more cold tolerant a plant is, the less likely you will be able to grow it successfully indoors. This is why the vast majority of houseplants that we grow are from very hot climates – either tropical rainforests or African deserts (the majority of succulents).

Which brings us to gardenias: people love them, and for good reason. Their fragrance truly is amazing – it’s easily one of my favorites – and they are beautiful plants with thick white flowers, often double, and very glossy evergreen foliage. And they start showing up in grocery stores, florists, and garden centers right around this time of year. No, you probably won’t find today’s plant on trial, Steady As She Goes gardenia among them, so this is just about gardenias in general. We’ll get back to Steady As She Goes in moment. But typically the gardenias are sold as houseplants and the truth is that under normal household conditions, you cannot grow gardenias successfully indoors. If you have a heated conservatory or greenhouse, yes, you can do it. But if you’re like most of us and just have your house or apartment or whatever, it’s better to think of a gardenia as a temporary gift plant than a permanent addition to your houseplant collection.

Probably the biggest reason is that gardenias like to be in cool conditions during winter, much cooler than would be comfortable in the house. They also need good air circulation and bright light, plus they are very, very unforgiving about watering indoors. Too much or too little and it’s goodbye, gardenia. As many people who have attempted to grow gardenia indoors could attest, they’ll also drop their flower buds if they are the least bit unhappy. And while the foliage is attractive, a gardenia without flowers probably isn’t earning its keep.

So I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying, but I do think it’s important to have realistic expectations – lots of people blame themselves if something goes wrong, when the fact is simply that they didn’t have the full context for what they were doing. And the fact remains that while it’s possible to keep gardenias indoors for a matter of weeks, they are ultimately outdoor plants, and nothing is going to change that. But, if you do live in USDA zone 7 or warmer, let’s talk about how you can grow Steady As She Goes gardenia.

This is a special gardenia compared to conventional varieties because of its continuous blooming. Most gardenias bloom in spring and then that’s that until the next year. Steady As She Goes gardenia, though, blooms all through summer right up to frost – that means more of what makes gardenias such a beloved plant! It naturally grows as a tidy rounded mound that reaches 3-5’ tall and 4-7’ wide. And if it makes our would-be indoor gardenia growers feel better, gardenia are also a little finicky outdoors as well. They absolutely need moist, well-drained acidic soil that stays cool: these are not plants for parking lots of very hot places. Steady As She Goes gardenia is actually heat tolerant through USDA zone 10, but still, it would need to be in shade and have regular irrigation for best results.

If you’d like to add Steady As She Goes gardenia– or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

I think keeping your drip irrigation system in place and unchanged even as you add to your plantings is unlikely to be an issue unless your soil is very poorly drained. To check, dig a hole – about the size of a two or three gallon shrub should work well – and fill it with water. Check how much water is in it after 15 minutes, then after 30 minutes. If you have well-drained soil, the water should be gone from the hole at the end of that 30 minute period.  You are absolutely right that new plants need more water than established ones, however, that’s not to say that established plants won’t benefit from regular water if they get it, as long as the roots still get oxygen. 

If your soil is not well-drained, you still have lots of options, thanks to your drip system. It does depend on what type of drip system you have: in-line drip, the type that is just a tube that you lay over the soil and has built-in emitters, isn’t very flexible, but the “spaghetti” type certainly is. In that system, you could plug old holes using the special plugs some systems make and punch new ones where needed, or you could change out the emitter ends for one with higher or lower flow, depending on the plants’ needs.  

Crocus naturalized in a lawn is one of our favorite garden looks. However, they naturalize not through spreading seed but through offsets from their bulbs (which are technically corms). These offsets start small but eventually reach flowering size, expanding your crocus population. Pre-emergent herbicides work by preventing seed germination, so since your crocus are not spreading through seed, applying a pre-emergent for weed control won’t impact the plants. That said, as you shop for the product you are going to use, do read the label thoroughly to make sure it is safe for the purposes you are using it for.

Ground covers are a great way to suppress weeds, but there are some tips to help you have better success. First, not all ground cover plants are equally as good at outcompeting weeds. Look for plants that make dense, thick root systems, like liriope, wild ginger (Asarum sp.). ajuga, hosta, and daylily over plants that can be readily lifted off the ground, like creeping phlox, sweet woodruff, and thymes. Whatever you choose, you can also plant your individual plants more closely together so you get that nice carpet-like effect more quickly. And while these two tips will help you eventually get to a good, weed-suppressing ground cover, there’s no way around it: it’s going to take probably a good 2-3 seasons of continued hand-weeding to get to that low-maintenance point.

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above. Due to high volume, we may not get to your question, so if you need an answer quickly, please reach out via the Proven Winners website.

Branching News - Rick

Pink rose of Sharon flowers bloom on a plant with variegated foliage.

Episode 92 – Weeding by Example

Ah, weeds – maybe the #1 thing that discourages people from gardening. But weeds are interesting and become a lot easier to manage when you apply some basic IPM principles. Featured shrub: Sugar Tip rose of Sharon.

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