House Plants: A Guide For The Horticulturally Challenged

Have you never met a house plant you couldn’t kill? Do indoor plants wither in your presence? Do you long to add some greenery to your home but don’t know where to start?

If so, you’ll want to pick up a copy of House Plants: A Primer For A Dumb Thumb by Nancy Roca Laden. Laden shares what she learned as the owner of a San Francisco plant store and from leading classes about growing plants in her shop. She knows how important it is to add leafy green accents to your home in the city.

The guide begins with a discussion of basic plant care. The author covers watering and watering problems, light and the problems of too much or too little sun, temperature and how to get the temperature right for your particular plants, and feeding and soil enhancement. The author’s tone is low key and friendly — you’re sure not to get intimidated by horticulture with this book at your side.

Are you wondering which indoor house plants are easiest to raise? Looking for those hardy choices that will thrive even when you’re in charge? Happily the book includes a list of house plants that are easy and accommodating. The entries are illustrated with photographs and line drawings. Each entry is peppered with helpful hints, comments from the author’s experience, and fun facts about the different species.

There is also a list of plants with special needs. Nancy describes those specimens that need extra moisture, those that like a lot of sun and dry soil, and a few with miscellaneous sensitivities and requirements.

You’ll also get your questions answered about repotting — when to do it, how to do it, and how to tell when you need to do it. And while you’re repotting you’ll want to think about the best soil to use. There’s advice on preparing good soil mixes, fertilizing, and good drainage.

Even indoor plants can be attacked by pests. Laden discusses the most common bugs and how best to treat infested plants with pesticides and with natural remedies.

The book ends with a potpourri section with tips on a variety of miscellaneous topics. Issues covered include how to pinch, prune and shape; using eggshells in your pots; creating terrariums; propagating new plants from old; growing avocados and other items from kitchen cast-offs; and lastly a section on talking to your plants.

You just might gain a green thumb by the time you’re done with this thorough and helpful volume. Your house plants will thank you.

Spring Garden Care – Pruning Landscape and Fruit Trees in Mediterranean Climate Home Gardens

Deciduous trees should be pruned in their dormant season, which in Mediterranean and similar mild winter climates, means towards the end of winter. They should not be pruned in the spring as pruning causes the sap that is rising in the plant to “bleed” thereby depleting the tree of valuable energy and nutrients. If you have missed the boat, either wait till next year or carryout a very light pruning in the summer.

On the other hand, broadleaved evergreens and trees that come from tropical or sub-tropical climates are likely to be sensitive to cold and late frosts, and can incur severe damage if pruned too early in the year. They should not be touched until all possibility of frosts has passed.

In Mediterranean climates, spring is the best time for pruning because it anticipates the plants’ principle growing season. There is little point in allowing the tree to expend energy on new growth only to remove that growth a month or so later.

As opposed to shrubs and bushes, the aim of pruning landscape trees is to develop and maintain the tree’s natural shape. For this reason, it is a mistake to shorten branches as this detracts from the natural “flow” of the tree.

Instead, whole branches and limbs should be removed at their base, which is either where the branch is attached to the main trunk or a thicker branch. An exception is when a stem shoots forward into a long, thin branch that is out of proportion to the rest of the branches on the tree. It is best to clip such stems.

Pruning Fruit Trees

There is considerable confusion amongst home gardeners as to how best to prune their fruit trees. It is common to see the branches cut back as though the tree is a rose bush or some other flowering shrub. This is a technique borrowed from agriculture where the farmer is more interested in maximizing yields than in maintaining the natural look and beauty of the tree.

In my view, garden trees are ornamental, landscaping elements first, and providers of fruit second. In fact, by pruning fruit trees as one would landscape trees, (i.e. by removing a few limbs entirely) one gets the best of both worlds – a worthy, natural-looking specimen that produces enough fruit to supply the needs of the average family.

The Health of the Tree

Another reason for not pruning fruit trees according to the agricultural method concerns the long-term health of the tree. Persistent pruning that involves the removal of large volumes of material, depletes the energy potential of the tree, and renders it more susceptible to pests and disease. Remember that the tree, whether fruiting or otherwise, is the most precious element in the garden, and that pruning should be carried out as carefully, conservatively, and judiciously as possible.

"Apples to Apples" – Tips for a Successful Paint Project

I’m so relieved to know more than one excellent painter I trust, whose presence in my home is at the very least pleasant and unobtrusive, who is orderly and respectful of my personal environment. Personally, I’m more comfortable with someone working in my own home–or in homes of my clients–who has a fairly low profile on the job site and is focused on the project at hand.

You’ll probably also want to feel comfortable with people in your home even though you don’t know them well. There might be times when you are not there, but the project must go on! Even though it’s temporary, their presence is a part of your life. Some of these things you can infer when you meet them, and some things you might just have to ask directly.

Apples to Oranges?

Trying to level the playing field can be tricky, because when you start to interview your painters you find that each one can have perfectly reasonable explanations for practices and processes. If you develop a way to keep track of comments and suggestions, and balance that with your own list of project requirements, you will have something to review to try to make “apples to oranges’ into “apples to apples,” to make your best-informed decision.

Here are a few questions to start with:

How long have they been in business?

Don’t be shy–ask for references.

Do they work alone or with others?

If using a crew, will the owner be available for questions, follow-up and supervision? This will have a lot to do with your level of satisfaction and confidence.

What brand of paint do they use?

You may want to just take the painters recommendation for brand, but you should also feel comfortable discussing this, and specifying the brand you want.

Painters often suggest substituting brands with “we can mix any color in any brand.” However, paint companies have base materials that differ and this can affect the outcome. For example, it’s simply not possible to replicate a “Full-Spectrum “paint color in a non-full-spectrum method, no matter how it looks on a small piece.

Three questions about preparation

  • How would the painter treat mildew areas?
  • Will the painter plan to fill all holes and caulk seams?
  • Will the painter be sanding the walls for a smooth finish?

What is the painter’s typical procedure?

General painting practice specifies two topcoats and often a primer/sealer coat. Does the painter plan to prime the walls under the color coat? Some topcoat colors require a tinted primer.

How many coats of finish color do they recommend?

What kind of paint for ceilings and walls? In most cases, flat finish paint is best for ceilings. However, the paint that is used for walls is often a higher quality than “ceiling white” especially if a tint or stronger color is used.

Contracts are essential

The purpose of a written contract is to make sure all parties understand the scope of work, with clear explanation and details about surfaces to be painted, preparation, methods of working, time schedules and payment procedures for the project. Once you have met the painting contractors in person, this is the best way for you to evaluate the different proposals you receive. Equally important, it protects both you-the client-and the contractor. Reputable contractors will encourage the use of a written contract.

Last but not least: remember these important documents

Do they carry commercial liability insurance? You can request a certificate of insurance from the painter’s insurance company.

As with most home repairs and other big projects, aligning the details in advance will set the stage for a better experience.

Do you have a question you would like to see addressed here?