Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Houseplants a 2020 trend

2019-11 spring cactus

Published Nov. 17, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Houseplants: a top garden trend for 2020.”

By Barb Gorges

There is a publication that comes out every fall discussing trends in gardening, written primarily for those in the green industry: nurseries, landscapers, garden centers, etc. Garden Media Group listed eight hot topics for 2020 that commercial enterprises should pay attention to (http://grow.gardenmediagroup.com/2020-Garden-Trends-Report):

  • Increasing city greenscapes
  • Circular economy–waste becoming building materials
  •  Green collar jobs available, especially horticulture
  •  Soil microorganisms and regenerative gardening
  •  Attracting amphibians to backyards
  •  Mushrooms
  •  Indigo, the color and the natural dye
  •  Houseplants

Houseplants is a category I can most easily relate to as I write this on a snowy, 10-degree day at the end of October.

Houseplants have been rediscovered by millennials who yearn for green acres but make do with apartment square footage.

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One of 150 varieties of Echeveria. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Succulents are the most popular plant type, according to the surveys Garden Media looked at. And cactus. Echeveria is most popular. There are 150 cultivated varieties of this succulent. All are basically rosettes of thick leaves. They grow slowly, occasionally produce baby rosettes and need less watering than typical houseplants. I’ll have to try one.

Garden Media recommends the astute retailer offer Houseplant 101 classes for the members of the new indoor gardening generation to help them become “Plant Parents.”

That makes me a Plant Grandparent, I guess. I still have an azalea I bought 30 years ago that blooms a couple times a year.

While some people may buy houseplants to clean the air like an air purifier or as interior decoration like other people buy books for the color of their spines, growing and propagating plants is much more fun than that.

My mother started me out with violets when I was in junior high. It’s so easy to cut off a leaf and stick the stem in potting soil and watch for the new plant to grow.

In college it was an avocado tree grown from a pit. And jade plants reproducing from stems cut and planted. For 40 years, I’ve had spider plants that send out shoots looking for a new foothold and I give it to them, sometimes in the same pot, sometimes in a new pot, anchoring the bottom of the shoot to the soil surface with an unbent paperclip until the roots develop.

Philodendron, pothos, ivy and geraniums can all be propagated from cuttings. Sometimes I put the stems in water until I see roots form and then plant them. Sometimes I just stick the stems in the potting soil I find in the garden centers. There are also potting soil recipes online. If you are working with succulents and cactus, you want something grittier than regular types.

A broken piece of my spring cactus (remotely related to Christmas cactus) is growing quickly using the same stick-it-in-potting-soil technique. The key to the method is controlling watering, keeping the cutting midway between wilting and rotting.

Three years ago, the kids gave me a big bouquet for my birthday. As the cut flowers wilted, I pulled them out, downsizing to smaller vases until only two sprigs of greenery remained. And then I noticed they’d sprouted roots. Today they are happily potted up and identified as Buddhist pine.

This summer’s experiment was a piece of ginger root showing green nubbins. I buried it halfway in potting soil and it has sprouted a stalk over a foot tall.

The amaryllises I’ve grown from seed, from a plant from a friend, are nearly old enough to bloom this winter. One I shared with my friend Bonnie bloomed this last summer—she has better windows than me.

And that’s the thing about houseplant propagation—it gets out of hand. You share or at least trade with others, or find new homes for plants that get too big for your house.

Garden Media encourages “Pub crawls or plant swaps” and says, “Meet & Greets with plantfluencers allow people to network with their favorite Insta-celebrity or find other plant buddies.” OK, that last statement makes no sense if you aren’t on Instagram. But plant swapping often happens here in Cheyenne at Master Gardener and Prairie Garden Club meetings.

Finding homes for your plant offspring is easier than finding homes for a litter of puppies or kittens because plants only require a little light, water, soil and far less attention. Just make sure the weather is above freezing when you transport them.

It’s up to you if you end up filling your basement with grow lights and orchids, which I’ve seen happen. What a great place to hang out for the winter!

2019-11 Fantasy Orchids-Barb Gorges

Phalaenopsis is an easy type of orchid to grow. These were for sale at Fantasy Orchids in Louisville, Colorado, when I bought my first one. See my column, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/orchid-adventure/.


Geraniums easy to grow–both zonal and wild

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Zonal geraniums of various colors fill a whiskey barrel planter. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 10, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Geraniums easy-to-grow…and spectacular,” and at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/geraniums-easy-to-growand-spectacular

By Barb Gorges

Geraniums are one of my favorite houseplants.

Serious gardeners look at me askance: “But they are so easy to grow!” Exactly. Besides, in the summer I can set them outside to dress up the porch. In addition, there are the wild geranium cultivars that seem just as easy to grow and propagate.

Zonal geraniums

The epitome of geraniums is the zonal geranium, not actually in the Geranium genus, but in Pelargonium, native to South Africa. The Dutch brought them to Europe in the early 1700s.

I like the big red flowerheads, about 5 inches across, made of many florets. They also come in white, pink and various combinations. The leaves are roundish and fuzzy with scalloped edges. The cottage with the white picket fence always has them in the window boxes or inside in the windows. There’s also the ivy-leafed type.

I double-checked what I’ve learned in 27 years of growing geraniums with information from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, www.almanac.com, and we agree: geraniums appreciate bright light. Otherwise, they still bloom but they get leggy. When that happens, I cut off the thickest stems, use a pencil to poke a hole in the soil in the same pot or a new pot and insert the stem. It’s that easy to root a cutting.   If soil is not immediately available, the stems can be put in water.

Back when I walked my kids to and from school, I’d stop to chat with a neighbor, Charlie Culp. One fall day, he handed me two plastic grocery sacks, each with a hot pink geranium he had uprooted from pots on his front steps. Frost was predicted and he told me I should winter them.

I potted up both and shared one with one of the teachers. All winter I enjoyed mine. In spring I took it back outside. Some years I planted it in the garden, sometimes I left it in the pot. Sometimes I took cuttings to bring in instead of the whole plant, especially if the plant got too big. Eventually I ended up with half a dozen plants. This went on for 17 years.

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Zonal geranium breeders keep coming up with new varieties. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The last year, I took cuttings, put them in water, couldn’t find time to plant them and when I finally looked closely at them a couple months later, they were covered in aphids and never recovered. But soon a friend shared a beautiful red geranium and I collected shades of pink at the nursery.

For the last 10 years, I’ve hauled in four big pots of geraniums for the winter and put them in the big, southwest-facing window in our attached garage. It’s well-insulated, including the doors, but the wall between the house and the garage is less so.

Watching the thermometer in the garage, there are only a couple weeks when it gets below freezing at night and we must bring in the plants. And yes, we drive our vehicles in and out of the garage a couple times a day. But the door is never open more than a minute or two and the temperature barely changes.

A couple of tips: when you bring in geraniums for the winter, try to make yourself cut back the blooming stems to 6-8 inches tall so the plant won’t be so spindly by spring. You can pot up those cuttings in potting soil (not garden soil).

Don’t over-water, especially if you have the plants in their preferred cool location (50-60 degrees). Let the top inch of soil dry out. Fertilize sparingly, waiting until the days lengthen after the winter solstice. And don’t forget to keep turning the plants so they won’t grow one-sided.

Be sure to remove the flower heads when they get down to the last few florets blooming or remove the florets as they finish.

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Cuttings from true geraniums and their cultivars developed for the garden can also be propagated from cuttings. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Wild geraniums

Real geraniums are in the genus “Geranium,” wild geranium. There are several species native to North America. Many of these wild species are also known as “cranesbill” because the seed pod is a long, beak-like shape.

Area nurseries are selling several Geranium cultivars that will do well here. They have a roundish but palmate (having “fingers”) sort of hairy leaf and a pinkish flower that is equivalent in size to the Pelargonium’s individual florets.

My wild geranium makes a great ground cover in shadier areas. The leaves turn red in the fall and persist all winter. When mine started crowding out other plants in the raised bed, I decided to snip a few leafy stems and see if they would root in water so I could then fill in bare spots elsewhere. And it worked!

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White zonal geranium. Photo by Barb Gorges.