WillC's blog

Hear me on the radio!
Posted on Feb 22, 2018 1:56 PM

I will be interviewed about my book, "Don't Repot That Plant," on radio station KSFO in San Francisco on Sunday 2/25 at 8:30 AM PST. It is Bob Tanem's garden show now in its 23rd year.

For those of you in the Bay Area and up that early on Sunday, take a listen and call in to say hello and ask a question.

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Get Paid To Take Care of Plants?!
Posted on Feb 16, 2018 11:02 AM

There is a little-known industry called Interiorscaping or Indoor Landscaping. Companies in this industry have contracts with corporate offices, shopping malls, restaurants, building atriums and high-end residences to care for the indoor plants used in these spaces as decorative items and environmental enhancements. Perhaps you have seen someone watering the plants in your office or at your local mall. Most often, these plant maintenance technicians work out of sight so the interior landscape industry is largely unknown.

Who they hire
Indoor landscaping companies often hire people with little or no professional experience or training in horticulture. An interest in plants and some experience with personal plants is helpful. More importantly, they look to hire people who are reliable, personally presentable and in good physical condition. Plant maintenance techs are considered to be entry-level positions so the pay is usually not too much above minimum wage. But there is room for wage improvement if you are reliable and a quick study.

Interior landscape companies usually provide 1 to 3 months of supervised training before assigning specific accounts to their trained plant techs. The training includes properly assessing light and water requirements for various plant species that are commonly used. In addition, techs are trained to identify and treat plant pests; when and how to fertilize; and cosmetic techniques such as pruning, trimming and cleaning plants. It is not complicated, but attention to detail and reliability are of prime concern because techs work in well-designed spaces and the plants must always look good. It is the responsibility of the tech to make that happen.

The Downside
If you love plants, this can be a great occupation. However, interior landscaping is ultimately a business. That means that techs have to not only be conscientious, but they have to learn to work efficiently. That requires making quick assessments of a plant's weekly water needs and identifying any problems quickly and treating them right away. Plants that start to look at all unsightly (sparse, leggy, discolored leaves, etc.) are replaced and not rehabilitated. You cannot become personally attached to plants you are servicing.

You only get one chance each week to take care of a plant. That means anticipating its water requirements for the next week and preventing any significant plant deterioration before your return in a week.

The work can at times seem routine and even boring. Techs see the same accounts every week. The variety of plants used is limited by the available light. For accomplished plant techs, the plants will look the same from week to week and providing proper water is all that will be needed.

In many areas, you may need to use your own vehicle to travel between accounts and carry light equipment. Most companies have some travel reimbursement provision.

Who might be interested in this work?
People who like and have an affinity for plants, of course. Someone who is willing to learn and re-learn plant care techniques. Many companies hire part-time, as well as full-time plant techs and can offer schedule flexibility. Tech work requires being on your feet and on the move most of the time that you are working. Big muscle strength is not required, but overall stamina is important. Fit seniors who are already on a fixed income can be good candidates for plant tech work

Where Do I Apply?
Check local listings for interior or indoor landscaping companies. All urban areas and most suburban areas have companies that do this work. Because there is a fair amount of turnover among plant techs, there are often openings, if not immediately, probably soon. Contact the personnel office of these companies and find out about their application process. Unlike outdoor landscaping that is seasonal in northern areas, indoor landscaping is non-seasonal so jobs may be available year-round and there are no seasonal layoffs.

Check it out and good luck!

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Pruning Your Houseplants
Posted on Feb 11, 2018 1:18 PM

Pruning potted plants is more about aesthetics than it is about horticulture. Pruning does not enhance or harm a plant's growth. It does alter where it grows and its appearance. So asking if you should prune your plant is like asking someone if you should get your haircut. In both cases, there is no right-or-wrong answer. It is a matter of personal preference.

For many indoor plants, when you prune any stem, new growth will emerge just below the point on the stem where you make the pruning cut and grow upward from there. So you have to decide how far down on the stem you would like to see new growth emerge. If you prefer to keep a plant shorter and more compact, then regular pruning is recommended.

When you prune, stems should be cut just above a "node" – the slightly raised bump on the stem where a leaf stem attaches. The new growth will emerge from that node, so you don't want to leave an unsightly stump above the node.

When pruning, you can prune back a lot and alter the plant's appearance radically or you can take a more gradual approach by pruning back on or two stems every few months. The important thing to remember is that no matter where you prune, the plant will continue to grow, albeit in different locations.

For most people, the hardest part of pruning is overcoming the fear that pruning will somehow harm or even kill the plant. That fear is not warranted. So plunge in and prune because you really cannot go wrong!

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The Psychology of Plant Care
Posted on Feb 11, 2018 1:11 PM

Many of us have intuitive reactions to our indoor plants that may cause us to do (or not do) certain things with our plants that are not always in the best interest of the plants. Below are some examples.

• A plant appears to be unhappy so we assume it needs more water. That is the quickest and easiest thing for us to do, so that is what we do. Unfortunately more times than not the plant's problem is not due to lack of water and may even be caused by too much water.

• Folks who are nurturers like to do as many things for their plants as possible. They repot too often and over water and over fertilize. They end up killing their plants with kindness. In most instances of plant care, less is better.

• We tend to think that when it comes to potted plants, bigger is better. Lots of hefty growth is a sign of success. True enough that a big plant has to be healthy to get that way. But small plants can also be healthy and are often more attractive. Unfortunately, the bigger is better approach usually leads to a failure to prune and that ultimately leads to badly overgrown plants that lean, fall over, push up against the ceiling and take over the house. Regular pruning is essential to keeping your plants manageable in size and attractive looking in the space you have assigned them to.

• We also believe that if a little of something is a good thing, then more would be even better. So we tend to provide too much water, too much fertilizer and use pots that are too big. When it comes to water, fertilizer and pot size it is far better to err on the side of less or smaller. Let the soil dry out deeper into the pot. Dilute the fertilizer to half strength. Up-pot only if absolutely necessary.

• We love quick and easy solutions. That is why fertilizers are so appealing…and overused. Fertilizer is not medicine and should only be used for healthy plants that are growing vigorously and never for ailing plants.

• We project our own (human) feelings onto our potted plants. So we think that pruning is like amputation and should be avoided. If our plants are not doing well, we assume we are causing pain to them and feel terribly guilty ourselves.

• When faced with plant pest infestations, we want to nuke those critters with the most lethal of substances so they never come back. Those heavy duty pesticides in our arsenal are not only hazardous to use and harmful to the environment, but they are no more effective than carefully applied non-toxic remedies such as soap, alcohol and oil sprays. The results may not be as dramatic, but they are more effective in the long term.

• We overestimate the available light in our homes. Because a large window has a large sunny window, we assume that there is lots of good light for plants throughout the room. In fact, light intensity drops off dramatically with every couple of feet of distance from the window. Few plants will survive for long across the room from a sunny window.

• We believe that some plants are virtually indestructible. While it may be true that some plants require less light than others and some plants can go a long time without water, all plants species will quickly decline if they are not given proper light and water.

To be successful with plants, it is sometimes necessary to check our own human reactions to plant care and do what is best for the plant.

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Fiddle-leafed Fig care
Posted on Feb 9, 2018 11:13 AM

The Fiddle-leafed Fig or Ficus lyrata is one of the most interesting looking and popular large plants on the market today. They have large leaves shaped somewhat like a bass fiddle that are dark green and glossy. One large Fiddle-leafed Fig appropriately placed can dominate a room.

As terrific looking as the Fiddle-Leafed Fig is, it is not suitable for just any location. The retailer may promote it as a plant that does not need much light, but that is quite misleading. In your home, it must be located close to a sunny window that is completely uncovered throughout the daylight hours. Sheers or a distance of more than a few feet from the window or a location in a corner or across the room from the window will all conspire to keep you from enjoying this plant. If you cannot provide very bright light with a few hours of direct sun every day, then spare yourself the agony of watching it develop leaf spots, dropped leaves and gradual decline.

Assuming you have adequate light, avoid the temptation to repot it. Keep it in its rather ordinary (ugly!) black plastic nursery pot where it is happiest. Ignore the roots that show on the surface of the soil; they're fine. If you can't abide the appearance of that plastic pot, then find a more attractive planter of your choice that is large enough to put the plastic pot inside. Forget about adding more or fresh soil. That will just cause headaches and who needs the extra work?!

If your Fiddle-leafed Fig is in good light and its nursery pot, then it will be fairly easy to water. A thorough weekly watering will be just about right. That means pour water slowly over the surface of the soil until the soil is saturated and the excess starts to run through the drain holes. When kept in its nursery pot it is very hard to over water it. But it will struggle to go more than a week without water.

When the Fiddle-leafed Fig is stressed it develops many brown patches on the leaves and lower leaves will yellow and fall off. If that is happening to yours, it is probably because it is not getting enough light or water. Fertilizer and repotting will not solve the problem, but better light and water will.

Once you have the proper light and the watering down pat, then you can fertilize it at half strength monthly. More fertilizer is NOT better. Mist the leaves if you like, but your Fiddle-leafed Fig does not require high humidity so you can skip the misting.

Few insect pests like the tough leathery leaves of this plant. Nonetheless, you should be on the lookout for mealybugs and scale insects. Both will leave a sticky residue on the leaves.

Like many indoor plants, this one will grow taller and wider. You will notice that new growth comes at the ENDS of the branches and stems. It rarely produces new stems and branches in the lower and center areas. As the Fiddle-leafed Fig adds new leaves at the ends of the stems, it will slowly lose some of its older, lower leaves. This is normal. However, in time the stems will start to look very long and somewhat bare or leggy. It may also outgrow its space. This is best dealt with by pinching and pruning.

Once a Fiddle-leafed Fig has reached its optimal size for your space, it is time to pinch out new leaves as soon as they start to emerge. This will stop further lengthening of the stems and sometimes will cause new growth to emerge further done the stem. If you waited too long and your Fiddle-leafed Fig is overgrown, then you will have to prune. Any stem or branch can be cut back as much as you want. The point where you make the pruning cut is the point where new growth will come in. Initially, it will leave a stem with no leaves, but in time new leaves will develop at its endpoint and grow upward from there.

Will your Fiddle-leafed Fig ever need a larger pot? If it is already in a pot wider than 10-inches in diameter, then probably not. It might need to be watered twice per week, but no need to mess with repotting. If your plant is in a 10-inch or smaller pot, growing vigorously and seems to need water every few days, then it may be ready for a pot ONE SIZE larger.

Enjoy this beautiful plant! It is one of my favorites.

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