Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
February, 2006
Regional Report

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This lovely, unusual Queen Victoria agave is also called painted century plant.

Unusual Succulents

It may be cold and snowy outside, but we can certainly have our bright spots indoors with fun and unique houseplants. There is a plethora of interesting plants that don't take up much room and add a new look to our display of houseplants.

I've never been a cactus lover, but I'm beginning to appreciate some of the small succulents, bromeliads, and hardy orchids as plants that are unique in their own way. These plants all take much less care than traditional houseplants, something that is greatly appreciated in my whirlwind of a household. All they really ask for is bright light, very well-drained soil, and drier conditions than most houseplants. They seldom need repotting or fertilizing.

The plant that made me change my attitude about succulents is the Queen Victoria agave. Also called the painted century plant, this is a true agave that grows only 6 inches high and about a foot wide. The cream-edged leaves are triangular and overlapped in the tidiest manner. This unique agave is perfect to add accent to a sunny southwestern-style decor.

Agaves have the attribute of doing quite well in any temperature or humidity level. They do, however, benefit from a marked difference of about ten degrees between day and night temperatures. They should be allowed to dry out substantially between waterings, and watered only once a month in winter while the plant is resting. I like the fact that keeping the plant in a small pot restricts a plant's size, and keeps the painted century plant looking its best.

Earth Stars
Another petite plant for a sunny window is the earth star. It is a bromeliad, which can grows on bark instead of in soil. Fortunately, it takes much the same growing conditions as the agaves. Earth stars grow only about 6 inches high and 6 to 8 inches wide, and have stiff tidy, variegated leaves in all shades of maroon, reddish brown with silvery bands, and even bright pink, white and green. They show their best leaf color if given bright, filtered light.

Earth stars develop small offsets between the leaves, and there is no need for them to even have roots when you remove them from the mother plant; they will readily develop a root system merely by being in contact with moist soil.

Living Stones
I could go on for days about favorites, but the last one I will mention is the plant with the unlikely name of "living stones." These succulents grow only about 2 inches high and 4 inches wide, and they have evolved to have only one pair of leaves that are plump water storage organs. In their natural habitat they resemble stones so they are left alone by grazing animals. When grown in high light, they will produce a daisy-like flower from between the two leaves. There are over two hundred species and cultivars available, all varying widely in their leaf markings.

Living stone plants need a resting phase in winter so stop watering by the end of October. Over the next few months, a plant will produce a new of leaves, consuming the moisture from the old pair, which will shrivel. It is critical not to water the plants during this time. The new leaves will appear in early spring, at which time you can begin watering again.

This is only a beginning list of unique plants for a windowsill. Pick up any book on succulents and you will be entranced!

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