The plants were so lovely in the window today on a sunny November afternoon. I could not help but grab a camera to capture the moment.
This is ‘Variegata’ hot pepper, a gorgeous and edible heirloom variety that has got a lot of play on the site recently. I grew it from seed for the first time back in the spring and it has become an unexpected favourite this year. The colours and shapes are so gorgeous, I find myself pointing the camera in its direction time and again. I brought it indoors before the frost kicked in and it has since continued to put out fruit. These will turn bright red when mature.
These are the flowering stems of two sundews: One the left Drosera aliciae and on the right, Drosera capensis.
This is one of two pencil cacti (aka Mistletoe Cactus) I have hanging in a window with indirect light. They are epiphytic jungle cacti which means they need a lot more water and richer soil than the desert cacti most of us are familiar with. This one is a member of the Rhipsalis genus although I have never been able to confirm the species.
Cape Sundew (Drosera capensis)
Guess who bought 3 different sundews and a Pinguicula at The Montreal Botanical Gardens gift shop? I could not resist setting up a quick photo shoot yesterday afternoon before repotting them into nicer containers. Delicate and deadly sundews are my favourite carnivorous plants but are particularly difficult to find for sale here in Canada. In fact the last time I was able to purchase a sundew was on my last trip to this very greenhouse in 2004. At $5.99 a piece I could not resist buying one of each kind they sold.
Venus fly traps, on the other hand are easy to come by, sold as a novelty plants at fall fairs and the impulse sections of home renovation stores but I do not care for them, finding them particularly difficult to keep alive for more than a few months stretch. If you’re going to choose a carnivorous plant to grow on a windowsill I recommend little bitty sundews. I find them to be more forgiving than flytraps and their jewel-like, dew-speckled leaves are a whole lot more interesting too.
Earlier this Fall I wrote about bringing your hot pepper plants indoors for overwintering. I’ve put together a short 2 minute clip showing how I dug up a ‘Variegata’ hot pepper plant from my community garden plot and transplanted it into a pot to spend the next 7 or so months indoors.
There are lots of different ways to over-winter peppers — some take space into consideration and involve pruning the entire plant back and storing in a cooler location, while the method I am using is about enjoying attractive plants as houseplants until they can be put back outdoors in the late spring to begin a new season of pepper production. By my method your plant isn’t likely to produce fruit during the cold months but should produce lots of pretty foliage to look at.
Here are a few extra tips:
- Soil: When transplanting from and in-ground garden gently remove as much soil from around the roots as possible and transplant into a container of potting soil. The soil from your garden will become compacted in a pot, eventually smothering the roots and preventing drainage and air circulation.
- Fertilizing: Peppers do not require much in the way of fertilizing. Be very sparing and apply fertilizers that are slightly higher in nitrogen keeping in mind that the goal is to produce healthy leaves, not bare fruit. I think a sprinkling of vermicompost at transplant time is just enough. Anything too high in nitrogen will enourage a lot of leggy, tender growth, just the kind of foliage aphids are most attracted to.
- Pests: And while we’re on the subject of aphids, chances are you will get a few or a lot this winter. A good spray in the shower or kitchen sink is the best chemical-free way to get them off your plant for good. So is keeping your plant as healthy as possible.
- Peppers like sun and warmth: Keep your plant in the sunniest window you’ve got. If the windowsill gets too cold and drafty move your plant as far away as possible while still providing optimum light. If that’s not enough try setting them underneath grow lights. You can also try setting your pepper’s pot on a crocheted windowsill cozy or pot coaster. Heating mats are great too but I usually wait to bust mine out until closer to the start of the growing season, otherwise the warmth prompts the plant to get active before the light is bright enough to sustain that level of activity.
- Peppers Prefer a Bit of Drought: Water less often then you would outdoors — with less drying heat and light your plant will require less moisture. Peppers like a bit of drought so test the soil with your finger first to see that it has dried out slightly before giving it a drink.
- Shock: Some leaves will turn yellow and drop off shortly after transplanting or bringing indoors. This is quite normal. If this continues, prune back bare branches and remove any remaining fruit and flowers so your plant can concentrate on producing foliage, not reproducing. You should see some fresh leaves spring up in the coming weeks. I’ve had peppers that looked to be on their last legs come back strong as soon as the warmth and sun came back in the spring. Give your plants some time, it will be worth it for that early season bumper crop. Of course some plants just don’t overwinter well, period. Give it a go, if it doesn’t work out chalk it up to experimentation and move on.
Look what my spouse brought home for me yesterday as a gift for being sick. If this is what I get for being sick what do I get for being a fully-functioning, productive member of society? Actually being sick was a nice excuse to lay in bed watching Wonder Woman reruns and re-reading back issues of Bitch Magazine until today, the forth day, which just happens to be one day too long. I am both exhausted and bored out of my skull. Those last days of summer are passing me by while I sleep all day, wallowing in my own unshowered filth.
But this is not about being sick, this is supposed to be about the plant. When he presented me with this Nepenthes ventricosa all fancified in a perfect little box, complete with tissue paper and ribbon I have to admit that after the initial excitement and flattery my “thriftiness” (read cheapness) kicked in and my second thought was “But I could have put this together myself for about ten bucks!” I haven’t asked him how much it actually cost. I don’t want to know. Knowing might kill me if this unknown virus or utter boredom doesn’t first.
If you want to make something like this easily and without gift-store/fancy-pants floral shop prices here’s what you do:
1. Get yourself a pretty glass bowl, fish bowl, candy bowl or terrarium. Department stores sell them in the pet section and so do thrift stores.
2. Line the bowl with approximately 2-3 inches of gravel. This can also be purchased cheaply in a pet store. Gravel is inexpensive when purchased from the pet department. Repackaged as floral gravel and the price is jacked sky high. Go figure.
3. Add about 2 inches of long fiber sphagnum moss to the bowl. Remove the small Nepenthes plant from it’s pot and plant into the sphagnum. Personally I am not a fan of pure sphagnum as the “soil” for this plant. The Nepenthes will certainly survive since the sphagnum provides a light and airy bed that doesn’t stay too damp just as Nepenthes’ roots require, however the sphagnum can dry out too easily if you don’t watch it like a hawk. Try the following instead:
Nepenthes Soil Mix
- 1 part long fiber sphagnum moss
- 1 part orchid bark mix
- 1 part regular peat or coir
Two Tribes: Nepenthes are divided into two kinds: highland and lowland species. The plant in my terrarium is probably the most common variety, a highland species called Nepenthes ventricosa. Their name says a lot about where and how they grow with highlanders growing up in the mountains at a high elevations and lowlanders growing in hot, lowland tropical locations. As a result highlanders can withstand much lower temperatures as well as some fluctuations making them better suited to your average home or apartment. Lowlanders are better suited to greenhouses where conditions are very humid and stable.
Drainage: Unlike many other popular carnivorous plants Nepenthes are not bog growers. Instead, many types thrive in the tropics, growing epiphytically perched in trees much like many orchids. All of this means that they require lots of good drainage. A container with drainage holes is preferred so if you’re planning to go the terrarium bowl route than be sure to add lots of gravel and water carefully.
Water: Like all carnivorous plants you MUST use water low in dissolved mineral salts — your plant will die otherwise. Carnivores may seem tough as nails but they are a sensitive sort really — they’re sort of like the Jane Seymores of the plant world. Try collecting a little rain water now and again into a clean bowl and then funnel it into a bottle or jar for storage. If you’ve got a reverse osmosis filter at home you can use water from that otherwise you’re gonna be reduced to shelling out a few bucks now and again for special low-sodium or distilled bottled water.
Quick Nepenthes Growing Tips:
Nepenthes do not like wet feet — let the water in the gravel dry out just a little before adding more.
Temperatures: Nepenthes are tropical plants. While the highlanders can tolerate some temperature dips they should be kept in the high 70s F with night time temperatures that drop slightly into the mid 50s F to low 60s F.
Light: Nepenthes generally prefer bright but diffused light.
Humidity: Your plant will require humidity in order to produce more pitchers. A glass bowl like mine will go a long way in keeping humidity levels up around the leaves. You can also spritz your plants once or twice daily with the same de-mineralized water used to water.
Read This: If you are at all interested in growing carnvivorous plants I highly recommend The Savage Garden by Peter D’Amato. His book came out in 1998 and it is still by far the most interesting and most comprehensive book for home growers that I have seen.
The Carnivorous Plant FAQ: This is a great site if you’re interested in learning more about carnivores and how to care for them. There are also some fascinating pictures following author Barry Rice’s trips to carnivorous plant locations. The Nepenthes section begins here.
Grow a Carnivorous Bog: I’m a huge carnivorous plant fan and have a project in my book that walks you through the steps involved in putting together a container-grown carnivorous bog that can be kept on a porch, balcony, or deck. pgs 110-111. Just remember that unlike many carnivorous plants, Nepenthes are not a bog plant.
Get Some: Look for nurseries and plant societies that do not acquire their plants through field collection. If you’re in the U.S try California Carnivores. Canadians can try Keehns Carnivores in B.C.
Here’s the follow-up to last week’s Toasty Pot Coaster project.
This windowsill warmer is easily crocheted much like coaster using double crochets and shell stitches as a decorative edge. Start by measuring the width and depth of your windowsill. Make chains until the width matches the width of your sill. Double crochet into each chain, making a turning chain at the end of the row (3 chains). Turn the piece around and continue double crocheting rows until your cozy is as deep as your windowsill. Shell stitch into one side to make a frilly edge that sits just over the front of the sill.
I made my cozy using a partial ball of thick and rough wool that was too scratchy to wear against bare skin. The thickness of the wool has really made an improvement, warming the plants up from the bottom. My partner Davin who happens to sit next to the window claims that it has blocked some of the chill that sneaks in through the lower part of the sill as well.