Gardening Articles

Foliage Plants

The foliage plants depend very largely for their beauty upon making a rapid, unchecked growth and being given plenty of sunlight. In many of those having multi-colored and variegated leaves, the markings under unfavorable conditions of growth become inconspicuous and the value of the

plant is entirely lost. Therefore, where the proper conditions cannot be given, it will be far wiser to devote your space to plants more suited to house culture. Aspidistra, araucaria, Pandanus and the rubber plant are exceptions; two of them being remarkable for their hardihood under neglect and ignorance. While many of the foliage plants will live under almost any conditions, it must be remembered, however, that the better care they receive the more beautiful they will be. Achyranthes--Achyranthes are still popular as bedding plants, as they furnish good coloring. They may be used as house plants also, but in my opinion are a little coarse. Take cuttings in August for new plants and keep on the warm side and rather dry in winter. Alternanthera--These little plants are unique and brilliant, and a few will be worth having in any collection. They make dense, shrubby miniature bushes a few inches high, very attractively colored. Take cuttings in August; give rich soil, on the sandy side, plenty of light and heat. A. versicolor has leaves bearing a happy contrast of pink, crimson and bronzy-green. Tricolor is dark green, rose and orange. There are numerous other attractive varieties. Anthericum (A. variegatum)--The foliage is shaped like a broad blade of grass and very prettily bordered with white. Of the easiest culture, doing well in the shade. Propagated by division. A. medio-picta is another variety, often considered more attractive than the above. Araucaria--The several araucarias should be much more widely known than they are. Their beauty has made them popular as Christmas gifts, but most of the fine specimens which leave the florists during the holiday season find their end, after a few weeks in a gas-tainted, superheated atmosphere, with probably several times the amount of water required given at the roots, in the ash barrel. They are, when one knows something of their habits of growth, very easily cared for. Little water in winter, and a cool even temperature, are its simple requirements. The araucaria is, I think, the most beautiful of all formal decorative plants. Its dignity, simplicity and beautiful plumelike foliage place it in a class of its own. The branches leave the main stem at regular intervals, in whorls of five, and the foliage is a clean soft green, lighter at the tips. Propagated by cuttings from leading shoots, not side shoots. The two varieties ordinarily used are A. excelsa glauca and A. e. robusta. Some time ago I saw a specimen of a new variety, not yet put on the market, and the name of which I have forgotten. (I think it was stellata) The outer half of each branch was almost white, giving the whole plant a wonderful star-like effect. Aspidistra--The aspidistra is the toughest of all foliage plants--if not of all house plants. It has proved hardy out-of-doors as far north as Philadelphia. The long flat leaves grow to a height of eighteen to twenty-four inches, springing directly from the ground. Its chief requirement is plenty of water during the growing season. New plants are readily obtained by dividing the old roots in February or August. There are several varieties and those familiar only with the common green sort (A. elatior) will be surprised and pleased with the striking effectiveness of the variegated, (A. e. varigata) and with the spotted leaved A. punctata. Caladium--This is another popular plant for which I have never cared greatly myself. It seems to have no personality. Well grown plants, however, give most gorgeous color effects. Buy bulbs of the fancy-leaved section, and start in February or March, giving very little water at first. Take in before the first sign of frosts. When growth stops, dry off gradually and store in warm cellar; or better, take out of pots and pack in sand. Do not let them dry out enough to shrivel. Coleus--The best of all the gay colored foliage plants, but tender. To keep looking well in winter they must have plenty of warmth and sunlight. Root cuttings in August. They grow on very rapidly. Make selections from the garden or a florist's, as they come in a great variety of colors and markings. Dracaena--The best of all plants, outside the palms, for centers of vases, boxes and large pots. Small plants make very beautiful centers for fern dishes. The colored section need to be kept on the warm side. Give plenty of water in summer, but none on the leaves in winter, as it is apt to lodge in the leaf axils and cause trouble. Dracaena (Cordyline)--Indivisa, with long, narrow, recurved green leaves, is the one mostly used. The various colored sorts are described in most catalogues. Leopard Plant--Farfugium grande, better known as Leopard Plant, has handsome dark green leaves marked with yellow. It is of the easiest culture, standing zero weather. Old plants may be divided in spring and rooted in sand. There is a newer variety with white spots, very beautiful. The farfugium is now more commonly listed as Senecio Kaempferi. Pandanus--The Screw Pine is another favorite decorative plant, easily grown. The leaves are two or three feet long and come out spirally, as the name indicates. As they get older they curve down gracefully, giving a very pleasing effect. The soil for pandanuses should contain a generous amount of sand. Give plenty of water in summer, little in winter, and be sure that none of it lodges in the axils of the leaves, as rot is very easily induced. New plants are produced from suckers at the base of the old ones. Pandanus utilis is the variety most commonly seen. P. Veitchii, dark green bordered with broad stripes of pure white, is much more decorative, a really beautiful plant. P. Sanderi is another good sort, with golden yellow coloring, that should be given a trial. Pepper--Some of the peppers make very attractive pot plants on account of their bright fruit, which is very pretty in all stages of growth from the new green pods, through yellow to bright red. Buy new plants or start from seed in spring. They are easily grown if kept on the warm side. Celestial and Kaleidoscope are the two kinds best suited for house culture. The Rubber (Ficus.) This is the most popular of all formal decorative plants. At least part of the secret of its success undoubtedly lies in the fact that--almost literally--you cannot kill it! But that is no excuse for abusing it either, as there is all the difference in the world between a well cared for symmetrical plant and one of the semi-denuded, lop-sided, spotted leaved plants one so frequently sees, and than which, as far as ornamentation is concerned, an empty pot would be far more decorative. The rubber requires--and deserves--a good rich soil, and in the spring, summer and fall, all the water that the soil will keep absorbed. Give less in winter, as an excess at this time causes the leaves to turn yellow and droop. As the rubber is more difficult to propagate than most house plants, and specimens will not get too large for several years, it will be best to get plants from the florist. It frequently happens, however, that an old plant which has been grown up to a single stem, becomes unwieldy, and bare at the bottom. In such cases the upper part may be removed by "topping" and the main trunk cut back to within six to eighteen inches of the pot or tub, and water withheld partly until new growth starts. The old stem may thus be transformed into a low, bush plant and frequently they make very handsome specimens. The topping is performed by making a deep upward slanting cut, with a sharp knife, at the point you want in the pot for your new plant. In the cut stuff a little sphagnum moss; remove this after a few days and wash the cut out with warm water, removing the congealed sap. Insert fresh moss and with strips of soft cloth tie a good handful over the wound. Keep this moist constantly until the roots show through the moss, which may be several weeks. Then pot in moist earth, not wet, and syringe daily, but do not water the pots for two or three days. Sometimes pots cut in halves and the bottoms partly removed are used to hold the moss in place. August is a good time to propagate. Ficus elastica is the common rubber plant. The "fiddle-leaved" rubber plant (F. pandurata) is another variety, now largely grown. It differs from the former in having very broad, blunt leaves, shaped like the head of a fiddle, which are marked by the whitish veins. Two other beautiful plants are F. Cooperia, having large leaves with red mid-ribs, and F. Parcelli, with leaves marbled with white. They should be given a higher temperature than F. elastica. Saxifraga: S. sarmentosa tricolor is the commonly known strawberry geranium, or beefsteak plant. It has a quite unique habit of growth and is best displayed where its numerous runners have a chance to hang down, as from a basket or hanging pot. The runners are easily rooted in soil. There are numerous varieties, with flowers of red, white and pink. Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica)--This is a pretty little green-leaved plant, the never-failing interest in which lies not in its beauty, however, but in the fact that it shrinks and folds up when touched, as though it belonged to the animal kingdom. It is easily grown from seed. Tradescantia--This is otherwise known as spiderwort, Wandering Jew, Creeping Charles and under other names. It is a very pretty running or trailing plant, of the easiest culture, its chief requirement being plenty of water. Cuttings root easily at any time. There are several varieties, among them being discolor, a variegated leaf, and Zebrina multi-color, the leaves of which give almost a rainbow effect in their wonderful diversity and blending. For those familiar only with the old green variety it will prove a great surprise. Zebra Plant (Maranta zebrina)--This is another easily grown decorative plant with tropical looking, large leaves. While usually listed as Maranta zebrina, it is really a calathea and the plants of this genus show a variation in their markings unsurpassed by any. Zebrina and most of the varieties, of which there are many, should be grown in the shade, with plenty of water and a minimum temperature of sixty degrees all the year. C. pulchella and C. intermedia resembles C. zebrina and can be grown in a cooler temperature. Do not allow the plants to flower. Increase by division.

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