Office plants: Highs and lows of 2018

And just like that, we are well into 2019!

Usually when I come back to work after the holidays, some plants have died off but this year every single one survived! Perhaps it’s because I took a shorter break.

The year went by so quickly, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the highs and lows of my plant adventures in 2018. First, the office.

Highs

Dracaena 

I snatched this baby up from the kitchen, on a table where people put things they dont want. I didn’t think much of it at first, but I’ve grown to love it! It was fun watching it grow a new branch over the past year.

It started with two branches

One day, I noticed this little guy poking out of the middle of the stem

It grew..

And grew…

Until it became a giant branch! Amazing!

Thanksgiving cactus

I finally learned how to care for these guys: soak them about once a month for about 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze the leaves and if they feel thick, they’re OK. If they feel thin, they need a soak.

I kept the cactus I bought last year in the same container hoping it would bloom again but it didn’t, so I bought another one with buds. Only one bloomed, but what a beauty!

Peperomia obtusifolia

I’ve bought these red tinged peperomia in the past but couldn’t keep them alive. This year I managed to keep them all alive (I have 3 or 4 plants). One even bloomed!

Yep, that little green finger pointing to the right is a bloom!

Lows

Ponytail palm

This beautiful specimen came to me late last fall from a friend at work. Had to put it in the kitchen because my office had no space.

Looks like a Muppet from Sesame Street. All she’s missing is googly eyes!

Some weeks later, I noticed there were silver streaks and black spots all over the leaves. We moved it to an office window when someone agreed to take it. I thought the black spots were frass and then I discovered they were moving! A Facebook group confirmed I had thrips.

Thrips suck the juices out of leaves

Spraying the leaves with soapy water was helping but I got to it too late.

Had to chop all the tops off, it was so infested that the leaves fell out when I tried to clean them off. I’m not sure if it will grow back.

We think that the transition from a home with lots of natural light, watering and fertilizer to an office kitchen with little light and much less watering (once a month, especially with the winter coming around) may have been too much of a shock, leaving it vulnerable to pests.

Fiddle leaf fig

Absolutely failed to keep not one, but two of these guys alive. Such a costly shame.

It was looking pretty good when I bought it, with leaves tight to the stem

And then the leaves started bowing out.

They had brown spots and were dropping off

This all that’s left. Not sure if it will grow back in the spring

Peperomia prostrata

I would guess over-watering lead to the demise of both of the plants I bought but I can’t be sure. One was meant for a friend. Should’ve gotten it to her sooner.

Look at how beautiful this was!!!

I am ashamed to see the difference. Gutted!

Best new find

ZZ plant

I absolutely love this plant! It’s so easy to care for. It’s even doing well at home where it gets much less light.

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The smallest branch at the back is unfurling and there’s a new branch growing at the front!

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Rooted thanksgiving cactus makes new baby!!!

I know I’m probably speaking too soon, but I feel as though I’ve finally mastered the thanksgiving cactus.

Since learning that soaking once a month, at least during the summer months, will keep the leaves nice a plump, I’ve been feeling pretty confident about my ability to care for them. I took two leaves with roots from my plant and planted them, and one is starting to make a new leaf!

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I’m so excited to see this new leaf growing!

It shares a small pot with a desert rose seedling. I’ve been spraying the cactus with water every week day and watering the desert rose once a week, so the cactus does get water too. I was worried about the leaf rotting if I watered it, even though it had roots. I remember reading that it’s OK to start watering when a new leaf starts to form so I guess there’s no need to worry anymore.

Yay!

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New succulent babies

I treated myself to some new succulents this past month.

First, Ledebouria Socialis from GrowSomething . Apparently it’s also called Leopard Lily or Silver Squill and it’s native to South Africa. I was attracted to the interesting pattern on the leaves. It had a flower spike. I didn’t think much about it, just put it by my window at work, and then gasped when I noticed the tiny flowers.

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The stem was fully upright when I bought it. I guess the weight of the flowers made it fall over

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Check out these delicate flowers. Beautiful!

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You can see the leopard spots better at this angle.  

I also picked up a variegated jade from Tiny Flower. Again, the striking leaves caught my eye among the standard succulents. I accidentally broke off the top taking it home but it still looks good. I took the broken tops and I’m trying to start new plants for my sister who, although not a fan of plants, seems to love jades.

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Love the contrast between the pink stems and the green and white leaves. Just beautiful!

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Caterpillar update

I’ve been hoping to follow my caterpillars through more life stages this year but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’ve only managed to catch them at egg and first instar stages.

Last month after I saw my caterpillars in first instar and then disappear altogether, I wondered if predators got them. And then I regretted planting so much dill. I thought it would go to waste, but instead it bolted in the heat. I was surprised to see that it still attracts swallowtails to lay their eggs. My small plot that once had 4 caterpillars now has at least 8, and my large plot has a few as well.

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Two caterpillars (and shed skin?) among dill flowers in my large plot

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Another caterpillar. Flowers will form into seeds soon.

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I lover the contrast between the tiny yellow flowers, green stems and black caterpilar (and my fingers and calendula in the background)

After planting all that butterfly weed, I still haven’t seen any butterflies on it. I check under leaves and along stems for evidence of caterpillars, no luck. I have seen a few bees on it so I guess it’s a good thing I planted it.

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I think this butterfly weed is a stunning. Look at those flowers!

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At least the spiders like them

I did manage to spot a swallowtail butterfly in the garden last week, hovering over red clover running rampant in the grass. I guess my milkweed can’t compete with it’s simple beauty. I suppose the important thing is that they have lots of food sources.

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You can spot the butterfly right in the centre of the photo. He wouldn’t let me get closer for a more flattering picture

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Do you want to see my caterpillars?!

I’m sure I’m not the only one at my community garden that’s been asked by passing admirers about the garden and how to get involved. This past week I’ve been able to offer more than my usual spiel: swallowtail caterpillars, in two life cycle stages!

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More swallowtail eggs in my main plot

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The 4 eggs in my new plot have hatched! Can you spot all 4 caterpillars?

Everyone that I’ve asked, “do you want to see my caterpillars?!”, has been eager to see them and seemed genuinely interested, peering closely at the eggs and caterpillars in wonder as I talked about their life cycle. One even confirmed that I had 4 caterpillars!

I was telling one of my fellow gardeners about the caterpillars and new eggs one evening when we were both watering our plots. I talked about the many plants I bought at Urban Harvest‘s 50% off sale that day, including butterfly milkweed. She told me about the butterfly bush she planted and how big it got. I assured her I bought the milkweed rather than the bush (the bush looked really big in the image that went with the plant).

As I showed her the eggs in my main plot, I started telling her about the New England aster I harvested last year, pointing to the patch at the back. Perhaps it was her surprised expression and comment about how quickly they’d grown in just a few weeks of planting that made me check online what they should look like (again). It looks like they are milkweed and not asters! It must be the seeds I planted last year that are coming up now.

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Butterfly milkweed I had mistaken for New England aster

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These look like they will become the many blossoms of the butterfly milkweed and not the simple blossom of the New England Aster

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New England aster from the community spaces. I noticed butterflies and bees going nuts over them last year so I saved some seeds

I took my dad past the community garden after Father’s Day lunch this weekend. He was less than impressed with the caterpillars. In fact, he went on about the caterpillars eating everything in my garden! Although I explained I planted dill specifically for my swallowtail caterpillars, images of all sorts of caterpillars taking over the garden set in when I started to think about the unexpected mass of butterfly milkweed in my main plot. And I bought more milkweed from Urban Harvest (albeit only two or three small plants)!

I should really come to my senses. The caterpillars will stick to what I planted for them (dill and milkweed) and I’ll get the bonus of beautiful visitors to help pollinate my other plants. Win win!

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Soaking… good for plants too!

You know how it feels rejuvenating to soak your cares away in a tub after a long day? Well, plants benefit from soaking too (not in hot water, of course)!

Remember how I keep killing Thanksgiving cacti? Well, no more! I’ve found the magic touch thanks to Tiny Flower shop owner Helen Yang.  On one of my many visits, I was telling her about how I keep killing peace lilies (yeah, them too) and she suggested that I try soaking the plant’s root ball when it starts looking droopy.  So I decided to try it with my cacti, which were on death’s door.

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Clearly I’ve had trouble balancing the desire not to over-water and keeping these plants adequately hydrated

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Look at how plump these leaves are after soaking in lukewarm water for about 15 minutes!

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Quite a few of the leaves have started making roots, a sure sign of health! I wonder if I should try making new plants soon?

I soaked several plants at work two weeks ago (the ones that could fit in my bucket) and so far they are looking pretty healthy.

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I think this may be the first time I’ve had a peace lily flower and stay a live in my care! I think I’ve had this flower for over a week.

 

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Late start

The first half of the year has been rough: a change in job role and a shitty time-consuming course left me with barely enough mental capacity to plan my garden. I did start seeds but many died; those that did survive (peppers) look like they’re a few weeks rather than a few months old (I don’t have great lighting).

We had a really long winter that suddenly changed to summer temperatures without much of a spring. This week we’re having a cool snap of spring weather. It’s hard to know what to expect next. Should I plant for spring? Summer?

Thankfully, some perennial and self-seeding annuals have sprung up so my plot doesn’t look as bare as it would have had they not decided to make an appearance. The straw helps too.

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I planted the onions and garlic. I was surprised to see the red dandelion and chives. Happy to see the lavender and strawberries surviving and thriving. Calendula is welcome but I don’t need as much as I have.

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Unfortunately the ants have returned this year. I’ll have to try more vinegar on their nests. I’m at an organic community garden so I have to be careful with what I use for pest control.

I planted about 3 weeks ago and things aren’t looking too bad at all.

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I like the way the onions, chives and strawberries look together. Excited to see alpine strawberries blossoming and some early fruit!

Although due to the scorching temperatures, the chives and dandelion have bolted.

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I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever planted garlic chives which have white flowers, so I’m surprised to see these purple flowers, which indicate regular chives.

My lavender grew substantially (quadrupled?!) since I planted it last year. I just love it!

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I love how the lavender regenerates around the dead branches

I was kicking myself for not getting an earlier start but seeing how things are progressing with very little effort (at this point) is giving me renewed energy for the season ahead.

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Chives blossom about to bloom

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Alpine strawberry 

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