Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Polka Dot Plant

As I have become a more experienced and sophisticated outdoor gardener, I have felt that there has been a shift in my attitude toward indoor plants.

While there are still a few common houseplants I'll always love, I am more decerning than I used to be. If I am going to bother of keeping indoor plants, I want them to be as interesting as my outdoor plants.

Container planting photographed on May 30th just after being potted up.

I first got to know Hypoestes Phyllostachya when I picked up a plant to use in one of my outdoor container plantings. With its pink polka dots, it struck me as a nice alternative to standard annuals.

Despite the fact that I crammed a fair bit into a modest-sized pot, all the plants performed pretty well. The only exception would be the white pansy which surrendered to the effects of the hot summer sun. The other plants took full advantage of the absence and filled in to take the pansy's place.

Same container planting photographed October 12th

As you can see the pink darkened into magenta and green became more olive over the course of the summer. When the plants in my pot got a little leggy mid-summer, I took cuttings and made even more plants.

Originally from Madagascar, Polka Dot Plants are a herbaceous perennial in their native habitat. Outdoors they that can grow up to two or three feet. Here in North America, they are generally kept as houseplants.

The main reason to grow these plants is their cheerful speckled foliage . The 'Splash' series is dotted splotches of pink, white, rose and red. The 'Confetti' series has the same color palette, but the spots are a bit more sparse.

Here are some basic tips on growing Polka Dot Plants:

Light: Bright, indirect light is their preference. Too little light may result in leggy growth. Low light can also cause colorful spots to fade and the leaves to turn solid green.

Water: Moist, but not soggy soil is best during the growing season (indoor plants have a spring and summer growing season just like outdoor plants).
In the winter, Polka Dot plants like to be just a bit drier. If your plant produces a flower and moves into a dormant phase, reduce your regular watering regime until the plant shows new signs of growth.

Heat: A cold windowsill won't do for this tropical plant. It's best to keep temperatures at least 65-70 degrees F. (18-21 degrees C.)

Fertilizer: During the spring and summer feed your plant weekly with a liquid fertilizer following the package directions.

Soil: For indoor plants use a good, well-drained potting mix. When planted outdoors as annuals, Polka Dot Plants require well-drained soil rich in organic matter.

Care: Pinching back growth will encourage a bushier plant.

Propagation: Polka Dot plants aren't particularly long-lived. Once they have flowered they will move into a dormant phase or may die altogether.
Growing new plants from cuttings is fairly easy. I tried rooting my cuttings in water, but that didn't work. Placing the cuttings right into the soil worked perfectly. Just remember to keep the soil moist and the cuttings out of the direct sun until they root and you should have no problem making new plants.

Pests: White fly, scale and aphids can be potential issues.

Polka Dot Plant's bright splashes of color are just as pretty as flowers and it's always to nice to have "flowers" inside the house when outside the garden is sleeping under the snow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Three Eupatorium

Eupatorium altissimum

With the exception of the roses, the odd phlox and some sedum, just about everything has finished flowering in my garden. A few of my Eupatorium however, are just coming into their own. Here we are in early October and the smallest of the three (Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate') has only recently begun to flower.

Eupatorium are members of the large Asteraceae family. This large genus of plants contains as many as 60 species depending on the classification system used.

I grow a number of different Eupatorium, but in this post I am going to focus in on three of my favourites.

Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe'

Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe' 

To be honest I don't think this plant has particularly attractive flowers, but there is something about the way the flowers catch the light that transforms them into something quite lovely. Bees and butterflies seem to appreciate them too.

The species Eupatorium dubium is native to Eastern North America. The hybrid, 'Baby Joe', is more compact than the original native plant.

Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe'

Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe'

One of the many reasons I like 'Baby Joe' is its strong, upright, deep red stems. Overall the shape of the plant is tall and vase-like.

In full sun, 'Baby Joe' would require moist soil. My plant is in part-shade. Generally its happy with average moisture conditions. If we haven't had rain for a week or so in mid-summer, and the leaves are beginning to look a bit droopy, I will often water 'Baby Joe'. Last year we had a summer-long drought and it was one unhappy plant. 

'Baby Joe' prefers soil with lots of organic matter, but it is pretty adaptive to average, sandy or quite gravely soils.

Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe'

The moment the flowers show signs of going to seed, I cut them off. Plants grown from these seeds may revert to the native species rather than the hybrid form.

Height: 70-75 cm (27-29 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Deer resistant.

Tall Boneset, Eupatorium altissimum

Eupatorium altissimum

Eupatorium altissimum is one of my favourite fall plants. It sprawls a bit wildly and leans on other plants, but I look forward to that cloud of white flowers every autumn.

Tall Boneset, Eupatorium altissimum is native to eastern and central North America where it can be found along stream banks and in damp meadows. This tall perennial has lance-shaped green leaves and clusters of white flowers in late summer/early fall.

In full sun, it needs consistent moisture. I have one plant (actually Eupatorium altissimum 'Prairie Jewel') in sun and somewhat dry conditions. It can look wilted if a week passes without rain. I really must move it if I can (reputedly they don't like to be moved). In light shade (some rest from the afternoon sun)Eupatorium altissimum will tolerate average moisture conditions much better. 

It is not super fussy about soil and will do fine in both clay and sandy soils. 

Eupatorium altissimum

One reason to grow this plant is the insects it attracts. Bees, wasps and butterflies all love this plant.

Eupatorium altissimum

Again it is important to note that this plant is a liberal self-seeder. If you don't deadhead the flowers, you may have a weedy problem on your hands!

Height: 1.2- 1.8 m (4-6 feet), Spread: 1-1.2 m (3-4 feet). USDA zones: 3-8.

Deer resistant.

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'

There's a long wait for Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' to bloom, but the plant itself is so attractive you won't mind.

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' has attractive maroon-brown foliage in spring. The tops of the leaves turn olive-green as the summer progresses, but the plant's stems and the undersides of the leaves remain a nice contrasting shade of chocolate.

In full sun, 'Chocolate' will need moist soil. In part-shade it will tolerate somewhat drier conditions (once established).

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'

'Chocolate' has flat clusters of starry-white flowers in late summer/fall. It is important to deadhead the flowers to avoid self-seeding. 'Chocolate' will not come true from seed. 

Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Deer resistant.

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'

A Quick Comparison of all Three Plants


Of the three Eupatorium featured in this post, Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' is the shorter, smaller, bushier plant. 
'Baby Joe' is tall and fairly narrow. It would still be fine in a small garden. 
Both tall and bushy, Eupatorium altissimum requires the most space.

Shade Tolerance:

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'  will tolerate the most shade.


In an ideal world, all three plants prefer moist conditions. Eupatorium altissimum will survive some dry weather. Just don't ask it to be happy about it. 
Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' is reputed to be the most tolerant of drier soil (once established).

Best for Insects:

Eupatorium altissimum positively hums with insects! Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' seems to be the least popular of the three plants (based on my observations).

Friday, October 6, 2017

Just for the record...

Just for the record, I put up with an awful lot.

We may be low on the food chain, but rabbits are proud creatures.

Now, I have tried my absolute best to adapt to living in the company of three dogs.

The older two dogs usually ignore me, but the littlest guy... he's something else!

Thanks to him, I have not a shred of dignity left!

He nudges me with his big nose. 

And he licks my ears with his sloppy pink tongue.

Sometimes a rabbit just wants to be able to eat his parsley in peace!

To all my Canadian friends, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
To all other friends, have a great weekend!