All About Ferns - From Boston to Crispy Wave to Staghorn and more!

We often have people coming into the greenhouse here in Alberta asking for recommendations of houseplants to grow in Edmonton or St Albert.

One of the top choices—especially for the high humidity and filtered light of bathrooms and kitchens—are ferns. Ferns look so tropical and lush during our dark, cold, dry winters. The humid, clean air that these plants bring into our homes is quite literally a breath of fresh air!

There are so many different types and styles of ferns that can be grown indoors as houseplants—some easier to grow than others. Leaf shape varies, as does size (some are as small as 5 centimetres while others are as big as 2 metres!), but most ferns prefer high levels of humidity and bright indirect light.

A tip for keeping your fern in tip-top condition: keep the soil of your ferns consistently moist but not soggy and make a habit of removing dry, dead foliage to maintain your fern's beautiful appearance. 

Ferns are also great for removing indoor pollution from the air, and Boston Ferns are one of the top 10 indoor plants recommended by NASA for improving indoor air quality. 

Ferns also look great in pots—or in hanging baskets!—and are generally easy-to-care-for plants.

Boston Ferns are one of the top 10 plants recommended by NASA for improving indoor air quality.

As mentioned, there are many different varieties of ferns to choose from. If you are looking for a Fern that is the easiest to care for, you may want to look into:

  • Asparagus Fern
  • Foxtail Fern
  • Maidenhair Fern
  • Staghorn Fern
  • Boston Fern (Including varieties like "Macho," "Little Ruffles," and more!)
  • Rabbit's Foot Fern
  • Crispy Wave Fern

These Ferns require fertilizer every 2 weeks from February to October, prefer bright indirect light, and typically require a good watering once a week.

The Crispy Wave Fern, also known as Japanese Asplenium nidus is a very popular choice right now due to its modern, neat appearance and the fact that it is a great natural air purifier. The fact that this fern can grow endlessly if put in a larger container means that its air purifying properties will only improve the longer you have it!

A Crispy Wave Fern has a few big leaves instead of lots of little ones, and is the perfect addition to your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room, or any place needing a breath of fresh air!

The Crispy Wave Fern is low maintenance plant that also has one of the longest life span due to uniquely strong fronds, hardiness, and adaptability.

No matter what kind of fern you pick for your home (and there are lots of kinds of ferns), it will soon become one of your favourite plants!

A tip for keeping your fern in tip-top condition: keep the soil of your ferns consistently moist but not soggy and make a habit of removing dry, dead foliage to maintain your fern’s beautiful appearance. 

Pets and Poisonous Plants - The Overblown Myths

A few times a month I get calls or queries about poisonous houseplants and garden plants and people's pets. Most often it is about their cat has eaten a plant they have determined to be poisonous. 

doggo eating grass.jpg

Most recently a customer came to me about her cat who was eating and chewing numerous plants that she read were poisonous and her cat was still very healthy. She was mystified why her cat was still doing well and would continue to chew plants that were suppose to be bad for her. 

After speaking with this lady I explained the whole poisonous plant myths. Take poinsettias as an example, every year I hear people who would never have a poinsettia in their house because of their cat. A cat could never consume enough poinsettias leaves to kill them. The leaves have a sticky sap and I have eaten some to prove they are not this deadly plant that kills pets and people. 

Over the last 50 years we have had several dogs and cats roaming our greenhouses when they were filled with poinsettias. Never did any one of them become poisoned by poinsettias or any other plant. 

We have grown thousands of other varieties of trees, shrubs, bedding plants, perennials, and houseplants in those years. 

The most common problem I have experienced with people and most often their cats, is they are damaging their plants by scratching, digging in the soil, and chewing off leaves. 

These problems are usually easy to solve by relocating and changing the plants. In some cases simply add rock to the soil surface, raise the plant, wrap the stem in a protective cover and prune it. 

One thing we must remember with pets is that they have evolved and survived by simply not eating too much of any plant and most have the ability to quickly vomit up anything that is discomforting.

In the last 50 years, we've found that healthy and safe homes can have both pets and plants living together with very few problems. 

Starting Seeds Indoors: 9 Things You Need!

All the tools you need to get your seeds started indoors.

All the tools you need to get your seeds started indoors.

1. Seeds - First of all: you'll want to pick out your seeds (click here for our complete seed list).

Some of my favourites to start indoors are peppers and tomatoes.

While you're shopping, you can also pick up the seeds that are to be planted directly outdoors like carrots, peas, and beans. This way you can make sure you have them before they sell out in April and May.

Next: check when is the best time to plant your indoor seeds (click here for our Zone 3 Seeding Calendar).

Finally, if you're using seeds from 2014, remember that some seeds such as onions or parsley lose their viability after a year and should be replaced while some seeds remain viable for many years. Check the expiry date on your seed packets to be sure, or check with the staff of the greenhouse if some seed packets don't have an expiry date listed. 

2. Seed Starting Mix - A good quality seed starting mix is key. The grind or particle-size should be nice and small, not big and chunky. A mix with big particles is not ideal for small seeds or seedlings as many will fall through the gaps, plant themselves too deeply into the mixture, and never manage to make it to the surface.

It is also a good idea to buy pasteurized seed-starting mixes to ensure there are no insects in your soil. Pasteurized seed starting mixes will usually say right on the bag that they have been pasteurized (or "sterilized"). In the greenhouse, we sell a 100% organic brand called Pots and Plants.

3. Clean Plastic Flats - These will be the flats into which you'll put your seed starting mix and into which you'll plant your seeds. Ensure that they are well cleaned to ensure that no fungi or insects are introduced into your growing environment. Wiping your flats clean and spraying them with a mild bleach solution will work if you're reusing flats from last year.

4. Plant Tags - Alright, so you've planted your seeds in a good seed starting mix in clean plastic flats. Now you have to remember what's where. Tag your rows of seeds or your flats of plants so that you can remember what's planted where.

5. A Misting Bottle - is the perfect way to moisten your seeds and soil. I like to give everything a good thorough misting on Day 1. 

A couple of days later, if you notice the top of the soil drying out, just give it another quick mist to keep the soil moist. This ensures that your seeds will germinate.

I find that a mister is much better than a watering can for starting seeds because a mister keeps your seeds evenly moist rather than unevenly soggy.

6. A Germination Mat - Placed underneath your plastic flats, a germination mat creates warmth that simulates the Earth's natural ground heat. This stimulates your seeds to grow and increases their germination rate dramatically. 

A germination mat is a complete game changer for most home gardeners, bringing their gardening game and success rate up a full level. We have a variety of different sizes of germination mats here in the greenhouse, and many of our seed starting kits even come with a germination mat included.

7. Cover It Up! - A good plastic cover will keep moisture and heat in for the plants. Personally, my favourite type of covers are the big tall Nanodomes we sell here in the store because they keep moisture from escaping, can accommodate larger plants, and can even have a Sunblaster growlight incorporated right into them.

8. Let There Be Light - Speaking of growlights, you'll want some growlights to ensure that your plants grow vigorously, with strong stems, and lots of leafy growth.

If you start your plants indoors without a growlight, they can become very tall and stretched out, without many leaves. This is because they are searching for the sun.

9. Soil Thermometer - A soil thermometer is one last great tool. This will let you check on your soil temperature, and let you know if your soil is warm enough for ideal germination rates.  Most seeds will germinate anywhere between 5 to 32°C (and even 43°C in a few exceptional cases), but the ideal soil temperature for most seeds to germinate is in a much narrower ranger of between 21-28°C. To maximize your germination rates, a soil thermometer is invaluable.

~Jim Hole

These Plants Will Shamrock Your Socks Off!

With St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, what "lucky" plant is better recognized as a symbol of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day, and good luck than the Shamrock?

Seeing shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day is a modern tradition which started in 18th century Ireland when shamrocks were tucked into clothing and the “wearing of the green” was a sign of support for the Irish Rebellion (and a hanging offense if you were caught).

Today, wearing green on March 17 is not illegal, butaccording to traditionnot wearing green on that day could get you pinched. So dress accordingly.

Even if you don't happen to be Irish, you should consider these St. Patrick's Day shamrocks "lucky" because they're so easy to grow.

  • These perennial plants thrive in average room conditions (13-18°C), making care a breeze.
  • Shamrocks prefer soil that is kept barely moist and will do fine if the soil dries slightly between watering.
  • They do best in indirect sunlight. A windowsill in your home facing either East or North, or a shaded area outside in the summer is all you need.
  • Given enough light, you can expect lots of small white flowers in the spring and summer.

The 5-petaled flowers are held on tall, slender stems above the foliage and may be white, pink or red, depending on the species.

Hole's offers Shamrock plants in either the classic green or dark purple varieties (or a mix of both) in a 4" pot for just $5.99. Get yours before St. Patrick's Day this Tuesday!

May you have the luck of the Irish with this charming plant. If cared for properly, the Shamrock can be a part of your plant family for years to come.



Fungus Gnats - What To Do

Fungus gnats are very annoying pests. Anyone who has grown houseplants for any length of time has likely seen these tiny, mosquito-like flies.
Fungus gnats love rich, damp organic soils and feed on the various fungi and other microorganisms that reside in these soils. A single adult gnat has a lifespan of about 10 days, but can lay about 250 to 300 eggs during that time. Eggs are laid into the soil and very tiny legless larvae emerge in a few days and feed before emerging from the soil as winged adults. Adult gnats don’t feed but are annoying flying around ones houseplants!
Control of Fungus Gnats is threefold. First, buy only high quality potting soil that drains well. Fungus Gnats love nothing better then consistently wet and boggy soils.
Secondly, use some yellow "sticky traps" to monitor and capture fungus gnat adults. The adults find anything that is bright yellow, irresistible.
Thirdly, there are sprays (we carry some here in the greenhouse) that can be applied directly to the soil and are very effective for controlling Fungus Gnat larvae. More than one application is necessary because sprays only affect the larvae and not the eggs.
While Fungus gnats are the least damaging of all the common houseplant pests they are the undisputed champions when it comes to indoor insect pests that people hate the most.

Hauling Enormous Plant Requires Advance Strategy

Giant canna lily looks great in my foyer after major production to get it there

Houseplants have always been a struggle for me—a physical one, in the purest sense. But like most people’s, my desire to grow houseplants has more to do with enthusiasm than sensibility. There was ample evidence of this a few years ago when I decided that a gigantic pot of canna lilies would make the perfect—if not completely impractical—addition to my home.

The lilies looked spectacular at the greenhouse. The more I envisioned them in my foyer, the more I needed to have them. The more I needed to have them, the more possible getting them home seemed.

The plastic pot that contained the cannas was filled with lightweight soil, yet the combined weight of the plant, soil, and pot was remarkably heavy—about 136 kilograms (300lbs). Thankfully, dollies and forklifts made getting the massive assembly into a van and to my house easy. The situation upon arrival was another story.

Now I don’t have a run-of-the-mill house. In fact, it’s been referred to (lovingly) as a sugar cube with skylights, but it’s these skylights that allow me to grow plants. No, the challenge wasn’t getting the cannas to grow in my home. The challenge was getting the cannas into my home.

California roll

For some reason, the previous homeowners built with the “California look” in mind. The result was a 13-flight, concrete staircase that begins at the sunken driveway and ends at the landing.

Now, I wasn’t crazy enough to think I could get the pot up the stairs, but I did sell myself on an alternate path. Instead of having to navigate 13 concrete steps, all I had to do was make my way up a not-too-steep slope that ran adjacent to the steps. Drastically different terrain, same endpoint.

Quite satisfied with both myself and my luck, I slid the giant canna onto my wheeler and gently rolled it down the ramp of the van.

Oh, did I mention it was the middle of November? Now seems like a good time.

Winter woes

So it’s November, and I’m slipping and sliding (giant canna in tow) up the ice-covered walkway to my front door. The entire ordeal left my upper body drenched in sweat and my lower body (primarily my rear end) drenched with snow, a souvenir from the numerous times I fell.

When I arrived at the small concrete ridge separating the walkway on the left from the 13 stairs on my right, I put the grip of death on the pot and eased it over the bump.

But because I was due for a life lesson, the pot rolled off the wheeler, bounced down each of the 13 stairs and ploughed into my garage door.

Try, try again

I swore the entire walk down to the driveway. As angry as I was, I was grateful that neither the pot nor the canna was damaged. So, like a trooper, I slid the pot onto the wheeler and repeated the move—same slippery slope, same sweat, same wet rear end. The only difference was that this time I knew what could happen. So this time, when I got to the tricky spot, I planted my feet, pulled the pot as tight to the wheeler as humanly possible and eased the rig over the bump.

You’d think that would have done it; yeah me too, so you can imagine how funny I didn’t find it when the pot bounced back down the stairs.

As the canna meteored downward, the pot separated from the soil mass, I suppose much like a booster rocket drops off the space shuttle.

The pot, it hit the concrete wall; the huge mass of soil, my car.

Canna you believe it?

Disbelief? Anger? Stupidity? –you pick, but one of them had me at the base of the stairs, muscling soil back into the pot and giving it one last go. This time I used my body as a shield to stop the canna from rolling into the abyss. And this time, it worked!

As I triumphantly threw open the front door and flashed my crazed smile at my startled wife, I prepared to wheel my prize into the house. It really was too bad that the pot was wider than the door.




Happy indoor gardening!


A slightly different edit of this story ran in the December 7, 2006 issue of the Edmonton Journal.

What's Blooming In December? Indoor Bulbs and Christmas Roses!

Back in October, we planted a whole bunch of indoor bulbs including Amaryllis and Hyacinths. After many weeks of waiting, they're finally coming into bloom!

The hyacinths (bottom left) smell absolutely amazing, and are the perfect gift for the gardener in your life.

The amaryllis (top), meanwhile, will stun you with their long stalk and huge blooms.

Finally, they aren't bulbs, but we also have some Christmas roses or Helleborus (bottom right) which can be kept indoors this winter while they're in bloom and then transplanted in the spring as an outdoor plant.

With a little bit of mulch, these Christmas roses will overwinter just fine for years to come!

Come visit us soon and get some indoor blooms for your home!

All About Air Plants (Tillandsia)

We get dozens of calls and emails each week from Edmonton, St Albert, and all around Alberta asking if we carry air plants in the greenhouse. We do!

So why are people in Edmonton so fascinated with air plants?

Air plants (or Tillandsia) are interesting and unique because they don't need any soil in which to grow. The roots of Tillandsia are only used as anchors, while the water and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves of the plants.

Because they don't need their roots to absorb nutrients, air plants can grow in many places that other plants can't.  Many people grow air plants in wire frames, on driftwood, in glass balls or globes, in magnetic containers on their refrigerator, and even in living jewelry. Some air plants also sport brightly coloured blooms before making "pups" or baby air plants! These pups can be broken off the mother plant once they're about 1/3 the size of the original plant.

Many Tillandsia are a type of epiphyte (or aerophyte, if you'd like to get really specific). This means that they can also grow on other plants, but are not parasites to the other plant. They simply use the other plant as a place to support themselves. 

People also ask us how to care for their air plant. Taking care of Tillandsia is quite simple: 

  • Tillandsia like lots of bright, filtered light (air plants with wide, silvery leaves are the most tolerant of bright, hot light, and the slowest to dry out). Consider getting a full-spectrum grow light for your air plants in the winter.
  • Mist your air plant every 1 to 3 days
  • If the air in your house is especially dry, you may need to give your Tillandsia a bath every couple of weeks. Simply dip the whole plant in a bowl of water for few minutes, and then dry it off thoroughly to prevent rot.
  • If you'd like to give your air plants a treat, add the smallest bit of orchid or bromeliad fertilizer to your misting water once a month (this will especially help air plants that are in bloom).
  • Be careful to keep you air plants between 10-30°C.  Most air plants will not do well in cooler or hotter environments than this (so no putting them outside in these Edmonton winters).

Carnivorous Plants

We get a lot of calls and emails here at Hole's Greenhouse from people asking if we carry any carnivorous plants. We do!

Check out some of the tropical pitcher plants (or "monkey cups" or nepenthes) and Venus fly traps (Dionaea muscipula) we currently have in stock.

We also sometimes carry common or round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and the North American pitcher plant (or Sarracenia) [also pictured].

These plants make an interesting addition to your indoor plant collection!

I See That Poinsettia Is Painted Green and I Want It Painted Red (and White, and Pink).

We mentioned last week how many indoor plants need extra, artificial light to survive Edmonton's dark winters (by the way, if you haven't picked up your full spectrum grow lights yet for your indoor plants, what are you waiting for? Come visit us today!)

One exception to this rule is our poinsettias, grown right here at Hole's Greenhouses. Like any other plant, they do need lots of light to grow and to get bigger.

But if you want your poinsettias to bloom, they must be exposed to at least 12 hours of continuous, uninterrupted darkness each day for 8 to 10 weeks.

We've been subjecting our poinsettias to 12 hour "black-outs" since late-September and they are now changing colour! Check them out!

You can order your Hole's poinsettia online or come visit us in store to browse from our selection of over 60 different poinsettia varieties.

Dig In St Albert's Horticulinary Festival

This weekend is going to be a spectacular time to visit Hole's Greenhouse. 

On Friday, we'll be hosting the Opening Gala for the Dig In Horticulinary Festival. The Opening Gala is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the workshops happening all day on Saturday, including 2 workshops that I'm teaching on container gardening [Editor's note: ticket sales for the paid workshops have now closed. Check out the free workshops below though!]

On Saturday, we'll also be offering FREE workshops on the mainstage all day.

  • At 9:00AM, I'll be teaching a free workshop on Companion Planting. In this workshop, you'll learn which plants help each other grow and which plants should be kept far apart from each other.  
  • At 9:30AM, Julianna Mimande from the Glasshouse Bistro will chat about what she learned about Permaculture while visiting Cuba. 
  • Finally, at 3:30PM, we'll be featuring the hottest pepper in the world, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper (grown right here in our greenhouse) in a hot pepper eating contest. I ate a single seed from this pepper a while back, and I'm still reeling from it!

Experts from all over the province will be in attendance, and there will also be lots of other free workshops on honey, oils and vinaigrettes, heritage grains, and much much more!

I'm also looking forward to many of the ticketed workshops. To name just a few of them, there are paid workshops on vertical gardening, sausage making, and even a wineology course! [Editor's note: ticket sales for these paid workshops have now closed. Check out the free workshops above though!]

Whatever you're interested in, we'll have a workshop for you this weekend. I'd love to see you there.

-Jim Hole