unique plants

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. 

Funky Potatoes and Uqa

This past month, my wife and daughter traveled to Yurac Yacu, Peru, as part of an assistance program by the Sombrilla International Development Society, based here in Edmonton.

Sombrilla’s mission is to "improve the quality of life by addressing food security, clean water, health care and education so that communities may become self-sustaining." The main focus of this particular mission was to work with the people of Yurac Yacu to build stoves from adobe bricks.
  
Since Yurac Yacu is waaay up in the Andean mountains (at an elevation of just over 3000 metres) the air was a little thin, making the job of transporting and assembling the stoves a little challenging at times. But, apparently, the friendliness and appreciation displayed by the indigenous Quechua people more than made up for the sore backs!
 
Beyond all of the stories of the wonderful people of Yurac Yacu, Sombrilla—and, of course, the spectacular scenery—I was anxious to hear about how the Quechua people cultivated potatoes at such a high altitude. Peru is the potato epicenter of potato cultivation. Most of the potato varieties that we enjoy today originated in Peru. But there is an enormous diversity of potato varieties in Peru which makes our North American selection look rather boring by comparison.
 
At the high altitude of Yurac Yacu, daytime temperatures rise into the low 20’s but nighttime lows often dip below freezing, even in the summer. The foliage of potatoes in our part of the world would die from the sub-zero temperatures, but the Yurac Yacu varieties shrug-off freezing temperatures because the parent species are well adapted to frost.
 
Besides being tough, the Peruvian potatoes are fascinating with their wide variety of shapes and colours. However, some interesting "potato" varieties that my wife and daughter noted as being particularly sweet were, in fact, not potatoes at all but a sweet tuber from the Oxalis family. They kind of look like a funky potato tuber but are really Oxalis tuberosa known as "uqa" by the Quecha. The tubers are apparently sweet (yam-like flavour) and also very colourful, ranging from yellow, orange, and red to apricot and pink. 

My daughter snapped a photo of the selection of potato and uqa tubers that the Quecha prepared for their meals (see above). Absolutely fascinating!
 
I know what you're thinking, "Jim, why can’t you guys get a hold of some of those cool tubers?"
 
Well, there are some pretty strict regulations on importation of plant material into Canada because of pest issues and, of course, sourcing a supplier is difficult. But given the rave reviews of the indigenous potato and Oxalis varieties of the Quecha people maybe—just maybe—a uqa or two might find its way into Alberta gardens in the not too distant future.
  
~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.


 

 

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.

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!