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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Dec 11

'Tis the Season

Posted on December 11, 2015 at 9:14 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

As avid gardeners, we enjoy giving plants as gifts to friends and family members who share our passion. As we walk through most stores now, we can be overwhelmed by waves of red, pink, white, and variegated poinsettias. The beauty of cyclamen, Norfork Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi), as well as the promise of blooms from amaryllis bulbs, entice us to fill our carts to overflowing without thought to growing conditions at the home of the gift recipient.

Most of the above-mentioned plants, including hothouse-grown cyclamen, are better grown indoors—especially during the winter months. Yet, growing indoor plants can be a challenge if the lighting is poor.

While it is essential to provide adequate water and fertilizer to plants (especially potted plants) for their growing success, one prerequisite often overlooked is the foot-candle lighting needed for each plant. Foot-candle lighting is the intensity of light plants need to grow. Each plant has a different lighting need. For example, many people attempting to grow Ficus benjamina have no problem, while others complain bitterly about the leaves dropping all over. The monster-leaf plant (which once belonged to my mother-in-law and whose identity has remained a mystery) thrives in the summer on the back deck, but rapidly declines into semi dormancy every winter as it is forced to reside in the house where the lighting is too poor for this tropical. Both of the aforementioned plants need very high-intensity lighting to thrive. On the other hand, some plants such as pothos and cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) can almost thrive in a closet!

Bright light
 Budding Christmas cactus enjoying bright
window light
This summer, a dear friend with whom I used to work came to visit bearing two Christmas cactuses. Both plants are budded and ready to bloom. These beauties live on the ledge of the east-facing kitchen window where they bask in morning light but find protection from direct afternoon sun. The lighting is excellent there for these light-mongers. Another benefit of this plant location is much of my time is spent in the kitchen baking this time of year. Watching their transformation reminds me that Christmas cactuses also need to be fed weekly during their blooming season. And poinsettias will receive the equally required amount of lighting and attention if placed alongside a Christmas cactus.

Norfork Island pines also love the high-intensity lighting. These emerald-green trees (yes, they will grow well over 100 feet tall in native Australia as well as Hawaii) thrive as potted plants indoors. But without proper lighting, the stems of the branches wither and drop off.

We can almost think of placing our indoor plants within hydrozones as we do with our outdoor plants. Water and light requirements and even soil conditions can dictate the success of the greenery around us.

If you are thinking of purchasing an indoor plant for a friend, consider the interior lighting in their home first. If the house is typically dark and adding indoor lighting to increase the foot-candle intensity would be a problem, choose a different plant!

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