NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
January 20, 2000
Ron Smith, Extension Horticulturist
North Dakota State University
Q: I was given a cyclamen plant last summer and it is still growing. It stopped flowering after two months, but the beautiful multi shaded leaves keep coming, and now I see a few flower buds coming again. Should it be transplanted soon? Could it be the roots are crowded? When it dies, can it be brought back after a dormant period? How should I treat it when dormant? I can't seem to find any information in any of the garden books. They only describe it and give its history. I would appreciate any help you can give me. (New England, N.D.)
A: Cyclamen thrive in a cool room, so placing it in a north facing window is best. While flowering, keep it well watered and on a tray of pebbles filled with water to keep the humidity high. After flowering, reduce watering. Place the pot on its side, and keep it dry and in a cool spot until mid-summer. Then, repot in fresh compost (high organic potting soil) and place in a cool, well-lit spot. Water enough to keep the compost moist.
Q: I recall reading in one of your columns years ago that our water quality changes during the year, and this can cause our houseplants to react in an unfavorable way. You have also said that chemically softened water will eventually kill most houseplants. Can you offer some solutions to these dilemmas? (Dickinson, N.D., e-mail)
A: Yes, there are some alternatives. Water that is very high in salts is common in many water supplies throughout our region. These salts would include sodium, calcium and magnesium. When the concentrations get high enough, these salts can cause leaf necrosis (speckling of the leaves), leaf burn (drying of leaf tips and margins) and leaf drop in severe cases.
When the concentration of calcium and magnesium is high (more than 150 parts per million) the water is termed "hard." The hardness of the water is measured by its electrical conductivity. The higher the conductivity, the harder the water. This hardness makes the water difficult for laundry or bubble bath soap to work. Households correct this with a water softener, replacing the hard ions of calcium and magnesium with sodium, which is also not good for plants (humans either).
What to do? Some options: purchase distilled water and use that consistently, or purchase a water distiller to have a constant supply. Another system, which I use with my own houseplants, is the RO (reverse osmosis) system. This allows the household to have drinking water with ample amounts remaining to be used for houseplants.
Most municipalities will also add fluoride and chlorine to the water supply for health reasons. Unfortunately, these ions will also cause some of the same injury to some houseplants. The most susceptible are spider plant, wandering jew, prayer plant, certain palms and Hawaiian Ti.
Q: I am in third grade and very interested in plants that eat bugs, like the Venus flytrap. Can you tell me anything about them? (Grand Forks, N.D.)
A: Venus flytraps are plants that live in the tropical forests in highly acid soil that is high in organic matter but low in mineral fertility. When they trap an insect, they are supplementing their diets so they can better survive in the low-fertility soil.
Venus flytraps attract insects with nectar. Once inside, the insect brushes against the plant's sensitive hairs that trigger the trap. The trap slowly closes more and more tightly as the struggling insect continues to brush up against the hairs. When fully closed, enzymes (like digestive juices) begin to digest or absorb body fluids from the insect. The trap stays closed for about a week during this time and opens again when the digestion process is complete.
Venus flytraps can thrive in the home or classroom environment when they are grown in a terrarium (covered glass bowl) in sphagnum peat moss. You or someone else would have to catch flies or other insects and put them in the terrarium occasionally. Water the plant with rain water or melted snow (close to pure water) to keep the soil acid. Place the plant in a bright window or under lights used to grow plants, and it should thrive for you!
Q: In looking out our window on this drab winter day in our yard, I was wondering if there was anything I could do to liven up the winter landscape scene next year with some new plants. Any suggestions? (Minot, N.D., e-mail)
A: Plenty! There is bark color and texture that can be obtained from shrub branches like the red osier dogwood, the rough, orange-pink bark of Scotch pine, and the peeling texture of paper birch and Amur cherry, which has the color of burnished bronze.
If that isn't enough, consider willows - the golden and the red stemmed, along with the Tatarian and Ginnala maples that often keep attractive samaras (seeds) through the winter. In addition, the fruits of hawthorn, crabapple, mountain ash and the American highbush cranberry will show and attract many species of birds such as cedar waxwings.
Finally, many rose varieties are as prized for their hips (fruits) as they are their flowers. Many will get a burnt red color for the winter, and again are attractive to the birds.
Do you have a gardening or houseplant question? Write to Hortiscope, Box 5051, NDSU Extension Service, Fargo, ND 58105 or e-mail to Ron Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Ron Smith (701) 231-8161
Editor: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136