The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

January 16, 2020

Snake plants rarely flower in Southeastern Michigan

Most of us are familiar with Mother-in-law’s tongue plant also called snake plant. It’s found in homes, offices, shops, workplaces and any other place that needs a tough and hardy indoor plant.

Until 2017 it was officially called Sansevieria trifasciata. Subsequent  scientific study has now found it to be a Dracaena species so it’s official name is now Dracaena trifasciata.

Its main task is to sit in one spot, often for years at a time, adding living greenery without causing any fuss or needing any special care.

Snake plants prefer low humidity which is easy to find in most heated buildings. They easily adapt to low light conditions and will just sit there minding their business without either growing or dying back. Under conditions like that, the best thing you can do for it is to  leave it alone, especially when it comes to watering. A widely spaced watering interval is much better than regular watering.


A mature snake plant can grow to over three feet tall before sending up a flower stalk.

A mature snake plant can grow to over three feet tall before sending up a flower stalk.


Dracaena trifasciata can help clean the air in your home or workspace. I remember back in the 1970’s reading about this plant. NASA was making plans for space travel and were looking for ways to improve air quality inside of spaceships during long voyages. They found out that snake plants not only provided some oxygen but were also very efficient at filtering airborne chemical pollutants.


PHOTO/caption: Drops of water oozing from plants is called “guttation”. It’s a natural process caused by the plant attempting to remove excess moisture. In this case the owner decided to help the flowering Sansevieria by giving it extra water.

PHOTO/caption: Drops of water oozing from plants is called “guttation”. It’s a natural process caused by the plant attempting to remove excess moisture. In this case the owner decided to help the flowering snake plant by giving it extra water.

Snake plants hardly ever produce flowers in our part of the world. I can’t remember the last time I saw one flowering, until this week. A few days ago someone sent me a photo of their snake plant with a flower stalk.

Only a small percentage of old, mature plants will produce flowers. When it happens, it’s a real treat to see. This is the time of year when it most likely happens.

Growing wild in their home in Africa, Dracaena trifasciata flower regularly and produce seeds, will this one? I’ll have to get back to you on that.

I’m not sure if you can actually encourage a Dracaena trifasciata to blossom but keeping your plant root bound in an undersized pot and keeping watering to a minimum may increase the odds of it happening.



January 3, 2019

Poinsettia care after the holidays

For a vast majority of people Christmas poinsettias are a disposable commodity. There are a few of us however, who adopt them as part of our permanent plant collection.

A while back, for several years in a row, I kept one particularly bright red poinsettia that eventually grew to almost four feet tall. You can imagine it was pretty impressive at Christmas time while in full bloom. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of it to share with you. The computer I was using at the time crashed and took all of my plant photos with it. I learned a hard lesson that day.

To keep your poinsettia going for as long as possible,  keep a couple of things in mind.

Most poinsettias die from over-watering and that is related to growing conditions. Your home probably has a lower quality of sunlight than the greenhouse from which it came, so your plant will be less actively growing and therefore need less water. So, let the soil dry out some before watering. Then water the plant thoroughly until water flows out of the bottom of the pot.

Pour out excess water after every watering.

Pour out excess water after every watering.

Most poinsettias come with a waterproof foil or plastic wrapper to keep water from leaking onto furniture. After watering, dump out any water that remains in the wrapper. It is this extra water held in the foil that is the main reason poinsettias die prematurely. Poinsettias standing in water develop waterlogged roots. Eventually the roots begin to rot and the plant rapidly declines.

Don’t worry about fertilizing your plant, it won’t really need much until spring. A half-strength dose of water soluble houseplant fertilizer once in a while should be more than adequate until growth resumes in the spring.

Also, bear in mind that poinsettias weren’t meant to last too much longer than the Christmas season.  They were bred for color, not hardiness. On the other hand, I’ve seen some poinsettias growing under abysmal growing conditions that survived until spring when the owners set them out in the sunlight to grow again.

At the very least, enjoy your poinsettia as long as possible this winter as a reminder of wonderful Christmas memories.


January 25, 2018

When to water jade plants and other succulents

Like most plants, jade plants’ water requirements change by stage of growth or from season to season. For example now, during the winter, there is less sunlight so plants including jade plants, are photosynthesizing less and won’t need as much water. The tendency for some gardeners is to kill their plants with kindness by over-water this time of year.

Over-watering has symptoms similar to under-watering. When you give a plant too much water, it can cause the roots to become water logged and eventually die back. When the plant loses its roots, it can’t take up enough water, hence, the apparent symptom of not enough water. The well-meaning person taking care of the plant gives it even more water making the problem worse.

But how do we know if we are giving the right amount of water to our plants? A lot of people talk to their plants. Unfortunately the plants don’t answer back but they can communicate their needs in other ways.

A jade plant  is able to store water in its fleshy leaves and stems. When it dries out to the point of needing water, the leaves become soft and flexible. If you think your jade plant needs water, gently squeeze a leaf or two.

This jade plant leaf feels firm, no need to water yet.

This jade plant leaf feels firm, no need to water yet.

If it feels soft, it needs water. If it’s still firm and turgid, it’s not time to water yet. The plant shown above needs no water, the leaf feels pretty firm.

This jade plant leaf feel soft and flexible, time to water.

This jade plant leaf feel soft and flexible, time to water.

When the plant finally does needs water, add enough water to moisten the entire root ball. Then let the water drain out completely. Never let the pot stand in water water, you could risk damaging the roots by exposing them to too much water.

This squeeze-the-leaf  method works best on jade plants and other succulents.


Do your plants a favor by taking advantage of January thaw

Filed under: Houseplants,Indoor Gardening,Insects,Potted Plants,Weather — bob @ 1:34 pm


During many winters we have a January thaw. We had a very welcomed warm spell last week and it looks like there will be another warm-up this week too, even though it may not be quite as warm this time around.

I always like to take advantage of those warm mid-winter days to freshen up my house plants and others that I have growing  inside.

Three of my citrus trees, which are about six feet tall including the pot, share space in a southern window in my woodworking area. That means their leaves are often covered in fine sawdust depending on the project I’m working on. I recently finished a project that required quite a bit of sanding which developed a lot of sawdust that settled on the citrus tree leaves.

Last week’s thaw gave me the opportunity to haul out my two wheel hand-truck and wheel out the heavy potted trees out to the driveway. I didn’t need to hose off the plants because of the drenching rain that came later in the day. That rain was all that was needed to get them clean. Since then however, I’ve generated more saw dust and they’re all dusty again.

My 17 year old citrus trees have been rinsed off every January thaw.

My 17 year old citrus trees have been rinsed off every January thaw.

The good news is that temperatures are predicted to be near 50 degrees F during the next couple of days. That’ll be the the perfect time to wheel them back out and rinse them off again, only this time I’ll have to drag out the hose. Some of my larger house plants are going to get a good outdoor rinsing too.

This mid-winter rinsing not only washes off dust but even more importantly, it removes many of the small insect and other pests found on indoor plants such as spider mites, mealy bugs and scale. The population of  those types of pests can build up to a damaging level inside a warm, dry winter environment like we have in many Michigan homes this time of year. Rinsing with water knocks back the insect population to a tolerable level.

Mature citrus tree leaves are tough and can handle strong streams of water. Other plants though have more tender leaves which can be bruised by a too vigorous spray from an exuberant gardener — I know, I’ve done it.

If you plan to do a mid-winter rinsing, I suggest you start with a fine spray and increase the pressure if needed.  You’ll have to use your best judgement as you go along. I use a three-hole nozzle that puts out a very fine, yet strong stream of water that knocks off just about everything without damaging leaves. Be sure to spray the under-side of the leaves. That’s where the biggest concentration of pests will be hiding.









December 7, 2017

Use an old camera as a light meter for your plants

Filed under: Houseplants,Indoor Gardening — bob @ 9:44 am

If you are like me, you find it hard to toss or give away any of your really good stuff, even if it is obsolete. I still have my old SLR film camera, a Pentax K1000 that I bought way back when. It was one of the first things that I splurged on during my early adult life when I really couldn’t afford it. That is probably why I feel so attached to it even though I haven’t taken any photos with it for many years.

There is however another alternate use for that old camera of yours still bumping around in your closet. It can be used as a light meter to determine the amount of light available in the spots where you are planning to keep your plants indoors during the winter.


This method measures the reflected light from an area as opposed to some light meters that you point at the light source. Set the shutter speed to 1/60 and the ASA to 25. Take a sheet of white paper and place it in the spot you want to measure. Point your camera at the paper and look through the viewfinder. Move so that the white of the paper is the only thing you can see in the viewfinder. Follow the meter inside the view finder and adjust the f/stop until the the meter is in the optimum range for taking a photo. From there you can use the f/stop to get a fairly good approximation of foot candles (fc): f/2 equals 40 fc; f/2.8 =75; f/4=150 fc; f/5.6=300 fc; f/8=600; f/11=1200 fc; f/16=2400 fc. Each f/stop move indicates a doubling of  foot candles from the previous setting. If you own an older camera like this you probably remember what ASA and f/stop means, everyone else will have to look it up.

Foot candles reading below 75 is considered low light. Readings up to 200 fc is moderate light while anything over 300 fc is bright light. That will give you some idea where to place which plants over the winter.

Now, if only I can figure out how to blog using my manual typewriter.





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