Plants Thrive on Kindness, Too

dumbcane (Dieffenbachia amoena) in Jack Flam's lock and key store

dumbcane (Dieffenbachia amoena) in Jack Flam’s lock and key store

Jack Flam is a Sherman Oaks locksmith who makes you feel secure. When I went in to his store to purchase some hardware for a gate that didn’t close properly, he handed me the parts he thought I needed.
When I asked him, “How much?” he said to go home, try out the hardware, and bring him the money if everything fit. If not, we would try something else. Jack’s advice was perfect. When I returned to pay, another customer was in the store complaining about a key that no one could duplicate.
Jack duplicated the key.
When the customer asked, “How much?” Jack told him to go home and try the key. If it didn’t fit, there would not be any charge.
What does all this have to do with horticulture? Well, it so happens that there is a plant in Jack’s store that is the most perfect example of its species that I have ever seen. How perfect? I was convinced that it was fake.
Artificial plants have come a long way in recent years and it is often difficult, without careful examination, to ascertain whether certain indoor plants are truly alive or just clever silk imitations of the real thing. Finally, Jack persuaded me that I was looking at an actual dumb cane (Dieffenbachia), so named because consumption of its stems or canes causes your mouth to swell, rendering you speechlessly dumb for several days.
I have often noticed that plants thrive when placed in close proximity to kind, generous and trusting people. If this sounds bizarre, I urge you to peruse the classic “Secret Life of Plants,” a best-seller published in 1973. The authors, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, promoted their book as “an account of the physical, emotional and spiritual relations between plants and man,” and each page demonstrates how devotion to plants is rewarded in the garden, greenhouse and orchard.
People with so-called green thumbs are caring individuals who happen to be devoted to their plants in an above average way. But it’s more than this. People whose plants consistently thrive have a deep appreciation for the spark of life in every living thing, and form special bonds with anything that grows, most particularly if it’s green. Jack Flam’s wife, Vicki, takes care of the outstanding Dieffenbachia (dee-fin-BACK-ee-a) in their store.
She says it really does not ask for much, other than a periodic drink of water. It is located a good 40 feet from an east-facing window, so that virtually all the light it receives comes from fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling above. But then it also absorbs the positive vibrations emitted by a locksmith and his wife.
Q. I have several geraniums in a variety of colors. Several months ago, a friend gave me a white geranium clipping which I successfully transplanted. It has bloomed a few times with nice white blooms.
However, the latest blooms have a very pale pink color, with a darker pink edge – very pretty, but not white. I have not seen this kind of color change in other geraniums. Any ideas on what could cause a color change?
A. Color change in flowers is due to one of two factors: changes in temperature or soil pH. Where white ‘Iceberg’ roses are concerned, a sudden cold snap is implicated in the development of blooms that are lightly flushed or edged with pink. But when it comes to vibrant red or orange roses, their colors fade in hot weather.
Where pH is concerned, it is well known that certain hydrangea cultivars turn blue when given highly acidic fertilizer such as aluminum sulfate. Otherwise, their flowers are pink. Geraniums and roses prefer a slightly acidic pH, so I would not be surprised if irregular pink coloration on normally white geraniums and roses might also be an indication that soil pH is higher than it should be.
You can keep pH low by continual application of humus (decomposed compost) or gypsum (calcium sulfate) or, in the case of container plants, by adding peat moss to your soil mix.
Q. I have an avocado tree which bears large round fruit. They are not the pear-shaped ones. The tree has many fruit on it now but also has new blooms on it.
What I want to know is, should all the fruit be taken off when the new blooms come on? And how often should I feed it and water it? Then too, if I have it trimmed and top it will it produce well next year?
It produces very well. I give the fruit to neighbors all around the block and to the fire department. I just need to know how to take care of the tree, and how do you keep the squirrels from taking a bite out of each fruit? The avocados get as big as grapefruits.
A. Judging by the shape and size of your fruit, you probably have a ‘Reed’ avocado tree. ‘Reed’ and ‘Pinkerton’ are the two most popular green avocado varieties, rivaling the black ‘Hass’ for flavor.
‘Reed’ has the added advantage that, after it is cut open, it can be kept up to a week in the refrigerator without spoiling. However, you can also store avocado fruit on the tree for an extended period as it only ripens after it is picked. Therefore, harvest fruit as needed.
Avocados require minimal fertilization. I know some mature trees that are never fertilized and, nevertheless, fruit heavily. To be on the safe side, however, apply a fertilizer that contains 15-20 percent nitrogen and micronutrients. For every inch of trunk diameter, apply one cup of fertilizer per year, divided into three applications in February, March, and September. In other words, if your tree trunk has a three-inch diameter, apply one cup of fertilizer in February, one cup in March, and one cup in September.
Make sure fertilizer is scattered around the drip line, or canopy circumference, of the tree. You never have to prune an avocado tree except to keep it in bounds or to control its height.
Squirrels jump up to six feet in every direction, so there needs to be this distance of separation between your branches and overhead wires, structures and other trees. You will also need to wrap a three-foot band of sheet metal, at a height of six feet, around your trunk.
Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria) are among the most satisfying plants a gardener can grow. They appear in pink, red, purple and orange. Most varieties grow to around three feet, but there are dwarf cultivars no more than 12 inches tall, and the giant orange ‘Third Harmonic’ may reach five feet in height. All types stay fresh as cut flowers for a week or longer. ‘Third Harmonic,’ after it is cut, gradually turns yellow so that, for several days, you have both orange and yellow flowers in the vase.
Several care-free vines have reacted to the recent heat spell by blooming their heads off, including black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia elata) in orange or yellow, violet trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides) and blood-red trumpet vine (Distictis buccinatoria), which quickly fades to orange-red and pink. If your passion is pure orange, let your eyes feast on water-thrifty pomegranate trees, now in full bloom, or on orange flame poker plant (Kniphofia galpinii ‘Orange Flame’).
– Teresa McGinnis, Glendale
– Lori Wolf, Burbank
Tip of the week
In response to readers who complained about citrus trees that produce sour fruit, Bill Amandus wrote as follows:
“Our oranges and grapefruits were very sour. Epsom salts (Magnesium sulfate), sprinkled under the trees and watered in, produced sweet oranges and good grapefruits.”

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