GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2004 show23
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Show #23

Today we're visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG). Mary Pat Matheson is the Executive Director of ABG and provides a little background about this exceptional garden and tells us a little about their world class exhibit, the Chihuly. Mary Pat feels the people and plants at ABG are exceptional. The people have a deep abiding commitment to plant collections and ABG has one of the most fully developed and diverse plant collections in the United States. The Chihuly exhibition is also unique. Dale Chihuly is the foremost glass artist in the world. He has had fabulous exhibits at galleries and museums throughout the world. Here at ABG this exhibit is both indoors and outdoors. Outside they're almost all in the water features, making them a celebration of the manmade garden environment. The Water Lily pool has Najima floats which are round balls made of blown glass. These are the largest balls of glass ever blown in the world. To see them next to Amazon Water Lilies and other aquatic plants is wonderful. When entering the Conservatory the exhibition changes. There it's about the glass interacting with the plants and the glass for the most part is smaller, but in clusters. Chihuly has taken the beauty of the plants and the beauty of the glass and put them together in a compatible and elegant manner. For example, in the Desert House most of the glass is Amethyst and blue which blends beautifully with the dusty and light green of the desert. People from across the United States, even the world, are coming to see this exhibition, the largest of its' kind and the only exhibit of glass outside in a garden setting.

Tom Harvey is a horticulturist with ABG and our visiting expert today. We discuss with Tom, Tropical plants and he shares with us his tips for caring for these wonderful plants. Tom, too feels that ABG has wonderful outdoor gardens as well as one of the most outstanding Tropical collections not only in this country but probably the world. ABG has a high altitude house which simulates the growing conditions for plants that typically grow in regions with altitudes of 4,000 to 10,000 feet. As well, they have a low elevation house where Orchids and other Tropical plants grow. Both of these have world class displays of tropical plants and Orchids. This is the place to go to talk about Tropicals.

Tropical plants and Orchids are becoming more popular every day. Orchids are now available in grocery stores and home improvement centers. These plants make great indoor house plants and often are a better value than cut flowers. As these plants become more popular it becomes increasingly important to know how to care for them.

What is a Tropical? Where do they come from? Tropicals grow along the equator, there moisture is very high. Tropicals can't take the cold. Unless you live in an environment like Miami these plants won't survive year round outside. Most can live outdoors in the summer but must be brought indoors during winter.

Orchids are one of the most exquisite Tropicals, and are probably one of the better flower values. They are now commonly available at affordable prices. They will bloom for several months whereas cut flowers may last a week or so, at the most.

Orchids are Epiphytes. An Epiphytic plant is one that attaches itself to a structure in their native environment. Orchids, in the wild, attach themselves to trees and limbs, this is what they use for support. They don't take anything away from the plant, they use it to sit on, whereas a parasite takes nutrients away form the host plant. Tropicals get their nutrition from the environment and their water from water running down the trunk. As well in a tropical environment much of their water comes from the air. This is one of the reasons their leaves are so thick.

To grow one in your home, location is important. Place these plants in an area that has humidity, a place like over or around the sink or in the bathroom. Anyplace that has running water will produce moisture. Another consideration is dappled light, they require dappled light. Don't place these plants in an area that gets direct sunlight. Instead place them in a north or west facing window, it is even better if this window had shade from an outside tree.

These plants are low fertility plants. One of the worst things for them is to be over fertilized. They get their fertility from organic matter that washes off the trees where they grow. This is an environment that isn't high in nitrogen. In a home environment they will need fertilization but only 1/4 to 1/2 the strength of other household plants. They don't grow in soil, they typically are potted in something like charcoal or bark. This is because Orchids need their roots in 60%-80% Oxygen.

Everyone wants their Orchids to bloom, to come back year after year. There are certain orchids that bloom once and that's it but there are many Orchids that will bloom more frequently. Papyopetalum is one that blooms more often. If cut at a node it will re-sprout and bloom again and last for weeks at a time. Oftentimes it will bloom twice a year. Don't be upset if it doesn't bloom continuously. The plant needs to rest, to go into a period of dormancy to recapture its' bloom.

Phalaenoposis is the Orchid most are familiar with, the one we see in grocery stores. It is a long bloomer, it lasts a long time and continues to bloom out as the spike grows. Once finished, cut it off at the node and sometimes it will sprout and rebloom again. The cut should be made about half way down, go to the last two sprouts and make the cut there.

Roots normally appear to be growing outside the pot, this is something Orchids do. Many people at this point want to repot the plant. This isn't necessary, the roots need to grow over the side of the pot. This allows the roots to take up oxygen. It is a good idea to mist the roots, however if they're in an environment where they get a lot of humidity that isn't necessary.

We next look at some bread and butter exotics. The Slipper Orchid is deep burgundy, almost black. The Jewel Orchid is a bullet proof plant. It has velvety leaves with veination in them. This plant is a good replacement for African Violets. It is easy to grow and grows successfully in the same type environment. It is easy to propagate. Tom broke off a stem and quickly roots have appeared. Barely put the stem in soil, water it a little, a misting and another plant will take off.

Orchids can be one of the most fragrant plants. This is often how they attract pollinators. There are Orchids that smell like chocolate or vanilla, some smell like spices, cinnamon for example, others smell like citrus - lemon or orange, others don't have a scent that is identifiable. They're so complex that they're like a new perfume. In fact some perfumes come from Orchids.

Often people tend to over-fertilize Orchids. A good tip is to not to fertilize the plant when blooming. At that point it doesn't need fertilization, it has plenty of stored energy and the blooms will last longer if not fertilized. Don't over water these plants or other house plants. If a plant is getting full sun and its' leaves are burning or discoloring it may well be receiving too much sun. Don't be overly protective, Orchids are tough plants and they're adaptable to the environment.

In the Rotunda Tom has a lot of Orchids with fascinating foliage. Colathyas, Peacock Plant is its' common name, has lovely green foliage that thrives in a home environment. It's not an expensive plant and is long lived. At night the leaves fold up. They react to light and open up to photosynthesize, then at night, as day comes to an end, they close back up to conserve heat and energy. This also helps keep water off the leaves and protects against fungus and bacteria.

Tom shows us an everyday Angel Wing Begonia. There isn't a plant that's a better house plant. They can withstand attacks by humans and animals and still come back. The leaf on the top is green with a speckle, but underneath it is a rich purple. When in bloom the bloom hangs down in long tags of pink and white blossoms and they bloom for a long time. It can be taken outside on a porch in the summer but when it gets cold bring it inside and it will do well there as well. It is a vigorous growing plant, over time it will get leggy with nothing but bare stems, so every couple of years it will need to be cut back dramatically. Cut it back to within 8-10 inches of the pot, it will fill out quickly in the spring.

Another group of plants that aren't cold hardy and problem free but are good house plants are Succulents. Cactus is the most familiar variety. It can take and give a lot of abuse. It doesn't need a lot of water, thus is a no maintenance plant. The most common mistake with these plants is to over water them. These plants can survive on several tablespoons of water each month. In their natural environment they store tremendous amounts of water when it rains, then they can go months with no water.

Chlorosis means yellowing of the leaves, particularly the older leaves of the plant. When present on older leaves it's possible the plant has a Nitrogen deficiency and could indicate that it's a good time to fertilize. If the same symptoms occur with younger leaves the most likely problem is over watering.

It is important to understand that over watering tropical or house plants is deadly. A plant can barely be killed by under watering. Tom finds it ideal to create a situation where temporary wilt sets in. The plant, in this instance, is not actually damaged but the roots are completely dried out. To determine if your house plant needs water first check the color of the soil. Beware, your plant may be dry on the surface but wet below. Thus, pick up the plant, if it feels light that is a good indication it may be dry. Stick your finger into the soil, that will give an indication how wet the soil is at least as far as your finger goes into the soil. A water meter is always effective. Move the meter through the soil and see where it starts to register water. Also check the angle of the leaf. If it has a good strong angle, it's probably well watered. If the angle starts to drop that is an indication it's going into temporary wilt. Look at the color of the leaf. If turning a pale shade that indicates temporary wilt and it's time to water.

Tom, we thank you for taking time from your schedule and showing us and enlightening us on tropical plants and Orchids. You have educated us and hopefully given us confidence to try these wonderful house plants in our own homes.

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Atlanta Botanical Gardens

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