January is a month that has many of us dreaming and planning for better things to come!
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I recently rescued two Polka Dot Begonias from a garden center. I wasn't intending to buy any plants but walking past the house plant sale stand I spotted it and took a double-take at this beauty!
Even though they were looking a bit poorly and unloved and were in a dark corner of the store and I knew there was a risk of losing them both I just could not resist taking both home.
I picked up one then just had to go back for the other one. They were much reduced in price and I was worried the other one would die if I did not take it.
Of course, I would have to give the wise advice to buy only well cared for healthy houseplants for a good chance of success and a long-lived indoor plant. However, I just cannot resist the challenge of bringing an uncared or unloved plant back to good health.
Sometimes I lose them but often it works so for me is worth the risk.
The polka dot begonia otherwise known as Begonia Maculata is a very striking unmissable indoor plant.
It has beautiful distinctive leaves almost in a wing shape, with very elongated graceful leaves.
The leaves are a very dark rich green and the top of the leaves are exquisitely dotted with brighter green and almost silvery spots or dots. Hence the name "Polka Dot "
Underneath the leaves are a beautiful reddish colour. When young the leaves are a lighter fresh green and develop into a darker colour as they age.
Other popular names for the Polka Dot Begonia plant are Angel Wing Begonia and I can see this due to the shape and the way it holds its gorgeous leaves like an angel would. Other common names are Spotted Begonia clearly due to the spots on all its leaves.
I have more trouble understanding the name Trout Begonia but then I do not know so much about fish. Perhaps it's thought by some to have the markings of a Trout?
Also known as Clown begonia though I am not sure why it got this common name as personally I do not see anything clown-like about it, this plant is far too exotic and beautiful!
For the purposes of this article, we will call it the Polka Dot Begonia plant.
In Spring and Summer, it can bear little pink and white flowers, but I love this plant mainly for its striking and unusual leaves.
Flowers grow on a single stem and you are more likely to get them if the plant is totally happy in its environment.
Perhaps conversely if we want flowers we should allow the plant to become slightly potbound as this does encourage flowering. I would certainly not be disappointed if there were no flowers, to me they are a bonus, not a necessity.
As with all houseplants, the best way to ensure a happy healthy plant and a chance of flowers is to place your plant in the right spot in the home and for that, we need to know the conditions of its native country.
It originates in Brazil and as you will know if you have read my other houseplant reviews once we take these plants into our homes we are totally responsible for replicating conditions as close as possible to their native environment.
This plant likes bright light but it needs to be indirect light so is best near a window but not on a sunny windowsill.
Too much sunshine will burn the leaves and cause them to turn brown and there is little that can be done once this has occurred.
So any sunlight must be filtered light via an obscured window or blinds or by placing the plant far enough away from the window or perhaps behind other plants.
It can cope with a shady environment or even a little dark if we cannot provide indirect sunlight. However, in that case, we must accept that its leaves may be smaller and shorter than they otherwise would grow and we are unlikely to get any flowers,
It does like to be at a fairly constant temperature of 18 to 30 degrees centigrade which is good news as most of our homes will be around these temperatures much of the time.
The Polka dot plant can be very happy in bathrooms and kitchens as it will enjoy the higher humidity in these rooms.
It can also be fine in living areas as long as the humidity is kept high. We keep our two in our living room on large saucers of pebbles. One is in a group with other plants and the other is about a foot away from each of its neighbors.
Regular misting around the plant is important to maintain high levels of humidity but this I find it difficult to do properly as we should not be getting the leaves directly misted.
An alternative and easier way of raising humidity is to have a couple of plants grouped together, as a few plants together raises humidity.
In addition, I place the plant on a large saucer or plant tray of ordinary pebbles and keeping those pebbles moist gives a higher humidity.
Problems to look out for are powdery mildew. This can occur if the leaves get wet, so when watering avoid the leaves becoming wet.
It is difficult when misting as inevitably in my experience the leaves get damp no matter how far away you mist and I cannot get this right.
I think a better solution for this plant is to set it on a tray of pebbles with water and site it near other plants to give that higher humidity it likes. This will usually do what is necessary.
If you have a lot of plants that need high humidity you can invest in a houseplant humidifier which I understand is worthwhile, but I don't have one of these and so prefer to use the pebble and grouping techniques.
The polka dot plant is somewhat toxic so best to keep it out of reach of cats and dogs.
As a mildly toxic plant, they may need to chew on it and eat a fair amount to do harm, but I would not be prepared to take that risk and prefer to be cautious and keep it out of the way of any pets.
Soil should be light not heavy or clay, but it does need to retain some water. A light houseplant-specific soil is good and adding perlite for extra free-draining abilities makes a good mix to make sure it is well-drained but retentive. The pot needs to have good drainage holes and this houseplant must never sit in standing water.
The Polka dot plant needs to be fed regularly in its growing season which is Spring and Summer. The feed should be a good quality balanced feed and given about once a month or a little more often if you feel it needs it.
Overfeeding this plant can also be harmful so better to err on the side of caution. There is no need to feed at all in autumn and winter just resume feeding again in April.
The other important note to mention is that although it likes a moist soil, It is important not to get the water too soggy as this can easily lead to root rot which tends to be fatal for the plant.
In the winter it will need less watering maybe about once every two weeks and in the summer once a week watering is usually sufficient.
If it is very hot then water every four or five days may be needed.
A good way to tell if it needs more water is simply to put your finger into the soil for a depth of about an inch. If it feels dry to this level then more water is required, if damp or wet there is no need for more water.
Personally, I would not say this is a beginners houseplant. We cannot get away with not knowing its needs or forgetting to check it.
For example, I was worried when I first got it that the lower leaves started to drop off when I learned that it does not like being moved let alone taken from a warm indoor store outside in the cold to my car then back into a different indoor environment. Essentially it suffered a little shock. However, by being careful not to move it too much since it came home it has recovered with no more leaf drop.
A Spider plant or Mother-in-Laws Tongue for example is very forgiving of any mistakes and will tend most of the time to bounce back from neglect or mistakes while this plant is more of a challenge.
It is easier to care for in summer than in winter in my experience just because of light and humidity levels naturally occurring.
If you want to buy it as a gift do make sure the recipient is good with houseplants and do write out a simple care plan for them in case they do not know this plant.
However, it is an exceptionally beautiful, really striking houseplant that is a pleasure to look at and makes a really beautiful plant to have in the home.
In my opinion, it is one of the more stunning houseplants and one of the most gorgeous I own. So it is worth learning about and looking after, as if we do get it right, even with the neglected plants I bought, there is a good chance the plant will survive and thrive.
During late October and early November, I start putting the garden to bed. I like that expression, it makes me feel like I am doing my last caring duties for our garden this year and then the garden and myself can rest in the long cold dark days of winter.
Of course, there will always be jobs to do all year round. I do need to prune the climbing roses and I need to do a little hedge cutting later on, but the bulk of the autumn work in our garden is over and the best thing I can do now is to enjoy the autumn colors of the trees and plants still flowering or bearing berries and then let it rest.
Well for us it is to make sure that the plants in the garden can survive a winter full of winds, gales, heavy rain and snow.
I need to make sure that plants are not too damaged by high winds. So for example we have several lovely Buddleia and Lavataria.
All summer they have given us beautiful flowers and attracted many bees and butterflies. They all grow very tall so are at risk of wind rock and breaking branches. So about October, I reduce their height using loppers by about half. This prevents any issues and still gives a decent size plant at about 4 feet high. In Spring I will prune the Buddleia to about a foot high but this autumn prune is simply to prevent damage.
I repeat this with any other shrubs or plants that may be in danger. For this, depending on the thickness of growth you may use loppers or shears or these Wolf ByPass Secateurs
However, never prune Spring flowering plants now or you will not have any flowers next year. Also, it is too late to prune lavender now as any tender new growth may be frost-damaged.
The last cut here will be around the end of October. We tend to leave the grass a little longer over winter but it is a personal thing. We use a manual lawnmower which suits our small lawn and us very well. If you are considering a new lawnmower here is my review of the Benefits And Drawbacks Of A Manual Lawnmower.
It is useful to do autumn spiking of the lawn with a fork or special tool then brush grit into the holes to help with drainage. If you feel the lawn needs feeding now is the time to give it an autumn feed.
The other main thing to do is to keep off the grass if you can when it is sodden with rain. Walking on it too much will cause damage.
Gather fallen leaves into a wire netting bin or wooden bin or in bags with holes punched in for drainage, water well and leave to rot down so you can have lovely free leaf mold this time next year!
Add a layer of mulch to your borders. A thick layer of leaves or compost will enrich the soil and make it a great habitat for worms and other beneficial insects that love to live in the soil.
One of the best things we can do this Autumn/Fall is to make more habitat for wildlife in our gardens. Anything we need to cut down do not throw away but make into a big pile in a quiet corner of the garden. I aim for as little as possible to leave the garden, rather to recycle it within the garden.
This pile of logs, leaves, sticks will make a great winter retreat for insects, spiders, hedgehogs and all manner of overwintering creatures.
In turn, they will make your garden a healthier more balanced place for predators and prey and nature to work is magic.
One of the main tasks we do is to buy a great roll of fleece and proceed to wrap up all the tender of more delicate plants. We do not have a large greenhouse so they all have to stay outdoors and most would not survive a winter left to fend for themselves.
If you do have a greenhouse then it is easy to just move all your tender plants in for the winter.
However, I have found that a thick protective covering of fleece works really well. All I need to do then is to brush any snow off it.
So each plant and most of these tender plants are in pots receives a cosy wrapping of fleece all the way around the pot base and the foliage. I leave the top open for if its a nice day but with enough material so I can close it right over if the weather is brutal.
For many of the plants, I am most worried about the roots. If the foliage dies down or gets wind burnt it will usually grow back if the roots are strong.
However, if the roots become frost-bound or starved of oxygen the plant will die. So especially for plants in pots, it is vital to protect the roots if nothing else.
Ideally and especially for terracotta pots, you would first wrap the pot in bubble wrap or hessian then wrap the fleece over it and the foliage. If you do not have bubble wrap then use fleece over all of it.
For plants that really do not like our winters such as our beautiful Bottle Brush Plant I fleece them and also bring them into our sheltered porch.
Do buy the thicker fleece if you can. I have tried different fleeces and the thinner ones tear too easily and I usually have to double wrap the plant to feel it is protected.
With the thicker fleece, although slightly more expensive you only need to single wrap and so far I have not had any trouble with tearing.
After all the tender pants are fleeced up I move them to their winter homes.
This is a place where they are kept as safe from high winds and cold as possible so against a house wall is good. Our Tree Peony in particular hates strong winds. I group them together so that they get shelter from each other.
As I do this before Halloween it has to be said that when all wrapped up our plants do look somewhat like cute little ghosts especially after dark and particularly when my husband decides to elaborate by putting black netting, lights or eyes and ghostly additions !!! The neighbourhood children do love it though!
For herbaceous perennials, the best thing you can do in autumn is nothing at all!
It used to be the time to tidy up all the herbaceous perennials, cutting them down and generally tidying them up.
However, we now know that many insects use these plants to overwinter in their stems and foliage. For them, our untidy garden is a warm safe home. In order for nature to survive and thrive there is a worry that Are We Too Tidy In Our Gardens?
So for the good of nature and to relieve us of a task, we now need to do nothing. When new growth starts in the spring and the insects are no longer needing their warm homes and shelter and protection we can then cut back the old growth.
Any tender and new cuttings I took are in small pots and I move all these into our little greenhouse on the patio for winter. It has a cover I can take off if the weather is reasonable and put down when it is cold or particularly windy.
It is not heated and does not need to be, it just keeps the worst of the weather off the new cuttings and keeps them mostly free from frost. If I did not have this I would use a cold frame or even cover them all with fleece.
So when we have completed all these tasks it is so lovely to know that all our precious plants are warm and cosy and ready to rest through the winter.
I will of course need to periodically check them over to see that they are doing well. On sunny days I will uncover some of the less tender ones so they get some sunshine and remain hardy.
If it snows heavily I will brush off the worst from the plants. Other than that I do not need to concern myself with them.
Then all we gardeners need to do is to sit down with a lovely mug of whatever you like, put your feet up, enjoy the beautiful autumn sights in the garden. Perhaps take a moment to drink in the beauty of your own autumn garden, window box, or patio and in nature and start dreaming of and planning for spring!
|Venus Fly Trap|
I am the recent caretaker of a Venus Fly Trap house plant.
I wasn't sure I wanted one of these carnivorous houseplants plants but hubby has wanted one for a long time so I purchased it for his birthday this year.
From being really quite indifferent to this particular plant, I have developed a real interest and curiosity about it.
To be fair I had heard they were quite difficult to care for and I wasn't sure I was wanting the task of trying to keep it alive.
However, I love how it is growing and flourishing in our home and it has been interesting learning all about it. The plant looks happy and has grown and developed well so that gives me joy!
It is also named the species Dionaea muscipula -though there are many named cultivars with some different looks and habits. Part of the family of carnivorous plants, it only grows in a few places in nature now. Sadly habitat destruction has obliterated it from many of its sites. It can still be seen in the coastal bogs of North and South Carolinas.
As for most of us, we will keep this plant in a plant pot so we need to copy its natural environment as much as possible. It likes to grow naturally in soil with very low nutrients and dampness all the time. However these days it is not advisable to use endangered peat supplies. So without using at-risk peat mixes you can buy specialist mixes or try the plant in sphagnum peat moss, or fine-milled bark mixed with lime-free horticultural sand or perlite, or just simply in pure sphagnum moss.
Repotting if needed should be done just before the end of winter, so around February for us before all the new regrowth begins.
With Venus Fly Traps watering is a fine balance. They do need the soil to be moist but not waterlogged, neither do they wish to dry out.
So in the growing season, they like to be in a little standing water so I put a saucer under the draining pot and the saucer has a covering of water in it as it simulates the conditions it would have in the wild damp with higher humidity.
During winter the plant should be kept damp but they do not need so much water so I will likely remove the saucer and just make sure the soil is damp to the touch.
This plant by far prefers rainwater. So I now keep a bucket outside to collect rainwater for this plant. If I forget then I do use tap water that has been left to stand for about 3 days to help dissipate the minerals and chemicals but even so, to be honest, it is not ideal and long term use of tap water is not good for Venus Fly Traps and will kill them.
Venus Fly Traps which are kept outside will be able to find enough food for themselves. We put ours outside as much as possible on fine sunny days and the rest of the time on our sunny kitchen windowsill with the window mostly open and it certainly found enough food.
If you really can't do that then it is possible to feed it yourself with freeze-dried mealworms, which can be bought from shops, but it is a specialist skill to read up on a specialist site. To be honest, it is not something I really want to have to do, so we will stick with a sunny open window and putting it outside as much as possible in summer!
We do not need to use a plant fertilizer on a Venus Fly Trap, it is adapted to grow in nutrient-poor soil and feeding it in this way will only be harmful.
A Venus Fly Trap will always require a sunny position in its growing season but does not like being in the direct hot sun all day.
So aim for about 5 hours of bright sunlight. A sunny windowsill with the window open for part of the day is good. However, do not let it get scorched by the sun.
I have also during this summer put it outside in a sheltered sunny spot for a few hours and it really did seem to like that.
I would also keep it out of reach of small children and pets, not so much that it is any danger to them but constant touching of the plant's traps, which are often fascinating to children, may cause it to die.
We have not yet been through a winter with our plant but there are a few things to bear in mind for its survival.
They do need a period of winter dormancy which in the UK is around November to the beginning of March. As they live in our homes, not the wild environment we need to try to replicate that so they need to have somewhere cold to rest.
We will therefore be moving ours from its sunny warm spot on our kitchen windowsill to a colder place in our home. If I had an unheated greenhouse it could go in there but instead, I will move it to a cold windowsill that is north facing. It's the coolest place in our home and I am hoping it will be cold enough.
I have been warned not to panic during winter as the leaves will turn black and the beautiful little plant will die right back. At this point, we will trim off any dead growth. Then it is just a matter of keeping it damp and waiting for new growth in Spring!
As it is a carnivorous plant its method of gaining nutrition is a little more gruesome than with most plants. It first needs to attract its prey which it does by exuding sweet nectar.
The flies come in and movement triggers the tiny hairs and then the trap snaps shut just like a cage from which the insect cannot escape.
After that digestive enzymes dissolve the insect and use it for nutrition. The traps stay shut for about 5-8 days then open up again to restart the process with the added bonus, if you are a Fly Trap- of the leftover carcass also being used to attract more prey.
I feel I should say at this point that we have not noticed any more flies coming in due to having this plant. In fact, we probably have less making it past the plant into the house now!
|New Young Traps Forming On Venus Fly Trap|
When a trap has opened and closed a few times, probably around five times, it goes black and dies off. For that particular trap, it is the end.
However, before that happens we see several new traps growing to take their place.
At first, I did not think they would grow large enough to keep the plant alive before the older ones died but nature knows what it is doing and the new traps grew and were big enough by the time the older ones died.
I am more than happy to see now that when I bought it only had 4 traps and now it has double that amount so this shows the plant is happy. Over time and with care it will get better and bigger.
Children find these Venus Fly Traps fascinating and the book below is a great informative and fun introduction to these amazing little houseplants.
If you have one of these fascinating plants it is very important not to test out the traps by putting your finger or a pencil etc inside them.
While it may seem like fun, to the plant it is torture. Every time the trap shuts it uses up energy and if there is no food in the trap then it has just wasted so much energy. Traps only close about 5 or 6 times before they die so if it is tormented like this with no food it will deplete the plant and eventually the whole plant may die.
However, you cannot really hurt yourself on this plant. Just avoid touching it as much as possible for its own sake.
|Venus Fly Trap On Sunny Windowsill|
So having been initially quite wary of this carnivorous houseplant the Venus Fly Trap, I am now more than fascinated with it and it is an unusual addition to our houseplant collection!
|Fields of Sunflowers|
However, last year we bought a manual lawnmower. I am not really sure why we decided to do that, but I know we were fed up with our electric ones breaking down or cutting the cord accidentally and the whole hassle of fixing up extension leads inside the house as we have no outside power. The one petrol lawnmower we had was very heavy and noisy and really too big for us and our lawn and neither of us liked it.
The electric one had just given up, more expensive to fix than to buy another one and of course, it was at peak mowing time so we needed another one quickly.
We started trawling Amazon for lawnmowers. We did not want a petrol mower as we do not have a massive amount of lawn and it would have been too much. We were fed up with electric lawnmowers and all the issues we had found with them.
So we decided to hone in on manual lawnmowers. At first, I was not sure this was a good idea. My husband has health issues and I need to be careful with my back having a history of severe back problems. I wasn't sure we would be able to push it without added power.
I also wasn't sure if it would cut effectively. It felt in this age of technology, powered appliances and high specifications to be a step backward. Yet in a way also felt completely appropriate for our nature-friendly, wildlife garden and for the more power-saving, environmentally aware times we live in.
The manual lawnmower we found had an appealing price point and looked very sturdy and we were fed up replacing lawnmowers too often. So we bought a Bosch manual lawn mower.
|Bosch Manual Lawn Mower|
When it arrived I was pleasantly surprised that it was sturdy looking but not too heavy.
Set up was easy with only the long handles to fix to the frame which even for us was easy. We never fitted the grassbox as we intended to cut the lawn often and have always found a grassbox to be an encumbrance. However, the grassbox is there if we ever need it.
Hubby was the first to try to in the garden. We set the blades on high and he simply pushed it and it cut cleanly and efficiently. After a few laps he stopped and said it was really easy to push and no more work than our previous electric mowers! In fact, he seemed to be rather enjoying it!
So then I tried it and to my joy, it was indeed easy to push and did not hurt my back that time or any other time I have mowed the lawn.
For some reason I have yet to pin down it always seems more fun to use than our powered ones ever did!
So after using this manual lawnmower for nearly a year now we have found clear benefits and drawbacks as we see it from our personal experience.
|Manual Lawn Mower Is Easy To Use|
It is easier to push than we expected and no more physical strength is required than with our previous powered mowers
Much quieter than our electric or petrol mowers and it has quite a soothing muted sound
There are no electricity costs and no petrol costs. So we can mow to our heart's content knowing we are not incurring any ongoing financial costs at all! This is great for us as power costs are due to rise by a significant amount, so any savings are good.
Regarding the environment, there are no emissions from a manual lawn mower so this is all good for our planet.
There is the joy of knowing that never again will we cut through an electric cable!
With no trailing wires, no extension leads required, no outdoor power needed and no wires trailing from the house into the garden, it is an easy-use tool.
Fewer components mean there is less to go wrong
The manual lawn mower is ready to go as soon as you are! We now have no worries that it won't start or that a component will suddenly go wrong.
|Close Up Of Bosch Manual Lawnmower, blades, wheels and roller|
Even with battery lawnmowers you have the battery life or recharging to concern yourself with, while with a totally manual machine none such concerns.
Significantly better for wildlife. We don't disturb any more wildlife using our manual lawnmower than we would with our presence walking down the garden.
The frogs, toads, hedgehogs and birds -especially fledglings - have plenty of time to move away from it and there's no risk if any of them getting caught up by the blades.
|Fledgling Baby Robin|
To us, it does appear to give a better cleaner cut rather than tearing the grass.
It was less expensive than other powered mowers we have purchased in the past.
As it has a smaller footprint than most powered mowers it is easier to store and takes up less space.
We can carry it easily as it is not too heavy, though it is sturdy.
The manual lawnmower feels safer around wildlife, pets and children as there are no wires for them to get caught up in or trip over. There is no electricity to worry about and no fast-moving blades. We do take all the usual safety precautions of course.
|Hedgehog In Our Garden|
I do think that if you have a very large lawn a manual lawnmower will take more time to achieve the task. While it is perfectly possible to cut a large lawn with a manual lawn mower you will need to decide if you wish to do that.
We find you need to cut a little more often than with a powered mower as it is much easier to cut shorter grass than longer grass with it.
If you attach the grassbox you may need to empty it more often, but I think if you cut more often this would not be an issue.
Long grass will be more difficult to cut and certainly take more effort. Little and often is easier to cut than letting the grass grow longer which makes it harder to cut and then does require more physical power.
It is not so good at cutting wet grass as it does take more effort and seems to clog up more easily, but we rarely try to cut wet grass anyway even with our powered mowers, preferring to cut it when it is dry.
We will need to sharpen the blades every few years with our size lawn, but given the saving in electricity, this will not be a cost issue.
Ours does have a roller but many manual mowers won't have rollers, so stripes will be more difficult to achieve. If this is important to you check that you can achieve stripes with it. If you want one with a roller function do check all the specifications.
If you are considering a manual lawn mower do research properly what is important to you in a lawnmower. We bought a Bosch Manual Lawnmower and there are many more choices that are equally suitable.
Here is a selection to browse. Do consider what you need in a manual lawn mower and read all the specifications carefully.
In summary, we are both really happy with our Bosch manual lawn mower. We have owned it for nearly a year now with no issues at all and are very content that we never need to worry about it breaking down or not starting.
We don't worry about wires or electricity costs. We have no need to worry about safety with wildlife or pets or children getting caught up in the wires or blades. Obviously, the blades are sharp so you would take all the usual precautions regarding children and any type of machinery.
We find it a gentle, easy, quiet way to mow our smallish lawn that is environmentally and wildlife-friendly and does not annoy us or the neighbours.
|Bosch Manual Lawnmower|
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