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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - December 09, 2007

From: Mount Vernon, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Care of non-native house plant
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Please let me know how to keep a dieffenbachia plant healthy and growing. I notice some leaves turn yellow. I water them once a week and keep it on the windowsill with some sunlight. Should I be doing something else? Also, I have a bromeliad. The pretty flowers fell off and no other flower grew back. Is this normal? All I have now are green leaves and no flowers. Does a flower only bloom once?

ANSWER:

Yellowing in leaves on a plant is frequently caused by inadequate nutrition. It is recommended that pot plants get a dose of liquid plant food every two to four weeks, following the directions on the package. Also, lower leaves of a dieffenbachia will fall away naturally, establishing a nice trunk as the plant grows. Hopefully, you already know that the sap of the dieffenbachia is poisonous. Just a small amount can cause the tongue to swell, possibly closing the throat although this is very rare. It would be safer if small children not have access to the plant; even cats can be harmed by chewing the leaves. This website on House Plant Care should give you additional useful ideas on care for your plant.

Next, you're in for a surprise (well, we were surprised) when you read this article on Care of Bromeliads. Turns out bromeliads do NOT bloom again. Apparently, when they get to about 3/4 of their normal size, they are treated to bloom, and placed in retail stores for sale. You buy one, take it home, enjoy its lovely bloom for a while, and then the bloom dies. It will never bloom again. However, it will continue to live and, hopefully, flourish and put out offsets or "pups". When these "pups" get to be about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the mother plant, they can be removed and repotted, allowed to grow naturally, and then they, too, will bloom. Once. When the bloom has died, you should cut the bloom stalk down as far as you can. So, you can buy blooming bromeliads, enjoy the bloom until it dies and throw out the plant, or you can start a bromeliad farm.

Both of these plants are non-native tropicals or sub-tropicals. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is all about the use of plants native to North America in the landscape. But we know that most indoor plants are tropicals because they are better able to tolerate the extreme conditions (for plants) indoors, summer and winter.

 

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