Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
A Parlor Maple?
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! Well, there's hardly a leaf in sight and virtually all gardening has moved indoors. So I think it's about time to talk at length about some very nice—perhaps unusual—houseplants. And what better houseplant to begin with than flowering maple (Abutilon x hybridum)?
Sometimes called "parlor maple" and "Chinese lantern", they just don't come any easier! Really! You can grow one of these interesting houseplants by accident.
Abutilon (pronounced a-boo-ti-lon) is a tender shrub which is grown outdoors in the south year-round but, here in the Northeast, must be brought in before injured by fall frosts. They are natives of India, tropical Asia and Brazil, with large, ornamental, maple-like leaves and attractive, bell-shaped, pendulous flowers in colors ranging from almost white to yellow to a rich mahogany.
Where can you find one?
I've seen various cultivars of parlor maple in year-round garden centers. Occasionally, they show up in the mass-merchandising arena but, if you like being a little more creative and want a real treat, try growing a few from seed. (J.L. Hudson, Seedsman, P.O. Box 1058, Redwood City, CA 94064—a packet of mixed-hybrid seeds shouldn't cost more than about $3). They don't have a phone...but their entire catalog is online at: www.jlhudsonseeds.net ...best of all: their site isn't polluted with advertising banners, cookies, and time-wasting flashy-wiggly things. I like that!
It's likely that one of your indoor gardening friends already has one. Cuttings ("slips") will form roots at almost any time of the year. A three-inch side shoot torn away with a small "heel" or piece of the old branch can be rooted in half peat, half sand in about three weeks.
What conditions do they prefer?
Generally, flowering maples like it on the cool side, with plenty of air circulation. The warmer their home, the more fresh air they require. Any rich potting soil will do, as long as it is well-drained and has ample organic matter (sterilized compost).
They delight in full sunlight and a ready supply of moisture, and are big eaters. Weekly feedings with any balanced liquid fertilizer will keep them looking their best.
A summer vacation!
In the spring, after all danger of frost has past, your parlor maple would enjoy a few weeks out of doors. Pick a spot where it'll a decent amount of morning and early-day sunlight, but substantial shade during the worst of the heat of the afternoon. Maintain container moisture and plant nutrition the same as you would indoors. Inspect it frequently for signs of insect damage, and correct any problems immediately. Inspect both plant and container for "hitch-hiking" insects, and deal with it before bringing it back inside.
In the fall—avoiding an early frost—you may want to do a little housekeeping. Trim away all dead, damaged or weakened branches, trimming back to an appropriate size and shape for your indoor space. Abutilon can handle some serious annual pruning...fact is, they'll be better for it. Where do you cut? Use common sense and imagination. The same simple rules that apply outdoors, work well indoors as well. Don't remove more than a third of its total canopy. Make all cuts 1/4" to 1/2" above a healthy, outward-facing bud, using a clean, sharp set of shears or sturdy garden scissors. I like to make cuts that slant slightly away from the bud. Remove everything that is dead or dying. You can take this opportunity to shape your parlor maple if you like that sort of thing.
When the project's done, and everything is cleaned up, give it a good shower and feed with just about any high-quality, balanced liquid fertilizer. Since you doubtless want lots of flowers, pick something like Peter's Blossom Booster (10-30-20), and apply both as a weekly soil drench and a light, foliar mist. (Remember that harmful fertilizer salts will eventually build up....so it's a good idea to "flush" those salts out once a month or so by allowing clear water to completely saturate the soil until water flows freely from drainage holes. Reapply liquid fertilizer after flushing.
Very few. Generally, a stressed-out plant—the result of over- or under-watering, insufficient light, or nutrition—is more susceptible to attack by insects and diseases. Probably the worst that can happen are aphids and whiteflies. Aphids tend to congregate on tender, new growth (tips) and flower buds. Whiteflies spend most of their time on the undersides of more mature leaves, and billow into the air when disturbed.
Both insects are highly-sensitive to pyrethrin (a natural insecticide derived from the perennial painted daisy) in the adult forms. Since the material doesn't usually destroy insect eggs, re-apply once every three or four days for about two weeks to nail any new hatchlings. Mealy-bugs are another of the houseplant bug-a-boos, and are also controlled with pyrethrin.
Scale insects and mealybugs can also be an annoyance. Use a Q-Tip to saturate each scale or fluffy, white mealybug with regular drug store variety rubbing alcohol to dissolve their outer, protective, shell (which destroys their defenses), then apply pyrethrin or Safer's.
Safer's insecticidal soap, while emitting a disagreeable odor in a closed indoor atmosphere, is a viable alternative to other, much more dangerous, insecticides.
Even though both of these insecticides are considered "natural," care should be exercised to avoid unnecessary skin contact or breathing of any mists or fumes. Insecticides should be applied only in a well-ventilated area and in moderation.
(See also "Houseplants" in the FAQ)
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