Monday, August 25, 2008

Staghorn Ferns as Houseplants in NYC

The curled, more rigid feel to the leaves of this staghorn fern in the office implies that it is not in as humid an environment as it would like, but regular misting and watering are certainly helping to keep it going.

i'm a big fan of your blog. i'm a patio/indoor gardener and have recently become rather obsessed with ferns - my boyfriend (who's a landscaper and gardener as well) gave me a staghorn fern as a gift. i have been googling the fern and have read some contrasting advice (it loves bright light, it should be in a shady spot; don't over water and even allow it to slightly wilt so you know you aren't OR always keep the soil evenly damp). Since it's a gift i really want to keep it alive - it's also such a beautiful plant that i would hate to be responsible for killing it.

SO. here's the deal - the fern is rather large and it came in a six inch plastic hanging pot. i have read that i should transplant it into a hanging wire basket lined with sphagnum moss and hang the plant sideways and growth will come out of all sides. would you agree with that? should i line it with the moss and then add peat and then the fern? (also something i read).

in terms light -- my gut instinct with all ferns is to give them part shade. none of my windows get direct bright light but rather i have three big windows with varying levels: bright indirect, medium indirect and low indirect - it is currently in the medium indirect. my patio gets direct light and part of it is always in the shade. would you recommend i keep the fern outside until fall - before any danger of frost?

watering -- always damp? also: would you recommend misting the plant since it like humidity? or is misting pointless?

i think that's about it. please let me know if you have any questions and i really, really appreciate your help with this.

A staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is without question a beautiful and unusual plant, and I personally think they are fabulous. However, I am very glad that you both have plenty of plant growing experience because you will need it as they are not necessarily the easiest houseplant out there. In fact, some books outright say these plants are not suitable for the home, but I think you can prove them wrong. Let me share with you what I know from my experience with them, both in greenhouses and in the home, as well as refer to some great houseplant books we have here in the HSNY Library. Your fern will be a little particular, but with the right care I think you should be able to keep it going for plenty of years to come.

Your fern will produce two types of leaves as it grows. The sterile fronds will be produced at the base of the plant and mature from green to brown. In its natural environment these fronds would adhere themselves to the larger tree branch the fern would be living on, eventually pulling nutrients from the organic matter that would collect between the two organisms. Transplanting it into a wire or wooden (orchid) basket with sphagnum moss is what I would do. Because it is a naturally epiphytic plant the moss should hold enough moisture at the base of the plant between when you water. I would transplant the fern oriented as you want it because the sterile fronds will naturally grown down and around the base of the plant (and the sphagnum moss) as the fertile fronds will continue to grow upright and out in search of light and humidity. My gut instinct is that the extra step of incorporating the peat moss is not necessary, but if it is in a peat-heavy mix now then that might help the transition to be as smooth as possible. I actually bought one mostly in peat moss one time and transplanted it into sphagnum moss soon after getting it. It definitely went through a little shock and stress (granted it was also adapting to my light and humidity) but it survived and I think was happier in the long run being in the sphagnum. I wonder if you might want to keep it in the plastic for a bit longer to make sure it is acclimated to the light and humidity of your place before transplanting, but that is probably me being too conservative.

Light is one of those issues where we have to remember that we live in the city with light levels that are uniquely different than if we were in the country. I would think it would be happiest in as sunny a spot as you can get it. Especially if you received it as a pretty mature plant, I’m guessing it was getting a lot of light in the greenhouse where it was raised. One of my favorite references recommends bright light with some direct sun and that sounds pretty right on to me. When I helped care for staghorn ferns up at NYBG when I was a student they were kept in a house that got a flood of bright, barely diffused light, and they loved it. Here in my office I have one that actually gets a good shot of direct morning sun and I was fearing it might be too much, but the plant is holding up well. If we were in the country I would say otherwise, that some shade would be good, but here we are often searching to find sunlight for our plants before we are searching to find them shade. As far as the debate between inside versus outside, I would try and figure out which area will have higher humidity and stick it there. If you put it outside do not let the nighttime temperature get much below 65 before pulling it inside. It sounds to me like the medium indirect or bright indirect perches inside would be suitable.

Once you have your fern situated in the sphagnum moss I think you should only have to water it about once a week, the same routine as you might water orchids. In addition, once a month or so I would give it a real good drench, even submerge the base of the plant in water for a few minutes, and then let it drain. This can also be a good time to incorporate a light fertilizing, which should be done once a month during the summer months but not so much in the darker seasons. Watering from the base will be a good practice because too much water at the base of the fertile fronds can lead them to get too waterlogged and fall off, and you definitely do not want to lose leaves as staghorn ferns are slow growers. If the plant dries out a little bit between watering that is fine.

I am glad you brought up misting and humidity because this is really the most important thing when it comes to keeping a staghorn fern alive in the home. They require a lot of regular humidity, and drying out too much can be the ultimate downfall of the plant (trust me – I know!). In a greenhouse setting staghorn ferns do great because they get the 60% humidity (or higher) all the time which is ideal. At home I keep mine in the bathroom, where the light and humidity are ample, but even then I mist it occasionally, especially if we have been away for a few days. Here in our office I am always misting the staghorn fern and it seems like I can never do that enough. Again, I try to mist regularly but prevent lots of water from collecting at the base of the fertile fronds. What can I say, I know the plant is a little bit drier than it would prefer, but it is holding on and looking good.

The only other thing that comes to mind is the waxy coating on the surface of the fertile green leaves. That waxy coating helps the plant to retain more moisture in its leaves so do not attempt as some do to clean the leaves and remove it. If some gets wiped off when you transplant that is not the end of the world by any means. It sounds like you know plant care enough not to do that, but worth the quick mention regardless.

I guess the long and the short of it is that you simply can’t forget or neglect a staghorn fern as a houseplant. But if I can keep one alive in a dry office setting then I am sure yours will be just fine once you get it more situated and on a regular regiment. Good luck and let me know how it works out for you.

Plant ID: Amaranthus tricolor


Chances are the plant you have photographed is neither a flower or a weed. What you have there in that photograph is actually a tropical plant that someone decided to grow as a large annual in their garden for the summer. I will admit that at first I was stumped, but luckily I have a good friend and mentor who happens to be a curator at the New York Botanical Garden so he was able to enlighten both of us.

Amaranthus tricolor, commonly called summer poinsettia, is a plant indigenous to Africa and Asia loved for its ornamental value and colorful foliage. Another common name is Chinese spinach, and rightfully so as it is grown as a leaf vegetable in some locations. Because it is hardy in USDA Zones 9-11 we would consider it a tropical plant up here in New York and only be able to grow it as an annual outdoors. There is one cultivar named ‘Joseph’s Coat’ which has a striking combination of yellow and red atop its otherwise green leaves. Thanks again to Marc we are guessing you spotted a specific cultivar named ‘Illumination’ which has those bright red leaves above the olive/red variegated leaves at its base and reaches about 42” tall. From what I understand they used to be planted more often as annuals in the garden but you do not see them in cultivation much any more.

Thanks for writing. I always love learning about new plants!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hosta and Slug Damage

(slug damage on Hosta courtesy of University of Illinois Extenstion)

Should I remove the faded flowers from my hostas?

By August many of my hostas have tiny holes, I assume from some sort of bug or spider. I noticed this year that my new hostas in an area that in not watered as frequently are free from these "holes". Should I water less or do you have a suggestion for what to spray my plants with? It's mostly on the green/white varigated hosta.

You can definitely remove the faded flowers from your Hosta. Removing the spent flower spike by pruning back to the foliage from where it emerged will actually be a great help to the plant as you will be redirecting water and nutrients to other parts of the plants that will be eager to make use of it.

As far as the holes, I am 95% sure it is probably slug damage. The best way to tell is actually to go out and inspect your plant late-night with a flashlight, as that is when slugs are most actively chewing away. Don’t forget to look at the undersides of the leaves as well as their tops. I know there are some granular products out there that you can sprinkle on the ground that help wipe out slug populations, but once they are adults this late in the summer I am not sure how effective those products are. I am also not sure if the granular products are very organic as I do not have any of that around to check out the ingredients. To go about a more organic control, the best plan of attack for now is physical removal. Not to mention removing as much of the pests as you can means you do not have to alter your watering schedule too much. Good, deep watering helps freshly planted plants establish healthy roots quickly in your garden so I do not want to recommend cutting back on the water if you can help it. It is gross I know, but after a couple nights you will be able to get a lot of those slugs bagged up and removed from your garden. According to The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control edited by Barbara Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley, thin copper wire laid around the base of your plants or copper used as garden edging works to deter them, though I have never tried it. You might think I’m crazy but some friends of mine even swear by pans of beer laid underneath the plants used as traps. Either way it comes back to physical removal being one of the best options to prevent future damage of your Hosta. I hope you can get the situation under control so that the slugs do not eventually spread to your new plants. Luckily the one thing about slugs is that they are not nearly as fast moving as some other pests in the garden.

Night Blooming Jasmine on Long Island

(image of Cestrum nocturnum courtesy of

Hopefully you can help me. I received a night blooming jasmine as a gift. It is currently in a small clay pot. It is doing quite well – I have new growth and blooms.
Living on LI – can I plant this in the ground – will it come back after a NY winter?
If I don’t put it into the ground, what do I do with it once the weather starts to cool off?
What is the care for this plant during the winter months?
Do I pinch after blooming?

Night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) is what we would consider a “tropical” up here in New York. It is an evergreen shrub, but only hardy through much milder winters down south and in the West Indies where the plant is indigenous. The plant sounds very well situated now so you do not need to change your routine anytime soon. If you have spent blossoms then you can deadhead them with pruners or scissors and remove them in order to redirect water and nutrients to the actively growing portions of the plant. I imagine you have it in a sunny spot and are keeping it well watered which is important as the plant is most active right now. In the fall, say late September or when the evening temps get down to the 60s, I would move it inside to as sunny a location as you can. You will continue to keep the soil moist and slowly cut back on your watering so that by winter you are allowing the soil to dry out a bit between watering. The plant will go through a dormancy period this winter so you will not expect tons of new growth or flowers, but it should certainly survive indoors over-winter. If you feel like you have to do some pruning I might hold off until next year once you have moved it back outside when the days are longer and nights are warmer again.

Information about Container Gardening

I am interested in learning how to plant and maintain outdoor window boxes for sills that receive only indirect light i.e. no sun but not shade either. My sills face the interior courtyard of a square building perimeter.
Would you perhaps know of any books or classes that might be of help? I would appreciate any direction you could give me.

In fact we do have some fabulous books here in the HSNY Library on container gardening, and even more specifically, container gardening in shade. The library is here at our location on 37th between 7th and Broadway, open to the public from 10-6 Monday through Friday. I have also CC'd Katherine Powis, HSNY Librarian, to this email as she knows the library's collection much better than I. You can also borrow books from the collection if you choose to become a full member of HSNY. Hopefully when you come in I might be around and if I am free I would be more than happy to discuss viable plants and combinations with you.
In addition, I am in charge of setting up classes and programs and over the summer I did a tour and container gardening demonstration down in the Flower District on 28th Street that was a great success. I am definitely considering lining up another one for the fall though I do not yet have a date set at this time. If you would like to receive emails from HSNY regarding upcoming events I recommend signing up on our mailing list at

Bagworms on Bald Cypress in Brooklyn

A neighbor who works with you noticed that I have bagworm cocoons on 3 of my four bald cypresses, and said that you might know what I should do about it. I took off all of them that I could reach and some had worms in them when I stepped on them. I love my trees and they have been doing well; I really don't want them to have any problems! If you have any ideas I would love to hear! Thanks a lot.


When I was studying entomology as part of my training at NYBG I was taught that there are a number of excellent universities that provide information on various garden pests we encounter. As one example, the Ohio State University has a great series of fact sheets on various garden pests and I was able to locate one specifically on bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). I have added the link, but if for some reason you want a hard copy just let me know and I can drop it in the mail to you.

Typically I see bagworms on different kinds of junipers, cedars, and arborvitae, but I guess I wouldn't be all that surprised that they are present on your bald cypresses. As you will see on the fact sheet the best thing to try and know about any garden pest is their lifecycle. That way you can then attack them when they are in their most vulnerable stage(s). Your physical control of removing them by hand is the best you can do right now. Also, it never hurts to provide the best overall care for your trees to alleviate other natural stresses. Even though we have had some serious storms we have not had many deep, soaking rains so supplemental irrigation might be a help if you can get a hose to the pits or have gator bags in place. If you can add a thin layer of mulch (only 1-2" of shredded bark or small nuggets) to the base of the trees that helps regulate soil temperature and prevent major soil temp fluctuations, especially at this hot and stressful time of year.
Hope this helps. Let me know if you need anything further.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Amy Goldman's "The Heirloom Tomato" release at Marders Nursery

If anyone is going to be out on the eastern end of Long Island this weekend please come and join us as we help celebrate the release of Amy Goldman's much anticipated new book The Heirloom Tomato. A book signing and reception will be taking place at Marder's Nursery Saturday evening, August 9th, from 5-7pm. Marders Nursery is located in Bridgehampton on Snake Hollow Road. For more information about Marders, visit their website. Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Michael Pollan at PS1/MOMA

For Immediate Release:

Michael Pollan
‘Taking the Plant's Point of View’

Friday, August 8, 2008
6:30PM: Exclusive HSNY member’s reception
7:00PM: Doors open to the public
7:30PM: Lecture begins
Rain or shine / $5 suggested donation

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
22-25 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, N.Y. 11101
Visit for directions

For the past twenty years, Michael Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where civilization and the natural world intersect. He is one of today’s most influential, revolutionary investigators of what we eat and how plants impact our daily lives and culture. A long-standing supporter of The Horticultural Society of New York, the award-winning author will lecture on-site at P.F.1 (Public Farm One), a quarter-acre working farm currently installed in the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center courtyard. P.F.1 is the vibrant creation of WORK Architecture Company, winners of this year’s MoMA/P.S.1 Young Architects Program competition. With this productive urban farm as a backdrop, Pollan will discuss the power of taking the plant's point of view, what that does for us, and why it's important to solving our environmental problems.

The event is also presented in conjunction with The Horticultural Society of New York’s major exhibition of contemporary art at The UBS Art Gallery, Implant, which riffs on ideas put forth by Pollan. Implant will feature plant-based art in a wide variety of media and will include works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Pipilotti Rist, Peter Coffin and Francesca Woodman among over 40 others. Influenced specifically by Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World (2001) Curator Jodie Vicenta Jacobson’s exhibition concept exposes the plant’s power to infiltrate the artist’s psyche, cleverly immortalizing itself as a work of art.

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, the James Beard Award for best food writing, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author A Place of My Own (1997) and Second Nature (1991). A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine among other prestigious publications, Pollan is the Knight Professor of Journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley and Director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism. His most recent book is titled In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008).

Coinciding with P.S.1’s courtyard presentation of P.F.1, The Horticultural Society of New York Gallery will feature architectural models, live-plant sculptures, preparatory drawings, photo-documentation and ephemera from the project. Through September 5, 2008.

Founded in 1900, The Horticultural Society of New York (HSNY) is at the forefront of New York City’s environmental well being. Our innovative multi-use headquarters provide resources for urban gardeners, plant enthusiasts, visual artists and green technology professionals. We promote the art and science of horticulture and its vital role in contemporary life, to diverse communities through out New York. Our outreach programs bring environmental literacy to public school children; gardens and urban agriculture to seniors and residents with special needs and vocational training to men, women and adolescents incarcerated on Rikers Island.

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center is one of the largest and oldest organizations in the United States solely devoted to contemporary art. Established in 1976 by Alanna Heiss, P.S.1 originated from The Institute for Art and Urban Resources, a not-for-profit organization with a mission of turning abandoned, underutilized buildings in New York City into artist studios and exhibition spaces. P.S.1 became an affiliate of The Museum of Modern Art in 2000. In 2004, P.S.1 launched the world's first Internet art radio station, Art Radio, and Michael Pollan’s talk will be made available there as free streaming audio on-demand.

JOIN HSNY TODAY FOR AN EXCLUSIVE CHANCE TO MEET MICHAEL POLLAN! For a limited time only, you can join HSNY for a special rate of just $25! You’ll gain access to our exclusive reception with Michael Pollan, and you’ll enjoy all the year-long benefits of HSNY Membership. To take advantage of this offer, visit the membership page or call 212-757-0915 x121 and join at the $25 student level (no student ID required for a limited time). But hurry, this special rate ends August 6th!

This program is made possible in part by a grant from Con Edison.
P.S.1 gratefully acknowledges the assistance of The Horticultural Society of New York in providing expertise and maintenance for Public Farm 1.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

IMPLANT Exhibition Opening August 7th

The UBS Art Gallery and The Horticultural Society of New York
request the pleasure of your company at the Opening Reception for
Darren Almond, Lothar Baumgarten, Judith Belzer, Dale Berning, Carol Bove, Stan Brakhage, Julia Margaret Cameron, Ian Campbell, Nick Cave, Caw + Ng, Peter Coffin, Sharon Core, Ann Craven, Tacita Dean, William Eggleston, Roe Ethridge, Jane Freilicher, Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Amy Granat, Zach Harris, Susannah Hewlett, Carsten Höller, Katie Holten, Ellsworth Kelly, Karen Kilimnik, David Melrose, Jude Miller, John O, Hiroko Ohno, Dennis Oppenheim, Edgar Orlaineta, Gabriel Orozco, Guiseppe Penone, Pipilotti Rist, Gino Saccone, Jim Sams, Hiraki Sawa, Roman Signer, Simon Starling, Hellen Van Meene, Klaus Weber, James Welling, Carol Woodin, Francesca Woodman.

Thursday, August 7, 2008, 6:00 to 8:00 pm
This exhibition is curated by Jodie Vicenta Jacobson for The Horticultural Society of New York
The UBS Art Gallery
1285 Avenue of the Americas
(between 51st and 52nd Streets)
New York City

Exhibition on view August 7, 2008 through October 31, 2008 at The UBS Art Gallery.

Gallery hours: Monday — Friday 8:00am to 6:00pm

Implant is organized by The Horticultural Society of New York and sponsored by UBS.

Felix Gonzalez–Torres, “Untitled” (Alice B. Toklas’ and Gertrude Stein’s Grave, Paris), 1992. Framed C-print. 29 1/4 x 36 1/4 in. Image: 15 3/5 x 23 1/4 in. Edition of 4, 1 AP. Photo: Peter Muscato. © The Felix Gonzalez–Torres Foundation. Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.