There is never a dull season at Belgian Nursery. Even when the temperature drops and that weird white stuff appears on the ground again, new plant shipments are arriving in our greenhouses that we simply cannot get in the spring and summer! Every plant has its season to shine, and these beauties just happen to prefer the shorter days of fall and winter to show us what they’re made of:
Autumn! An amazing season filled with gorgeous colours, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin spiced everything. While the cooler temperatures are a pleasant change from the summer heat, your tropical houseplants will need to spend their days and nights indoors until next summer. Here are our top tips for transitioning your trops:
When: We like to use Labour Day as a reminder to bring all of our tropicals indoors, though you can bring them in any time before the mercury drops below 10°C. This is especially important for those night-time temperatures that can potentially damage or stress your plants.
It’s amazing how plants can take such simple ingredients – sunlight, water, soil, air – and turn them into a four-course meal. But sometimes they need a little boost to keep up that vitality, and that’s where fertilizers and other soil additives come in. They’re like multivitamins for your plants, and just like the vitamin shelves at the pharmacy there are LOTS of options out there! Hopefully, the following can help you sort out which fertilizer/additive/combination is right for your plants.
The topic of fertilizing is a large, open-ended category since it literally means anything added to the soil, but we’ll keep the manures and peat moss to another blog. For now, we’ll focus on the three big letters: N, P, and K.
We are all about proper plant care here at Belgian, so we try to carry items you’ll need to keep your plants happy and thriving. But what exactly is vermiculite? Do you really need to add charcoal to your pots? Which potting soil is best for which plants? So let’s shed some light on our Bagged Goods:
Potting Soils – use for both indoor and outdoor pots, planters, hanging baskets, etc.
All-Purpose: our “yellow” and “purple” bags are from two Canadian suppliers, Fafard and Lambert. Fafard/Yellow can be used for nearly any indoor and outdoor container planting need. Lambert/Purple is a lighter mixture thanks to its slightly higher peat moss content, and very similar to what we grow all of our Annual crops (and African Violet soil that used to be available years ago); it’s great for indoor planting, seeding, and propagating.
“Excuse me, how long before this *insert tropical variety name* needs to be repotted?”
We get this question all the time, and depending on the particular plant our answer is usually “not for a while yet”. It’s a bit vague, yes, but it also means that you don’t need to worry about finding a larger home for your 4” Croton right away.
It’s easy to get excited about your new houseplants, and of course you want to give them the best home possible. So why not save some time and energy by putting that 4” Ficus into a 16” pot – it’ll grow into it, right? No, sorry, but that’s not how indoor houseplants work. Repotting Tropicals is like buying shoes for young kids: eventually they’ll need those size 13 sneakers, but not when they’re 4 years old.
Whale, whale, whale, what do we see in our front Cactus display garden? It’s a Whale Fin Snake Plant, a rare member of the Sanseveria/Snake Plant family! And we’ve been able to propagate this fin-tastic specimen into ‘slightly’ more manageable pots so you can take one home for your own collection!
(Side note: we will try our best to keep the oceanic puns to a minimum. Sea how many you can find!)
Adorable! Compact! Borderline indestructible! These are just some of the terms that describe Haworthia, one of the most incredible succulents we have in our Cactus & Succulent House. If you’re looking to expand your growing houseplant collection, or are brand new to indoor gardening and looking for a cute yet forgiving plant friend, Haworthia is an excellent choice!
Whether it was from cooking a meal or staying out in the sun too long, we’ve all known the pain of skin burns (the worst is a toss-up: bacon grease or car seat belts in July). And after we curse the hot stove/sun/ourselves, we all go for the same remedy: Aloe Vera. That goopy stuff goes on and we all breathe a deep sigh of instant, cool relief. And you can have a pot of continuous burn relief in your own home!
Aloe Vera is a beautiful plant, and we all know one when we see it: long, upright green leaves filled with oozing yet oh-so comforting gel. Young plants will have yellow-green spots on their leaves, while more mature plants turn solid green and can have jagged teeth-like ridges running up and down the sides of their foliage. Check out these tips for keeping these desert dwelling beauties healthy and thriving, and wander through our Cactus & Succulent House to find your own personal stash of burn relief!
Looking for a houseplant that is both a statement piece AND has the potential to live for several decades? One that requires very little maintenance, is slow growing, loves a bright and sunny spot, and actually wants you to forget to water it? Sounds like you’re looking for a Jade plant!
Jade (or Crassula) plants are known for their rounded, succulent green leaves and thick, woody stems. They can have several stems in a single pot, or have a main “trunk” which can support multiple branches just like a tree! It originates from the desert regions of southeast Africa and will thrive when given a similar environment: plenty of bright, direct sunlight and allowing the soil to dry out very, very well between deep waterings. They are also incredibly slow growing, sometimes only growing an inch or two per year, which means it can stay in its current pot for much longer than other houseplants.
It seems like our beloved Cactus & Succulent House has always been an attraction of Belgian Nursery; most people can’t remember a time when it didn’t exist! And the story of this its creation is truly heartwarming, pun intended:
The Cactus & Succulent House was once simply Greenhouse #5, where Belgian used to grow rotating crops of geraniums, cyclamen, and poinsettias. It was just like the other greenhouses: about 5,400 sq. ft. of low benches filled with whichever crop was coming into season. But then Luc and Rosie decided to go on a well deserved vacation to Aruba, where they fell in love with the island’s unique tranquility and dreamt of bringing paradise back to southwestern Ontario. Plans to add cacti displays to the Tropical House were already in the works, but the entire structure would have to be extended or widened or both. So, they looked at greenhouse #5 and said “Yes!” Rosie immediately started to sketch a rough floor plan of her dream desert oasis, and together with Luc they made a solid plan. Then, the renovations began…
So you’ve filled your house with gorgeous tropical plants, and you’re well on your way to achieving your goals of creating an indoor climate that in no way reflects what is actually happening outside your window (snow? Sleet? Never heard of ‘em.) And yes, plants and people alike can adapt and thrive when placed beyond their natural environments, but there needs to be a balance; your sun-loving citrus probably won’t be happy in your dark basement and will cry for help something changes.
This balance is especially important during the fall and winter months, when our friend the Sun starts working on reduced hours. You’ll probably find that your collection of once lush and lively tropical houseplants will start looking, well, less lively during this time. We’ve all gone from getting 15+ hours of bright, gorgeous sunlight in summer down to not-quite-zero, and whatever UV rays we can get will be considerably weaker. What does all of this mean for our plants? Simply put:
Less Sunlight = Less Energy Consumed = Less Growth = Less Frequent Watering
Tropicals will naturally slow down in the lower light of winter, adjusting to the seasonal changes by allowing their older leaves to yellow/brown or even drop them altogether to conserve energy. We call this phenomenon “having tropical houseplants during a Canadian winter” and it’s completely normal and happens to all of us.Plus, it’s not just less sunlight that houseplants have to deal with; there’s also higher indoor temperatures coupled with lower humidity (baseboard heaters and furnaces keep us cozy warm, but they really do a number on moisture levels). So what can we do?
Adjust your Watering Schedule! (see equation above)
Every home environment is different, so no watering schedule can be set in stone.
Check your plants daily or weekly depending on variety by either testing the soil moisture with your finger (to about your second knuckle) or judge by weight: once your plant has been watered thoroughly and any excess water has been drained away, lift the pot to see how heavy it is. From here you can judge when that particular plant is too light and needs to be watered.
We recommend watering from the top until you see water coming out of the pot’s drainage hole – this not only ensures a thorough watering every time, but will also flush away any unwanted build-up on the roots.
Many tropical houseplants prefer a humid environment (check your varieties to be sure). Plants like ferns and palms will love a daily misting, and all you need is a simple spray bottle.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT USE SOFTENED OR TREATED WATER FOR ANY OF YOUR PLANTS! Using softened water can cause irreparable damage. Use HARD WATER whenever possible.
Light: Rotate plants that are against a wall, in a corner, or tightly grouped for even light distribution.
Temperature: Avoid hot or cold drafts, such as an unheated sunroom, and try not to place your houseplants near heat registers or exterior doors.
Pruning: The best time to prune tropicals is usually spring and/or late fall; check your specific varieties.
There’s just something about the look of foliage in hanging baskets that makes a space…peaceful, I think. It’s as if suspending a tropical houseplant above our heads somehow releases it from the confines of space and time, and allows growth and gravity to do their own thing at their own pace. Plus, it frees up more space on our shelves and tables for more plants so, you know, bonus!
While many tropical varieties do best when positioned firmly on solid ground, there are so many others that love an elevated setting in our homes and offices. For sun-loving succulents, such as the fan-favourites Burro’s Tail and String of Pearls, hanging them directly in a bright south-facing window means they can treat themselves to a sunlight buffet without having to compete with neighbouring plants. If your windows are more on the morning sun/lower light side, or if you’ve got lots of space to hang but without a direct view, there are plenty of tropical varieties that thrive on less sunlight. Have you seen how a Pothos or Philodendron can turn a plain corner into a lush jungle paradise? Trust me, it’s magical!
When it comes to hanging plants, there are a few important factors to consider:
Succulents are, in a word, amazing. They have thousands of varieties within multiple plant families, ranging from tiny Living Stones (lithops) to healing Aloe and woody Jade trees. They even range across temperature zones, and include relatives like the perennial Hen ‘n Chicks (Sempervivum) and annual Purslane (Portulaca). That means that, even in Canada, you can have a Succulent in every part of your home, inside and out! But for the sake of this blog, we’ll keep our focus on the houseplant varieties that are a staple feature in our Cactus & Succulent House.
Succulents, like their prickly cousin the Cactus, are xenophytes which means they have adapted to survive in the harshest and driest climates on the planet. Their name derives from the Latin sucus meaning “juice” or “sap” and, obviously, pertains to their juicy foliage. They use their thick foliage, as well as their stems, to store moisture in order to survive the long periods of drought that often plague their natural habitats. And since the deserts are also very high on the UV Index, they’ve even developed their own sunscreen! Many varieties have a dust-like layer of farina, or epicuticular wax, on their thick skin which helps protect the plant from sunburns. And like their Cacti cousins, Succulents further conserve water by waiting until the cool nights to exhale oxygen into the atmosphere.
If you’ve visited Belgian Nursery any time in the past 25+ years, you may have noticed that we love Cacti. Not just “they’re okay” love or “on the same level as my mom’s noodle casserole” love; we LOVE Cacti to the point that we dedicate over 5,000 square feet to them! And Succulents too, can’t forget about the not-so-prickly buddies, but they’ll get the spotlight in another blog. For now, we’re entering the world of deserts and thorns!
From a strictly botanical point of view, Cacti are some of the most incredible plants in existence. Unlike Succulents that can track their origins from many different plant families, all Cacti are from the same botanical family, Cactaceae. Think about it: a single family has produced hundreds and hundreds of unique specimens that can be found all over the world. And every one of those distant cousins and great-aunt-by-marriage relations is unique in its size, shape, spine production, everything! Oh, and they’ve been around for over 30 million years, give or take a millennium.
Versatile! Striking! Easy care! Clean air! These are just some words that pop into our heads when we think of Sansevieria, aka Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue. Their foliage comes in a wide range of heights, shapes, colours, and colour combinations, but one of their most appealing qualities may be that they can handle just about any type of light condition. So if you’ve been searching for a houseplant for your dimly lit office/basement/wherever, go for a Snake Plant!
Not only can Snake Plants handle very low light conditions, they’re typically slow-growers (especially in low light) so they have a very controlled growth habit. This makes them the perfect fit for an empty corner or on a desk in your office, since their rigid foliage doesn’t take up any more real estate than the pot it’s in. If you do have a bright, sunny area, try to place your Snake Plant away from the window, since too much direct sunlight can burn their foliage.
The term “easy care” was mentioned earlier, and this is not an exaggeration. Sansevieria prefer to dry out very well between deep waterings, almost to the point of a cactus or succulent; they can even handle being planted in Cactus Soil! And that’s it, that’s the level of care they need. Did we mention that there’s no need to prune? Snip off the rare flower stem as it appears and that will be the only time you’ll need your pruners. You can give them an all-purpose fertilizer every 4th watering (remember that you’ll be extending the amount of time between waterings during the lower light of fall and winter) but the rest of the time they’re quite happy to just sit in their pot looking gorgeous!
No visit to Belgian Nursery is complete without exploring our Cactus & Succulent House. The 5,400 sq. ft. greenhouse, which had previously been used to grow geraniums, has been filled with cacti, succulents, aloe, agave, and other desert dwellers since the 1990s! It’s been a source of pride for all of us, especially owners Rosie and Luc without whom this desert oasis would never have existed. Read More
We are of the opinion that there is no such thing as having too many succulents, as you can clearly see from our Cactus & Succulent House. They’re adorable, they thrive on near-criminal neglect, and best of all they are ridiculously easy to propagate! All you need is a pair of sharp, clean scissors and some newspaper and your collection can expand beyond your wildest dreams!
Before you dive into the propagating steps below, here’s a helpful hint for most trailing succulents, especially the popular Burro’s Tail: Make sure your plant is DRY before cutting! We’re talking bone-dry, to the point of soil breaking away from the pot DRY. The plant is more likely to have a death-grip on its leaves in this state, which means you can end up with something more than just a bare stick.
Having a piece of desert beauty in the home and office is something very special. We are reminded of dry, hot weather, otherwise known as the opposite of a Canadian winter. But if these plants are so alien to our climate, can they really survive and thrive in the average home north of the 49? Of course they can! Just follow these basic guidelines and you’ll be living in a desert oasis in no time:
Cacti and Succulents have been very trendy for years now, and no wonder! They ask for so little and yet offer us so much through their amazing array of shapes, sizes, colours, and even style of spines (those prickly things that make a cactus, well, a cactus). There are thousands of species and varieties in existence, and while we here at Belgian would love to have one of each to call our very own, even our 5,400 sq. ft. Cactus & Succulent House isn’t big enough to hold all of them! Even so, we are able to showcase many, many varieties in our selection of individual pots and dish gardens, as well as in our display gardens.