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Gardening : ASK THE INDOOR GARDENER : Zebra Plant Requires a Trimming

<i> Rapp is a Los Angeles free-lance writer</i> ,<i> the gardening editor of Redbook magazine and is heard Sunday mornings on KGIL radio</i>

QUESTION: When I was in the hospital recently, I received a zebra plant as a gift. When I took it home it was full and bushy and had a beautiful yellow flower. Less than two months later the flower has died and all the lower leaves have fallen off. What did I do wrong and is there anything I can do to save it?

ANSWER: Nothing, and yes. The zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa), with its glossy, emerald-green leaves marked with creamy white veins, can be the star of your plant menagerie when it first arrives bearing a gorgeous, yellow flower, spike shaped and tipped with green.

Even if you give your zebra plant proper care--lots of filtered western or southern sunlight, keep it moist at all times, and feed it weekly with a liquid houseplant food--it will thrive for only a month or two and then the flower will die and the lower leaves will begin to drop off. The end result: A tall, stalky plant with a mere tuft of foliage at the top.

Unless you like this very sculptured look, cut the plant’s succulent brown stem back to about six inches above the top of the soil. The foliage should begin to return over the course of the summer, and if you follow the care instructions above, the plant should produce new blooms every year.

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Bird-of-Paradise Grows Indoors With Patience

Q: A couple of weeks ago I saw a bird-of-paradise being sold as a houseplant in a local nursery. I thought they were only outdoor plants, but the nurseryperson assured me the plant would bloom indoors. Will it?

A: If you do everything right, and have a little bit of luck, yes, your bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae) will eventually bloom. And I do mean eventually. It takes at least six or seven years for a bird-of-paradise to bloom indoors, so in this case patience is not only a virtue, it’s a must. Keep it in bright light, keep the soil moist keep the humidity high, and keep your spirits up. Once it starts blooming, the plant will bloom year after year.

Making Stem Cuttings From Pothos Simple

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Q: I’ve got a pothos plant with vines hanging down practically to the floor. I’d like to cut them off and start new plants. What’s the procedure?

A: There’s nothing easier in the whole horticultural world than making stem cuttings, especially from a pothos or a philodendron. Simply cut a piece of stem from the plant, right above a leaf node, using sharp scissors or a single-edged razor blade.

Plant the stem either in damp vermiculite or directly into a glass of water. The advantage of using vermiculite, a commercially available rooting mixture which must be kept damp at all times, is that the root system will go slightly stronger than the one that forms in water.

Rooting your cuttings in water is more fun, though, because you can actually see the roots forming and growing. And here’s something that’s even more fun, especially for children: In the case of plants like pothos, philodendron, nephthytis, Chinese evergreen, and dracaena, cuttings can be kept growing in water alone for up to and sometimes more than a year!

Care and Feeding of the Venus Fly-Trap

Q: I recently bought my son a little Venus fly-trap in a small plastic box. How should I take care of it?

A: The Venus flytrap is the legendary queen of the carnivorous plants, as well as the insatiable, saber-toothed central character of “The Little Shop of Horrors.”

The leaf at the end of each stem is divided into two halves, each with tiny “teeth” that close when “hairs” on the inside of the leaf are agitated. Insects, lured into the mouth of the plant by color and scent, are clamped into an inescapable trap where enzymes digest them and keep the plant thriving.

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The best place to grow a Venus fly-trap is in a terrarium like the little plastic box you bought it in. This will protect the plant from dry, killing air, and you from its snapping jaws! Grow the plant in sphagnum moss instead of soil and remember to keep the moss damp.

In captivity, the Venus flytrap will have to be fed from time to time. You can either give it a fly or tiny bits of hamburger. Children get a great kick out of tickling the inside of a Venus flytrap with a matchstick or some such and watching the jaws clamp shut.


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