Difficult Indoor

Plants Acalypha

Aphelandra

In the pasl many of the subjects in this section would have been referred to as 'stove plants', which meant that they required very hot greenhouse conditions in order to succeed - with recommended temperatures of 30°C (85°F) often being quoted as essential if plants were to prosper. Fortunately, the need to economize with heating in recent years has proved that many of the stove subjects will tolerate temperatures that are much lower than those recommended in older books on the subject. However, it must be added that tender plants will seldom do well in temperatures of less than I6°C (60°F) - they may well survive, but one would not expect to sec much in the way of new growth. And new growth, seeing plants grow and prosper, is the principal reason lor purchasing living plants as opposed to plastic or imitation ones.

The higher the temperature maintained indoors then the dryer the atmospheric conditions will become, and dry air conditions can be particularly harmful to many of the more delicate plants. Many pests, particularly red spider mites, will also thrive where the conditions are warm and dry. Therefore it is important to provide a moist material such as peat or moss into which plant pots can be plunged keeping the plunging material moist will obviate the need for loo frequent watering. It will also help to maintain a degree of moistness around the plants if the foliage is occasionally sprayed over with a light mist-type sprayer when conditions tend to be very warm.

This can be one of the most challenging of indoor plants for the householder who has little more than average conditions at his disposal. Oddly enough, when growing in moist and warm greenhouse conditions that appeal to it acalypha can be almost invasive in the way it produces new leaves. So it would seem natural that the indoor gardener should, as far as possible, endeavour to emulate the conditions of his mote favoured greenhouse-owning neighbour, and that is to provide warm, moist and shaded conditions at all times for his plant. Not easy in the majority of homes, but much can be done to offset the dry atmospheric conditions that these plants so abhor by plunging the pots in larger containers that have been tilled with moist peat. Increase by cuttings taken in late winter and spring and rooted in a propagator.

Dry conditions, besides being less conducive to healthy growth, will also provide an excellent breeding ground for red spider mites which will quickly reduce acalyphas to an untidy mess of dead and dying brown leaves. Discoloration of the foliage and browning of the leaf edges with a generally dry overall appearance to the plant is an indication of red spider attack.

Favoured with two common names, chenille plant and red-hot cat's tail, the principal attraction of Acalypha hispida is the tail-like flowers, red in colour, that are produced in quantity by mature plants. There are other kinds with highly coloured foliage that are especially decorative. These go by the common name of copperleaf and are forms of A. wilkesiana (syn. A. tricolor).

If treated as a flowering plant that is purchased and enjoyed for its beauty over the fairly long summer-flowering period only, then the aphelandra is probably not one of the most difficult of plants to care for. In these circumstances the plants are best kept in good light with some protection from strong, direct sunlight, and in a reasonable temperature. It is also important, in any event, to ensure that aphelandra plants do not at any time dry out at their roots, as this will almost assuredly result in loss of leaves and general deterioration of the plant. It is also of the utmost importance that aphelandra plants are fed regularly from the time of purchase.

One good reason for aphelandra plants being difficult indoors is that they develop a strong and vigorous root system that requires ample nourishment in the way of regular fertilizing. Should you wish to keep plants from one season to the next then, as well as feeding, it will be essential to pot the plant on into a larger container immediately after flowering. A thin, or very peaty compost will be totally inadequate, so use either John Innes potting compost No. 2 or 3. depending on the size of the plant - the lower number for smaller plants. After flowering and pripr to potting on remove the dead flowers by cutting the main stem of the plant back to a good pair of leaves new growth will then develop from the leaf axils. Cuttings with two good pairs of leaves may be rooted in a heated propagator.

The varieties of Aphelandra squarrosu are the ones usually offered, notably A.s. louisae and A. s. Brockfeld.

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