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Botanist's Lens: Novice Gardeners' Indoor Treats

Mums, asters and pansies have filled up nurseries to the brim, and many are already blooming in garden beds as fall prep. Around this time, nurseries also bring in many indoor delights other than just tropical foliage. Out of the many indoor choices, two plants that caught my attention right away this fall were the easy to care for ornamental Chili peppers and the ever so exotic and regal looking Bromeliads. Both these plants are excellent choices for any adventurous novice gardeners to try their green thumbs.

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing with you many indoor treasures, but let’s begin the indoor treats series with two of these easy to grow: 'Capsicum annuum- Prairie fire' and 'Aechmea fasciata'. Of all the Bromeliads, Aechmea is considered to be easy to care for. You just have to remember to fill up its tank!

What is a tank in a plant? Plant species are extremely diverse with variety of different growth habits. Bromeliads have a special growth habit wherein the plants foliage grows without a stem. The sturdy thick leaves form a rosette forming a tight cup that is called its ‘tank’ or ‘urn’ at the top, which needs to be filled up with water for the plant to survive. The plants set out a flower stalk that is mostly towards the end of its life cycle. Once the flower stalk matures, it can be carefully cut back to push the plant to send out more vegetative growth.

The mother plant forms new baby plants at the base, commonly called 'pups'. Each individual pup can make a whole new plant. Another interesting fact about Bromeliads is that they take in nutrients from the foliage instead of its base. When grown indoors, it could use a foliar spray fertilizer once in a year. The soil type to use is similar to a cactus/Orchid plant. It prefers bright but filtered sunlight. Also, when grown indoors, the top urn/tank water will need to be replaced every couple of months. When outdoors in zone 10-11 for example, rain water flushes out the tanks.

When buying a new Aechmea, buy one with young pink bracts and closed blue buds. The blue flowers will fade quickly but the pink bracts lasts for at least 6 months!

There is ample to share about the regal Bromeliads, but nothing compares to seeing them growing down in Florida in the outdoor gardens. With Aechmea being a nursery favorite, it is now easy to bring in a reminder of the hot sunny zones to treat your senses during the dreary cold weather days.

But what could top the hot capsaicin in the 'Prairie fire' beauty of the Capsicum family! As hot as these peppers are and as bright as their colors are, they are tender and shouldn't be kept outdoors below 55°F. They are best as indoor plants. If you regularly pinch their new growth, it helps the plant to get more bushy. As the fruits mature, enjoy the reds, oranges and purple shades, all on one single plant! Instead of the regular mums, try ornamental cabbages with ornamental chilies for an artistic flare to your planters.

Follow us for more 'indoor treats series' as we get closer to the cooler weather. For now, enjoy the warm weather and plant while you still can!

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