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THE INDOOR GARDENER

Bonsai Evergreen Will Do Better Outdoors

September 29, 1996|JOEL RAPP | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I'm confused about bonsai plants. Can they be grown indoors or must they be grown outdoors? Please answer as soon as possible as I just received a beautiful little bonsai evergreen tree and I don't know where to put it.

ANSWER: Put it outside in a spot where it gets sunlight at least four or five hours a day. Whether a bonsai plant must be grown inside or outside depends on what type of plant material has been used to make the bonsai.

Most bonsai plants are created from outdoor plant material--evergreens, azaleas, bougainvillea, maples, etc. In fact, I rarely run across a genuine "indoor" bonsai plant. Your evergreen tree belongs outside, so bring it inside only when you want to show it off as living sculpture for company.

Get the Best Mix When Making Potting Soil Q: I'm one of those people who likes to make my own potting mix. I use a mixture of garden loam (sterilized), peat moss and perlite. Somebody told me I could use sawdust instead of peat moss and save same money. What would you recommend?

A: I recommend buying a commercial potting mix--it's almost as inexpensive and obviously less hassle. But if you really like making your own, don't substitute sawdust for peat moss. Sawdust is cheap, but it degrades rapidly. As it degrades, it may cause nutritional problems for the plants. It also tends to settle and impede drainage in the container.

Young Rock Lovers Like This Easy-Care Plant Q: I was visiting a friend recently and saw the most amazing plants in her 10-year-old's room: He had a small bowl of smooth, dappled stones--most of which turned out to be what he called "living rocks"--little plants that looked exactly like rocks. Could you please tell me what these are called and where to get some?

A: Believe it or not, they're called "living rocks," (Lithops spp.) and you can find them at any good nursery that carries a stock of cactus and succulents. Living rocks are flat or round-topped succulents that are part of one of the most fascinating groups in the plant kingdom. There are dozens of varieties but all look remarkably like little stones.

I've seen Lithops arranged with real rocks so that only the closest inspection will reveal which are the "dead" rocks and which are the living ones. Care for these plants is simple:

Give them bright sunlight and water when the soil is bone dry. Kids especially love these plants, and because they need only minimal care, they're a perfect way to start a young 'un on his or her journey down the garden path.

How to Get the Cat to Stop Chewing Leaves Q: I have a cat that insists on chewing on my plants' leaves. I know dieffenbachia are poisonous to pets, so I don't have any of those. My two questions: Is there any way to stop my cat from eating the plants, and are there any other poisonous houseplants that I should avoid buying?

A: Cats chew on plants because they need the chlorophyll. (Outside, they'll nibble on grass and other greenery.) Get a small plant, preferably a dwarf palm, and put it by the cat's litter box. Sprinkle a teeny tad of catnip on the plant, and that should keep the kitty happy.

Other houseplants toxic to pets include asparagus fern, cyclamen, hibiscus, hydrangea and schefflera.

For a complete list of poisonous-to-pets plants and the symptoms they cause, send a self-addressed stamped envelope marked "Poison" to the Indoor Gardener at the address at the bottom of this column.

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In response to a letter and photograph from a reader in San Pedro: The sad plant in the picture is--or was--a string-of-pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). Looking at what's left of the reader's Senecio reminded me how often people try desperately to nurse a pathetic half-dead plant back to health. I know it's sad to have to discard a plant, but usually it's better to send it on to the Great Greenhouse in the Sky than to try to coax it back to life. Plants die. It happens. Buy a new plant to take its place. Don't waste time nurturing a twig.

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Are your palms pooping? Are your ferns flopping? Send your houseplant questions to the Indoor Gardener in care of the Real Estate section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Questions cannot be answered individually.

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