Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Pee-Wee Effect

I have been hesitant to write on my plant blog about my bad experiences or flat out failures in raising plants.  I felt that someone who has a plant blog needs to appear to know what they are doing.  But I guess we are all experimenting and I don’t think PETP (People for the Ethical Treatment of Plants) will come after me if I share some of my more trying moments with my friend, Kingdom Plantae.

I live in zone 7A.  This region can get pretty cold during the winter – dropping to around 0 degrees Fahrenheit on occasion.  Needless to say, tropical plants must be brought indoors.  Unfortunately, I don’t (yet) have a greenhouse and my house is not well-suited to keeping hoards of plants over the winter.  My window space is limited and I have some beautiful large trees in my yard which pretty effectively scatter a lot of sunlight before it can make it in the window.  So, I’m limited on where I can put plants in the house over the winter.  It’s a bit of a struggle to keep everything alive until it gets warm again and I can put all my plants back out for some fresh air, circulation, real rain and warm sunshine.  I really should experiment with artificial lighting, but I only this year put most of my plants in one concentrated place where this would be effective.

Anyway, in this little house of mine, live myself, my wife, 2 aquariums with plants and fish, approximately a hundred plants – and 2 dogs.  Those last 2 inhabitants add yet another restriction to where I can place my plants indoors (and outside as well).

I was reading a blog post about Zamioculcas zamiifolia today at Plants are the Strangest People.  [PATSP is an excellent and entertaining blog, so you should check it out.]  In the post, the writer says that ‘ZZ plants’ rarely do anything and they don’t require any grooming since dead leaves are so rare.  I was just thinking about how this plant is nearly indestructible – and yet, I have a couple of dead leaves on my plant.  I felt kind of embarrassed at first, thinking I might be the only person in history who has had trouble keeping a ‘ZZ plant’ – although I’m sure that’s not true.  Then I remembered why my ‘ZZ plant’ has its brown leaves.

And that, my friends, leads us to “the Pee-Wee effect.”  My two canine daughters are a 70ish pound Boxer named Pippa and a 15ish pound Boston Terrier named Pee-Wee.

Pippa and Pee-Wee playing when Pee-Wee was a newborn puppy
Both of our pups been known to chomp a leaf from time to time, but Pippa is usually more trust-worthy than the younger, hyper and erratic Pee-Wee.  My wife and I affectionately refer to Pee-Wee as “the pig” [really it is affection], because of her little round, pink belly and her common snorting noises.  Most of Pippa’s attacks came when she was younger and less mature.


My ZZ plant’s browning leaves were most likely brought on by an assault by Pee-Wee.  There are some little perforations in the affected leaves that could only have been made by the little pig.  If it had been Pippa, there wouldn’t be a plant left.  She destroys all evidence.

Anyway, the “effect” of Pee-Wee’s random plant chewing is almost always that I lose the affected leaves.  I usually don’t do anything after she has messed with one of my plants, hoping that the plant will remain healthy and just have some new features.  I probably should just immediately snip off the affected leaves, though.

Pippa in front of the Christmas tree

Pee-Wee driving the boat

Pee-Wee pretending to be incapable of any wrongdoing


Other plants that Pee-Wee has attacked include my Aglaonema ‘Maria’, a bromeliad, a pineapple plant (also a bromeliad), a coconut palm, and a gerbera daisy.  She actually managed to eat the bromeliad and pineapple plant, but she only damaged a couple of leaves on the other plants.  This summer, the pig ripped a leaf (with attached stem) off of my Monstera deliciosa 'Borsigiana' and left it lying on the back porch.  I stuck the leaf in water (about 4 inches across with a 10 inch stem) and was surprised to see two fleshy roots appear within a week or so.  So, in one case (and one case only) Pee-Wee has actually helped me propagate a plant.


This year, I have managed to move all plants out of their reach.  I built a small shelf in the extra bathroom in the house where some more plants can get some bright, indirect light.  And I bought a shelf to put in the laundry room, loaded it down with plants and put a baby gate in front of everything on the floor.  The main bathroom in the house, however, has a number of reachable plants on the floor.  So I have to make sure to keep that door closed whenever I leave the house.  Otherwise, I will be sure to come home to some disappointment.

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