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5 secrets of propagation

How to propagate rare plants? It is exciting and fascinating process - to be a Creator of a rare plant collection. Sometimes when you have a rare plant, you baby it and wish you could have at least two of the kind, just in case you lose one to weather conditions or an accident... If you lose one, it hurts! Plant collectors know the feeling - it is always a good idea to propagate a few more of the rare kind. Here at Top Tropicals we know that feeling too, and we want you to keep your baby plants alive and thriving, multiply them, share with others, and make our planet better - one plant at a time! Know your different plants, and different ways of their propagation. Ready for the secrets revealed?

1. Seeds. The most popular way and in most cases the most reliable. Also, a seedling has a strong, vertical root system (cuttings or air layers have shallow roots). However growing from seed is the only sexual method of propagation (vs other methods - asexual, or cloning), which means, some varieties don't come true from seed. Similar to a baby born from two parents, blonde mother and brunette father, can have either light or dark hair... or even red, genetically provided by the great-grand father! The most important factors of success when growing from seed are - well-drained germination mix (check out our Seed Germination Mix #3), and a combination of perfect temperature (high temperature 80-90F induces germination, but some species like it cooler!) and mix moisture level (can't stay soggy).

2. Cuttings. In most cases, works great as long as you know the secret for this method: clean (sterile) soil mix (check out our Propagation Mix #2), warm temperatures and very high air humidity (not moist soil, but humid air!). Mist house works well (see picture) with periodically controlled foggers (5-20 sec of fog every 5 to 20 min during light time - depending on species, and temperature), but simple clear plastic bag over a pot or tray works as well! Large leaves should be trimmed in half, or more, to eliminate extra evaporation, and soil should be only slightly moist, not soggy. Remember to use rooting hormone that not only improves rooting but keeps away fungus problems. You are welcomed to visit mist house in our facility, we will be happy to share experience.

3. Air Layers. From our experience, key to success with this method is patience. Most air layers take a few months to set root. Keep sphagnum moss moist, and create air layers only during active growth season - Sprint through Summer. Use rooting hormone.

4. Grafting. This method requires the most skills and experience but is not as difficult as it sounds. Plants can be grafted withing the same genus (e.g. one Gardenia sp. on another Gardenia sp.). There are many grafting manuals on internet. Try once, and you will get addicted to grafting! In many cases it is the most effective method. Especially when seeds not available and cuttings don't work with the species, while grafting works much faster than air-layering. The main secret in grafting is using the right type of graft, which comes with experience. Another important thing is keeping grafting parts and tools clean/sterile. Treat/clean surfaces with anti-fungicides horticultural soap (Example: Abound anti-fungal, Green Shield soap) and use rooting hormone.

5. Root divisions. All gardeners know that some plants are best to propagate by rhizome/root divisions, like Gingers, Heliconias, or Iris. And not everyone knows that some fruiting and flowering trees don't mind to reproduce by root divisions. For example, Jujube - Ziziphus jujuba, and Strawberry tree - Muntingia calabura, readily produce root suckers. Watch out for them and don't let them go to waist when spraying weeds. All time favorites, fragrant Clerodendrums also like this easy method of reproduction, especially C. bungei, C. philippinum, and many others.

Check out our Growing supplies section for professional soil mixes and drainage components that are so important in your propagation success. At Top Tropicals, we often use Coconut Coir for propagation. Good luck in your growing, and remember - if you propagated a few extra collectibles, Top Tropicals may trade or buy from you!


Seeds germination in summer

Q: What is the best way to germinate seeds in summer? Should I keep trays indoors or put them outside?

A: Summer is the best growing season for plants, and for their propagation. Seed germination process of tropical plants usually benefits from warm, and even hot temperatures, so keeping pots with seeds outside in full or partial sun can be the best way. However some seeds may be more sensitive than others, or require slightly cooler or higher temperature for germination. These are a few tips that may help:

- For seed germination, use only well drained mixes, containing either peat moss or coconut fiber to retain moisture. Some succulents may require adding sand to the germination mix. You may also try our Professional Formula Seed Germination Mix.

- Large tropical seeds, like palms, or seeds of Fabaceae (Bean) family, can be grown in full sun. Their germination will benefit from higher temperatures (up to 90-95F). Make sure to keep soil moist. Cover them well, with 3/4 to 1 inch of soil.

- Fruit seeds (large size) should be germinated either in individual cells or small pots (3-4" diameter).

- Small to medium size seeds can be grown in so-called community pots. Seedlings can be separated after they establish their first roots.

- Tiny seeds should be planted closer to the surface, covered with only 1/4-1/8 inch of soil; some seeds require bright light for germination, so full sun will be a plus. Some small seeds like Ficus for example, prefer to be broadcasted on the surface, uncovered. Put containers with such seeds in bright shade, as you don't want the surface of the soil to dry out.

- Once your seeds sprouted, move them in filtered light - bright to medium shade depending on tenderness of the species. (Gingers prefer shade, while succulent sprouts can stay in brighter light). Regardless of water/sun needs of the species, all young sprouts and first leaves are sensitive to hot sun and may get burned or even killed. Once a baby plant has a few leaves and well-branched root system, you may start moving trays into a brighter light.

- Do not overwater young seedlings, keep soil slightly moist but not soggy.

See full list of available seeds.


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These promotions are good till end of Monday, April 18.


Hot novelty plant for hot Arizona

Q: What plants would you recommend for very hot and dry spot in front of my house that gets full sun all day long? I live in AZ, we recently had a couple good rains but this is going to be it for a long time. It gets so hot during the day that every plant I tried didn't make it. We have a few nice orange trees growing well but I would like to plant something compact, colorful and hopefully fragrant if there is such plant.

A: There is a perfect small size plant for you that is extremely fragrant and yet will be thriving in these conditions. It is the famous Jasmine sambac. It will appreciate dry air of Arizona and will bloom profusely for you in full sun or in partial shade. It doesn't mind heat at all.

For colorful accents, a proven winner is Crown of Thorns - Euphorbia millii. New giant size flower varieties were recently selected in Thailand, and we just received a great selection, look at the colors! These plants don't mind hot sunny location at all. The more sun, the better the bloom! Small plants need regular watering until establish, then once they start developing, they will require less water.

Giant Euphorbia flowers from Thailand are 4-5 times bigger than regular flower euphorbia. Diameter of the flower is around 2". Compare giant flower to normal size - picture on the right.

See full list of plants for hot and dry spots.


Growing by the sea

Q: Please recommend me some interesting plants that can grow on my waterfront property and can withstand some salt wind. All my neighbors have Sea Grape trees and bougainvilleas, and I want something different and special. I would love to have some colorful or fragrant flowers, or fruit around my paradise home.

Q: Considering your neighbors successfully grow Sea Grape (Coccoloba), and Bougainvilleas, you have a mild, frost free climate. There is a number of spectacular and useful tropical plants that are salt tolerant. Orchid Trees - Bauhinias, Poincettia - Delonix, and Geiger trees - Cordias, are very showy flowering trees. For large size bushes, try Dwarf Poincianas - Caesalpinias, and Scarlet-Coral Erythrinas. Frangipani - Plumeria, come in different colors and bring you perfume fragrance from Hawaii. And of course, Desert Roses - Adeniums, can be grown and showy specimens anywhere in your yard, both in the ground or as potted bonsai.

Most palms, especially popular Coconut Palm, source of tasty fruit and drink, are highly tolerant to salt breeze. If you are looking for something that nobody has, Lipstick palm, or Sealing wax palm - Cyrtostachys lakka, is definitely the most spectacular palm you can find. It is a stunning feather palm that develops a brilliantly red trunk. Palm is originally from Malaysia, but has been introduced to Costa Rica and other tropical areas of the world. Sealing Wax Palm seeds are very slow to germinate, up to a year, and large specimens are very rare and hard to find even in rare tropical plant nurseries. This palm will require a good overhead light, and constant warmth (above temperature 55F). It is definitely worth an effort to grow this beauty.

You may add more tropical accents to your landscape by the sea with many varieties of showy heliconias.

See full list of salt tolerant trees.


Jungle on Windowsill 101

Q: I got a Jasmine Sambac and a Tahitian gardenia as presents, they are very cute plants with flowers and flower buds. I would like to be able to keep them alive and hopefully happy for a long time, but I don't know much about growing tropical plants, and I am not sure if my thumb is green enough to make everything right. What do they need? How much sun? How much water? What kind of soil? Sorry for all these (maybe silly) questions, but I want to keep them alive, please help! I live in Wisconsin and we had some snow again last week.

A: Growing tropicals is not a hard work, it is a lot of fun! These plants are actually a good starters for a beginner who wants to try growing tropical plants, no matter if you live in a mild frost-free climate, or up North where you can have these beauties as houseplants. Below are a few simple steps for you:

1. Read. Follow planting instructions included with your plants. Check plant names on the tags and learn more about them from our online catalog.

2. Soil. Plant in quality potting mix - it must be porous and well-drained, never use heavy soils (top soil or garden soil are no-no), in a pot exactly the size of the root system. You can step up your plants in the next size container once you notice vigorous new growth. Next size means: 4" pot can go into 6" pot, 6" pot into 10" pot, etc. Too big of a pot may create rotting environment, root system must fill the entire container to use all the moisture from the soil. Container must have good hole(s) for excess water to drain through. Put the pot in a saucer and get rid of excess water every time after watering.

3. Light. Most tropical plants require lots of light in order to produce flowers. If you ever visited Florida, remember the bright sun? - these are ideal light conditions for tropicals. Up North, provide as much light as possible: a bright spot on a windowsill of Southern or Western exposure would work the best. If the sun gets too hot in summer afternoon, you may shade the window a little bit with a sheet of white paper to avoid leaf burn.

4. Water. Keep soil slightly moist but not soggy. The best way is to wait until the top of the soil feels dry to touch - this is time to water again. Jasmines prefer to stay on a dry side; gardenias do not like soil to dry out - keep them slightly moist as long as soil is very porous and well-drained. The main reason of most problems with potted indoor plants is over watering. With experience, you will feel the right balance of moisture in the soil: the brighter the light, the more water is consumed by a plant; the less light, the less frequent you should water.

5. Trimming. In low light conditions, plants tend to become leggy. Trim branches as they become too long: the more you trim, the busier the plant gets. New growth promotes more profuse blooming in many species.

6. Fertilizing. Fertilize indoor plants with slow-release granulated fertilizer from march to November.

7. Insects. Check for insects at least once a month, especially underneath the leaf. If notice any problems (deformed leaves, residue, holes, or tiny insects) - clean the leaves/stems with a solution of warm water (1 cup), vegetable oil (2 table spoons), and a few drops of a dish soap.

8. Fresh air and air humidity. As soon as air temperature gets above 65F, bring your tropicals outside in the sun and fresh air: porch, balcony, outside in the yard. Air circulation is essential for your plant health. Bright light and high air humidity will promote vigorous growth, and lots of flowers for you to enjoy!

For more information on growing Tropical Plants 101, see Problem solving with potted plants - how can we help them?.


Erblichia or Flor de Fuego - Apricot fragrance and sunny color

Q: I saw this wonderful flower Flor de Fuego on your website and I would like to buy this plant. I am wondering how big this tree will grow and how long will it take until I can smell the lovely flowers? I have a big garden and not much space left, but I still have a few spots available for smaller trees. Also any special care info will be appreciated.

A: Flor de Fuego is a small tree and will fit in any small yard situation. It is very rare in cultivation. This is the newest, most exciting tree to be introduced in the last decade. It said to be one of the most beautiful flowering trees in Central America. It has long narrow leaves and large flowers 6-8" across that smell like apricots. It blooms from late fall through early winter and sometimes through spring. Normally it starts blooming in 2-3 years after planted in the ground. Surprisingly for such a delicate plant, it tolerates poor soils. Once established, it doesn't require any special care other than regular watering and fertilizing during hot months. It does take some effort sometimes to make the tree happy in its new habitat. After planting in the ground, keep your eye on irrigation schedule and do not let soil stay wet, young trees don't like wet feet. In natural habitat, the plant prefers to have a dry period that is beneficial for profuse blooming.

See full size picture of Erblichia tree in full bloom

Click here to buy Flor de Fuego


Spring time fun: fertilizing and pruning

Q: When is a proper time to start fertilizing my garden in Spring? Also, when can I cut back cold damaged branches? Should I wait until end of April?

A: As a rule of thumb, fertilizer can be applied during period of active growth, when a plant needs additional nutrients. With indoor plants, you can fertilize pretty much year round as long as the plant continues growing and not dormant. For in-ground tropical plants, start fertilizing when new growth appears. In subtropical areas, with cooler winter months, most tropical plants slow down their metabolism when temperature drops below 65F. Many of them become dormant, and may even lose leaves (especially deciduous plants like Annona, or Peaches/Plums). In spring, tropical plants wake up as soon as outside temperature stays above 65F for at least one week (including night time). Once you see new growth, this is a signal for you to start fertilizing.

As far as trimming dead branches - wait until you see new leaves completely opened up. This way you won't cut too much, as some parts of the plant may take longer to re-leaf than others.


Growing Exotic Adeniums

Exotic varieties of Desert Roses. Adeniums have many spectacular hybrids. The basic culture is very similar to orchids. A small pot with excellent drainage is a must. Adeniums do not like both over-watering or drying-out. There is a secret how to create a large swollen caudex: raise the plant a bit every time you re-pot it, so that the upper part of roots will be a little exposed. The plant will form more roots that will go down.

To make your plant develop a large swollen base/trunk, you'll need a good quality fertilizer. Fertilizer requirement for swelling up trunks is also used to increase flowering. It shouldn't be too high in nitrogen, the middle number should be the highest (similar to 10-50-10). Never apply fertilizer directly on roots and do not liquid feed when a plant is thirsty: always water first slightly to avoid root burn and leaf drop. Do not wet leaves. Adeniums need lots of light for heavy flowering.

Most hybrids and species start blooming in the spring when the conditions are warm and days get longer, and continue blooming through the fall and winter in warmer climates. Adeniums like a neutral to hard water. Acidic water tends to sour the soil too fast and may cause root rot. Water plants preferably in the early morning, and allow them to drink up throughout the day. Watering can be done daily to every few days. Never allow your plants to sit in a saucer of water, but don't let them to dry out too often - this causes adeniums to go into early dormancy.

Planting instructions for bare-rooted succulent plants. Position the plant in a pot, size of root system. Use only well-drained soil with high content of Perlite and/or sand (cactus mix can be used), water once and keep in warm (75-80F) place in filtered light. Do not water again until soil dries on surface. Once the plant is established and starts growing new leaves (may take a few weeks), gradually move it into brighter light. Then you can start fertilizing it.

See full list of Adeniums - plants and seeds.


Aries - 3/21-4/19. Aries is a FIRE sign ruled by the planet Mars. Plants associated with this element and planet very often have thorns or prickles. They can be also spicy or bitter in flavor, or red in color.

Because Aries rules the head, eyes and face, the plants for Aries purify the blood, stimulate the adrenal glands, and/or are high in iron (Mars rules the mineral iron). Mars-ruled Aries is assertive, energetic and fearless. Mars rules the red blood cells, the muscles, and metabolic processes, as well as the motor nerves and the head. These plants help you when you want more get-up-and-go and the courage to take on the world.

Aries Zodiac lucky plants - Governors plum, Hibiscus Karkade, Tapioca, Mamey Sapote, Ruda, Baobab, Euphorbia, Acanthus, Aloe, Caesalpinia, Erythrina, Opuntia, Dragon Fruit, Pachypodium, Pomegranate, Chilli peppers, Syngonium, Begonia, Geranium, Red Sandalwood, Jamiaca pepper (Pimenta, Allspice), Camphor, Jujube, Anise, Red Roses, Tiger Lily, Impatiens, Calendula, Tarragon, Ginger, Coriander, Basil, Ruda, Amaryllis, Wild Indigo, Gooseberries, Sesbania, Campsis, Red Oleander, Maple, Schotia brachypetala, Momordica, Coffee, Amla , Ephedra, Red Kapok.

For other signs information, see full Plant Horoscope.