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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

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This week's HomeGrown

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I know that sometimes I read about some kind of stuff to pot houseplants in. I don't even know what it is or where I would buy it. I have a couple of plants but want to start doing things better for them.

Congratulations on your first big step into the horticultural world. The stuff is called soil-less potting mixture. It is made up of milled or broken down peat moss. Several other ingredients are added like perlite, which is heat-expanded volcanic glass or vermiculite, which is heat-expanded mica. Super phosphate or sometimes slow-release fertilizer and other ingredients are added to create a balanced mixture for indoor plants. Each manufacturer goes to great lengths to blend a good product. These soil-less mixtures need to be pre-moistened before potting plants. Only moisten the amount that you will be using. There are also mixtures available for orchids and succulents. Know what kind of a plant you are shopping for. A word or two of caution before you buy: Succulents, which include cacti, need soil that is sharply draining. Perpetually wet soils can cause fatal root rots with succulents. Get the mixture for succulents. If you are potting up ferns, buy a soil-less mix with no slow release fertilizer added. The constant but low amounts of fertilizer can cause burning of leaf edges or frond death in some ferns. Use a mixture without it. When you do fertilize ferns, dilute the fertilizer to half strength. Ferns are very prone to fertilizer damage. Almost all orchids do not grow in soil. They need a mixture or bark and other ingredients especially for them. The thinner and finer the roots, the more you need a mixture that retains a bit more moisture that those with coarse roots. Visit you local garden centers or stores with garden centers. The stuff should be available all year.

During this last warm weather, I went outside and there were lots of tiny bugs sitting on the foundation blocks and the siding on the south side of the house. They were dark colored and when they moved, some of them hopped. What kind of bug is out at this time of the year?

Its the kind of bug that makes its own anti-freeze. Your little houseguests belong to a big group of similar critters called Colembola. Their common name is snow fleas. Please dont panic and run for the exit. Its only a name that means that they hop. You know, like fleas. These guys feed on decaying organic matter in the top inch of soil outside. But they are like everybody else. On sunny days, they like to catch some rays, man. This isnt for that beach bunny tan but for warmth to enable them to move around more easily. Snow fleas are so small that they first resemble coarsely ground pepper. Except they move. You may see them sitting on snow around areas that have melted to the ground. If the poor little dopes get into the house accidentally, they will eventually die. They need to live in and feed on damp, decaying plant matter. That should let out almost everybodys home. But if that describes the interior of the home, you probably have more problems than just snow fleas. If a few get into the house, look at the closest window as the probable entry point. Buy a roll of clear tape that is made for sealing the edges of windows in the winter. Tape all the cracks to keep them out. Colembola are an indication of very little, if any, pesticide use on the soil. Believe me, thats a good thing.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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