“N. P. K.” stands for the major plant nutrients used by growing plants.  “N” is for nitrogen, which makes green color and growth.  “P” is for phosphorus, which gives the plant sturdy growth, and “K” is for potash, which furnishes energy for over-all plant development.

There are also minor elements, numbering about fifteen in all.  These include chemicals like iron, magnesium, boron, zinc, etc.

A package of fertilizer marked 5-10-5 expresses the percentage of each of the major elements, i.e., 5 percent potash.

Minor elements are usually included in most fertilizer formulas and may not be indicated by chemical names or percentages.

WATER-SOLUBLE forms of plant food are the most common and convenient to use for house plants such as 20-20-20 formula.  They are sold as a powder, liquid or in tablet form.  It is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions for mixing.  But apply only at one half the rate recommended.

CONTROLLED-RELEASE FERTILIZER are favored by commercial plant growers, and some brands are now available in consumer-size packages.  These formulas are designed so that one application will last from four to ten months, depending on formulation.

WATER-SOLUBLE TYPE:  Potted plants growing in soilless potting mixes need more frequent applications than plants growing in potting mixtures containing soil.  The design of soilless mixes affords better drainage and aeration, requiring more frequent watering, which results in faster leaching or loss of nutrients.

Artificially lighted plants may be fertilized once a month with a water-soluble fertilizer; plants under normal indoor light conditions, every two months.  These are general recommendations.  For individual plant recommendation, refer to culture.

DRY-GRANULAR TYPE:  Apply once every four months regardless of light conditions.  Use at the following rates of application:

A scant one third teaspoon per four-inch pot

One levelteaspoon per six-inch pot

One level tablespoon per eight-inch pot

CONTROLLED-RELEASE TYPE:  Read the recommendations on the package before using.  Where light intensity is high or a greenhouse is used for growing, it may be necessary to supplement with a water-soluble type.

A fertilizer is not a cure-all for plant trouble or a substitute for problems of water or light.  An overdose of fertilizer or an application too often will damage or kill your plant.  If in doubt – DON’T FERTILIZE.

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Potting-Soil Mixes

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For those plants that need a growing medium with high moisture-retention characteristics.  Plants having a fine root system are included in this group.  Recommended for the following plants and others of similar culture:  African violet; fern; palm.


Sphagnum peat moss – two parts

Vermiculite or soil – one part

Perlite or sand – one part

Fertilizer ingredients for four quarts of mix*

Garden fertilizer – two teaspoons (5-10-5, or 6-12-6, or 10-10-10)

Superphosphate – two teaspoons

Ground limestone – three teaspoons

*Four quarts equal two six-inch standard-size pots.  All ingredients are measured in level teaspoonfuls.


For general potting.  For plants that require good drainage and aeration but must not dry out completely between watering.  Use for the following plants and for others with similar requirements:


Sphagnum peat moss – one part

Vermiculite or soil – one part

Perlite or sand – one part

Fertilizer Ingredients for four quarts of mix

Garden fertilizer – two teaspoons (5-10-5, or 6-12-6, or 10-10-10)

Superphosphate – two teaspoons

Ground limestone – three teaspoons


For desert-like plants and some succulent plants with a root system that will withstand periods of dryness between watering.  Plants having coarse tubers or rhizomatous roots are in this category.  Following are recommended and others with similar culture requirements:


Sphagnum peat moss – two parts

Perlite (coarse) – one part

Sand (coarse) – one part

Fertilizer ingredients for four quarts of mix

Garden fertilizer – two teaspoons (5-10-5, or 6-12-6, or 10-10-10)

*Superphosphate – two teaspoons

Ground limestone – three teaspoons

*When mixing for cactus, use two teaspoons of bone meal instead of superphosphate.


For seed sowing.


Sphagnum peat moss – one part (screened with a one-fourth-inch mesh sieve)

Vermiculite – one part

Fertilizer ingredients for four quarts of mix

Ammonium nitrate – one teaspoon

Superphosphate – two teaspoons

Ground limestone – three teaspoons

Alternatively, once can use some of the wide range of proprietary potting soils or seed-sowing mixes.

Soilless mixtures are recommended for house plants.  Garden soil formerly used in potting mixtures for plant growing is becoming scarce.  Its composition varies with each source, and it usually needs sterilization to get rid of weed seeds, disease and insects.

Soilless mixes can be purchased from garden stores and plant shops.  The mixes come in packages of assorted sizes and are packed in polyethylene (polythene) bags for convenient storage.  They are mixed with nutrients, ready for use.  Some are formulated for foliage plants, for African violets. For cacti, for other plants and for seed sowing.

Hints for home mixing:

Peat moss should be moistened two to three days before mixing.

Peat moss and other ingredients should be thoroughly mixed together.

Fertilizer nutrients should be carefully measured and mixed together.

All materials should be spread on a clean surface and turned with a scoop shovel.  The pile should be turned at least five times to ensure thorough mixing.

Mixes may be stored for future use in polyethylene bags or plastic trash cans with covers.


Material For one bushel For one cubic yard

Ammonium nitrate 3 tablespoons 2 pounds

Garden Fertilizer 6 tablespoons 5 pounds

(5-10-5, or 6-12-6, or 10-10-10)

Superphosphate (0-20-0) 2 tablespoons 2 pounds

Ground limestone 10 tablespoons 10 pounds

Bone meal 2 tablespoons 5 pounds

*Potassium nitrate (13-0-44) 2 ½ tablespoons 1 pound


*Calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) 2 ½ tablespoons 1 ½ pounds

*Fritted trace elements ½ teaspoon 2 ounces

*Add these fertilizer ingredients to soilless mixes (without soil) in addition to garden fertilizers, superphosphate and ground limestone.  Dolemite limestone, containing magnesium, is preferred to ground limestone if available.  Use at the same rate.

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Listing of plants for these gardens is by groups that have similar growth requirements and thus go together. Any group of plants may be planted together to make a single garden or used in combination, if desired.


Culture requirements are moist soil and medium light.

Group 1

Chinese evergreen

Gold-dust dracaena

‘Florida Beauty’

Heat-leaved philodendron


Group 2

Parlor palm

Marble-leaf pothos

‘Marble Queen’

Pteris fern



Group 3


English ivy

False holly

Piggyback plant


Group 4

Variegated mock orange

Dwarf kangaroo vine



Group 5

Parlor palm

Arrowhead vine

Pink fittonia



Group 6

Sander’s dracaena

Natal plum

English ivy

Chinese evergreen

Devil’s ivy


Group 7

Sander’s Dracaena

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

Earth Star

Heart-Leaved philodendron


Group 8

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

English Ivy


Gold-Dust Dracaena


Group 9

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

Buddhist Pine

Prayer Plant

Aluminum Plant

English Ivy


Group 10

Asparagus Fern

Coral Berry

Parlor Palm

English Ivy


Group 11



Pink Fittonia

Baby’s Tears


Group 12

Chinese Evergreen

Umbrella Plant

Table Fern

Devil’s Ivy



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Dish Gardens

A dish garden is like a garden in miniature, and has become popular as an indoor gardening activity, particularly among those who live in the city dwellings. Combinations of small tropical foliage plants, of woodland plants and of desert plants in varieties of form, color and texture are planted in containers to make dish gardens. A well-planted garden uses the principles of good floral design and compares with a pleasing arrangement of cut flowers and foliage.


The size of the container in relation to the size of the plants is considered. The container must be at least three inches deep and not more than eight inches high and should hold enough potting mixture for three to four or more plants.

Ceramic containers of dark or dull colors are more desirable than light colors. Containers made of brass, copper, pewter, iron and glass are used. Metal containers should be coated with plastic on the inside or lined with polyethylene (polythene) sheeting to prevent corrosion of the potting mix. Ceramic containers depicting frogs, turkeys, Santa Claus, and all sorts of creations are available.


It is logical that plants of tropical origin be chosen for dish gardens because they are best adapted to today’s interiors with modern heating and lighting.

Only a few of the plant materials used for dish gardens are really dwarf varieties. The plants used together in a dish garden should have the same water requirements—that is, “moist” or “dry.” It is foolish to think that cactus or peperomia will survive when planted in the same dish with ferns.

Dish-garden plants should be fairly slow-growing types. This qualification limits selection. Plants may be purchases or selected from the woodland. Plants purchased growing in 1 ½ – 2 ½ -inch pots are best for transplanting to an area as small as a dish garden.

Use plants of different heights and colors to avoid massing of green foliage. Create a center of interest by the use of ceramic figurines, ducks, birds, lichen-covered rock, and pieces of driftwood or shelf fungi.

In general, there are three different dish-garden types: 1) tropical gardens, 2) desert gardens, 3) woodland gardens.


The potting mixture for dish gardens is found under heading for potting mixes.


Step 1. Place a one-half to one-inch layer of small pebbles or aquarium gravel in the bottom of the container for drainage

Step 2. Arrange the plants for landscape effect.

Step 3. Fill between the plants with the potting mix. Firm the mixture about the plants with a blunt stick. Allow one-half inch below the rim for catching water.

Step 4. A top dressing for “ground cover” may be used. Sheet moss, florist wood moss or marble chips are suitable. However, it is difficult to watch the moisture content of the mix when these materials are used.


The tropical and woodland plants will need to be checked for water at least twice a week. Because there are several plants in one container, water is used up faster than with one plant in a pot.

Desert plants will need water less frequently. Check for water every two to three weeks.

Do not forget: If there is no drainage hole in the bottom of the container, there is danger of overwatering.

An efficient method of watering is to submerge the container in a bucket of water. When air bubbles stop appearing, remove. If plant is overwatered, place the dish on its side for about 20 minutes for excess water to drain off.

The finger-touch method for checking moisture content may be used here.

Dish-garden platers need optimum light conditions exclusive of direct sunlight and a temperature of normal living rooms.

If foliage wilts after planting, spray with atomizer or place planter in a large polyethylene bag for a day or two until plants recover from transplanting. Supplemental lighting with a table lamp will prolong the plant life of a dish garden. Control growth if necessary by occasional pruning or a soft pinch.

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Bonsai oBseSSion


The style of the bonsai plant usually determines the pot. This is the first consideration and must be decided on. Generally containers come in round, oval, hexagonal, square and rectangular shapes; shapes usually come in sets of three sizes. The color of the container should harmonize with the color of the foliage, mostly earthly colors of dark brown, dark red, dark purple, gray and black. Evergreen conifers are usually grown in dull white or brown containers; colourful fruit or flowering plants in green, tan or white. Having better moisture retention, glazed containers are best for indoor bonsai.

The container should be just large enough to accommodate the root system after careful pruning has been done.


When planting your bonsai, keep in mind your chosen theme and how it will look in the container. Like people, plants have a “best profile.” Decide which is the front of the tree is and then shape it. Branches should look balanced and exhibit a floating habit. Branches should not crisscross. Look down from above to make sure an upper branch does not overshadow a lower branch. Next in procedure is the basic and timely operation of pruning, nipping or pinching and wiring. For this procedure basic tools are needed: a pair of hook-and-blade pruning shears, a narrow garden trowel, blunt sticks (dowels), a pair of sturdy wire cutters and copper wire of various sizes, as well as a small watering can.

Pruning to control growth, to remove dead-wood, to remove crisscrossed branches and excess foliage is accomplished first. Prune to encourage branches to grow toward open space. Do not do all of the pruning at one time. Do it as undesirable shoots develop.

Nipping or pinching is a continuous process with tropical bonsai plants. Pinch back new growth or thin out before it becomes too thick.

Wiring is the final step. Copper wire is used because it is flexible. No. 8, the heaviest, is used for the main trunk, while No. 16, the smallest, is used for soft branches. Start wiring from the lowest point and work upward. Anchor the wire by pushing end into soil. Wire loosely. After limbs to be bent are wired, bend by hand to the desired angle or direction. Wires may have to remain in place for a year before removal.

Potting and repotting

Fast-growing trees like weeping fig, citrus or hibiscus will need repotting and root pruning at least twice a year; slower-growing types like classic myrtle and jade plant only once a year. The plant should be carefully removed from its container and an inch or more of surface soil of the ball removed. Loosened roots are trimmed back to the ball of soil. Thin out thick root masses. Heavy roots supporting top branching should be saved to establish a balance of physiological relationship.

Potting media and fertilizer recommendations coincide with those for potted house plants. Soilless mixtures are good bonsai mixes. Fertilizer is necessary to maintain the good health of the plants. It is recommended that a feeding of water-soluble type be applied during the active growth months of spring and summer. Feed once a month at half strength. Omit feeding for the month following a repotting operation. An application of slow-release type fertilizer in spring and fall is ample.

Watering, as with all cultural directions, is even more critical with bonsai than other house plants. Most tropical bonsai will require daily watering, depending on house temperature and exposure to light. When outdoors in summer on the patio, watering twice a day may be necessary. The succulent types like jade plant will need less frequent watering. Bonsai-trained tropical in small, shallow containers are naturally going to take more water than other house plants.




Bird-eye Bush


Cape Jasmine



Cypress, Arizona

Cypress, Monterey

Fig, Mistletoe

Herb, Elfin


Holly, Miniature


Jade Plant


Jasmine, Orange

Jasmine, Star

Laurel, Indian

Myrtle, Classic

Oak, Cork

Oak, Indoor

Oak, Silk

Olive, Common

Orchid Tree

Pepper Tree, Brazilian

Pepper Tree, California

Pink Shower

Pistachio, Chinese

Plum, Natal

Poinciana, Royal

Pomegranate, Dwarf

Popinac, White

Powderpuff Tree

Sago Palm


Shower Tree

Weeing Fig


Brazilian Pepper


Kafir Plum

Pink Shower

Powderpuff Tree

Weeping Fig

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Bonsai as defined in the dictionary is a Japanese art of growing miniature trees in small-sized containers. To achieve traditional bonsai, one combines a sense of art with a knowledge of horticulture. The ultimate goal is to produce a miniature specimen that possesses all of the characteristics of a mature specimen growing in a naturalistic setting.

The art of bonsai originated in China and was later developed by the Japanese. Old Japanese garden books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries illustrate and describe bonsai. Wild trees dwarfed in nature were first used. When a supply became difficult to obtain, Japanese gardeners began to culture more readily available plant materials.

Standards and rules governing shape and design were set by Japanese horticulturists, and, through the years, guidelines for classic bonsai styles have been established.

American bonsai developed with a much freer concept of growing dwarfed plants as miniatures and the use of many tropical plants as well as some hardy varieties. Thus indoor cultivation of bonsai came about.

In comparison, the Japanese use hardy conifers and deciduous trees and shrubs; and, because of cultural requirements, the plant specimens are grown outdoors most of the year. These are brought indoors for a short period for display but returned to the outdoor environment for year round survival.


Tropical trees, shrubs and some vines can be trained to grow as bonsai. The culture directions for growing each particular plant must be followed for successful results. The application of principles of design and culture of bonsai is essential to achieve a miniature plant. The tropical bonsai must be kept indoors unless outdoor temperatures fill the plant’s requirements. In northern climates with cold winters, plants will benefit from outdoor culture on the patio in summer.

Some characteristics to look for in choosing plant material for training are: 1) small leaved, 2) short internodes (distance between leaves), 3) attractive bark, 4) stoutness of main stalk, 5) a habit of branching for good twig formation, and 6) all parts of plant in scale.

For a beginning, purchase healthy young plants from a two-and-a-half-inch to a four-inch pot size. Larger potted specimen plants may be used if desired. Check to see that the plant has a healthy root system and is free from insects and disease.


Decide on the final shape you wish to create before you start. Work with a single trunk as your basic design. This is simplest and best for a beginning.

The five basic styles are: 1) formal upright, 2) informal upright, 3) slanting, 4) cascade and 5) semicascade. These are determined by the over-all shape of the tree and the direction or angle the trunk slants away from the main axis.

The formal upright style is the basis for all bonsai forms. It is easiest to develop because it avoids the necessity for wiring and bending. In this form the tree has an erect leader with horizontal branches. There should be a lower branch extending father out from the trunk than the others. Two of the lowest branches should come forward to the front side, with one set higher than the other. There should be a single branch at the back, extending between the two forward branches, to give the tree depth. Trim off small branches too close to the trunk or presenting clutter at the base.

Pot up specimen of formal upright style in an oval or rectangular container, placing the plant about a third of the distance from one end.

The informal upright style is similar to the formal upright style but with the top bending toward the front. This gives an illusion of motion and displays more informality. Glance down on the tree from above. If the angle is not correct, the tree may be lifted and the root ball reset to provide the correct angle. Trim branches to give proper balance.

Select an oval or rectangular container and place the plant a third of the distance from the end.

The slanting style places the trunk at a more acute angle than does either of the previous styles. The lowest branch should spread in the direction opposite to which the trunk slants, with the top bending forward slightly. Lower branches arranged in groups of three should start at a distance of one third of the way up the trunk. Slanting trees have the look of trees in nature which have been bent by prevailing winds. Prune out small branches to display distinctive placement of groups of branches.

Plant this style in the center of a round or square container.

The cascade style is representative of a natural tree grown over a cliff edge or down an embankment. Plant in a container a branch or branches with most of the foliage hanging below the surface of the soil. This style should be displayed on the edge of a table or on a shelf.

This type takes longer to train than do the others. Train so that an uppermost branch is vertical and the remainder extends forward and downward. A round or hexagonal and deep container is used for this style.

The semicascade style has a main trunk that extends away from the container and drops downward but not below the pot, as does the cascade style. Most of the branches are trained toward the front, with the shorter branches left closer to the trunk. This style looks best planted in a low hexagonal or round container that is shallower than the pot used for the cascade style.

Other style variations according to size, how planted, number of trees, number of trunks, root system, etc., are: Miniature bonsai (under six inches); rock planting; twin planting; literati; driftwood; broom style; group planting (forest); multiple trunk; windswept; sinuous.

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