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Identifying a tropical houseplant in the Upper Midwest

"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also answers questions about evergreen snow removal and fungus gnats.

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A reader asks what kind of houseplant this is.
Contributed / Special to The Forum
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Q: Can you tell me what kind of houseplant is in the photo? – Linda J.

A: Your houseplant is a Hoya, which is the botanical name of its genus, and is often used as a common name as well. It’s also called wax plant, honey plant and porcelain flower.

Hoya carnosa, its complete botanical name, is native outdoors in tropical Australia and southeast Asia, which reveals its preferred environment when grown indoors as a houseplant. Hoyas have thick, waxy leaves, sometimes flecked with silver or creamy white, as yours is.

The plants develop a vining habit, making them ideal for hanging planters or training on a trellis. Hoyas produce star-shaped light pink flowers in parachute-shaped clusters with a sweet fragrance once plants reach a certain age. Once flowering age is attained, allow the flowering stems to remain after blossoms pass, because those stems are where future flowers arise, often annually.

Hoyas are currently very popular houseplants, thriving in indoor conditions that imitate their tropical native habitat, especially high humidity and a potting mix rich in organic material like peat moss. Given their waxy, moisture-retentive leaves, they enjoy drying out well between thorough waterings.

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Hoyas grow best when given strong light during winter’s short days, including window sunshine. During summer’s intensity, sunlight should be filtered.

Q: In last week’s column, you discussed removing snow from evergreens. Would a leaf blower work to clear the snow from the branches? — John L.

A: As we discussed last week, evergreens are able to handle a fair amount of snow without breakage , and removal can cause damage to cold, brittle branches. Heavy snow can be a concern, though, and if done gently in extremely heavy situations can prevent snow damage.

When snow weight seems a concern, I suggested supporting each branch from below with one hand, while carefully removing snow with the other. Remove only enough to lighten the load.

I’m concerned that a leaf blower will cause damage, because they’re designed to create wind speeds between 90 and 250 mph. Even nature’s winter wind speeds can cause windburn to evergreens, and I’m afraid the force of a leaf blower will cause needle desiccation and browning. Even at very low settings, I’d be hesitant to aim a leaf blower at an evergreen.

That’s also a reminder to use caution when doing snow removal in the vicinity of evergreens. If snowblowers are aimed at evergreen shrubs or trees, the force of the snow and air can cause permanent damage to evergreens.

Q: I know you’ve covered this before, but with houseplants being so popular now, can you repeat what the product is that you recommended for the little black flies that flit around the soil and pots? — Diane M.

A: The annoying little flies are called fungus gnats and thrive on the organic material in potting mixes. The product called Mosquito Bits is labeled for fungus gnat control, and it contains a biological bacteria that kills larvae when applied to the soil.

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The beneficial bacteria disrupt the life cycle of the gnats when applied following label directions. The process does take a few weeks to become effective, so don’t be alarmed if results aren’t immediate, but it does work. The product can be found at many garden centers.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDENDON KINZLER
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Dr. William F. "Billy" Holland Jr. is an ordained minister, community chaplain and author of the "Living on Purpose" faith column. He lives in central Kentucky with his wife, Cheryl.
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"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also answers questions about spraying newly seeded grass and dealing with quackgrass in raspberries.