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Get tough with houseplants

Do you have a stubborn houseplant that won’t do what’s expected of it? A verbal scolding and some homemade plant food might help. Remember… you’re in charge of the plant. It’s not in charge of you! Lots more on this Grainews page including some feedback about portulaca, but don’t expect a picture. Everyone knows what portulaca looks like. It’s Singing Gardener time!


… and just sit there and sulk. No green-thumber needs to put up with any houseplant that fails to grow or bloom. Simply refuse to take “no I won’t co-operate” for an answer. Here are a couple suggestions worth sharing.

First of all, keep a balking or obstinate plant in the kitchen or same room when you prepare leafy greens and other veggies for a salad. A plant with a bad attitude becomes traumatized when fellow greenery goes on the chopping block. It quickly reacts to the sight of other vegetation less fortunate than itself and soon decides to smarten up. Tell the plant you won’t put up with its lack of discipline and it shall receive the same fate and be put onto the compost heap unless it quickly shows an improved growth pattern. Repeat as often as necessary and each time you make a salad. Once an improvement is noticed treat it to dessert with some homemade plant food. Here’s a recipe and it works particularly well with African violets.

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate)

1 tsp. saltpetre (potassium nitrate available at pharmacies)

Dissolve above ingredients into a cupful of warm water then pour into 1 gallon (16 cups) of water into which you’ve previously stirred 1 tsp. of non-detergent household ammonia. I use an empty four-litre milk jug. It holds about 1-1/2 cups more water for a total 17-1/2 cups. Shake the mixture well before feeding either indoor or outside plants and apply monthly. Keep the surface soil loose, worked up and pliable. Some houseplants do better when watered from the bottom rather than the top. Six to eight weeks later you should notice an explosion of growth or change for the better. A Nova Scotia recipe similar to above calls for 1 tsp. baking powder instead of 1 tsp. baking soda (that’s one OR the other — not both).


In response to a reader from Blackfoot, Alta., with a major portulaca problem in her garden, (see Sept. 10, 2012 Grainews, page 46) the following emails arrived: My battle with portulaca started in the early 1970s when we moved to a farm near Miami, Manitoba. I remember digging up a healthy portulaca plant in my garden and setting it upside down on top of a fence post, with the intention of disposing of it on my way back to the house. I must have had my hands full and I walked by it leaving it for a couple of days before I was reminded that I should drop it in the burning barrel. Surely after a few days in the hot sun it would be wilted and quite dead, right? Wrong! Somehow the root had turned itself downward and was starting to grow into the fence post! My method of solving the portulaca problem was a bit drastic but it worked. We moved two provinces west and so far after nearly 40 years, portulaca hasn’t made an appearance!

Maureen Pocock

Lacombe, Alberta

Ted’s response: Thanks Maureen. There’s even a touch of humour in your portulaca experience. Got me to wondering whether all gardens at Lacombe are free from wild portulaca. Let’s hope some unseen guest didn’t turn Maureen’s portulaca right side up again after she “set it upside down on top of a fence post.” But then who knows? Portulaca may have the ability to do this on its own, or with a touch of help from… say the wind. I, Ted, wonder whether other gardeners have tried the fence post method in the past.

Then I heard from Cheryl and Glenn. Here’s their experience and recommendation: Tell your subscriber from Blackfoot that this gardener in B.C. has been very carefully removing all portulaca roots and leaves from our garden for 12 years and will probably have to pull some more next year. Spraying would not help much because the seed bank would still be there. It is really amazing how quickly it germinates — one day there are not any plants and the next day there are very healthy-looking plants. The most helpful thing you could do would be to advise gardeners how to prevent it getting started; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We do have worse invasive plants in our area — Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed come to mind. They are spreading everywhere in large part because local governments do not keep the ditches weed free. Prairie communities try harder to keep the ditches clear but still don’t seem to be able to win the weed war.

Thanks to Glenn and Cheryl from Langley, B.C. They work with parks and watershed associations where invasive plants, fish and animals are a concern. Glenn is originally from SW Sask., and describes himself as “still part stubble-jumper.” Then there’s my kind of stubble. I, Ted, had a full-fledged natural Santa beard for about 10 years. From time to time a woman would ask me when I was getting “rid of the stubble.” In past years when I played Santa Claus in season during December some kids would ask whether my beard was real and if they could pull it, gently of course. Now I have hardly any facial hair at all.


… over 4,000 years ago. Its botanical name is Portulaca oleracea. Some common names include garden purslane, duckweed, fat weed and little hogweed. One of the strangest names is crazy vegetable so named because its branches spread over the ground without any control. The word portulaca comes from the Latin meaning “little door.” Purslane is native to India. Its thick, fleshy stalks and leaves are classed as a succulent with sharp flavour and a gelatinous character. All parts are said to be edible as a vegetable eaten raw or steamed. In the Cretan diet purslane is considered exemplary for its many benefits and synonymous with long life. Purslane was listed in the first Greek pharmacopoeia for its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties and used in cosmetology. In skin-care treatments for men, it helps fight razor burn, soothe irritations and calm redness. Purslane is an annual herbaceous plant with yellow flowers whose seeds have a germination capacity lasting for eight to 10 years. It is found throughout the world including here in Canada and like dandelions is determined to hang in there.

In 17th century England the cooks of Charles II added fresh leaves to all salads, perhaps to satisfy the king’s taste, or else for its digestive properties. Chopped young purslane leaves were mixed with double amounts of lettuce leaves, chervil, borage flowers and marigold petals; the mixture being dressed with oil and lemon juice. No surprise then that purslane has achieved some usefulness in everything from salads and omelettes to Bonne Femme soups and medicines.


This may come as a surprise, but purslane (Portulaca oleracea) has shown usefulness as an insecticide, especially at getting rid of anthills. Harvest plants before they flower and turn to seeds. Place portulaca on top of anthills and leave plants there until ants disappear. Or, try making a concentrated, strong portulaca tea. The brew is then poured onto anthills. There’s a bit of “scientist” in most of us and gardeners may decide to do some experimenting with portulaca next season. Individual trials will vary.

Portulaca contains oxalic acid (as do rhubarb leaves) which may be toxic when consumed in large quantities. Researchers have refined and developed a method that removes oxalic acid, yet retains over 90 per cent beneficial properties. Medieval herbalists considered purslane a prescription for a burning or malfunctioning heart and liver. Greeks called it a blood-cleansing herb. In Mexico purslane is recommended for diabetics. Both purslane capsules and powder may be available at select health food stores.


A third email comes from Lois Sawatsky who writes: Hi Ted, I live in Humboldt, Sask. It seems to me that you had an article this past year about earthworms causing the soil to be very hard. I believe that I have that problem, and I wondered if you could let me know what it was that cured the problem. I have enjoyed your gardening tips and words of wisdom. Thank you. Lois

I, Ted, later learned that Lois recycles all of her newspapers and thought she no longer had back issues. In a followup email she says: Hi Ted, As luck would have it, I found a Grainews that I hadn’t recycled, and there was the earthworm solution! Ten years ago, lime was sprinkled on the garden in the spring and worked in, and there are still no earthworms. Now I just have to find some lime! I often save your articles that are of special interest to me and I will add this article to my collection. Thanks, Lois.

For readers seeking more information re: earthworms: See April 16, 2012 Grainews page 42, June 4, 2012 Grainews page 50 and July/August 2012 Grainews page 38.

About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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