Playing Botanical Matchmaker With Local Artist and Plant Enthusiast, Fiona Chan

The Curve is dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees.

Fiona Chan is a textile and ceramic artist, the co-founder of Mobil Art School and a unrepentant plant enthusiast. For this edition of The Curve she plays the role of plant matchmaker by setting up a learning curve with their best aroid counterparts and some advice on how to maintain a healthy relationship with this particular species. But first, a disclaimer from Fiona:

“My knowledge comes from my own experimentation within my own growing conditions (certain light, humidity, water quality). Below are some general tips when it comes to growing aroids in the PNW – I highly encourage you to experiment and adapt these as needed for your conditions!”

Beginner: Monsteras & Philodendrons

“I always suggest a “learn to walk before you run” approach with plants. There are some really amazing and gorgeous species of aroids out there, but beyond learning about how to care for a specific species, there are some fundamental basic plant care knowledge and experience you should acquire before splurging on the big velvety plants that are all over social media these days. For beginners, I would suggest monsteras and philodendrons! Needing medium-bright indirect light, these iconic species are very forgiving compared to their other cousins in the Araceae family.

With these, I would especially focus on learning to read the plant and knowing when and when not to water throughout the year. With aroids, it’s easier to salvage something that’s underwatered. With overwatering, it can cause root rot and can be tricky to bring back. With these guys, because they are more forgiving, they are easier to salvage if you do have root rot and, worse case, you can cut up the remaining stem to regrow/propagate.

Soil composition is also very important for aroids and you can use these genus to experiment with the ideal well-draining mix for them. As with any plant types, it’s highly condition dependent and this is true for soil mix, also. Generally speaking, though, in the Pacific Northwest where there is lots of ambient humidity (Raincouver, I’m talking to you), you don’t want your soil to retain water for long periods. My preferred mix is about 35% perlite, 35% orchid bark, 25% potting soil, and 5% charcoal. Water should run out of the bottom really quickly when you water through.”

Intermediate: Alocasias

“These can range from plain, big foliage plants that you typically see as “pond plants”, to more alien-looking, heavily textured “jewel alocasias”. Alocasias are a bit more finicky that monsteras and philodendrons and require finding and understanding the balance between watering and light. Think about it this way – alocasias love brighter light than their other cousins, so they photosynthesize and, in doing so, use more water. But you have a very-well draining mix to keep their fat, orchid-like roots happy. So, having a good grasp of what your conditions are and adjusting to their needs accordingly is key. If your plant is a really thirsty fella, you might want to play around with your soil mix, too, and add a bit more potting soil back in.

Alocasia are notorious for pests, though. Spider mites, in particular, love alocasias! With alocasias, you can practice spotting these soft bodied, teeny tiny bugs and treat them before they eat up your plant. A good preventative tip is to give your plants a shower once in a while. Yup! In the bathtub with a sprinkler shower. This helps knock pests off before they fully establish and kind of mimics what they get in the tropical countries where they come from. Think of it as spa day for your babies.”

Advanced: Anthuriums

“These are my absolute favourite, but trust me when I say I’ve made some really sad before I got better at growing them. Particularly the velvety types, they can be pretty high maintenance and it usually takes a bit of an adjustment period for you to get used to them and them to get used to you! It’s common for them to have a bit of yellowing, or even drop a couple of leaves before they settle in – but don’t be discouraged! With a bit of patience, along with your experience with watering and soil composition, these beauties will bounce back in no time!

Sphagnum moss is also great with helping them to acclimatize – just make sure the moss isn’t sopping wet to prevent root rot. It should feel damp, but should not leave your hand wet. You may also want to keep these plants in a greenhouse of some kind to help boost humidity and keep them happy. If you are new to anthuriums, I would encourage getting an anthurium with smooth, glossy leaves to start before you invest in the more textured or velutinous species, which are more finicky.

When it’s the growing season (usually between March to later October), fertilizing regularly is important to encourage strong, healthy growth. I usually fertilize with half strength fertilizer with every other watering. I’ve also heard of diluting fertilizer further and feed your plants with every watering. Careful not to overfertilize, though, as it can cause leaves to burn (usually yellowing around the edges). Again, each plant genus and species is different, so it takes a bit of tinkering around with and understanding your plant.”

Extra Credit: Take a Trip

“Every year, the International Aroid Society has a meeting in Florida where many amazing aroid growers and collectors around the world gather to share their experiences along with their beautiful plants. It’s a must for any avid aroid collector. For something a little closer to home, check out the Bloedel Conservatory at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park where they keep a variety of amazing tropical species and birds! I also keep a display of specimen sized aroids at Mobil Art School to help inspire students who come through, so feel free to stop in. Happy planting!”

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