Botany 101: What is a Perfect Flower?

December 31, 2023

Parts of a Perfect Flower

Did you know? Sexually speaking, there are different types of flowers that are capable, or incapable, of different reproductive functions.

Understanding some basic flower morphology and anatomy can come in handy if you're trying to pollinate, or hybridize, your own plants to generate seeds you can collect and grow. Not all plants have the same types of flowers, nor contain the same "parts". Some of the easiest plants for you to pollinate are "monoecious" plants with "perfect" flowers.

PC: Illustration by Leslie F. Halleck

Parts of a Perfect Flower

The easiest way for me to teach this is usually just to create an illustration! So that's what I did this morning for you with this drawing of a lily flower from a bouquet that's currently sitting on my kitchen table.

A "perfect flower" is a common term used to describe bisexual flowers; flowers having both ovule-producing ("female") parts AND pollen-producing ("male") parts within the same flower.

The female organs are collectively referred to as the "pistil" and the male parts collectively as the "stamen".

When a single plant produces both pollen and ovules (be it on "perfect" or "imperfect" flowers, which will get to in another post), it is called monoecious (from the Greek "one house").

A monoecious plant with perfect (or imperfect) flowers needs pollen from either the male parts of the same flower, or another flower on the same plant, OR another plant of the same compatible species in order to germinate the ovary, which is located at the bottom of the pistil.

Many of these plants can easily self-pollenate, and we refer to such plants as "self fertile". Some, however, have adapted morphology that encourages "outcrossing", or getting pollen from another flower, or a flower on another compatible species before successful germination can occur.

Plant Pests: Houseplant Sticky Traps

December 27, 2023

Ooooo those pesky fungus gnats!

I JUST spotted a fungus gnat on one of my houseplants. Time to break out some good old sticky traps! Flighting fungus gnats (and other flying plant pests such as whiteflies) involves both monitoring and population reduction methods. In greenhouse production, sticky traps are a standard go-to for monitoring pest populations. But they are just as handy for the home plant parent.

Sticky traps are an easy low-impact way to knock out the adult fungus gnats currently flying around your plant, as well as prevent them from laying more eggs in the plant’s growing media. Those larvae that hatch out around your plant roots will want to munch on organic matter. If there isn’t any in your container, that leaves your plant roots!

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

I usually apply a diluted soil drench of hydrogen peroxide to knock out the larvae (I use a 10:1 ratio of 3% HP to Water - it seems to be a really heavy infestation you can go a bit stronger). and then you may try Bt (Bacillius thuriengensis) for longer term control or prevention.

I have some handy pest and disease charts as well as control methods in my books “Gardening Under Lights” and “Plant Parenting” if you need a good walk through and reference always at your fingertips.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Plant ABCs: Venus Orchid

December 26, 2023

Venus Slipper Orchids

V is for Venus Orchid…In today's Plant ABCs series aimed at introducing you to the wild world of plants.

Venus orchids, or Venus slipper orchids, are some of my very favorite orchids to grow as houseplants. Species in the genus Paphiopedilum - not to be confused with LADY’s slipper orchids, which are in the Cypripedium genus and found growing as terrestrial plants in many of our national forests and grasslands- although, if you want to get into the taxonomy and classification, Venus orchids are technically part of the lady slipper subfamily Cypripedioideae under the family Orchidaceae) produces large GORGEOUS flowers with a large “pouch”.

Flowers often sport striking color combinations of green, chartreuse, burgundy and pink. Because most species in the genus are terrestrial plants (although some are epiphytic or lithophytic), I find these orchids to be relatively easy to grow indoors and re-bloom. And did you know? Species in this genus have unusual stomata that only respond to blue light and don’t have chloroplasts. Botany fun facts! If you’d love to know more about growing such orchids, you can join me in my Indoor Plants course, and if you’d love to dig into botanical nomenclature and taxonomy a bit more, you can join me in Botany class in the spring quarter!

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Do I Need Grow Lights for my Plants and Which Ones Should I Use?

December 22, 2023

Thinking About Using Grow Lights?

Answers to a Few Basic Grow Light Questions

I get asked about grow lights A LOT.

Problem is, most questions about grow lights required very detailed LONG answers. It's just not a super simple subject. That is why I wrote an entire book on the subject!

But since I'm still getting asked this particular question, I thought I'd summarize some basic thoughts on the topic before you dive deeply into grow lights.

With the resurgence of indoor plant popularity, many plant enthusiasts have discovered their favorite plants may not thrive in their low-light conditions. Or, they want to grow seedlings and edibles indoors, which pretty much always requires grow lighting.

We know from research that keeping indoor plants has many benefits, such as reduced anxiety and stress, improved productivity and focus, and even improved healing. So in terms of wellness, bringing some nature indoors can have a very positive impact on our lives. Beyond the mental benefits, plants bring so much dimension, aesthetically, to our homes and offices. Plants literally bring our indoor spaces to life.

Succulents are a great example of plants that typically need much more light that we typically have to offer them indoors. That's why so many beginners kill succulents from "overwatering". The plants actually need greater light intensity to use the water quickly enough. Otherwise, the root zone simply stays too wet for many succulent and cactus species. However, if you add a grow light, you can significantly improve plant health and vigor.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

You don't need a green thumb to start gardening indoors with grow lights. You just need a desire to learn and make a few mistakes. Green thumbs are, after all, earned not born! That said, it's beneficial to at least dip your toes into learning a bit more about light science, how plants use lights, and how measuring light indoors can significantly change your understanding of how to use grow lights successfully. Also, indoor environmental conditions are very different from your outdoor environment, so you may experience different challenges with certain plants than you do outdoors.

The best way to be successful with a grow light is to first learn more about the species of plant or crop you are growing. The bottom line is, you aren't going to be able to grow big slicing tomatoes indoors with a small LED grow light. When you acquire a deeper understanding of how tomato plants grow and the amount of light they actually need to thrive, it will completely change your perspective on the type of indoor grow light setup you'll need to achieve those results.

Choosing which LED grow light to use goes back to what you're growing and does your grow light have enough power to emit enough usable light PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) for that plant species or crop. Energy in is energy out and small low-power LEDs won't sustain high-light plants such as citrus or tomatoes. They'll be fine for foliage houseplants or small succulents.

There is a wide range of grow lights to choose from, depending on your plants and goals. If you're growing smaller foliage or blooming houseplants or succulents, then some of the smaller 20-40 Watt full/broad spectrum LEDs will work just fine. Know that dual-multi band LEDs may put off a pink or purple colored light you won't want in your living space. So look for a broad spectrum lamp that emits a "white" colored light. Generally speaking, "cooler" spectrum grow lights (> 5000K) better support vegetative leafy growth. "Warmer" spectrum lights (< 5000K) tend to encourage more flowering. However, most plants will grow just fine under a balanced broad spectrum grow light. HO T5 Fluorescent lamps can still be a good option for these types of plants (just be aware Fluorescents do contain some mercury and LEDs may be a more sustainable choice). If you are jumping to indoor citrus, edible crops, or larger floor houseplants, you'll want to look for more powerful LEDs or even HID (High Intensity Discharge) options.

Yes, there are a lot of cheaply made grow lights on the market these days so I typically recommend buying lamps made in the U.S. I find quality and longevity is better, as well as care of shipping and customer service.

There are no specific types of plants that respond better to grow lights - each species has a requirement for the intensity and duration of light it would normally get from the sun in order to thrive and reproduce. You can, for the most part, replicate these needs using quality grow lights. If you are growing low or very low light foliage plants indoors and you have good natural light from East, West, or Southern exposures then you may not need grow lights for these plants. But if your home is relatively dark, or you want to grow species or edible crops that require more light to thrive, then you may need to at least provide some supplemental light for your plants, or significant lighting for seeds, edibles, and other high-light plants.

Plant ABCs: Love in a Mist

December 21, 2023

It’s L for Love in a Mist!...In today's Plant ABC Series that introduces you to the wild world of plants.

Meet Nigella damascena, commonly called love-in-a-mist, or devil-in-the-bush by a cheekier crowd. This is one of my very favorite annual flowers that easily reseeds itself in your garden with no effort at all. You’ll find the flowers come in shades of blue, purple, pink and sometimes white. I find their flower form to be stunningly beautiful. N. damascena is a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae and plants produce a profusion of lovely black seeds inside striking dry pods.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Depending on where you live, plants can bloom very early spring into early summer, as they do for me here in Texas, or may be a summer bloomer for you in cooler climates. Plants drop seed in summer and fall. In my area seedlings emerge in late summer and fall, then begin blooming in late winter early spring. These are easy wildflowers you can throw seed out into areas you don’t do any garden maintenance. Once you have an established population you can save plenty of your own seed.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Sometimes You Need to Get Lost in Peru

November 30, 2023

Getting Lost in the Forest

Sometimes you need to get lost…

To begin a new adventure. When there is always a clear (or what you think is clear) path in front of you, it’s easy to keep walking it. Even if it may not take you where you want to go. Sometimes you just need to get lost in the woods (literally and figuratively) to find your way.

PC: Leslie F. Halleck

I was hiking a supposed back side trail down from the mountaintop Tambomachay ruins in Cusco, Peru (if I recall correctly that’s the site I was at for this hike but it could be a different one). Instead of taking the normal public descent back to the town where I was to meet a friend who would pick me up, I decided for a longer more scenic route. The local guide posted at the ruins indicated with hand gestures that yes I could get where I was going by hiking down the mountain...that way...mind you he just pointed in a general direction.

I was like…ok cool! Why not, right? It was a beautiful hike and I have many photos of amazing plants I found. But about an hour in the tiny sort of foot path that looked like a foot path disappeared. No markers, no path, just lots of mountains and a tiny descending stream that would appear and disappear…then reappeared sometimes.

I just had to pick a direction, pointed myself downward, and hoped that in my descent I’d end up in the right village in time for my ride. No, no cell signal of course. No map. No path. I just had to trust my gut. I thought Huh, if it gets dark and I don’t show up…maybe my friend will send someone? Images of helicopter rescues ensued. Although something like a llama rescue would have probably been more in order.

I tromped may way along keeping my eye out for the little stream to follow, forced to switch back and forth from both mountainsides in order to find a walkable route. After a few hours, I got a view of a valley and hoped I would end up at the right destination in time. I did. Whew.

I’m not recommending you go get lost in a mountain forest in a foreign country in order to find your way. But I will say it was one of the most lovely and memorable hikes. I’m on another one of those hikes in life right now, and I can’t wait to see what new adventure awaits.

If you find yourself uncertain about your current path, it might be time to through caution to the wind and get lost for a while.

Chiltepin peppers ready for harvest!

November 18, 2023

What are you harvesting? 🌶️🌶️🌶️

November is still summer fruit harvesting time in Texas when it comes to peppers! Chiltepin chile, a small but mighty variety of Pequin pepper (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) often ripen in the fall, even when light frosts start to hit. It’s one of my favorite edible ornamentals in my garden. In my area (Dallas, TX) this is a tender perennial, meaning top growth will die down in the first hard frost (but often make through the first few light frosts, as this plant has), then reemerge from the roots in spring.

Plants will also seed freely in the garden and I have some nice volunteers. Tiny, berry-sized peppers mature from green to red, and then are typically sun dried, but you can use them fresh or pickle them green! (I’ll be pulling a bunch of green ones to pickle) They pack some serious heat (Scoville 50,000-100,00 unites) but they aren’t really great for eating alone - you usually just get a lot of heat without a lot of pepper flavor. Blend them with other types of peppers, salsas, or other recipients that call for chiles.

Plant Parenting: Houseplant First Aid Kit

October 17, 2023

Houseplant First Aid Kit

Over the last few months I've been joining Maria Failla on her "Growing Joy with Plants" podcast for a "Grow Better Series" to help you get a handle on all your more challenging houseplant growing needs. On the latest episode, which you can listen to HERE, I teach you how to put together your very own Houseplant First Aid Kit. Everything easily within reach and in one place to quickly take care of all your important houseplant care needs.

Here are the highlights from the show, and I've added in a few more of my own notes for you. If you want ALL the details then be sure to LISTEN to the episode!

A Houseplant First Aid Kit is a great gift to give yourself, but I also think it's a super thoughtful gift you can give to any houseplant parent in your life!

Caring for houseplants often means dealing with pests, diseases, or cultural issues at some point. Having a houseplant first aid kit prepared allows you to quickly treat problems and nurse your plants back to health. In this episode, our favorite horticulturist Leslie Halleck shares must-have items to include in your DIY houseplant first aid kit so you can effectively treat plant problems as soon as they pop up!

Products to Add to Your Houseplant First Aid Kit

Horticultural Oils

Horticultural oils work by “smothering” soft-bodied insects and preventing fungal diseases from spreading on leaf surfaces. That means you take away their ability to breathe! They can be made from various plant-based extracts like neem, peppermint, or thyme oil. Some also contain petroleum.

Note: Mineral oil-based horticultural oils can potentially cause leaf burn outdoors in warm temperatures or direct sunlight. Stick to plant-derived oils like neem, but keep in mind they may still need to be rinsed off in direct sunlight.

Neem Oil vs Azadirachtin

Neem oil itself does not contain insecticidal compounds. It smothers insects it comes in contact with. To get neem oil with direct insecticidal properties, look for products simply labeled "Neem" that include the chemical "azadirachtin" on the label. Azadirachtin is an organic compound in neem that acts as a growth regulator for insects.

Leslie mentioned that neem oil can be used as a leaf polish, but you should rinse it off after 1-2 hours before hot sunlight hits to prevent leaf scorch.


Copper-based fungicides can help prevent fungal spores from reproducing and spreading. Apply these to treat existing infections and prevent them from infecting healthy plant tissue. Newer biofungicides work by making leaves less hospitable environments for fungal growth.

Insecticidal Soaps

Insecticidal soaps work by dissolving the waxy cuticle layer that protects soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealybugs, and scales. Use these as a gentle treatment before moving to stronger chemicals.

Hydrogen Peroxide

A mild hydrogen peroxide solution has multiple uses:

● Water in as a soil drench to kill fungus gnat larvae in the root zone.

● Helps sterilize tools like pruners.

● Can be misted on leaves to increase oxygen and restrict fungal spore growth.

● Oxygenates root zones and encourages new root growth.

Systemic Pesticides

For difficult pests like scale, mealybugs, or spider mites, a systemic insecticide may be needed. Systemics are absorbed into plant tissue, distributing the pesticide within the plant. In simpler terms, the effect takes place when these pests digest the plant they are munching on and die as a result.

Note: Avoid use on edibles. These chemicals are harmful to human body.

Rooting Hormone

Rooting hormone contains compounds that stimulate root formation in cuttings and stressed plants. Use it when propagating plants or repotting a plant with root damage to encourage new root growth.

Gear and Tools to Add to Your Houseplant First Aid Kit

Sticky Traps

Yellow and blue sticky traps catch adult fungus gnats and also monitor for other flying insect pests on your plants. Use regularly as a monitoring tool even when you don't see pests because, remember, early detection allows quicker action.


Leslie recommends these types of gloves when gardening:

● Nitrile gloves - protect hands and allow you to physically remove pests by squishing or rubbing them off of leaves.

● Cotton gloves - a softer option for gently cleaning leaves and polishing plants.

● Rubber/latex gloves - offer hand protection when working with oils and chemicals.

Pruners and Snips

Dedicate a good pair of plant pruners and snips for your houseplants. Sterilize them in bleach or other disinfectants after each cut to prevent disease transmission. Keep extra sharp snips or scissors specifically for plants—avoid using kitchen cutting tools!

Potting Mat

A foldable potting mat or tray contains soil mess on any surface when urgently repotting or treating a plant. Clean-up is also easy - just shake it off outdoors.

Humidity Dome

Slip a plastic bag or humidity dome over plants that need a humidity boost. This raises the humidity around the plant to help it recover from stress.


Monitor humidity levels with a small digital hygrometer. This helps diagnose problems and determine if you need to increase humidity for certain plants.

Grow Lights

Compact LED grow lights provide therapeutic light when nursing plants back to health. Look for clip-on or low-wattage options that are easy to maneuver.

PAR Meter

If you’re willing to invest a lot more money, this specialized light meter measures photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) — the intensity of light useful for photosynthesis. It provides precise data on proper light levels for houseplants and indoor gardens.

Magnifying Glass

Being my favorite tool, a simple magnifying glass lets you inspect plants closely for small pests like spider mites, thrips, and more that can hide in plain sight. It also helps identify the onset of fungal spores or bacterial blotches, webbing, honeydew, or eggs.

Moisture Meter

A moisture meter can help newer plant parents determine when to water. Consider adding one to your kit if you struggle with:

● Understanding when plants need water

● Watering too frequently or infrequently

● Identifying dry vs. wet areas of the root ball

Houseplant Care Reference Books

A couple go-to books like Leslie Halleck's "Plant Parenting", "Gardening Under Lights", and "Tiny Plants" provide diagnostics and treatment recommendations when you need quick guidance.

Assembling Your Own Houseplant First Aid Kit

Hopefully, this gives you a helpful overview of products and tools to include in a well-stocked houseplant first aid kit. Keep everything you need to treat your plants in one place so it's readily accessible for any horticultural emergency.

I recommend gathering small quantities and sizes of key items and organizing them in a storage bin or tackle box for easy transport.

Once you've assembled your kit, I'd love to see it! Share a photo on Instagram and be sure to tag me @lesliehalleck so I can share your DIY houseplant first aid kit with our community.

You can also listen to the other episodes in our Grow Better Series HERE

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