This is the perfect time of year
to garden indoors. There’s always room inside our homes for a few
well-chosen plants. Studies have even shown that houseplants help
reduce stress in humans. Additionally, they are a great source of
oxygen. Some plants are even called “air scrubbers.”
The outdoor plant maxim “right plant, right place” applies to selecting houseplants too. Try to find out how the houseplant grows outside in its natural environment, which is usually in much toastier climates than our northwest affords. Nearly all the houseplants we purchase are grown in environmentally controlled greenhouses now, but originally they grew in a desert, rainforest or somewhere tropical or hot.
How do you select the right houseplant for your needs? Before choosing a houseplant do some window-shopping through a few good houseplant books at your favorite bookstores or library. Check out several websites.
As you read up on houseplants, jot down the names of some that especially appeal to you. Besides texture and color of foliage, also notice the flowers and the shape of the plant. Imagine how it would show off your own home décor or blend in with the designs and art in your home.
If a friend or family member has a houseplant you particularly admire discover how they found their plant. Determine how often they water, fertilize and repot their plant. These questions will give you an idea of how much work you may have to put into a similar plant in your own home.
Missouri University Extension suggests these “durable” houseplants: Sansevieria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue); Philodendron cordatum (heart-leaf philodendron); Pathos (devil’s ivy); Dracaena massanageana (corn plant); Peperomia obtusifolia (Peperomia); Aspidistra (cast iron plant); Collinea (dwarf palm); Aglaoenema (Chinese evergreen) and Chlorophytum (spider plant). Durable is perhaps the perfect word for these houseplants. They all thrive on neglect, withstanding both over-watering and under-watering. You could even neglect them for several weeks. They can stand lots of light and also thrive in very low light conditions. If you’ve never had any luck with houseplants try any of these for success.
More houseplants die from too much watering than they do from not enough watering. When selecting a container for your houseplant make sure there are drainage holes and try to find a container with a separate saucer included. The pots with attached saucers often don’t hold enough water when the pot overflows leaving water spots on furniture. Ideally you might want to place your plant in a sink for watering, letting it drain in the sink for a while. A few plants thrive on humidity though and will appreciate sitting on a saucer full of pebbles with water just barely covering the pebbles.
Our local nurseries, grocery stores and home centers often carry houseplants on a regular basis, especially this time of year. Try to select a plant with a care tag included. Hopefully the care tag will also list the name of the plant and you can do some research about its growing conditions. Check to make sure the plant’s soil has not dried out too much. If the soil is very dry (except cacti), consider the plant dead because it may be soon. Stressed plants often croak.
Jiggle the pot or tap it firmly to see if any critters fly away. If that happens, find a bugless plant instead. Check stems for scales (little hard bumps). Look for tiny red spider mites and webbing. If you see white powder spots or what looks like small white blobs this is usually whitefly, so avoid that plant too. You want to avoid purchasing plants with these conditions, especially if you have houseplants already. It’s a good idea to isolate your new houseplant for a few weeks until you know it is disease and bug free.
Some houseplants get dusty after a while. If the leaves are smooth you can take the plants into a bathroom for a shower (literally) using tepid water. Let excess water drain out before returning them to their usual resting place. African violets and fuzzy leaved plants do not appreciate this hygiene though. You won’t want to use waxes or milk washes on leaves although some gardening lore suggests these tips.
Many people receive a grouping of plants as a gift. Usually these groupings combine light-loving and dry seeking plants with shade-loving and moisture seeking plants. You can enjoy the plants as they are for a few weeks or months, but eventually you’ll want to find out their individual growing conditions and repot them separately moving each plant to the light and soil it prefers.
During these dark dreary winter days I’ll post info on some of my favorite houseplants along with photos. I have to find where I’ve saved the photos on my computer first though. But I promise I won’t take weeks and weeks before the next posting.