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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

"Indestructible" Houseplants

I'm sure the bitter cold this past week has made a lot of us long for the first warm spring day. Having a few houseplants around can help to satisfy the desire to have something green and growing near us when winter is wearing out its welcome.

I have had even experienced, accomplished gardeners lament to me that they can't keep houseplants alive. There are a lot of factors that contribute to success with houseplants, but just like our outdoor landscapes, choosing the "right plant for the right place" is important. Depending on your situation, choosing houseplants that can survive a fairly wide range of indoor conditions, so called "indestructible" houseplants, may be just the strategy to turn your brown thumb a shade of green. My list is constantly evolving, but here are a few of my current favorites:

  • Cast Iron Plant
  • ZZ Plant
    • Native to East Africa, adapted to long periods of drought
    • Prefers bright indirect light but will tolerate a wide range of light levels.
    • Difficult to propagate and slow-growing, so this plant is often expensive to purchase.
  • Clivia (Clivia miniata)
    • Beautiful blooms in February or March if given a cool, dry (no watering!) rest period for 12-14 weeks beginning in October or November
    • Needs bright indirect light indoors, and a shaded spot if placed outdoors for the summer.
    • Plants will tend to develop root rot if kept too moist.
  • Plumeria
  • Pothos or Devil's Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
    • Native to the Solomon Islands, tolerates wide range of light levels, though in low light leaves will lose variegation
    • Extremely "brown thumb" resistant–will tolerate a lot of neglect and poor cultural practices.
    • Easy to propagate–cuttings root easily in water
  • Philodendron
    • Native to South American rain forests, can be found as a vine, tree, or shrub
    • Very tolerant of low light, but not low temperatures. Provide average temperatures to discourage root rot.
    • Provide a resting period by watering only just before soil is completely dry in winter.
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii)
    • A native of Central and South America, tolerates low light, but growth slows dramatically. Too much light inhibits their white, long-lasting blooms
    • Another "brown thumb" resistant plant–performs well in average temperature homes, cool temperatures increase likelihood of problems with crown rot
    • May be propagated by division. Roots may be tough, so a serrated knife will help the division process.
  • Mother-in-law's Tongue or Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
    • Native to Africa, cream to yellow variegations reminiscent of a snake
    • Probably the most "brown thumb" resistant plant of all–many dead-looking plants will miraculously revive when proper care resumes. My mom had a plant that even survived the dog dragging it out of the pot and chewing it!
    • Repotting is seldom necessary, since roots are sparse and plant looks best when allowed to crowd the pot
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
    • Native to South Africa, common name comes from long, thin leaves emerging from a central point, plus "babies" borne on long stems
    • Prefers cool to average home temperatures, but will tolerate warmer temperatures. Roots have evolved to store water, making it very tolerant to inconsistent watering practices. Fluoride in tap water will turn leaf tips brown. Use distilled or rainwater to prevent tip browning.
    • Spider plant "babies" are easily propagated simply by planting in their own pot. Consider using an abundance of these "babies" in your container gardens outdoors this spring. They add some variety to your annuals, and the price is right!
  • Dracaena
    • Another native to Africa, a wide variety of sizes, shapes and unique variegations are available
    • Enjoys average home temperatures and low to medium light
    • Many plants will lose lower leaves as they mature. If the plant becomes overly spindly or ragged-looking, stems may be cut back severely to encourage new growth. New growth may take weeks to emerge. Water sparingly until new growth is apparent. Stem cuttings may be used for propagation.

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