Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Love for the Houseplants

For much of the year, houseplants are second-class citizens. They're shuffled around, moved outside for their allotment of fresh air and sunshine (like convicts in a prison yard), or, if left inside, they're overshadowed by the sexier outdoor garden which commands attention with its changing colors, peaking perennials, and vegetable harvests.

In my house they are even crowded on poorly lit window ledges to make room for our Christmas tree because the only location that can accommodate the tree happens to be the best window for the plants. So which member of the plant kingdom gets priority? The dead conifer, of course!

(The houseplant classic: spider plants!)

But when the garden enters hibernation and the Christmas tree is being ground into wood chips, it's the houseplants that are still colorful, still verdant, still recharging me by bringing life and lushness to the surroundings. So it's time I show the houseplants some love. That doesn't necessarily mean pampering because most houseplants are unfussy to begin with (especially mine or else they'll die quickly). What they really need is some interested attention.

(Night-blooming cereus with overwintering coleus and my aloe in the background.)

In the months of low daylight, abundant water and fertilizer will only confuse or even damage houseplants by contradicting their natural tendency to slow their growth. Houseplants are tender perennials and they respond to seasonal changes just like their outdoor brethren. Rather than flood them or push them into artificial growth spurts, it's best to monitor houseplants and water them thoroughly only when they're certifiably dry. If you stick you finger into the dirt and it's dry to your first knuckle, it's time to water. Let the water soak through until it's pooling in the tray (you've gotta have trays and pots with drainage!). Then let the plant be until it passes the dryness test again.

(The largest of my three purple passion plants, with my Christmas cactus. Pardon those dead leaves.)

That time period varies, however, since heat in our houses can cause houseplants to dry out faster than during the summer months. That's why these plants need attention--are they remaining moist in a dim corner, or are they baking near a heat vent? Either way they'll probably survive as long as you're aware of their conditions and take appropriate steps to care for them.

(Tillandsias, my new favorite plants. I run these under the faucet once every week or two, but that's another post)

A great way to know if your houseplants are happy is simply to touch them. Do they feel floppy? You're probably overwatering. Crispy? They're likely dried out. If the leaves of your jade plant are mushy then it needs water. If the Christmas cactus is drooping, give it more light and less water. None of this is hardcore botany, just a careful eye and caring touch. Just show them some love!


Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I'm a neglectful house-plant gardener! I must confess it, and I've left a swath of dead, dried out husks in my wake. I forget to water them. Is it any wonder that the only house plants I have over a year old are Cacti? I swear, I'll do better this year. At least I'll try.

Diane said...

I love my houseplants! My problem is I'm always running out of places to put them. I like your purple passion plant; they always make me think of the seventies when all my friends' moms had them. Every time I try to grow one it gets overly leggy and then dies. Yours seems nice and full.

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

I do love that purple passion plant (here we call it Purple Velvet). I need to get one!

Gail said...

I kill all except the most resilient; if i didn't the cat would eat them and maybe get sick! Can I enjoy yours! gail

Rose said...

I could have used this post a few years ago, Rose! Unfortunately, all my houseplants died from neglect or overwatering several years ago, including a jade plant I'd had for years! Then there were the two ficus that my cats thought were litterboxes... I've been reluctant to replace them for fear I'd just kill more of them. But I will need something for bloom day posts in January and February, won't I? Maybe it's time to try again:)

rambleonrose said...

MMD--Try bromeliads! They look sort of like cacti and are just about as drought-tolerant. But they're more fun then the typical barrel cactus, etc. At least I think so.

Diane--I also struggle to find enough places, especially during the Christmas banishment from their usual window!

Cindy--Thanks, and yes you should get one! But be sure to water it regularly. They're fussy about getting dried out!

Gail--Same advice as for MMG above: try bromeliads! I haven't had them long enough to know if they can be killed, but mine have survived some neglect and I've read elsewhere that they're extremely tough!

Rose--Overwatering is my problem too! In fact I think I just killed my spearmint that I was overwintering by once again overwatering. And I'm hoping to have some blooms inside for the winter Blooms Days too!

garden girl said...

Hi Rose, I won a small bromeliad a few months ago, and can attest to its ease of care.

I have a fairly small house plant population, but they're all easy to care for. I did almost kill an orchid last year forgetting to water it. It didn't bloom last year, and I hope it's recovered enough to bloom as usually does in February.

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