Houseplants do many things. They help to clean indoor air, provide a pop of color during a white winter, and they are a great way to keep your green thumb in practice for the upcoming season. With a little know-how, you too can grow prize winning houseplants.
The hardest part about purchasing a houseplant is picking one that will work in your location. Looking for tough-as-nails plants? There are many choices for houseplants for people with less than green thumbs. The Cast Iron Plant, Aspidistra elatior, didn’t get its name from being picky. These plants don’t require much sunlight and thrive on neglect. About the only way to kill one is to overwater it or keep it in a hot room. The air plane plant, sometimes known as the spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum, is another good ‘starter’ plant for those easing their way into growing house plants. When this plant gets root bound in the pot, it blooms and sends out stolons with baby plants attached. Place the baby plants in water and it will root and you have another plant. Epipremnum aureum, or pothos, is a vining houseplant that is also pretty hardy. Be careful not to let Fluffy or Fido munch on its leaves as it can be toxic to pets.
There are a few other tried-and-true houseplants that are pretty common. The snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, Sansevieria, offers a great vertical element with its long, snake-like leaves. Want a plant that tells you when it is thirsty? Try the peace lily, Spathiphyllum, when it needs a drink of water the leaves ‘flag’ and droop just a bit. As soon as it gets water, the leaves perk back up. Who could forget the African violet, Saintpaulia ionantha? This common houseplant needs high humidity and medium to high light requirements. Also avoid watering an African violets leaves and water just the soil surface under the leaves or use a special African violet pot.
If succulents or cacti are more your style there are a large number of those to choose from. The main thing for these plants is to offer high light and low humidity. Cacti and succulents will also have a special potting mix that should be used if you need to (carefully) repot. This potting mix has sand added so that it drains well. Most true cacti, prefer to dry out between waterings. Error on the side of less water with these plants, most people love them to death by overwatering. When watering cacti and succulents, allow the water to drain through the pot into the drip tray. Dump out the excess water in the tray within about 30 minutes. If the water is allowed to sit in the drip tray, the soil will soak it back up. This can make the soil constantly wet and can lead to rotting plants. The holiday cacti, Christmas cacti, Easter cacti, and Thanksgiving cacti, prefer to have a little bit more moist soils. Succulents like the burrow’s tail, Sedum morganianum, jade plant, Crassula, or aloe, Aloe, also need high light and intermittent waterings, allowing the soil to dry out between water.
Running the furnace is great to keep us warm, but it can leave the air void of much moisture. One of the greatest enemies of houseplants in the winter is low humidity. Most of the common houseplants are actually tropical plants that love higher humidity than what is commonly found in a winter household. Humidity levels can play a large role in how well houseplants do. There are a couple of quick tricks to increase humidity in the winter home. Run a humidifier to increase the humidity of the room for both you and the plants. Houseplants that love high humidity, like ferns, rex begonias, Begonia rex,and prayer plants, Maranta leuconeura, can also be placed in one of the more humid rooms in the house like the bathroom or the kitchen. Another way to increase humidity is by utilizing a cloche, or bell-shaped glass covering. Placing groups of pots on a plant tray with pebbles then filling with water to within a half an inch of the base of the pots also works well to increase humidity. Grouping plants in the same general area will create a microclimate of increased humidity.
Houseplants benefit from a little TLC just like landscape plants do. Take the time now to inspect your plants. Remove any dead leaves or stems that have collected on the soil’s surface. Be on the lookout for pests like mealybugs, aphids, and fungus gnats. Rotate the plants in the window so that all sides get access to sunlight. This will keep them from reaching or leaning over toward the light. Thinking they could benefit from a little fertilizer? Hold off just a little while longer. Most houseplants during the winter months are actually in a semi-dormant state due to the winter growing conditions. In most cases, it is best to avoid fertilizing foliage plants from November until mid-March when they start actively growing.
Take a little time now to dust off those houseplants and provide them some much needed TLC. They might even thank you in the long run.
Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org, her blog at https://huskerhort.com/, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.