While I pondered a topic to write about as we were enduring a few days of twenty degree temperatures here in North Texas recently, I looked around and began to admire the thriving houseplants I had surrounded myself with both at work and at home. I am partial to the outdoors and prefer plants I can place in ground, yet in those moments of deep thought I fully and thoroughly realized how much I appreciated the green living things that were flourishing indoors as well.
If you haven’t already, I’d like to encourage you to add a little greenery to your home and/or work space this winter. While we are fortunate in North Texas to have sporadic sunny days in the 70’s during the wintertime, we know lengthy cold spells are sure to return during the season. As I mentioned in one of my very first blog posts years ago, not only will adding houseplants to your spaces boost your spirits during cloudy and cold days, they will literally filter the air and add moisture to your indoor surroundings. I guess you could say they are healthy for you in both body and mind – combating the physical and mental effects of the short, cold, and gloomy days of winter. Another bonus to adding houseplants to your indoor spaces is that they are one of the prettiest, yet inexpensive, ways to decorate. A frilly dracaena can fully adorn a barren corner and a small urn of philodendron can enhance a vacant windowsill. A houseplant can even serve as a main focal point or centerpiece within a room.
Below are photos and descriptions of a few houseplants I enjoy at work and at home of which I have had much success in growing over the years. I invite you to add one or two varieties to brighten and enhance your indoor spaces this winter.
Pothos is one of the easiest and most forgiving of houseplants to grow. Most of us know it as the typical indoor ivy. It is a simple, trailing plant but as depicted in the opening picture of this post, it can serve as a healthy home centerpiece or in one of the other pictures here, as an office camouflage agent – hiding some of the ugliest of our necessary office accessories – computer wires! Pothos is a great beginner houseplant in that it can survive with low, medium or high indirect light. Thus, you can place it in just about any room you desire. It will do better in areas of medium to high light, however. Keeping the soil slightly moist (but not wet) is best for pothos. Wilted leaves usually signal the need for additional water while excessive yellowing of leaves can signify over-watering. As mentioned earlier, this plant is forgiving of both oversights so just add or cut back water as needed and pothos should recover. Rarely does pothos require fertilizing; adding a basic houseplant fertilizer to your pothos once or twice per year should be sufficient.
Heartleaf Philodendron, or any philodendron variety, is another wonderful beginner houseplant to consider. You should care for your philodendron exactly as you would a pothos above. My personal experience has been philodendrons will grow slightly slower than pothos. The one pictured here is sitting in a small, northern-facing window. As such, it receives quite a bit of bright, indirect sunlight and is doing rather well. Philodendrons should not experience direct sunlight and, also like pothos, do not require fertilizing often. Both pothos and small-leafed philodendrons are trailing plants that can be allowed to climb or cascade, or their stems may be pinched to create a fuller appearance.
Dracaenas, sometimes referred to as corn plants, are among my most favorite of houseplants. I believe they add a tropical, relaxing feel to indoor areas. Like philodendrons, there are many varieties of dracaenas from which to choose. Some dracaenas have thick leaves and some thin, some have variegated leaves and others solid, and some dracaenas’ leaves are more maroon in color than green. Dracaenas are the type of houseplant when mature can beautifully fill a large empty space, or as a juvenile, can sit nicely and neatly onto a desktop. Caring for dracaenas, again, follows the same guidelines as for pothos and philodendrons: needs watering about once a week, does best in medium to high indirect light but will tolerate low light, and rarely needs fertilizer. Dracaenas will let you know they are lacking in moisture by turning brown and dry at the tips of their leaves. If this occurs, simply snip the brown tips with scissors, water the plant a tad more frequently and occasionally mist the dracaena’s leaves during especially arid winter spells.
Spathiphyllum, otherwise known as spath or peace lily, is another great plant to have in your home or office. Like the plant varieties mentioned above, spaths are easy to grow and are very forgiving. One difference compared to those above is spaths actually prefer low light environments. It is best to place a spath at least 5 – 7 feet from a window so that the chance of direct sun is reduced. In fact, if your spath is not producing the beautiful spikes of white “lilies” it is known for, you may have it located in an area of too much light. Just move it back a bit from the window or artificial light and you should see blooms again. Although my peace lily pictured here is about 7 feet from a southwestern-facing window, it is currently not blooming because it is receiving a bit more light during the winter season. As summer approaches and the sun’s path shifts (to a more northern arc across the sky here in the northern hemisphere) my spath will receive less bright light and will resume blooming.
Speaking of its forgiving nature, a spath will visibly let you know, like the dracaena, when it needs more water. However, the spath chooses to heavily droop its leaves rather than turning them crispy brown. If you’ve been out of town for more than a couple of weeks or simply have forgotten to water your peace lily and it looks like a goner, just give it a good drink and within hours its leaves should start to become upright again. If it does not recover within a day, take a closer look its leaves for evidence of a non-moving, mound-shaped pest called scale. Scale bugs look like harmless brown, green or white bumps, but they are alive and very slowly sucking the life from your plant! Among the very few pests of houseplants and the few houseplants that are susceptible, scale and mature spaths tend to go hand in hand in my personal experience. My all-time best remedy for tough pests like these (scale, mealy bugs and spider mites) is a light, but comprehensive, spray of organic horticultural (neem) oil. The oil suffocates these hardy bugs with few or no additional treatments needed.
Perhaps the easiest of houseplants to maintain is the Aglaonema, otherwise known as Chinese evergreen. Chinese evergreen can grow in any lighting environment, including strictly fluorescent lighting. It can also survive weeks without water. It is one of the most common plants you will see in windowless areas of commercial buildings. As an immature plant, it looks nice on a desk or shelf and as a full, mature plant, it is beautiful when placed on the floor. Its variegated, silver leaves bring light and interest to otherwise dark corners of rooms. Below is a picture of an aglaonema in my work space. It is situated in the interior of an office suite under florescent lighting and, as you can see, is healthy and gorgeous. As with pothos, philodendrons and dracaenas, the more light an aglaonema receives the faster and fuller it will grow. Interestingly, when placed in bright light, aglaonemas produce spike-like blooms very similar to those of spaths’ while, in contrast, spaths produce them only in low light conditions.
I hope you will consider bringing a little outdoors to your inside spaces this winter. All of the above mentioned houseplants are for novices and are easy to grow. However, should they begin to decline, the issue is usually easily reversed by eliminating pests (rare), altering lighting conditions and/or adjusting the frequency of watering. Actually the most common cause of a houseplant’s decline is over-watering!
In the long run, the benefits you reap by maintaining a little greenery indoors, especially during the winter months, will be well worth the effort.
Until next time,
P.S. It came to my attention, as I am known as an indoor pet owner, it may be perceived the plants mentioned above would be 100% safe for pets. This is not the case. Please note that all of the plants mentioned above are thought to have some level of toxicity to animals. Personally, I would research the plant, consider its placement (high shelf, floor, external office) and judge by the demeanor/access of your cat or dog as to whether you should own the plant. Of course, caution should definitely be a priority concerning plants you choose to grow in a home with toddlers.