By Hilary Hart
Garden*Hood has a brand new Hot*House! Even when it’s freezing outside, inside our pavilion-come-greenhouse you’ll find warm temperatures and a pleasing selection of houseplants. This is our first step in developing climate-controlled space at our heretofore exclusively outdoor nursery. We’re absolutely thrilled to finally be able to offer exceptional houseplants even in the middle of winter.
How to Pick the Right House Plant
Perhaps you are new to the cultivation of houseplants, or maybe you consider yourself a “brown thumb” when it comes to indoor gardening. Just as with landscape plants, houseplant success begins with picking the right plant for the right place. Before you purchase a houseplant, think about where it will live in your home.
Light in the Home
“In a window, silly!” you may well say. The direction a window faces determines the quality of light a plant receives. Some plants require strong light, while others will burn in direct sun. So, the first step is to establish the orientation of the windows in your home. Use a compass or simply notice where the sun rises (east) and sets (west).
Window Exposures and Light Quality
- Southern: strongest light source
- Western: good for high-light plants that like some heat
- Eastern: perfect for moderate to low-light adapted plants
- Northern: appropriate for low-light plants
Now, the great thing is that you don’t have to put your plant directly in a window. If your plant requires bright indirect light, place it in a room with a south- or west-facing window, but out of the path of direct sunlight. You can make other adjustments with window treatments. For instance, if you have a southern exposure that is too much for some plants, use sheer curtains or tilted blinds as a filter.
Plants for Busy Schedules
Plants aren’t like our pets; they cannot mew and rub against our legs when they need water. We have to remember their needs without their prompting. Only plastic plants require no care; even air plants need to be watered. However, even if you have a busy schedule or travel for work, you can still have houseplants. You just need to pick ones that can handle — or even thrive — on variable watering. Some plants are more forgiving and less work than others. I will provide a list of these plants later, but first, a few words about moisture.
In terms of plant care, people most frequently fail with watering — too little or too much. If you know this is a tough area for you, pick plants that are not too fussy about consistent moisture. Plant tags and Garden*Hood signs generally use the following categories to describe the moisture conditions of houseplants.
Lightly moist: soil that is neither completely wet nor entirely dry. You can maintain this level of moisture with frequent light watering, taking care to distribute the water evenly in the pot. Use a narrow-spouted watering can to control the flow. The lightly moist condition is perhaps the most difficult to achieve.
Moderately moist: This applies to plants that need regular, hearty drinks, such as blooming plants and other fast growers that need high light. Pour a light trickle of water through the soil until it runs out the bottom of the pot. Allow excess water to drain thoroughly before returning the pot to its saucer. Never leave potted plants in standing water.
Allow to dry out between waterings: administer a good drink and then let the soil dry before administering another. Dry-loving plants require a little bit of the drought conditions to which they are adapted. Succulents and cacti hoard water in their leaves and tissues so that they can endure desert conditions. They also have shallow root systems that will readily rot if overwatered.
During the growing season plants need more water, while during the winter they will need less. With that said, our homes often become very dry during winter when we run the heat a great deal. Dry air means thirsty plants.
Know Your Plants
Watering is a bit of an art. As you get to know your plant and its ways, you will develop a feel for watering rhythms. Different species have different needs based on the adaptations they’ve made to their native habitats. So know the species of your houseplants and what they are accustomed to in nature: Cacti in deserts versus ferns in forests.
Knowing When to Water
Finally, the only truly reliable way to know if your plant needs water is to feel the soil. Work your finger into the soil up to the first knuckle, and decide it the soil feels moist about an inch beneath the surface. Think about what moisture condition your plant needs (lightly moist versus moderately moist) and water — or don’t water — accordingly.
Adaptable Plants for the Novice, the Wary and Even the Jaded Indoor Gardener
If you are new to growing houseplants or simply uncertain about your ability to keep them alive, here is a list of plants that are adaptable to a range of light, temperature and moisture conditions.
Snake Plant (Sanseveria trifasciata)
Just about bomb proof. Great upright form makes for a striking floor plant. Bright indirect light to moderate light. In winter, allow to dry out between watering. Readily stands up to neglect (not that I endorse neglect).
ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
Beautiful arching stems and wonderfully shiny leaves. Bright indirect light, let dry a bit between waterings. ZZ plants can be nurtured into 4-foot giants, or they can subsist on utterly depleted soil and nary a drop of water. One durable plant.
Rubber tree (Ficus elastica)
Aspidistra (Aspidistra eliator)
The original “cast iron” plant. Can take very low light. Keep lightly moist spring to fall; allow to dry between waterings in winter. Victorians called aspidistra “barroom plant” because it could tolerate the dark, polluted environs of taverns. If you’ve had trouble with peace lilies (Spathiphyllum sp.), try aspidistra instead.
Split-leaf Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa)
Peperomia (Peperomia caperata)
Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
Most ferns, especially maidenhair ferns, require much higher humidity than can be found in our modern homes. If you’re keen to keep a fern inside, try one of these. Low to moderate light and even moderate moisture.
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) Another bomb-proof plant. Bright to low light. Great for offices. Allow first inch of soil to dry between waterings. I favor Satin Pothos for its silver marbling.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum colosseum) Handsome hanging plant that does equally well in a tabletop pot. Bright to moderate light. Extremely prolific — share with friends!