I’M WRITING THESE words during the weekend before valentines. So far we’ve had a damaging cold blast but Mother Nature's earlier gift to Mississippi was, at least, not snow and ice. Snow can be fun but ice is a curse word for the nurserymen. Greenhouses can’t bear the weight of ice, pipes break, inventory gets damaged, power outages don’t help much when you're running over 20 heaters to keep the stock alive.
For homeowners it's no better, we look out our windows the morning after one of these awful storms to see how much damage was inflicted with the weight of the ice and the long periods of below freezing temperatures. Some of the damage that occurs from a winter blast won’t show up until deeper in the year. The damage can sometimes come in the form of split trunks and stems that may affect blooming for years to come. We will just have to take that punch on the nose, it's gardening in Mississippi.
I have said it before and I will say it again, we live in one of the best weather pockets in the country. When our weather is acting right in the early spring and late fall, take a look at the rest of the country's weather. I honestly don’t know how some of those places can get anything done with their relatively short growing seasons. We never run out of water, no wildfires and we generally don’t get beat up too badly from the hurricanes that our neighbors to the south of us have to do the dance with.
This is the perfect weekend to think about houseplants since they are just about all we can do as far as gardening goes. Houseplants are one of the many things that have had a resurgence from the pandemic. People are home more and I think people need to nurture anything they can right now. Houseplants are perfect man's second best friends. They are very quiet, don’t shed very much and are relatively inexpensive. Houseplants are a great alternative to buying art or furniture to decorate a space. Houseplants’ foliage comes in an array of bright, colorful, many textured choices that can fit into any design scheme. Often the pot that is chosen to hold the plant can be a major part of the room's decor.
There’s something about bringing the green from outdoors to the indoors that brightens up our homes and work spaces. No matter how small or dimly lit your place may be there is a houseplant that will work in just about any situation. The main thing to remember when adding houseplants to your long list of things that you take care of is moderation. All plants need water, food and sunlight. Houseplants need all that but in moderation which makes them the easiest thing you’ll ever have to nourish. If you will keep in mind where tropical plants come from and remember our goal is to imitate that environment as closely as possible, you will have a better idea about what is needed to make them feel at home.
Most of these plants grow in the dark understory of the jungle in their native habitat with strong, filtered light. In the tropics rain comes sporadically but heavily with lots of time between showers so the plant's roots get time to dry out sufficiently between rains. They get their nutrients from extremely nutrient rich soil from years and years of plant material composting itself back into the forest floor.
To make it even easier for us to imitate the plants native habitat, the growers of houseplants to be sold in the American market produce the starter plants under very heavy shade cloth to harden off the plants to the darkness that they will endure in most of our homes and work spaces. Getting the plants from the jungle areas in Costa Rica to the market areas so they could be shipped to Miami where they can be finished and trucked to every garden center, big box store and grocery store in the world was part of my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It’s a gigantic business that is only getting bigger because of changing trends in our gardening needs.
There are low light, medium and high light houseplants but I have found that with enough time they can all get used to the amount of light you have to offer as long as you can achieve moderation with watering and nutrients. Most people tend to overwater and over fertilize their new pets. In a darker environment this will cause the plants to weaken and have problems like dropping their leaves or to have brown margins on their leaves. When you see these things begin to happen you should back off of the watering, they just can’t take up much water when their new home is run at temperatures that most people keep their thermostats on. A rule of thumb for watering is once every one or two weeks, with a little misting every once in a while to make them feel like they are getting the kind of misting they would have gotten in their native habitat.
A FEW EASY tips to remember are:
Turn your houseplants a little bit every couple weeks so each side gets plenty light. Wipe off the leaves with a damp cloth once a month to prevent too much build up
of regular household dust which could cause problems related to light.
Use a water soluble fertilizer once a month to replace those nutrients that get leached out during the watering process. I like to use osmocote as a backup to the
water soluble fertilizer.
I keep a spray bottle of natural insecticidal soap handy in the case of an insect invasion.
Air movement is important to the health of houseplants although they do not like being placed directly under an air vent.
Appoint one person to be the waterer of the plants at home or at the office, it's much easier to get accustomed to the watering patterns the plants will develop once they settle into their new environment.
Moderation, moderation, moderation!
A short list of the easiest and my favorite houseplant: Sansevieria also known as Mother In Laws Tongue, you’ll see where it got its name when you see one;
Ponytail palm, rubber tree, in the ficus family which is the code word for Easy;
Dieffenbachias come in so many variations with their incredible leaves, my favorite is one called Camouflage; Peace lilies, pothos, spider plants, aloe vera and my favorites, orchids are all great houseplants and there are so many more to brighten up your world year around.
Choosing your new plants can be as fun as coordinating the pot where the plant will live. The pot can go with your interior decor or it can have its own whimsical twist, just make sure the pot drains and that you have figured out a saucer situation so the plant doesn’t miss the litter box.
Shopping around all the garden centers in town will give you a chance to see a wide variety of tropical plants. We all buy from south Florida but we all buy differently. You are likely to find a real treasure at one of the many nurseries in the Northside. Allow one of the staff to show you around. They will often know where a gem may be hidden. They can also talk you through the steps to have a successful oasis in your home when you adopt your new “pets.”