While we're talking about houseplants, (and boy are we talking about houseplants!), I took inventory of how many and what kind I have taking up space and my energy. Some orchids (16), a few brugmansias (5), and an assortment of succulents (11) are just part of what gives me a grand total of 157. This is down from the last time I counted, back in 2007, when I had over 175.
I have my favorites, of course, but I also have those that now leave me scratching my head, wondering why I continue to bother with them. I've said before that I have a problem disposing of anything that has a gasping breath of life left in it, no matter how pathetic it looks. In my outside gardens, I have what I call "The Orphan Garden," where non-performers go to either straighten up and grow right or die. Perhaps I'm doing something similar here in the house.
I have all these swirling thoughts in my head about why I have so many houseplants and why I want to try to commit acts of heroism on the struggling. Being a positive thinker and a procrastinator with a little bit of pack rat thrown in, I'll deal with the losers later.
For now, I want to celebrate those that are thriving and make some recommendations for houseplants that have the best chance of survival. I've provided links to their pages at Dave's Garden, where you can learn more about each of them.
- Hoya - There are many kinds of Hoyas, and I'm not certain which species mine is, but most of the genus are much the same when it comes to care. This is a plant that I have never lost even a single leaf from! It was a passalong that I received in the mail from a friend in Washington. She told me it was tough and a good grower and after surviving the trip across the country and my not repotting it for over three years, I believe it.
When the branches get too long, I simply cut them off and put them back into the pot to root. I've never lost one of those either. It's not in a high light location and I'm very sporadic about watering it, but I err on the side of dryness. Several times a year, I'm rewarded with heavenly smelling white blooms that look like beaded jewelry. Be warned though - not all Hoya blooms smell good.
- Kangaroo Fern (Microsorum pustulatum) - I purchased this about three years ago when a friend and I accidentally ended up at a garden center. (Really! It was an accident, I swear!). The shop owner assured me it was one of the easiest plants to care for - just water it and put it in a location where it gets medium light. It hangs by a north window, so it's not the brightest of light, but it doesn't seem to matter.
It will lose a leaf now and then, but it keeps right on putting out new ones to replace those lost. No doubt it could use repotting, since I've not done that since I bought it, but this plant just looks good all the time. Last summer, I put it outside under the pergola and it really loved it out there. I'll probably do that this summer, too. I recently noticed smaller ones for sale at our local Walmart.
- Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) - I sang the praises of this succulent in my last post and I'm more than happy to sing them again. While it does enjoy a sunny spot, water needs are minimal and it will take a little neglect in that area. They'll tell you when they want water by having wrinkly leaves.
One of the great things about Jade plants is how easy they are to propagate. I simply lay a leaf on top of the soil and in a couple of weeks, it has sprouted roots and starts to put out new leaves, with no special treatment from me, besides making sure the soil isn't too wet (it will rot).
- Philodendron - Who hasn't grown a Philodendron in their lifetime? I remember years ago when I was in college, I had one and killed it. I knew nothing about gardening and heard more than once when I'd admitted to the philo-slatughter, "HOW do you kill a Philodendron???" It was truly embarrassing.
I don't remember how I committed this heinous act. Probably totally ignored it for too long, but I'm proud to say that I have one that was given to my husband and me on August 1, 1975, by the florist for our wedding. Yes, it's going on 35 years old! I shared cuttings with each of our daughters on the occasion of their own weddings in 2006 and 2008.
Care of Philodendrons is classic: Medium light, but will tolerate either side of that; average water, but will tolerate either side of that; average humidity, but will tolerate each side of that. You get the picture. Propagation is a breeze, too. Just take a cutting and put it in water until it forms roots, then pot it up! These will grow for a very long time in water, too! (Trust me on this.)
There's quite a variety of Philodendrons out there. There are those with split leaves, variegated leaves, and golden leaves. I'm looking to get one that has silver speckles on its leaves that I recently saw at Lowe's. A similar plant is Pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum).
- Dieffenbachia - You may know this one as Mother-in-Law Plant or Dumb Cane. This is because if you ingest its leaves, it can cause the tongue to swell and paralyze the vocal cords. It can have the same effect on cats and dogs, so keep this in mind when locating it. It is readily available and comes with beautifully variegated leaves. It likes medium light, out of direct sunlight, but will tolerate lower light levels fairly well.
Propagation is easy. You can cut off the top and put it in soil, and the remaining stalk will also sprout new shoots. It likes humidity, so it will do better with some occasional misting. These do like soil to be kept moist, but not sopping wet.
- Goldfish Plant (Nematanthus gregarius) - Okay, so this is one more than five, but I can't neglect to mention this gem. It's called Goldfish Plant because its blooms resemble goldfish. How fun is that? But another great thing about it is its ease of growing. I've had mine for several years now and it looks as good as it did the day I got it. It has small, dark green, shiny leaves and grows in medium to low light situations.
I'll admit, it had a rough patch last winter, but it recovered nicely when I let it out to play in the spring weather for awhile (in a shaded location). That leads me to believe I'd neglected to water it as much as it would have liked and it really doesn't require heavy watering. I learned my lesson and it's been great ever since.
Some of these plants may seem commonplace to you, but there's a reason for that. They're generally reliable and if you've not delved into the world of houseplants, these are sure bets for success.
Sometimes I think they're overlooked and underappreciated because of their commonness. But that's no reason not to grow them. After all, one healthy plant in the pot is worth two in the compost pile.