Category Archives: houseplants

Taking Care of Your Holiday Cactus

holiday cactus

Thanksgiving cactus with yellow anthers and sharp leaf edges

A popular blooming holiday plant is the “Holiday Cactus” which is an umbrella term to include the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and the Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata). These are not cacti at all but epiphytes from the Brazilian rainforest. In their native environment, they grow among tree branches, in the humid, shady jungles. Continue reading

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy Your Shamrock Plants

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Although the shamrock plant looks like a three-leaf clover it is actually a species of Oxalis. These are commonly sold as St. Patrick’s Day gift plants but they make great houseplants and garden plants. Continue reading

Appreciate Your Houseplant Today

Small Arrowhead Plant

Today, January 10, 2021, is Houseplant Appreciation Day. To celebrate, consider purchasing one (or all) of these low-light, low-maintenance houseplants. Houseplants should be appreciated — they have a lot to offer us.  Houseplants improve air quality by removing chemicals and carbon dioxide and supplying oxygen. Houseplants provide a positive psychological impact by increasing memory retention and concentration and reducing stress. They add beauty and color and can be used as a structural component to divide a room. Continue reading

Poinsettia Pointers to Prolong Healthy Plants

Odds are you have a poinsettia in your home for the holidays. In the United States, poinsettias are grown in greenhouses and programmed to bloom in time for Christmas. To keep your plant healthy for as long as possible, try to emulate the greenhouse conditions in your own home: bright light and balmy 70 degrees. Keep the soil moist but don’t let the roots sit in water. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. If it is in that decorative foil, either remove the foil or cut the bottom out of the foil so excess water drains out.

Continue reading

Taking Care of Your Holiday Cactus

holiday cactus

Thanksgiving cactus with yellow anthers and sharp leaf edges

A popular blooming holiday plant is the “Holiday Cactus” which is an umbrella term to include the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and the Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata). These are not cacti at all but epiphytes from the Brazilian rainforest. In their native environment, they grow among tree branches, in the humid, shady jungles. Continue reading

Save Your Geraniums for Next Year

Red geraniums in a large container in May

When my mother lived in Vienna, Virginia, she grew red geraniums in large containers by the front door. Every fall she would pull the plants out of the containers, knock off the excess soil, and place the plants on a shelf in the basement. There was one small window allowing very little light. Every summer, these plants would come back to life and she never had to purchase more plants. Continue reading

Celebrate Houseplant Appreciation Day

Small Arrowhead Plant

Today, January 10, 2020, is Houseplant Appreciation Day. Here are five low-light, low-maintenance houseplants that are easy to find at local garden centers. Houseplants should be appreciated — they have a lot to offer us.  Houseplants improve air quality by removing chemicals and carbon dioxide and supplying oxygen. Houseplants provide a positive psychological impact by increasing memory retention and concentration and reducing stress. When you choose the right plant, it can add beauty and color. Try growing these in your home or office.

ZZ Plant

ZZ Plant

The ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is native to eastern Africa. The unusual botanical name comes from the cycad genus Zamia because the foliage is similar to cycads and culcas, the Arabic name for elephant’s ear plant (Colocasia). The pinnate glossy, dark green leaves are about a foot long with 6-8 pairs of leaflets, about 3 to 6 inches long, spaced in such a manner that they look like a ladder.

The plant can grow to a few feet tall so it is not a desktop plant. However, if you buy several and plant in a row, they make a distinctive “screen.” The roots are actually swollen rhizomes, which means the plant can tolerate very dry conditions. Although ZZ plants are not grown for flowers, they do bloom at the base of the plant with peace lily type flowers.

Chinese Evergreen

Chinese Evergreen

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.) plants vary in color and size. Although it is an upright plant that grows to a foot or two, it is possible to purchase a young one for the desk. There are plants with variegated green and cream leaves or green and silver leaves, and there is a new variety called red aglaonema with red, pink, and green leaves. Chinese evergreen plants are very hardy, tolerant of a wide range of conditions.

Arrowhead Plant

Like the name suggests, arrowhead plants (Syngonium spp.) have arrow-shaped leaves. They are often sold as small plants for terrariums. Mature plants are about a foot tall. The leaves usually are white and green but there are gold and green varieties and plants with a blush of pink.  As the plant matures, the leaf shape and color changes so that mature leaves can be all green.

Arrowhead with Pink Blush

Snake Plant

Snake Plant

Most snake plants (Sansevieria spp.) have foot-long, sword-shaped leaves. The leaf color is usually a mottled green, with yellow, gray or silver margins. There are varieties with more yellow or silver coloring in the leaves. There are varieties that are short, almost stunted looking and there are some with very thin, cylindrical leaves. Snake plants provide a strong vertical interest, making them good floor plants.

Devil’s Ivy or Golden Pothos

Devil’s ivy or golden pothos (Scindapsus spp.) has heart-shaped leaves with green and yellow or green and white variegation. There are golden varieties as well. In the tropics, this plant grows as a vine so the plant has a natural trailing or cascading effect when grown indoors. It is a good plant to place high up on shelves so the stems can be allowed to cascade down. Cuttings of the stems root very easily, making it a great plant to share with friends or grow in a vase of water.

White and Green Variegated Pothos

Golden Pothos

Save Your Geraniums for Next Year

Red geraniums in a large container in May

When my mother lived in Vienna, Virginia, she grew red geraniums in large containers by the front door. Every fall she would pull the plants out of the containers, knock off the excess soil, and place the plants on a shelf in the basement. There was one small window allowing very little light but these plants would come back to life the following summer. She did this because her mother, who lived in Wisconsin, also saved geraniums in the fall. However, her mother had a sunny foyer. Every fall, she would cut her plants back, repot them in smaller containers, and treat them as small indoor plants in the foyer. Both methods worked well. Geraniums can take quite a bit of dryness which is what makes them ideal for overwintering.

This year, I received a geranium from All-America Selections. Calliope is a 2017 AAS ornamental vegetative winner (not grown from seed) with red flowers. It has bloomed all summer in a large container, in full sun. I added Osmocote when I originally planted it in May but I have not needed to water it. The rain has been enough. Every time I see this pretty plant I think of my mother and grandmother and how gardening wisdom passes down from generation to generation. Before winter hits, I want to save my geranium too. Since I do not have a brightly lit room in my house, I will try my mother’s technique.

Calliope in October, ready to be overwintered

This month, before frost, I will lift the plant out of the container, shake the soil off and cut off or back diseased parts and the flowers. Then I will let it dry for a few days in the shade on the deck so that excess moisture will evaporate. I will then place the plant in a large paper grocery bag, upside down, and close with a binder clip.  I will store the bag in the coolest place in the basement, which will be around 50 degrees.

Periodically, I will check the plant to see if it is getting too dry or, conversely, moldy. If moldy, I would just cut and throw away those parts.  If too dry, I would soak the roots in water for a few hours and then dry and put back in the bag. Of course, the foliage will die off eventually but that is okay.  In the beginning of April, I will put the root structure in a small container with drainage holes. I am assuming the plant will look like a dead stump but I have no doubt it will come back to life. I will water and place the container in the living room where it is warmer and lighter than the basement. This will trigger the plant to leaf out again. After the average last frost date (Mother’s Day here), I will put the container on the deck. It will be in shade at first which actually will be more light than the living room. Gradually, I will move the container to a sunny location and probably in late May, I will plant it back into its large container with another dose of Osmocote.

If you have geraniums, now is the time to think about saving them so you can enjoy them again next summer. This method should enable you to enjoy your geraniums for many years to come.

Pink and red geraniums in the landscape in August

Getting Ready for College: Don’t Forget to Bring Your Houseplants

Small Arrowhead Plant

As my kids get ready for college, I think (as all gardeners do) of suitable houseplants for their dorms. My twins will be at different colleges and from orientation tours I know the light level in these rooms will be very low. Quite possibility the plants may not get watered but I think their green will be appreciated and viewed as “decoration.” Unbeknownst to my kids, the plants will be functional. They will improve air quality by removing chemicals and carbon dioxide and supplying oxygen. Plus, they will provide a positive psychological impact by increasing memory retention and concentration and reducing stress. Quite possibility the presence of plants will remind my kids to text their parents every now and then but this remains to be seen.

I knew I would not be able to drag them to a nursery so I showed them photos of five low light, low maintenance plants. I explained that I picked these five because of the variety in shape and color and they don’t have to worry about watering often, it won’t interfere with their studies. For all of these plants, the soil should be kept barely moist and fertilized only once a year.

ZZ Plant

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

The ZZ plant is native to eastern Africa. The unusual botanical name comes from the cycad genus Zamia because the foliage is similar to cycads and culcas, the Arabic name for elephant’s ear plant (Colocasia). I thought this fact alone would endear them to my 18-year-olds. But they liked the ZZ plant’s distinctive glossy, dark green foliage. The pinnate leaves are about a foot long with 6-8 pairs of leaflets, about 3 to 6 inches long, spaced in such a manner that they look like a ladder.

The plant can grow to a few feet tall so it is not a desktop plant. The roots are actually swollen rhizomes, which means the plant can tolerate very dry conditions. Although ZZ plants are not grown for flowers, they do bloom at the base of the plant with peace lily type flowers. I doubt this will happen in a dorm.

Chinese Evergreen

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.)

Chinese evergreen plants vary in color and size. Although it is an upright plant that grows to a foot or two, it is possible to purchase a young small one for the desk. There are plants with variegated green and cream leaves or green and silver leaves, and there is a new variety called red aglaonema with red, pink, and green leaves.

Arrowhead plant (Syngonium spp.)

Like the name suggests, arrowhead plants have arrow-shaped leaves. They are often sold as small plants for terrariums, which make them suitable for desks. There are also full grown plants about a foot tall. The leaves usually are white and green but there are gold and green varieties and plants with a blush of pink.  As the plant matures, the leaf shape and color changes so that mature leaves can be all green.

Arrowhead with Pink Blush

Snake Plant

Snake plant (Sansevieria spp.)

Snake plant is very popular with its foot long, sword-shaped leaves. Leaves are usually a mottled green, with yellow, gray or silver margins. There are varieties with more yellow or silver coloring in the leaves. For a new take on snake plant, look for Bantel’s Sensation, which has narrower leaves with white vertical strips or the cylinder snake plant with very narrow, cylindrical leaves. There are some very short, almost stunted versions, that are suitable for desks. Usually they will be tall enough to grow in a container on the floor or on a stand.

Devil’s ivy or golden pothos (Scindapsus spp.)

Devil’s ivy or golden pothos has heart-shaped leaves with green and yellow or green and white variegation. There are golden varieties as well. In the tropics, this is a vine so it has a trailing or cascading effect when grown indoors. It is available in small containers and can be grown on a desk. The stems also can be allowed to cascade down by placing containers on top of shelves or closets. Cuttings of the stems root very easily, which makes a great plant to share with friends or grow in a vase of water.

White and Green Variegated Pothos

My daughter and son chose the ZZ plant as their top choice for its distinctive foliage. My daughter’s second choice was the Chinese evergreen and my son’s second choice was the snake plant. Try showing this article to your kids to see what they would prefer and surprise them with their choice when you visit in the fall during parents’ weekend!

Golden Pothos

Marimo: “Houseplant” for the New Generation

one small Marimo to take home, with googly eyes attached

Usually when I see or hear of something three times in a row, it peaks my interest. Recently I had seen images of Marimo on Facebook – green, moss-like balls in water. Last week, City Planter, a local plant business, was selling them at the Philadelphia Flower Show in water-filled plastic pouches. I did not buy one but I thought it would be a great gift for my kids as they move into college dorms this fall. This week, I received an e-mail from The Sill announcing they have Marimo as a “houseplant” in stock again.

Marimo are balls made up of green algae (Aegagropila linnaei). The algae is a filamentous form where the filaments grow out from the center in many directions. The rolling nature of the water in the lakes in which they are found mold the algae into spheres. This filamentous algae is found only in a few lakes, one of which is Lake Akan in Japan. Marimo is the Japanese word for the balls.

Marimo grows slowly, just a few millimeters per year. They are long lived in their natural environments, lasting over a hundred years and reaching a foot in diameter. The Marimo balls that are sold as “houseplants” are juveniles, only a few inches in diameter.

Marimo can be kept in glass bowls by themselves or in aquariums. However, some fish such as goldfish eat the balls so check with your pet store first. The balls photosynthesize just like a houseplant and prefer indirect light or aquarium lights. If separated or torn apart, they will not die. However, you may have to hand-mold them into balls again. They cannot be allowed to dry out or they will die.

individual glass container of one Marimo to bring home

In nature, Marimo are spherical because of the lake’s rolling water but in a glass tank they may lose this shape because the water is still. Simply hand roll the Marimo to retain the shape. This also allows other sides to receive light evenly. Because they come from cold lakes, they prefer cool, clean water which means the water in the glass bowl cannot be allowed to heat up (which will happen with sun or direct light) and has to be changed every two weeks.

Theoretically, Marimo balls will outlive you if you treat them right. Not like the goldfish I got for my kids when they were in elementary school. In the fall, as my twins head for college, I will buy them glass bowls of green Marimo balls, the low-maintenance “houseplant” for the next generation.

holding tank of many Marimo for people to purchase individually