Category Archives: houseplants

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

Multiply Your Thanksgiving Cactus Through Cuttings

stem cuttings twisted off Thanksgiving cactus plant

Taking cuttings of your Thanksgiving cactus is easy and yields many more plants to give away as gifts. Now that the holidays are over and your plant has finished blooming, this is the perfect time to increase your holdings.

Line up a few clean, small plastic containers such as yogurt containers, fruit cup containers, or plastic cups and puncture the bottoms to allow for drainage. Fill with packaged seed starting mix and water each cup so water runs through the drainage holes.

To take the cutting, simply twist off a piece of stem about three to four segments long. The stems are made up of joined rectangular segments. Each segment is called a cladode. The length should be long enough to insert into soil and stand up. You want to twist so you have the end of a segment or cladode, not mid-way into a segment. Insert into the container, water again, and tamp to ensure the stem is standing upright. You can insert several per container or just one per container.

Place on a tray, in a well-lit place, out of direct sun. The room should be warm, “room temperature,” not a cold, drafty basement.  It is not necessary to place the container in a plastic bag or to fertilize.

stem cuttings planted on February 6

Some people insert the cutting directly into the soil while others wait a day or two for the cut part to form a callus. This is done to prevent rotting. I have never had a problem with rotting so I simply insert the cutting into the wet soil.

I do not use a rooting hormone because the plant roots easily. A Thanksgiving cactus is an epiphytic plant that grows on trees in Brazil’s coastal mountains. In their natural habitat, they have aerial roots, which is an indication that the cuttings will root easily without added hormones.

For the first few weeks, I water the containers often enough so the soil is moist but not waterlogged.  Because the containers are very small, the soil will dry out faster than a full grown plant in a large container. After a few weeks, I check to see if roots have formed by gently pulling to see if there is resistance. Also, if the plant is still turgid, there is a good chance it has survived the cut and is still trying to form roots. If the plant is obviously wilted or rotted, I throw away the entire plant and container into the trash. This is one advantage to having one cutting per container; if it does not work, you only lose the one cutting and container, not many cuttings in one container.

roots formed on cuttings on February 23

Eventually, the cuttings will form enough roots so you can transplant to a larger container with potting soil. For the cost of seed starting mix, cuttings are an inexpensive gift for friends and family. Makes a great teacher’s gift too!

close up of small white roots with seed starting medium attached

The Thanksgiving cactus is an example of a stem cutting and I will be talking about this technique as well as others at my “Plants & Design: Multiply Your Plants” workshop. Join me at Green Spring Gardens on Saturday, March 30, from 9:30 to 11:00 am as I demonstrate how to multiply plants through simple techniques that you can do at home. Learn how to take stem cuttings and divide plants to save money and enhance your garden. This is a hands-on, get dirty workshop so you can take home a starter plant plus handout. To register, call Green Spring Gardens at (703) 642-5173 or register online at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/parktakes/ using code 586.37E6. See you at Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA.

Anthurium: Alternative Poinsettia

When I was young, we lived in Thailand and my mother (who grew up in Milwaukee) would buy plants and orchids from the market. I remember one houseplant in particular: the beautiful flowers were so waxy they looked like they had been polished with furniture polish. The red flowers would last for months. My mother of course did not speak Thai so we did not know the names of the plants but we enjoyed their exotic beauty. Now that I am older, I know the waxy plants are called anthuriums. Although I associate them with tropical Asian countries, they really hail from South America tropical environments.

Anthuriums are members of the Araceae or arum family. The “flower,” the red, heart-shaped part, is a modified leaf called a spathe. The actual flowers are tiny and appear in the center vertical structure called the spadix. The “flower” lasts a long time, making them ideal for cut flower arrangements.

As a houseplant, anthuriums can grow in low light conditions. However, the more light you can provide the more likely it will bloom throughout the year. It definitely does not like moist soil. Water when the soil is dry to the touch. Anthuriums are easy, low maintenance plants, perfect for the home and office.

Usually one sees red-flowering plants at the hardware store or nursery but pink, green and white, and purple colored cultivars are available. There is even a black flower cultivar called ‘Black Love‘. My plant was less than ten dollars at the local hardware store but it was very root bound in a 4-inch pot so check your plant’s roots after you purchase it.

Because I see red flowering anthuriums during the holidays, I think of anthuriums as alternative poinsettias. Although poinsettias are instant Christmas, anthurium flowers last longer than poinsettia flowers and the plant tends to have a more exotic, year round appeal. This year I bought both, poinsettias for the home for instant Christmas décor, and an anthurium for the office for year round beauty.

Poinsettia Pointers: Before and After the Holidays

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. Try to emulate the bright light and balmy 70 degrees the greenhouse has to offer in your home so your poinsettia will survive the holidays. 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 foil or cut bottom out of foil so excess water drains out.

After the holidays, grow it as if it were a houseplant. With luck, you may be able to see colored bracts (the “flowers”) again next year. Keep the plant in bright light and 70 degree temperature. In the spring, cut the stems back about half the length. Keep indoors or put outdoors in the warm summer months. Apply a houseplant fertilizer and make sure the plant does not dry out. In June, transfer into a slightly bigger pot. In September bring the plant back indoors. To induce flowering, give the plant bright light each day and fourteen hours of uninterrupted dark each night beginning in early October (as in cover with a box or put in a closet). Keep the soil moist but stop fertilizing. The color should form on the bracts in six to eight weeks.

National Indoor Plant Week: Snake Plant

Snake plants vary in stripes, color and leaf shape.

This is the last day of National Indoor Plant Week. To celebrate National Indoor Plant Week, I published an article each day on low light level, low maintenance plants suitable for the office or home. These plants do well if you cannot devote a lot of time to take care of them and if you cannot put them near a window. I also collaborated with Costa Farms to give away one particularly distinctive plant: the ZZ plant.

Snake plants provide a strong vertical accent.

Today, Day 5, is about the snake plant, Sansevieria. The snake plant has one to 1 1/2 feet long, sword-shaped leaves, which usually are 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. All are low light level, low humidity plants where the soil is kept barely most. Fertilize once a year.

To learn more low light, low maintenance plants suitable for the office or home, see Day 4, pothos; Day 3, Chinese evergreen; Day 2, Arrowhead, and Day 1, the ZZ plant.

To enter the giveaway to win a six-inch pot of a ZZ plant, subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a monthly newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Subscribe between now, Monday, September 17, 2018, and midnight, Friday, September 21, 2018. The winner will be drawn at random from all new subscribers in this time period. Subscriptions are free, all that is needed is an e-mail. To subscribe, click here or visit pegplant.com and enter the “subscribe” button on the right column. Each issue of Pegplant’s Post lists at least 50 gardening events for the month in the Northern Virginia, MD, Washington DC metro area, recently published gardening books, gardening articles, tips, and advice, and a giveaway.

The ZZ plant cannot be shipped outside of the United States, Canada, California, Arizona, and Nevada.

Costa Farms is a third generation, family owned group of companies headquartered in Miami, FL. They grow more than 1,500 houseplants and outdoor tropical plants. You can find Costa Farms plants at many retail outlets in this area or you can order the plants via Amazon.com. Costa Farms has a great website with an online database to help you find the perfect plant for your particular needs and informative houseplant descriptions and photos. Photos in this article are from the Costa Farms website.

National Indoor Plant Week: Pothos

This particular variety of pothos is called Marble Queen.

This week is National Indoor Plant Week to promote and increase public awareness of the importance of live plants in interior spaces. Plants provide oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, and increase humidity. Plants improve air quality by helping to remove chemicals. Numerous studies have shown that plants have a positive psychological impact on people such as reducing stress and increasing memory retention and concentration.

To celebrate National Indoor Plant Week, each day from Monday, September 17, to Friday, September 21, I will focus on a low light level, low maintenance plants suitable for the office or home. These plants do well if you cannot devote a lot of time to take care of them and if you cannot put them near a window. Plus, I will be collaborating with Costa Farms to give away one particularly distinctive plant: the ZZ plant.

Neon pothos has yellow leaves.

Today, Day 4, is about the devil’s ivy or golden pothos, Scindapsus. The heart-shaped leaves are variegated green and yellow or green and white with a waxy sheen. In the tropics, this is a vine so indoors it has a trailing or cascading effect. Take advantage of the roaming nature by putting on top of office credenzas or kitchen cabinets. Or cut the stems back to keep a round shape in a planter. This is a low light level, low humidity plant where the soil is kept barely moist. However, this plant roots very easily in water and can be grown in a vase of water for a period of time. Fertilize once a year.

To learn about previous plants, click on Day 3, Chinese evergreen; Day 2, arrowhead, and Day 1, the ZZ plant.

To enter the giveaway to win a six-inch pot of a ZZ plant, subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a monthly newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Subscribe between now, Monday, September 17, 2018, and midnight, Friday, September 21, 2018. The winner will be drawn at random from all new subscribers in this time period. Subscriptions are free, all that is needed is an e-mail. To subscribe, click here or visit pegplant.com and enter the “subscribe” button on the right column. Each issue of Pegplant’s Post lists at least 50 gardening events for the month in the Northern Virginia, MD, Washington DC metro area, recently published gardening books, gardening articles, tips, and advice, and a giveaway.

The ZZ plant cannot be shipped outside of the United States, Canada, California, Arizona, and Nevada.

Costa Farms is a third generation, family owned group of companies headquartered in Miami, FL. They grow more than 1,500 houseplants and outdoor tropical plants. You can find Costa Farms plants at many retail outlets in this area or you can order the plants via Amazon.com. Costa Farms has a great website with an online database to help you find the perfect plant for your particular needs and informative houseplant descriptions and photos. Photos in this article are from the Costa Farms website.

National Indoor Plant Week: Chinese Evergreen

Chinese evergreen plant with white and green stripes

This week is National Indoor Plant Week to promote and increase public awareness of the importance of live plants in interior spaces. Plants provide oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, and increase humidity. Plants improve air quality by helping to remove chemicals. Numerous studies have shown that plants have a positive psychological impact on people such as reducing stress and increasing memory retention and concentration.

To celebrate National Indoor Plant Week, each day from Monday, September 17, to Friday, September 21, I will focus on a low light level, low maintenance plants suitable for the office or home. These plants do well if you cannot devote a lot of time to take care of them and if you cannot put them near a window. Plus, I will be collaborating with Costa Farms to give away one particularly distinctive plant: the ZZ plant.

Chinese evergreen plant with more pronounced silver bands

Today, Day 3, is about the Chinese evergreen, Aglaonema. Plants have large, wide leaves with variegated green and cream or green and silver coloring. There is a new variety called red aglaonema with red, pink, and green leaves. The plant has an upright appearance and grows from a foot to two feet. This is a low light level, low humidity plant where the soil is kept barely moist. Fertilize once a year.

Click here for Day 2, the arrowhead, and for Day 1, the ZZ plant.

To enter the giveaway to win a six-inch pot of a ZZ plant, subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a monthly newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Subscribe between now, Monday, September 17, 2018, and midnight, Friday, September 21, 2018. The winner will be drawn at random from all new subscribers in this time period. Subscriptions are free, all that is needed is an e-mail. To subscribe, click here or visit pegplant.com and enter the “subscribe” button on the right column. Each issue of Pegplant’s Post lists at least 50 gardening events for the month in the Northern Virginia, MD, Washington DC metro area, recently published gardening books, gardening articles, tips, and advice, and a giveaway.

The ZZ plant cannot be shipped outside of the United States, Canada, California, Arizona, and Nevada.

Costa Farms is a third generation, family owned group of companies headquartered in Miami, FL. They grow more than 1,500 houseplants and outdoor tropical plants. You can find Costa Farms plants at many retail outlets in this area or you can order the plants via Amazon.com. Costa Farms has a great website with an online database to help you find the perfect plant for your particular needs and informative houseplant descriptions and photos. Photos in this article are from the Costa Farms website.

National Indoor Plant Week: Arrowhead Plant

Arrowhead plant with a blush of pink in the center of the leaf

This week is National Indoor Plant Week to promote and increase public awareness of the importance of live plants in interior spaces. Plants provide oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, and increase humidity. Plants improve air quality by helping to remove chemicals. Numerous studies have shown that plants have a positive psychological impact on people such as reducing stress and increasing memory retention and concentration.

To celebrate National Indoor Plant Week, each day from Monday, September 17, to Friday, September 21, I will focus on a low light level, low maintenance plants suitable for the office or home. These plants do well if you cannot devote a lot of time to take care of them and if you cannot put them near a window. Plus, I will be collaborating with Costa Farms to give away one particularly distinctive plant: the ZZ plant.

Today, Day 2, is about the arrowhead plant. Like the name suggests, arrowhead plant, Syngonium, has arrow-shaped leaves. The leaves usually are white and green but there are gold and green varieties and varieties with a blush of pink.  As the plant matures the leaf shape and color changes so that mature leaves can be all green. To keep the variegation, just cut off older leaves. The plant grows to about one foot tall. This is a low light level, low humidity plant where the soil is kept barely moist. Fertilize once a year.

Baby arrowheads are often available for small containers or terrariums

To enter the giveaway to win a six-inch pot of a ZZ plant (see Day 1 for a description), subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a monthly newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Subscribe between now, Monday, September 17, 2018, and midnight, Friday, September 21, 2018. The winner will be drawn at random from all new subscribers in this time period. Subscriptions are free, all that is needed is an e-mail. To subscribe, click here or visit pegplant.com and enter the “subscribe” button on the right column. Each issue of Pegplant’s Post lists at least 50 gardening events for the month in the Northern Virginia, MD, Washington DC metro area, recently published gardening books, gardening articles, tips, and advice, and a giveaway.

The ZZ plant cannot be shipped outside of the United States, Canada, California, Arizona, and Nevada.

Costa Farms is a third generation, family owned group of companies headquartered in Miami, FL. They grow more than 1,500 houseplants and outdoor tropical plants. You can find Costa Farms plants at many retail outlets in this area or you can order the plants via Amazon.com. Costa Farms has a great website with an online database to help you find the perfect plant for your particular needs and informative houseplant descriptions and photos. Photos in this article are from the Costa Farms website.

National Indoor Plant Week: Low Light, Low Maintenance Plants

This week is National Indoor Plant Week to promote and increase public awareness of the importance of live plants in interior spaces. Plants provide oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, and increase humidity. Plants improve air quality by helping to remove chemicals. Numerous studies have shown that plants have a positive psychological impact on people such as reducing stress and increasing memory retention and concentration.

To celebrate National Indoor Plant Week, each day from Monday, September 17, to Friday, September 21, I will focus on a low light level, low maintenance plants suitable for the office or home. These plants do well if you cannot devote a lot of time to take care of them and if you cannot put them near a window. Plus, I will be collaborating with Costa Farms to give away one particularly distinctive plant: the ZZ plant.

Today, Day 1, is about the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), which has distinctive foliage. The pinnate leaves are about a foot long with 6-8 pairs of leaflets, about 3 to 6 inches long. They are spaced in such a manner they look like a ladder. The dark green leaves are so glossy they look like they have been polished. Although ZZ plants are not grown for flowers, they do bloom at the base of the plant with peace lily type flowers. The plant can grow to a few feet tall, does well in low humidity, low light, and low soil moisture, and is pest resistant. The roots are actually swollen rhizomes, which means the plant can tolerate very dry conditions. Water when the soil dries out and use a general purpose houseplant fertilizer once a year.

To enter the giveaway to win a six-inch pot of a ZZ plant, subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a monthly newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Subscribe between now, Monday, September 17, 2018, and midnight, Friday, September 21, 2018. The winner will be drawn at random from all new subscribers in this time period. Subscriptions are free, all that is needed is an e-mail. To subscribe, click here or visit pegplant.com and enter the “subscribe” button on the right column. Each issue of Pegplant’s Post lists at least 50 gardening events for the month in the Northern Virginia, MD, Washington DC metro area, recently published gardening books, gardening articles, tips, and advice, and a giveaway.

The ZZ plant cannot be shipped outside of the United States, Canada, California, Arizona, and Nevada.

Costa Farms is a third generation, family owned group of companies headquartered in Miami, FL. They grow more than 1,500 houseplants and outdoor tropical plants. You can find Costa Farms plants at many retail outlets in this area or you can order the plants via Amazon.com. Costa Farms has a great website with an online database to help you find the perfect plant for your particular needs and informative houseplant descriptions and photos. Photos in this article are from the Costa Farms website.