Houseplant How-To

As frost threatens, in come the potted plants. It is also time to pay some season attention to any other houseplants you have so that they are safely settled for the winter. The new book, Nesting, it’s a Chick Thing, has some great houseplant how-to’s, plus a list of houseplants from hell (not to own) and houseplant MVPs.

Having an indoor Eden requires quite a bit of commitment. Searching for simple houseplant tips is like asking for advice on how to get a baby to sleep. Everyone has a different technique, a sure thing, a fail-safe method–until someone else tries it on a different baby. There are chicks who swear that ficus trees are as hard as 200-year-old redwoods, while others bemoan the fickle nature of ficus and their hateful propensity to drop leaves.

What we do know for sure is that there is a houseplant for everyone. You just have to keep buying them, babying them, and yes, on occasion burying them. Hopefully you’ll come across the dream partner before you begin to feel like a horticultural serial killer. Here are a few bits of houseplant insight.

Location, location, location. It’s true for real estate, and it’s true for houseplants. Plants are very sensitive to light, temperature, and how dry or humid a place is. Work with the space you’ve got and pick a plant that will be happy in that space. How much light will it get? Is it in a cooler or hotter part of the house? Dry or humid? Are there windows or vents nearby? Armed with that info, head for the nursery to choose a houseplant.

Plant Diet. Just like people and animals, plants need to right nourishment. Whether it’s a commercial fertilizer or a specialized blend of organic nutrients, plants need customized, regular feeding. Your nursery or plant seller can tell you what your individual plant needs.

Plant Hygiene. Everyone appreciates a nice trim, although plants don’t need them as often as we chicks do (thank goodness). Plan on being your plant’s stylist as needed-pruning off dead or dying leaves and branches or pinching back leggy sections so that foliage will stay full. It will leave them looking refreshed and revived. Don’t forget to turn your plants frequently so they will get sun exposure on all sides and grow evenly.

Give them a Trip to the Spa: Plants need to get away sometimes too. Take them outside regularly (weather permitting), for some nice sun or cool shade, depending on what they like. Water them thoroughly at this time, letting water flow completely through their pots to let salts run out.

Let them Socialize. “Does this new cachepot make my bud look too big?” Just like chicks, plants need some time to get together for some healthy competition and blithe chatter. They appreciate being grouped together and will grow better with stimulating company.

Invest in a “Bud Double.” If you are going to spend the time and effort to raise and get to know a certain type of plant, why not invest in two? That way you can rotate them–one goes outside while the other brightens your interior, or send them to different areas of your home.

Houseplants from Hell (High Maintenance Plants): Maindenhari ferns, gardenia, orchids, mini roses, and African violets.

Most Valuable Plants (MVPs): Bromeliads, grape ivy, geranium, parlor palm, and piggyback plant.

Adapted from Nesting, It’s a Chick Thing, by Ame Mahler Beanland and Emily MIles Terry (Workman Publishing Company, 2008).

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gail d.
gail dair5 years ago


William P.
Past Member 5 years ago

When you get one growing this way, then it is fast and easy to make more by rooting stem cuttings. Not only is the sweet potato plant attractive, but the leaves are edible, especially the tender young ones. I have grown them in dirt, and also soil-free, in liquid nutrient solution.
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Michelle T.
Michelle T.7 years ago

Don't forget about a pothos too. They go by another name, but I can't recall what it is. Very easy to maintain, and very attractive.

Robert Gibbons
Robert G.7 years ago

I've found peace lilly and snake plant to be 2 excellent indoor plants. Just keep them moist and in shade and they are happy.