This time of year is enough to give gardeners a case of the blues – or maybe that should be browns. Everything outside is looking mighty moribund.
But gardeners can still exercise their green thumb – if they refuse to succumb to the winter doldrums and give growing houseplants a try.
Just having something green and living in your house when everything outside is dead and brown is a reward, says Ken Young, owner of Young’s Greenhouse & Flower Shop, 3141 N. Clinton St.
This time of year, Young says, thoughts typically turn to poinsettias, holly and ivy and maybe a Norfolk Island pine as acceptably seasonal indoor plants.
But there are many others that don’t mind winter’s lower light conditions and will thrive without a lot of fuss, area experts say.
Some plants will provide blooms, while others have interesting foliage and can get seasonally festive with the addition of a bright red bow.
Most of these plants live in the tropical understory, so they like warm temperatures within the indoor living range and share the same care requirements, Young says.
That means waiting until the soil is nearly dry to water, then watering thoroughly. But don’t let the plants sit in water, he says – if water drips through to the saucer, empty it right away to protect roots.
In the wintertime, Young adds, most will take all the light that nature provides, so a moderately sunny spot is just fine.
And don’t worry about fertilizer, says Doug Hackbarth, owner of Fort Wayne’s Broadview Florists and Greenhouses, 5409 Winchester Road.
In the wintertime, plants just can’t handle it. They have to turn it into growth, and they just aren’t up to doing it in the wintertime, he says.
But they’re still up to purifying the air, he adds – an asset when homes are closed up tight for winter. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out our life-giving oxygen, and they can filter some toxins. They’re healthy for you to have, Hackbarth notes.
So, if you’re thinking of giving a living gift, or just need to perk up your own spirits for the dreary months ahead, here are a few plants to try.
With proper care, florists say, they can live through many winters to come. And at below $10 to above $30 depending on size, they’re well within gift-giving reach.
Dracaena. Lots of varieties of this plant, native to Africa and Asia, are there for the choosing, including one sold as lucky bamboo in containers without soil. The dark green leaves really put on a show, being somewhat large and spiky with lighter green stripes. The plant grows tall – one nickname is corn plant – and will last years. Just don’t overwater, Young says.
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum). Those who love calla lillies might like these plants, with their similarly shaped, although smaller, whitish-green flowers. Though not a true lily, this is a truly forgiving plant, with a name with nice seasonal associations. The plant will help keep peace with its caretaker by drooping a bit when it needs water, Hackbarth says. They do like water, he says, but only about once a week in the winter. The plant doesn’t like drafts, however, and does better with indirect sun – yellow streaks or brown spots on the leaves indicate too much sun.
Rubber plant (Ficus elastica). These plants have thick, dark green leaves and are really hard to kill, Young says. Rubber plants thrive in indirect sun, and with maybe twice a month watering in the wintertime. Leaves will turn yellow and fall off with too much water, he says.
Schefflera. Some people call these plants umbrella plants because their leaves radiate outwards in a circle from a single center point. With proper growing and repotting, schefflera can turn into a small tree. However, you can look for Schefflera arboricola, sometimes called Hawaiian schefflera, which is a dwarf variety. Not much care is needed – bright, indirect sun and watering when dry – but expect to repot or prune (or stake as they get leggy) and fertilize during growing season. Young says new varieties do better than ones older growers might know, but Hackbarth is not a fan. I hardly ever carry them, he says of schefflera.
Phalaenopsi s. For lovers of the exotic, here’s an orchid that can be purchased now in full bloom at many locations, from florists to supermarkets. A native of the tropics sometimes called the moth orchid because its showy flowers resemble moths, this plant takes once-a-week watering and will thrive in a house kept at 65 degrees at night and above 70 degrees in the daytime. Colors range from white to purple to various pinks – and blooms remain for months and return. You just cut the stem just above where the first flower bloomed for the next bloom. These like a good amount of indirect light – move the plant to a more diffuse light situation in summer, when direct sun can scorch leaves. But don’t worry in the wintertime.
Thanksgiving cactus. These aren’t desert plants but epiphytes that grow on trees in tropical jungles, says Dan Eicher, greenhouse staff member at Armstrong Flowers, 726 E. Cook Road. They like bright light, though not full sun, and they won’t complain about household temperatures or humidity, though a little more of the latter won’t hurt, he says. The cultivation trick: let them dry out between waterings, and after they flower, water them only sporadically until September, when the bloom cycle begins again. Their showy, tiered flowers now come in white, through several shades of pink, orange and red-orange. And there’s even a yellow, but those are still kind of rare, Eicher says. This plant will bloom from now until Christmas, with a red variety sold as Christmas cactus more likely to bloom after Christmas, Eicher says.
Chinese evergreen. These plants, with the scientific name Aglonema, don’t resemble typical evergreensThey have large, showy oval leaves with light or silvery and bright green vareigation. A true low-light, low-water plant, this plant won’t grow if too wet, and lower leaves will yellow if too dry.
Snake plant. Maybe they should call this low-maintenance plant, also known as Sansivera, the neglect plant, jokes Hackbarth. That’s one you can grow in the closet, he says. The worst thing you can do is take care of it and water it. Snake plants have a cluster of narrow spiky leaves that grow 1 to 3 feet long and straight up. They’re a medium green, often mottled with yellow and black and tough as shoe leather. Expect to get tired of this plant long before it tires of living – you may not want to give it as a gift unless you want to inherit it someday.