How could a person with so little respect for houseplants have so many?
That’s what I’m wondering as I settle into another winter of indoor plant care. I’ll never act on it, but this could be a resolution for any year: If I’m going to have this many houseplants, maybe I should figure out their needs just a little bit better. Especially now that there is now an office array (above), as well as all the domestic residents.
Aside from vigorously attacking scale, mites, and other pests – which thankfully, do not come frequently – pulling away brown or yellow foliage and tossing goners into the compost, I really don’t have a horticulture-based strategy for these. I don’t divide, hardly ever fertilize, never propagate and only repot if one is actually toppling out of its container. I don’t move them around much; aside from avoiding rooms that have zero light, they are where they are because they fit the decor.
Though I’ve paged through some very good houseplant books and even reviewed some of them, the only thing that sticks is my late mother-in-law’s words about her indoor greenery: “Benign neglect,” she advised.
Obviously they need to be watered. We probably do more of that than would normally be called for, but our house has a lot of warm air pumping through it. It’s winter in Buffalo. And we do use free-standing humidifiers as well as a furnace humidifier. That’s as much for human comfort as anything else.
Otherwise, I notice that most plants soldier on, growing at whatever pace seems right to them. Others are fussier. My answer – get rid of the troublemakers and buy more of the tolerant, easy-going guys.
Come to think of it, that philosophy has guided much of my outdoor gardening as well. But I put much less effort into my houseplants. Maybe it’s because I hate all their names. The botanical names are horribly long and some seem impossible to pronounce. The common names are even dumber than you’d find in the perennial world. Here’s one I refuse to buy for its name alone: Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Or you can say ZZ. No.
Dianthus, dicentra, lilium – now those are names I can get behind.
The one thing that house plants can do – maybe even more than their outdoor brethren – is that, given a number of years, there will be some attachment, if it was a worthwhile plant to begin with. That applies to my Natal Mahogany (Trichilia dregeana, shown at left above), which I bought in 2020 and has grown a good three feet since then.
That’s the kind of performance that impresses. Do you hear that, pilea, and stromanthe? You better shape up.