Use This, Not That


I get a lot of questions about watering house plants when I lecture and I have heard some heart breaking stories of wonderful pieces of furniture–& even a grand piano top–ruined by water from house plants. Yikes!

At my last lecture, someone told me that she has banned plants from the house just to avoid this sort of incident. That’s one approach,  of course,  but I do like to think that plants bring far more to the home than the watering accidents they cause.

So, what to do? Well, to the extent possible,  try to keep plants on glass.  You will save a lot of heartbreak and expensive refinishing that way. I have even had glass pieces made to cover some wood furniture so that I can use them as plant tables. It’s not perfect, but it helps a lot.

You see the saucer, above, that, I prefer.  It’s heavy plastic, with little “feet.” Why is that better? First,  the heavy plastic is less likely crack or leak.

Next, if you do water as you are supposed to,  so that water comes out the bottom of the pot, there are those indentations (the feet) that catch the water and drain it away so the plant’s roots aren’t sitting in water. That’s nice.

And because it’s less likely to crack like the older version, shown below, no water is going to spill out onto your table, windowsill or where ever.


I do still have some of these flimsy plastic ones. I use them under ceramic cache pots on rare occasion, but only on glass tables.

I use them on my sun porch on wire plant shelves. But I wouldn’t dream of using them on anything wood.

With any luck,  some of these ideas will help those of you who are worried about water damage in the house.  Because truly,  house plants,  with their air cleaning abilities,  do give back so much more than they might damage.


A Tale of Two Lavenders

Herbs are notoriously finicky in the house in the winter. It’s not their fault. There’s not enough light for them, and it’s either too dry (for some) or too wet (since many of us tend to over-water and therefore love our plants to death!)

Lavenders can take the dryness, being bred for exactly that sort of condition. Both their silvery leaves and the places they might normally grow “in the wild:” the Mediterranean with its sandy soils and salty air show that it is a tough plant that can take a lot of abuse.

So why then, does it struggle in conditions that gardeners usually give it? Good soil and abundant water? Well, that’s perhaps why–we are loving it to death–we are spoiling it too much, drowning it and probably over-feeding it too. Not good.

So what is that gardener to do? Well, short of neglecting the plant completely, because that isn’t necessarily a recipe for success either, the trick to succeeding with any plant is always the old saying “right plant, right place.” Most of us don’t live in climates anything like what lavender is used to–but we can help it along quite a bit with some easy tricks.


First of all, to get it through winter as a house plant, choose the right variety. I don’t know the names of either of these for sure, but I am guessing the one on the right is french  lavender (lavendula dentata). It’s not a hardy one for me.  I am guessing this based on the “leaf” shape.

It tends to say nice and compact in the pot indoors because it is a tropical lavender in my zone. But don’t attempt to plant it outdoors unless you are in a zone 8 climate.

The one on the left? No guesses. It was originally bought as a nice little “Christmas tree” shaped plant in December. You can see it’s very happy because it’s no longer shaped like anything but a mop. The instructions say to prune it hard to keep its shape but I do no pruning on plants in the winter. Once it gets a little more temperate–maybe mid-March–I may take the shears to it. Right now I call it “Cousin It.”

But what’s keeping both these lavenders healthy and mildew free in my house in the winter is just the bare minimum of watering and a south window. They’ll go outside for their “summer vacation,” of course, perhaps as early as April depending on what temperatures do here. After that, we’ll see how they fare–particularly “Cousin It.”

Wordless Wednesday


It might be a little hard to see what this photo is. It’s a cylindrical snake plant with what I think is a flower stalk (the white thing) coming up in it.

This has never bloomed for me. And I am amazed that it might be doing so in February?!


Here’s the whole plant (obviously with other snake plants near it). You can just barely see the little white stalk in this photo.

It’s going to be interesting.

The Easiest Fern to Grow

Ferns are notorious for being finicky,  troublesome plants.  Look at them cross-eyed and they wither. They are forever full of brown tips, brown fronds, or just plain dead. Why do we bother?

For one thing, they are lovely. And they provide a lot of leaf textures and varieties.  If you can keep the humidity and temperature correct, they are wonderful plants.

I have too many plants to fuss over ferns but I do grow one with regularity because it’s easy, it’s cool looking, and it’s unusual in its own way: it’s the bird’s nest fern.

That was the plant you saw in my last Wordless Wednesday post–the upright green one on the left that sort of looked like wild romaine lettuce. Here it is again.


But there are other varieties as well.


And this is the reason they call it the Bird’s Nest Fern. The center almost looks as if it has a bird’s nest in it.


These are easy plants that are not overly fussy about watering and don’t need extra humidity.  They will grow just fine in ordinary heated homes.

Filtered bright light–never direct sun–is what you want for these. Try one. You won’t be disappointed.

Succulent Crazy!


This is the main window where I have my cactus and succulent collection.  It faces south and is unobstructed,  winter and summer.

You can see, that like most of my windows, I try to get a lot of use out of the space. I haven’t,  as in some of the more creative posts I have seen online, put shelves on the walls of this little alcove yet. That may come next.


Another way to get creative with space is to put smaller pots in between large ones. The longer I have house plants,  the bigger they get ( naturally). But that leaves opportunities to place smaller pots in between the tallest ones. Where there’s a will….


Finally,  this is another little cactus and succulent spot, again in a south bay window this time. These plants are larger, or in mixed containers and are too big for my little alcove but still need the sunny south window. They share it with my large tropicals, with some smaller succulent plants tucked in between.


House Plant Collector?

Over the last weeks, we’ve looked at some plants with some unusual leaves.

But on Wednesdays, we’ve also looked at my large–and ever growing–collection of “holiday” cacti, let’s call them: the plants that bloom anywhere from Columbus day up until Valentine’s day, otherwise known sometimes as zygo cactus or schlumbergera.

I am beginning to see these blogs (Instagram feeds/YouTube channels–you get the idea) pop up where folks have house plant collections that put mine to shame. They have 700 plants in a tiny studio apartment.

Or they have plants literally covering every available surface–floors, walls, ceilings–it’s just mind boggling. I know how much work my collection is. I can’t believe those folks do anything but take care of their plants. More power to them!

So then, what makes a house plant collector–or any plant collector–and does it matter?

Probably not. If you have 3 plants and they are 3 unrelated plants and you love them, that’s all that matters.

But where I am going with this post is that I tend to go through little plant fetishes (maybe that’s what I should have called it) where I get fixated on a certain group of plants and I accumulate lots of those–like the zygo cactus.

After awhile I may change my mind about what I like and start accumulating something different. It may have something to do with how well my “fetish du jour” survives or maybe a plague of insects wipes out something I have become fond of so I move on to something else.