The Perfect Plant for Valentine’s Day

I am lucky, as you saw by Wednesday’s post, that the Spoiler has a romantic nature. But he’s not entirely romantic, of course–he buys the roses early because they don’t cost a fortune that way. That’s the practical, New England Yankee, side of him.

And frankly, for cut flowers, that’s a reasonable approach. There’s no reason to pay a ridiculous premium because of a certain day or date.

But I of course, think there’s perhaps an even better way to approach the day altogether for those who enjoy house plants (as I do) and those who know about them. You can’t just try this with anyone–not every person would appreciate a plant instead of flowers.

But if you know that your sweetheart would, the aglaeonema (a plant with an unlovely name) makes a lovely gift.

Its “common” name isn’t any better–it’s commonly known as the Chinese Evergreen, but I think it’s best if we avoid plant names that have any reference to locale, for obvious reasons. So Aglaeonema it is. The one pictured above is called ‘Wishes.’

These are very easy-care plants. They like bright light, but no direct sun. They are not fussy about watering–they can dry a bit before needing water, unlike some that need the nearly impossible conditions of “evenly moist,” (which I have never figured out how to achieve without somehow rotting the plant!). They even tolerate my cooler than normal home conditions of about 60 degrees with no problem.

And they are slow-growing, so they won’t need re-potting in any hurry. Particularly in winter, their lower leaves may yellow, so you’ll want to remove those before they become unsightly but that’s the only real “problem” that they have. In my 8 years or so experience with these plants, they have never gotten any insects or diseases.

Of course, these plants are great for more than just Valentine’s Day. There are red-stemmed and red-leafed varieties that I use around Christmas time instead of poinsettias in my cold house. And their cheery color is just great for brightening up a room through the long winter–or anytime. I can’t recommend them highly enough!

A Most Problematic Plant

When I lecture on house plants, this is one of the plants that I often get asked about–clivia miniata.

Generally, despite the title of my post, it is an undemanding plant. It doesn’t need a lot of light. As I will explain in a moment, it can take a ridiculous amount of dryness.

Where the problem comes in is in getting it to bloom. This plant only blooms once a year with this lovely umbel of flowers–and that’s if you are lucky, apparently.

But here’s the trick–if you can call it that. First, you need to subject it to some fairly exacting conditions to stimulate this bloom. While I don’t put this plant outdoors in the summer, I do put it onto my enclosed sun porch. And I leave it there, at least until mid to late November or so. What the plant needs is chill, and a lot of it. I let the temperature on the porch get down to about 40 degrees before I bring the plant inside.

The second part of making this plant bloom is withholding water. This is a tip I learned from Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, which has a fabulous collection of tropical plants. From October 21 until January 21, don’t water the plant, at all, not event a drop.

It sounds nuts–and this plant has gotten so dry that it’s actually started tipping out of the pot–but clearly you can see that it hasn’t died–and it’s blooming–so it’s hard to argue with that formula.

So if you are having trouble getting your clivia to bloom, you know what to do need year: get it so cold that it’s near to, but not freezing, and then stop watering it for 3 months. It’ sounds absolutely barbaric–but again, the plants bloom, (and clearly are healthy) so who am I to argue with success?

More Non-traditional Holiday Plants

Talk about non-traditional! And yet, when I saw this one I thought, yes, it will blend right in with the aglaeonema ‘Red Valentine’ and the next plant that I am going to show you.

And the nice thing about bromeliads is that this bloom spike will last quite some time. This one is a tilllandsia (it may have recently changed names like the snake plant has, but I am not quite sure).

That bloom spike consists of pink bracts which may (but probably not in my cooler house) send out purple flowers from the sides.

And once the blooming has finished, the plant slowly dies, but it may make little “pups” at the base which can be re-potted to begin the cycle over again.

Or, if you don’t have that patience, at least compost the plant.

This is one of my favorite plants. I have a large one upstairs but it’s too large to bring with me to house plant lectures. So when I saw this small one, I grabbed it.

This is stromanthe tricolor. It is a relative of marantas and calatheas. With my large one, when I am reading in my den in the evening I can hear the the leaves move as they “settle down” for the night, because, just like the other prayer plants, their leaves move at night. They don’t fold up, exactly, but they do, settle, as I have said. It’s actually audible.

The other lovely thing about this plant is the color. It’s green and white on top and magenta on the underside. It’s so unusual.

This plant takes quite low light and is a slow grower. And unlike the maranta and calathea plants, it doesn’t need a lot of humidity. It doesn’t seem to be subject to the insects that they are either. And it can dry a bit between watering, which they hate!

You can see why I am anxious to bring this plant with me for “show and tell.” Any plant this pretty and this easy is something that I want to share.

Plants for the Holidays

My house is my too cold for the traditional poinsettias so I need to think about other plants at the holidays.

The advantage of this approach, of course, is that once Christmas is over and I have packed away the decorations, the plants can go right back where they came from and nothing is a reminder of the “out of season ” holiday.”

The plant above is an aglaeonema, also known as a Chinese evergreen. There are many varieties of these, so if this variety is a bit too Christmasy for you, there are other that will suit. Ironically, this variety is ‘Red Valentine.’

Here’s another aglaeonema that in no way has any Christmas colors. This one is called ‘Madonna,’ and it’s perfect for celebrating New Year’s–or whatever holiday you choose–with its white and gold variegation. And note the lovely white stems!

There are many other aglaeonema varieties as well–I have 6 of them. These are versatile, easy to grow plants that like bright light (no full sun) and can stand to dry a little between watering. They are relatively slow growing–I have had Madonna, above, for 3 years, and it is still in the same 6″ pot.

These are great, easy care plants and are generally readily available. Even if you don’t think of them as a holiday plant alternative, definitely check them out for your house plant collection!

The Natural Lifespan of Houseplants

It always surprises people to find out that houseplants–and for that matter, perennials, trees and shrubs as well–have an expected lifespan.

It definitely surprises people to find out that some trees are shorter lived than others and by several decades in some cases. And it is not a matter of taking good care of the tree–as a general rule, a flowering dogwood is not expected to live as long as an oak.

When it comes to houseplants, many of which are actually tropical plants that are merely confined to a container, quite often we don’t think about lifespan. Something happens because of the nature of the fact that it is growing in such artificial conditions and the plant rarely reaches what might be its normal lifespan. Few of us own plants for decades.

Every so often, however, something happens and a plant does grow up and mature in one place for a long time.

The weeping fig, ficus benjaminii, that you see above, is 34 years old. It was given to my grandmother in 1988 for her 90th birthday. She had no real interest in it, so it came to me. I grew it in one place for 5 years, and then for the rest of its life here, where you see it.

Recently, I have noticed more leaves than usual on the floor. After several weeks of cleaning up after the plant, I finally looked up, only to discover that 2 of the trunks were dead (thank goodness that I figured this out–I would have been cleaning up leaves forever if not!!)

You can see where I removed most of the dead trunks here. There’s a story about our loppers but I will save that for another time.

Then I decided to research the lifespan of potted ficus trees. Most places said 20-30 years for this variety so I am definitely on borrowed time as it is.

So we’ll see what happens as we go forward. So far the rest of the tree looks good. Fingers crossed.

Bird of Paradise Plant

If you have been with me for awhile, you may remember this image from last February. It was from a post that I called “It’s NOT Growing,” to gently poke fun at all those internet videos of every leaf unfurling.

I had said that I had no expectation of my plants growing in winter in very little sunlight in my cold home but that I was quite convinced that once the warm weather came and the sunlight returned, the plant would grow nicely and that the very tightly curled leaf–which had been in that suspended state of animation for 3 months–would unfurl.

So here’s the plant after its summer outside. Obviously more than one of those leaves unfurled. I needed to put it into a larger pot.

The Spoiler keeps remarking about how much he likes it–which alone is astonishing because he rarely comments on the house plants.

I have told him that by next summer I won’t be able to bring it back in–it will be a floor plant, probably touching the ceiling at that point.

And there’s where we may have a problem. Clearly there’s something delicious in my soil that the dog likes. I will need to find a solution for that. At least I know that it’s all organic–unless something has crawled in there that is tasty. Ick.

Calatheas Are Temperamental Houseplants

Mixed group of Calatheas

I absolutely adore calatheas. I find them so appealing that I keep them clustered together on trays to help maintain humidity around them.

If that isn’t enough, in the dead of winter in my cold, dark climate, I have been known to take these trays into the bathroom with me when I shower so that the plants can get some extra humidity.

Another of my calathea trays, with a stray alocasia

If I tell you that I am buying a humidifier for the room that they are in, you will know that I have officially gone over the edge.

Calathea Maui Queen

But just because I baby them doesn’t mean they cooperate. You may remember the above calathea, Maui Queen, from last year. Last year this time it was already spider mite infested.

This year, so far, no infestation, but it’s decided that it still isn’t happy. You can see a bit of that here. But it’s more evident in the photo below.

An unhappy calathea

And speaking of unhappy–remember last season’s post where I said that I had some calatheas that lost more leaves than they retained in the winter?

A very unhappy calathea

If this keeps up, there will be no plant left to put back outside next spring. Ugh! Talk about tempermental!

So this is why I brought the plants in early. I can only imagine what it would be like if I were bringing them in now!

Not ‘Gram Worthy

5 year old poinsettia

I was having an email exchange with a friend about my plants and I remarked, about the above plant, that it was getting so large that it was getting in the way of my printer, so clearly I was going to have to move my printer. Moving the plant is out of the question. If a plant is happy, it gets to stay where it is. Something inanimate like a printer can easily be moved somewhere else.

Now, looking at that plant, it’s really nothing special–in fact, a lot of people might say it’s even ugly. It’s certainly nothing I would ever post on Twitter or any of the other social media sites because it’s definitely not “eye candy.” It’s not that kind of plant.

Office redo–to accommodate the plant

But it has a lot of sentimental value. It’s almost 5 years old–in fact, it’s probably older, but I have had it for 5 years, or almost, this Christmas season. Like many of my holdover “Christmas” plants, it now blooms out of season, but that’s okay–that’s part of the charm. So it definitely deserves the extra room that I have now given it. And as a bonus, my printer is actually closer to my desk so I have made my workspace a bit more efficient too.

Close up

I did a close-up of its leaves and stems earlier this summer–they’re quite lovely by themselves.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have plants that aren’t just showy. Sometimes it’s nice to have plants with some longevity too.

When to Bring in House Plants

Just one of my overcrowded windows

As with many things, there are a lot of theories about bringing house plants that have spent time out of doors back inside in the cooler months. For some of you, it still isn’t cool outside. In other places, you may already have had a frost or freeze. So what is the best rule to follow?

For me, rather than trying to guess what the nighttime temperatures are going to do, I rely on length of daylight. I’m not sure about you, but by mid-August, I can already tell that the days are significantly shortening. And if I can tell, you can be sure that your plants are noticing too.

To be honest, if it weren’t so heart-breaking, that’s the point at which I should probably start bringing in my plants. Those of you at different latitudes obviously have different points when you notice this change, but whenever you begin to notice the changing light, that’s the point at which you should begin to transition your plants indoors.

If that’s far too early for you, there’s another option for you to try. This isn’t something I have done, but I have heard it recommended by a grower from Costa Farms (one of the huge commercial house plant growers) as something he does with his own plants.

He says that when he begins to transition his plants back indoors, he moves them first into a shady place for about 2 weeks to simulate the lower light in his home–then he moves them indoors. Why does he do this? He says he gets far less leaf loss this way.

This is exactly the reason I begin to move my plants in when I notice the days getting shorter. If I leave them out too much longer, once I bring them in, they do lose a lot of leaves–or as I joke, I need the leaf blower inside the house!

So keep this in mind now that the autumnal equinox is just past–and if you still have plants outside enjoying the lovely fall weather–perhaps it is time for a move!