As you can see, I have a lot of house plants. And almost everything in this photo went outside for the summer.
So now that it’s all crowded back inside, what am I looking at and for?
First, I am still double checking for any unwelcome visitors. This past weekend when I cleaned my house, I was delighted to discover all sorts of tiny spiders cleaning up after any stray insects that might have come in. Although they might give my windowsills a bit of an early Halloween look, I don’t mind. They’re actually doing a lot of plant housekeeping for me. They are very welcome guests.
Next I am checking moisture levels. Some of these plants are still drying out very quickly–every 3 or 4 days. Others are still soaked from the drowning they got in all those tropical storms. As a general rule, the plants that were very thirsty outside are going to need to be watered more often inside. These are the ones that have already dried out and that I have already watered once or more since I have brought them inside.
Finally, I am turning them. Because the light levels are lower inside, plants will tend to lean toward it. So every time I check them or water them, I turn them.
So that’s what I am busy with right now. But I am never too busy to enjoy the plants.
I lecture on house plants a lot. And inevitably when I talk about the fact that a good portion of my house plant collection goes outside for the summer, I will get the question “but what about bugs?”
So I tell my cute little story (which really wasn’t cute at the time, but always leaves them laughing) about bringing in a baby bird. Believe me, once you have done that, you don’t care about a couple of spiders, or crickets or what have you. That’s what usually manages to sneak inside.
5 decadesBut even then, that’s not what they’re asking. They want to know about the usual house plant “critters:” aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites–the usual bad guys. But no–see, a summer outside usually will not only control any issues that I might have had from the previous spring, but it will wipe them out until mid-to-late winter. I won’t begin to see any recurring pests until growth starts up again next spring–usually around March or so.
Why is this? Outside those little house plant critters have a lot of predators to keep them in check. They usually completely destroy them for me. And any residual eggs won’t hatch until next springtime’s warmth tells them it is time to wake up.
So I don’t bother treating my plants with any sort of insecticides because it isn’t necessary. I will keep close watch on them as I water for the next few weeks just in case, but I have rarely found a problem in the fall. The plants are going to sleep this time of year. Any insects must be as well.
I have been growing house plants for the better part of 5 decades (yes, I started young). In my early years, I lost a lot to insects. I now know how to manage them before they multiply and destroy the whole collection.
Labor Day weekend is the time when I traditionally bring my house plants back inside from their summer vacation. And this year, they had a much better summer than the Spoiler and I did. Despite being drenched and battered by 3 separate tropical storms (Fred, Henri and Ida–and all within a period of about 10 days no less!), the plants flourished and grew–most so much that they outgrew their original places in my home.
So that created issue number 1. Many of these plants did not return to the places they left. And once I brought them in and placed them, because they were larger, fewer plants fit in the same place. It’s not a bad problem, but it certainly required some creative adjustment on my part.
Problem 2 was all those tropical storms. While they did save me some watering, they did a heck of a number on the plants. Leaves were shredded, stems were broken and the containers were covered in mud. Debris was in the containers. Some plants, like the begonias, that don’t care for all that moisture, are actually showing signs of fungal issues. Others, like the citrus, which also prefer to be on the dry side, are losing leaves. It’s nothing earth-shattering, considering the true devastation and loss of life these storms caused–but it certainly caused more cleanup for me before I brought in the plants.
And finally, because the plants are so much larger, my windows are even more obscured. This lovely view that I had all summer?
I will now be enjoying the view of my plants until next May. That’s not all bad either.
You have probably noticed that philodendron is very trendy right now. And it’s not generally the trailing philodendron that are trendy, although occasionally you might see a well-grown patterned one like ‘Brasil’ show up.
No, for lack of a better description, these are the shrubbier container forms. Philodendron tend to have two habits: they vine or climb (or trail from a hanging basket) or, with some breeding, they remain small and “house plant” like for a number of years, before they develop the forms they had as understory plants. In other words, they either revert to their climbing or trailing ways, or develop wild obtrusive aerial roots. But that’s what happens with living things. They grow and evolve. It pays to know their habits.
Both of these plants–Prince of Orange and Dark Knight–were specifically bred to retain their character as house plants. And so far so good. I think that I have had them for 3 years now and I am not seeing much reversion to the wild understory plants that they could be.
This, however, is a reversion, or sport, that I pulled out of my ‘Birkin’ when I transplanted it. It was too healthy to discard. We’ll see how long I tolerate it–maybe as long as I have window space.
These plants are very easy to care for. They like bright, indirect light and will tolerate a bit of dryness (but don’t let them dry out completely between watering). Mine have never been bothered by pests.
Again, for easy care, colorful plants, I can highly recommend these.
This is a plant whose taxonomy keeps changing. I know it as stromanthe tricolor. But I believe that it is now known as a ctenanthe, which is a genus with a couple of plants at least.
Whatever you choose to call it, it is truly stunning and very easy to grow.
Like its calathea relatives (again, calatheas, marantas, ctenanthes are all treated as loosely related. I don’t have the true knowledge to explain all of that!), it likes indirect light and relatively moist soil, although it is not so fussy if it dries out occasionally.
It is definitely not fussy about humidity. I keep this plant in my den, in a northwest window. So it is cold, dark and dry. And it survives just fine every year with only occasional browning of the outer leaf tips. That could be from the lack of humidity, it could be from our chlorinated water, or it could be because it’s cold. My den will drop into the upper 50s overnight on winter nights. This plant is just fine with that.
So if you love colorful leaves but are afraid that the calatheas are too finicky for you, try this plant instead. You will not be sorry!
Many of you know that I know that I live in the northeast–or as I uncharitably refer to it, the frozen north.
As a general rule, we have much worse winter storms than summer storms. This last week, however, has been a bit of an exception. On Thursday, tropical storm Fred roared through in the pre-dawn hours. We received 5 inches of rain in a very brief period of time and there was flash flooding all over my town.
So Hurricane Henri was quite a threat, with its winds and rain.
I just have this to deal with this this time. I got lucky.
This, however, is directly across the street. I have talked to my neighbor. She is fine–other than the fact that she can’t get out of her garage.
So things seem pretty good in the immediate vicinity. I haven’t ventured much farther from my house than this because of the conditions. Tomorrow will tell the larger story. But at least power and cable are still on–the basics.
I was typing a description for a house plant lecture that I will be giving later this fall and I used the line that is the title of this post.
Now technically of course it’s not true. Leaves die too. But the point I was making–as shown in the photo above–is that colorful house plants are colorful all year; whereas a blooming plant blooms for a short period of time and then you simply have green leaves generally (unless you have a variegated kind).
In fact that’s generally what I recommend: unless a variegated plant is a weak variety (or unless you don’t like the color of the variegation with the flower color), buy the variegated plant so that you have something interesting to look at once the flowering is done.
As for these plants, if they flower at all, you don’t really notice. The flowers are completely unremarkable.
For the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some of the more interesting house plants with great foliage. Because as we start thinking about shorter days, it’s nice to have something bright to look forward to.