Marianne Binetti: Indoor plants for spaces well-lit or dreary

On GardeningJanuary 15, 2014 

The second week of January is prime time for indoor gardening.

If you’ve watched houseplants wither and die, your problem is that you aren’t growing the right house plants. Every home and every office can host a living plant no matter how cold, warm, dark or otherwise inhospitable the space may seem. Nature finds a way to support life.

Here are three indoor plants that will thrive in low light, dry air and forgive you when you forget to water.

Cast Iron plant (Aspidistra elatior). Never has there been a houseplant with a more appropriate common name. In the south, this houseplant is also called “the barber shop plant” because it seems to be the indoor mascot of every barber shop.

The leaves start at the base of the plant so it never looks “leggy” and they sprout as long, arching and leathery green. Some varieties now come with yellow or white variegation on the foliage. That splash of color really can light up a dark corner.

Inexpensive, easy to find, even at big box stores, it is time we return to the splendor of the Victorian age – when every parlor proudly displayed a potted plant – most often that would be the hard-to-kill Aspidistra.

Here’s a growing tip: For maximum leaf color, do not overfeed this houseplant, and to keep the leaves from burning keep it away from bright, sunny windows – unless you have a barber shop with an awning out front.

Dracaena

This is a large family of survivors that all make great indoor plants. The Hawaiian Ti plant is a dracaena as is the highly variegated dumb cane. (Note to pet owners: Dumb cane earned its name because chewing on the stems or leaves will cause numbness of the mouth.)

You can enjoy the long, narrow leaves of a potted dracaena in a dark corner, warm office or cool sunroom.

Some varieties have very dark – almost purple - leaves while others sport foliage with bright white edges or yellow blotches.

Growing tip: Any dracaena that grows too tall or leggy can be cut almost to soil level and new leaves will sprout from the base so you’ll have a much more compact houseplant. You can also cut up the bare stems and lay them on their side to root in moist soil, or place the top growth from your pruning adventure into a glass of water until new roots form on the stem. Dracaena just loves to re-invent itself.

Pathos: (Scindapsus)

For any situation where a hanging houseplant is needed — such as on the top of a bookcase or to fill in the space on top of cabinets, the answer is the drought-resistant pathos plant. Glossy, heart-shaped leaves sprout from the long dangling stems and even in warm homes with dry indoor air, this houseplant will carry on without complaint.

The variegated form carries attractive cream and yellow markings on the leaves. Pathos also can be trained to grow upright on a piece of bark or other support.

Growing tip: Do not overwater this plant. Check at the soil line for rotting of the stem and do not buy plants that have been overwatered. You can tell by checking for brown or black markings on the stem near the soil line.

More tough survivors for your indoor jungle

Ivy, ferns, philodendron and palms are other indoor plants that adjust and thrive even for people who claim they can’t grow anything. The easiest way to murder a houseplant is to overwater. Poor drainage also will rot the roots, so always make sure your containers have drainage holes and don’t let any plant sit for days in collected drainage water.

Too little to drink is a lot better for houseplants than too much. Meet Marianne

Garden columnist Marianne Binetti will speak at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show. Catch her lectures about container gardening and color gardening. Talks will be at 2 p.m. every day of the show — Jan. 23-26 at the Tacoma Dome. Event tickets are $12. Find more information at otshows.com/ths/ or call 253-756-2121.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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