Published in December 2004

House plants have a tough time in the typical mid-winter home.  It’s cool, the humidity is low, and light often lower, so the typical scenario is to buy a couple of nice house plants, enjoy them until they die, then buy some more.  For those who appreciate a spot of greenery in an otherwise dull home, it seems to be the only choice.  But it actually isn’t.

Floroculturists at Mansfield, Ohio’s Kingwood Center had some good suggestions for those who lack a green thumb, and one suggestion is to buy really tough plants that can handle poor conditions.  “Cactus is a good one for people who have trouble growing things.” said one.  “They’re durable and need little care, and are basically dormant in winter, so they need watering only every 2-3 weeks, and tolerate temperatures lower than most plants.”

Other recommendations include peace lilies, those durable plants often seen at shopping centers and malls.  They handle low light, grow slowly, and have nice green, glossy leaves.  There are other hardy species, among them corn plants and Mother-in-law tongues.  Neither is particularly attractive, but you can even stand them in a corner for weeks so long as they are kept fairly moist.  Cast Iron plants are much the same, and all three turn up in greenhouses and plant sections of department stores.

Less durable, but much nicer greenery include ferns.  They don’t last long in most houses because folk keep them in a dry spot, and that doesn’t work.  They like bright winter light, so they’ll do well in a south facing window, and the two important criteria for ferns is that they should never dry out, and all should be turned occasionally.  Any plant should, for that matter, because otherwise the sun side will thrive while shaded leaves will gradually brown and die.

African violets are pretty and fairly easy to grow, but too many kill them with love.  They like fairly bright light, maybe a south facing window supplemented with a gro-lite occasionally, and they shouldn’t be either over or under watered.  Too little and they dry up, too much and they root rot.  Never water an African violet’s leaves either, because this can cause spotting.

Then there are Cyclamens, great plants for a winter home if you keep them in a spot with good light that’s cool and somewhat humid.  Water as they need it, and they’ll bloom all winter.  And if you keep them in a shady spot during the summer and bring them in again come fall, they’ll likely bloom the next winter, too.

There are other recommendations for neither tough nor delicate plants.  Geraniums are a good choice, though they need lots of light, and will grow on a cool window ledge.  They should be trimmed occasionally, at least the old woody stems, to keep them in check and flowers coming.  Then there are weeping figs, undemanding house plants, and Jade plants which thrive in good light, but need lots of water to do well.

And don’t forget Norfolk pines, a fine plant given sandy soil with lots of water, though not enough to keep them soggy and wet.  Add a tropical vine or two to brighten that plant stand, and you should have plants to keep any room looking green and lovely.

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