House plants are one of the most important aspects of horticulture, and my interest in them pushed me into a botany focused career. My favorite part of these blog articles is to share my favorite parts of horticulture with everyone that takes the time to read it. Today, I will focus on some of my favorite house plants and mention the basics of house plant care.
The plants I have grown the longest are cacti and other succulents. They come in countless shapes, sizes, and colors. The biggest pro for succulents is they thrive on neglect. If you are the type of person that forgets to water your plants and suddenly they are wilting, this is the group of plants for you. Unfortunately, most people cannot grow succulents successfully as house plants because they simply do not get enough direct sunlight through their windows to keep them happy. Aloe, echeveria, crassula, and echinocactus are some of my favorite genera of succulents, and I suggest them if you have a lot of direct sunlight and do not like high maintenance plants. Many people also do not realize how beautiful cactus flowers are!
Next, I am going to talk about an abundant group of plants: tropicals. They are a common group of plants to keep inside because our houses are a comfortable temperature for them. Here at the gardens we put our tropicals outside when the fear of frost has passed. Some of our tropicals are ideal house plants and are available at most local nurseries. If you have a lot of light and room for indoor plants, a bird of paradise or a banana plant are fantastic ways to start a conversation. But realistically, they are way too big to keep inside after a couple years. Cordyline, dracaena, colocasia, and certain palms are great for indoor potted plants. They all like indirect light, so they do not require as much light as some of the larger tropicals. A few more popular tropicals are monstera, philodendron and pothos; these are three genera of tropical vines with varying sizes of foliage. Vines stand out because they can be grown around a room or up a pole or wall. Some of the leaves can be up to three feet long, depending on the species. Of course, since they are tropical, all of these do require soil moisture monitoring to make sure they do not dry out.
Many tropicals are out of the question because of a lack of sunlight coming through the windows. If this is an issue for you, like it has been for me, I would suggest looking into a peace lily, a calathea, or rex/griffin begonias. These are tropicals that prefer indirect light instead of the brighter light the aforementioned tropicals prefer. They have the added bonus of not drying out so quickly since there is not as much light hitting the soil. But be careful, because this can make overwatering a lot easier.
My friends and family know my love for botany and will often ask “What’s wrong with my plant?” It is almost always the same answer. Overwatering. Many people see a plant at a store or nursery and take it home without knowing much about that specific type of plant, or how to take care of potted plants in general. Naturally, they want to take care of it and they know the main attention plants need is watering, so they make sure to water it often. They literally kill their plant with love. Depending on where someone buys the plant, they sometimes come with a care guide which includes a watering schedule. Watering schedules are another common issue that cause people to overwater their plants. The soil drying out depends on the conditions of the area it is being kept, not just the plant. Humidity changes, amounts of light changes, even the amount the plant is photosynthesizing will change over time. All of these will cause the soil to either stay more wet or more dry. So, the best way to know when to water is to know what your plant prefers, and to touch the soil. If it is a succulent or any type of desert plant, wait for the soil to be bone dry and then fully soak the soil. For tropicals (and most other plants), the soil should be moist, but not wet. It can be a bit difficult to learn this way of watering at first. But just see how the plant reacts to the watering. If it looks green and healthy, you are doing it right! If it is starting to yellow and droop at the same time, it could be over watered. It is also common for the leaves to curl upward from overwatering. If the plant is just wilting and the soil feels dry, it is probably due to the lack of water. I tend to keep my plants a bit dry because it is more forgiving than keeping them wet. It is hard to undo the damage caused by overwatering, but if it is under watered, it just needs a bit of water to recover.
I hope I have opened your eyes to a cool new plant or two and answered some questions you might have had. If you want to see mature versions of the plants I have mentioned, we grow many of them in the gardens at Wellfield; just come take a look! In fact, the philodendron (not a Monstera, Josh) on our Event Plaza used to be an indoor plant which was kept in the office. If you have seen it, it is pretty obvious why it is outside now. Hopefully I was able to teach you something and just remember: Don’t love your plants to death!
Cody Hoff, Lead Horticulturist