Houseplants for Dummies
by Rob Sproule
Houseplants are as gorgeous as they are intimidating. They clean the air, lower blood pressure, and often terrify us that we’re going to kill them.
They aren’t as scary as you think, and there’s no reason why the blackest of thumbs can’t enjoy their benefits. Here are a few that are as hard to kill as 1980s action stars.
I love spider plants because they look like something Gene Roddenberry would have used as an alien plant on the original Star Trek. They’re weird, kids love them, and they’re ridiculously easy to grow.
Put spider plant in an elevated spot where its runners can happily dangle. It will tolerate almost any light condition, needs to be watered every week or so, and boasts tiny white flowers that you’ll miss if you’re not paying attention.
NASA considers spider plants to be one of the top air cleaning plants, and it will suck carbon monoxide, xylene, and benzene out of any room it’s in. Put it beside new furniture, electronics, or a smoker to help purify the air.
Show kids the magic of plants by pinching off a runner and floating it in a glass of water. Check on it every now and then with your little one and watch the roots grow and wrap through the glass at astonishing speed (in plant terms, that is). The child can plant it and start his or her own spider plant.
Sometimes big tropicals can be very, well, big for the average room. They’ve also required a reputation, thanks to a few finicky species (I’m looking at you, Fig trees), of being hard to manage. The Mass Cane, or Corn Plant, breaks the stereotype.
Native to Central Africa, Mass Canes are in the drought tolerant Dracaena family and only need a splash when the soil is dry to the touch. They rarely need fertilizer and can tolerate high or low light conditions.
Mass Canes’ tall, narrow growth habit make them ideal for narrow spaces (like that living room corner you’ve been wondering what to do about). They will stay fairly narrow as they grow, even as their wide, glossy leaves bring a tropical ambience usually reserved for larger plants.
Formaldehyde is the most common airborne carcinogen in household air, and everything from furniture to building materials to personal hygiene products emits it. Mass Canes gobble it up, making it a healthy as well as beautiful household addition.
No, that’s not a typo. Despite their recent surge in popularity, orchids haven’t been able to shake their stereotype of the finicky prima-donna. While many collector orchids are, in fact, devilishly difficult, the elegant, moth-flowered beauties adorning store shelves everywhere are amongst the easiest and most rewarding houseplants there are.
Select an orchid with as many buds as possible; don’t be fooled by the siren song of full blooming flowers. Make sure the plant isn’t water logged and that it’s wrapped against the cold for the ride home.
Once home, it will thrive in the light and temperature of the average household room. It rarely needs to be fertilized, needs to be watered every week or so, and will bloom for up to 6 months non-stop. You read that right: orchids bloom for months on end with almost zero maintenance.
When it’s finally done blooming, resist cutting the stem off until it’s a shriveled, dried up brown. It often spikes again from the original spike, treating you to another long period of ear effortless beauty.