Season 1 • Episode 11 - December 14, 2022

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During the winter it is tough to keep your green thumb from wilting from lack of activity. However, all you may need is to get a few indoor plants. Indoor plants are a ‘hot’ item the last few years with people sometimes paying hundreds of dollars for new and unique indoor plants, but you don’t have to be a plant expert or break the bank to find some beautiful plants to bring into your home.

To get an idea about some great starter plants for your home or office we stopped by Portland Nursery, in Portland, Oregon, and talked with George Bowman in their huge greenhouse area. Portland Nursery on Division Street has one of the biggest and best selections of plants anywhere, and George pulled out a big assortment of plants that would make any plant lover (beginner or expert) happy.

George had easy plants and those that require a little more attention, but he started with one of the easiest, the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), this is a plant for those who don’t know anything about plants. Not only does it tolerate the extremes of conditions, but it will also give you more plants to share with its tendrils with new plants at the tips of each branch. Because of these little flying plants, it is also called the ‘airplane plant’. It is great in hanging baskets so those airplanes hang out and ‘fly’ around the plant. It likes a medium light and a well-drained container.

We then moved to palms and one of the easiest is the parlor palm. This one grows short and wide, getting to about 4 feet tall and as wide as the well-drained pot you put it in. It is the entry point to growing palms in your home. The lady finger palm was next and it is also an easy one to grow, but you need to keep this one moist at all times. This one is seen in the lobbies of hotels because it is so resilient and tough. It will just keep on growing. The name is due to the lady like finger fronds that keep on coming up from the base to a height of 6 feet in your home, larger in larger spaces. Most palms will not grow when you cut the tops down, but this one keeps going because it sends up new canes from the base, making it a perfect plant for the home gardener. If you are looking for a larger indoor plant the Natal Mahogany is the one for you. Though it can get over 40 feet tall in nature and in full sun. It can handle the low light situations of the home much better than most plants. It will respond well to pruning too. If you want it to stay at 6 feet, you just prune it to 6 feet and it will continue to thrive.

A lot of people want to have a nice hanging plant in their home and the philodendrons will do well in a hanging planter or pot. The heart shaped (leaves are shaped like hearts) are perfect and beautiful, as demonstrated by the variety ‘Brazil’ with its wonderful variegated leaves. This is one of the easiest plants to grow indoors. It is a vine so you can train the vines to grow up supports or you can trim them off and it will do well. It is easy care for watering too, just look for when it just starts to wilt and then water it well and let it drain, and wait for it to wilt again. There are a lot of different varieties so you can easily find one to fit your style or décor. If you are looking for something a little bigger, but as easy to care for, then the spilt leaf philodendron is for you. It is called monstera deliciosa, because it can be as big as a monster! These can get huge with leaves that match the epic size of this plant. They have a wonderful ‘split’ leaf, but when you get them as a small plant the leaves are solid with no pattern or splits at all. When the plant gets bigger the leaves get their distinctive splits. As the leaf gets larger it can also get some ‘Swiss cheese’ holes as well, giving it the other name it is known by the ‘Swiss Cheese Plant’. If it starts to get too big just cut it back and it will rebranch and become fuller. The regular plant is pretty affordable, but if you have a few extra dollars you can buy the rare and variegated ‘Thai Constellation’. It can get big too, but for this tiny one in a pot it was in the hundreds of dollars. If you want to see how big they can get you can stop by the Division Street store and see one on the wall that is 2 stories tall and over 20 years old.

While we were talking about big plants it brought up a point about knowing your conditions. Know your space, the amount of light the plant needs, temperatures and the amount of watering the plant may need. One other point is how much work are you willing to dedicate to taking care of your plants? Answering these questions will go a long way to being successful with your indoor plants. It is just like an outdoor plant; right plant, right place. Of course, George also told us that you can treat the plants as a short term plant to fill a spot. You can buy a cheaper plant to fill a space and then replace it with another one if the original plant gets too tall or wide.

We then found a few more hanging types of plants. George brought out a couple of Hoya plants. There was a heart leaf shaped hoya that was known as a ‘Sweetheart’ hoya with large leaves, and a smaller variegated leafed hoya. They like good, even light and an even moisture too. The beautiful part of the hoya are the flowers which George calls a shooting star in an upside down parasol. They have a wonderful fragrance than will take you by surprise.

Next we jumped to snake plants. These are some of the toughest plants and a great one for any beginner. They thrive as long as you leave them in a tight pot and don’t over water them. They generally have leaves that are very pointy, which may give them their other common name ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’. The common variety has wider leaves and are known as ‘whale tails’, and the other specialty types are thinner and have more variegation. They are very slow growing and can handle very low light conditions. In fact, this is a favorite for people who like to have plants in their offices where there is low fluorescent light. They will also tell you when to repot the plant, by breaking out of their pot! These are strong plants and will even break clay pots! Because of this you want to make sure that you get a pot that has straight sides and not curved inward. This will make repotting a lot easier. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) was next and it looked like a small broad leafed bush in a pot. It also likes low light conditions and a tight pot. This brought up another point. When you take a plant home or move it around your home and it encounters different lighting conditions, you could notice some leaf drop. The plant may look like it is dying, this is normal and something you can expect for a lot of different plants. We’ve noticed it on house plants and also plants like citrus plants when we move them back inside after the summer on our deck. This can also happen right after you repot your plants too. On the Chinese Evergreen, you could lose up to 50 percent of the leaves, but the plant will survive.

While we took a break George went and picked up a couple other Chinese Evergreens to look at. These had a huge difference in leaf and stem color. It really showed the differences in variegation and styles you can choose from.

We moved, next, to some flowering houseplants. We started with the anthurium. A lot of people know this one because of the large waxy blooms that it gets. Most of the time these heart shaped blooms also have a large, bright, spadix (oura or tail) coming out of the center of the bloom. They like to be well watered but not over watered. Over watering can happen from over attentive gardeners, or because the pot doesn’t have good drainage. Be careful to make sure your plant is not sitting in water for long periods of time. Even if a plant likes wet conditions you should be sure that you aren’t loving your plant to death by giving it too much water. Anthuriums come in a bunch of colors like white, pink and red. Another bloomer is the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum). It too has a large bloom with a spadix in the center. The bloom resembles a cobra’s head. This one likes a moist soil, regular fertilization, and can handle low light conditions and still bloom. George told us that it can be easy to forget to water this one and once it goes dry it will need a good soaking to rebound. To help the plant, once it is watered, lay it on its side for a short time, this way the plant doesn’t have to fight gravity to get the water back up to the leaves. Another blooming plant is the Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura). Though the blooms on this one are small, the incredible foliage more than makes up for that. Highly variegated and full of color and a striking pattern. These are a great plant all year round. It is known as the prayer plant because at night the leaves fold up. It also prefers low light and even watering.

We had a side discussion about temperatures. Since most of these are tropical plants you will want to maintain a minimum temperature of 65 degrees. If you like your furnace to kick down to a cooler temperature late at night, your indoor plants may not like that. Always check with your garden center on the extremes of temperature your plants can handle.

Looking at plants that can survive with little or no water and light, we turned to the ZZ plant. The rumor is that you only have to water it 4 times a year, it is that easy to take care of. It is also said that you can put it in a closet and it will survive, though we don’t recommend that! The Aloe was also on the table and it too can survive on a little water, though it will need regular water, just not every week. A lot of people will wait for the fleshy leaves to just start to shrivel and then they will soak their plant well and let it drain, then it is good for another few months or so. This was the medicinal Aloe. So if you get a burn or scrape, you can snap off a leave and rub it on your skin to help with healing. The final plants we looked at were the air plants (tillandsia). These are epiphytes, so they don’t need soil and in nature they grow on other plants, usually tree trunks and branches. Because they don’t need soil you can put them anywhere, even hanging them on a string hanging from your ceiling. For care, you will want to soak them in water about once a week, or give them a good misting a couple times a week. Some people find that a moist part of the house, like a bathroom, are good at keeping them watered and healthy. Once watered, let them dry and put them back on display, preferably in an area with medium light. If you are lucky and keep them happy they will bloom for you with wonderful, colorful, little blooms.

Overall, when you have indoor plants you will want to know their watering needs. For most that may include having them thoroughly watered, but well drained conditions. Light is very important for most of these plants and if you want to have plants that require lots of light you can try artificial lighting to help them thrive.

Finally, we moved over to products to help your indoor plants. We started with soils. As George said, ‘healthy roots, happy plant’. That means getting the right soil for the plants you are growing. Don’t use ‘dirt’ from your garden, this may be introducing pests and diseases to your plants (and into your home). You will want to use a soil that is formulated for your plants. Cactus, African Violets and Succulents all have specific needs and there are special soils for them and other indoor plants.

Then we talked about plant food and fertilization. Remember, you like to eat, so do your plants. Since these are tropical plants with special needs, they might also need special plant foods to keep them growing. Always check with your garden center to make sure you have the right food for the right plant.

Then we talked about pests. For a quick solution to a bug problem, you can use a synthetic approach. We saw a granular product from Bonide, the Systemic Houseplant Insect Control. This product is sprinkled around the base of the plant and is taken up through the ‘system’ of the plant. This takes care of those critters in the roots and the leaves. Another product you can use is the ‘Eight Insect Control’. This is a foliar application so you spray it on the leaves to knock down those nasty bugs.

For the natural products you could use the Bonide Insecticidal Soap spray. This is a natural product that will smother the eggs and young insects. If you have a problem with mites, you might want to use the Bonide Mite-X product. There was one last natural product from Bonide called Bon-Neem. This product is a double hit to bugs. The first effect is a quick knock-down action for the bugs and then the sulfur in the product will help control fungus and mites.

Of course the difference between the natural product and the chemical product is the times for application. Natural and Organic products have to be applied more often than synthetic and chemical products. Natural and organic products tend to break down quicker in nature than the others.

Always remember that the label is the law! Always follow the label instructions for proper use and don’t use a product for a problem that isn’t listed on the label. For a Bonide retailer near you, you can always go the Bonide website. We also recommend that you call first so you can be sure they have the product you need before you show up.

We also can recommend an occasional cleaning. You can mist them with water and wipe them down, or you can use a ‘leaf shine’ product on the larger leafed plants to knock off the dust and dirt. While you are doing that, check for bugs or diseases. If you notice something you may want to check with your local garden center to narrow down what you find.

We ended by talking about plants and pets. George talked about toxicity. Just because a plant is labeled as toxic, doesn’t mean it will be a danger to your pets (or children). Toxicity can mean that an animal can react in a negative way to a plant. For example, poinsettias are toxic, but it would take an animal consuming a very large amount of leaves to have an extreme reaction. Most likely your animal will vomit long before it would eat enough to die. Still, you will want to be careful and know your plants beforehand. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has a great list of indoor plants and their toxicity on their website, that you can check out before you buy.

We hope this episode helps you keep your green thumb in shape during the winter and into the new year.

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