Concerning Houseplants

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

My first house plant was a pineapple. I must have read some place that it was possible to root the top of the plant, below the leaves, fresh from the store. So, I did, with great success, producing a pretty plant and much later a bloom and a tiny pineapple. The second attempt was from a seed I planted with my daughter when she was a child. It was from some kind of citrus used in a recipe, and it not only germinated but, as we enlarged the pot, grew, eventually into a tree several feet tall. It then lived in my office at VMI until all offices were not heated during parts of the winter. A sad parting, but I was soothed by selling the tree to an artist for fifty bucks.


With no good place in the yard at our house to have a garden, I decided to continue with houseplants. I had small plants, about ten, in small pots, and found a great place for them, arranged in a row along the edge of the cooking counter in the kitchen. Charming, perhaps, but not to be tolerated by the cook. I was asked to discard them all.


My yearn for houseplants did not die, and I still was interested when my wife’s grandmother died forty years ago. I inherited the well-known Peace Lily or Spathiphyllum, sometimes considered an expression of sympathy, and an Amazon or Eucharis Lily.


I gladly adopted these plants. And they have prospered all these years, but at first they weren’t very pretty. Both species are easily and safely divided, so I eventually repotted them, using only a portion of the roots in each pot with plenty of space for new growth. The superfluous roots I also potted, and therefore, of course, I had quite a few new plants. Luckily, I found homes for the unwanted ones, keeping one of each species.


My new start, I claim, was a good deal more thoughtful than past practice. I chose very large pots and created my own potting soil, using about fifty percent bagged topsoil to the porous store-bought potting soil. And they have thriven.


The Amazon Lily was given Space in a southern sunny bedroom window, and it has prospered, producing three blooms. The Peace Lily is in a less sunny space, where it has produced a single blossom. How to fill each pot with lovely white blossoms? Both plants get all the light they need and are faithfully watered, but don’t get enough fertilizer. I have been using a granulated chemical, Miracle Gro, dissolved in water, but not in the frequently=administered half doses the manufacturer recommends. A fern I bought cheap at a supermarket years ago gets regular fertilizing this way, and it flourishes even in the same pot and soil of purchase. I never realized I was such a slow learner.


On the subject of water: We have a well for our supply and must flow it through a water softener to render it pleasant for washing. But the softener leaves sodium in the water. I don’t use this water for my indoor plants or the garden, as the sodium will build up in the soil and harm the plants. We have two outdoor faucets that aren’t fed through the softener, and I use their water. In cold weather, I draw it into gallon jugs and let it get warm before use.


Meanwhile, incorrigible and unthinking, I reverted this past spring to olden days, filling small pots with plants I like, favoring succulents. Among them, I have a nice jade plant along with a similar plant with purple leaves. The name? As many know, succulents can be successfully rooted from a single leaf pressed into the soil. Someone gave me the leaf, but not the name. It is now a full and attractive plant, several inches tall. Another interesting plant is a small tree that could be converted to a bonsai (which conversion I would attempt if I had not earlier proven my ineptitude at growing these Japanese wonders). It’s a Schifflera, less than a foot tall, happy in a blue and white china pot maybe five inches square.


In addition, I’ve started tiny plants, such as Sedum, Hens and Chicks and Creeping Thyme a large, decorative bowl. This was not an original concept, of course, but along with all my baby plants it gives me great pleasure.


And all constitute a major way to help satisfy (nearly) my indoor gardening urges. Yes, there are too many. For the present, I keep them outdoors on the edge of a deck where I pass them many times every day. But they are not hardy, and I must find a winter home. Hmm. Maybe the kitchen’s counter?


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