As autumn becomes winter, here in the true north, the jewel-toned leaves on maples and other indigenous trees become a vibrant canvas on which nature will apply her next brush stroke. The burgundy, gold and green palette has always been my favorite, now with a patina of fresh, clean white.
All the home improvement retail stores are now waning in their sales of outdoor garden offerings and focusing more on indoor greenery. This is a clear signal to us northern gardeners that its time to shift our focus as well. It’s time to start thinking about ways to help our houseplants thrive during the coming months when the climate inside our homes can become quite dry and arid, due to the amount of time our heating systems need to be running.
The presence of plants inside our homes is an important element of our interior environment as they provide a number of benefits. If you have yet to incorporate live plants into your home, here are some things to consider:
According to bioadvanced.com….
When you breathe, your body takes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. During photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This opposite pattern of gas use makes plants and people natural partners.
Plants remove toxins from the air –up to 87% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours, according to NASA research. VOCs include substances like formaldehyde (present in rugs, vinyl, cigarette smoke, and grocery bags), benzene and trichloroethylene (both found in man-made fibers, inks, solvents, and paint). Benzene is commonly found in high concentrations in study settings, where books and printed papers abound.
Adding plants to hospital rooms speeds recovery rates of surgical patients, according to researchers at Kansas State University. Compared to patients in rooms without plants, patients in rooms with plants request less pain medication, have lower heart rates and blood pressure, experience less fatigue and anxiety, and are released from the hospital sooner.
When I lived in Southern California, there was a variety of plants that I found easy to grow indoors due to the more temperate climate. Here in the true north, I’ve discovered some new houseplants that prefer this more dynamic climate as well as different ways I can care for more familiar ones. The following is a list of common houseplants and ways that I’ve discovered to help them thrive in such a dynamic environment as ours.
As a preface, I will share with you that I water all my plants with water that has been adequately aerated. Tap water, in many residential areas, is treated with certain chemicals. These chemicals can be harmful to houseplants causing severe browning of the leaves or perhaps even death to more susceptible plants. I purchased a large, 30 gallon, clear tub that I fill with water. I then let the water sit for one week before I use it to water my plants. This process allows the chemicals in the water to evaporate out of it, in the form of gas, leaving the water more beneficial to the plants. The amount of time you wait before using will depend on the amount of water you are aerating.
This type of plant is very forgiving and is therefore perfect for those just beginning their houseplant journey. There are many different varieties in the Pothos family to choose from. Not only are they stunning to look at but they can thrive in a range of environments, from a well-lit, sunny room to a room with only artificial lighting making these beauties perfect for office spaces or apartments and condos that offer little by way of natural light. Watering practices should depend on the season. In the spring and summer months, when these plants are experiencing their annual growth spurt, I water my pothos plants once a week with two cups of aerated water and one cup per week in the autumn and winter months. I also spritz them once a day with a spray bottle in the autumn and winter when humidity levels are low due to the dryness of the surrounding air. This plant can easily be propagated by taking a cutting just above one of the brown nodes on the stem and placing it in water in a sunny window. Roots will soon grow from the node.
I find this plant to be quite captivating as, under the proper conditions, it tends to propagate itself with the release of hanging ‘offspring’. This often takes place during the warmer months when the plant is in its most fervent growing stage. The spider plant thrives in environments of high humidity so during our colder months I set the pot on a bowl or pie plate filled with pebbles which I make sure is filled to the top with water. The heated air in the room causes the water in the bowl to evaporate, creating a layer of moist air (high humidity) around the plant. I check the water level in the bowl daily as the water can evaporate rather quickly. This practice prevents the soil and thus the plant from drying out which might result in browning of the leaves and if left to continue, the plant to fail.
These lovely little plants flower in a variety of colors and can easily be propagated, with a little time and patience, into as many new plants as you’d like! In the warmer months, my African violets thrive in a bright and sunny, north-facing window. In the colder months, during a period of much slower growth, they seem to appreciate being away from the cold windows and closer to the heating vents. Haha… I don’t blame them seeing as how these beauties are more of the tropical variety. To create new plants from existing ones, simply pinch off a few large, healthy leaves at the base of the stem and immediately transfer them to a small pot filled with potting soil and a bit of compost. As with all African violets, water these new plant-lings by submerging the pots in roughly an inch of water for 30 minutes and no more, then allow them to drain before returning them to where you like to keep them. Within approximately 6 months, you will start to see tiny, new leaves growing from the base of the larger, transplanted ones.
Growing up in a more desert-like environment, this plant is very familiar to me. In Southern California, where rain seldom falls, aloe vera plants flourish and for quite a long time. Smaller plants can live up to 25 years with proper care where the largest of this type can go on for decades. It is also a prime example of a plant that nature gives us in order to heal and maintain positive health. The aloe vera has beneficial antioxidant and antibacterial properties which accelerate the healing of cuts, scrapes and burns when an ‘arm’ of the plant is cut open and the aloe gel inside is applied directly to the wound and allowed to dry. Making this gem of a plant a mom’s best friend. Here in the true north, however, the aloe vera is a little out of its element. So, it requires a little more attention as a houseplant. In our hot summers, our aloe plants love to be outside but care does need to be taken to make sure that, growing in pots, they maintain adequate soil moisture. Growing aloes in pots allows for easy mobility when they need to be brought back inside during wintertime when they only require a good spritzing with a water bottle, 1-2 times per week.
This last plant, the Sansevieria Trifasciata or ‘Snake Plant’, like the first one is very user-friendly. Also, like the pothos, it can thrive in natural or artificial light and is quite tolerant of seasonal temperature and humidity levels, requiring just a cup of aerated water once a week. The architectural composition of this plant makes it the perfect addition to environments with a more modern or even mid-century esthetic while blending in nicely in a Boho style room as well. Since snake plants grow in pots, they do require well-draining soil with a bit of sand to be happy and to be re-potted when they have outgrown the current one.
I truly hope these tips help you to create a healthy, interior living space while at the same time adding a little natural and vibrant color to your life during these cold, winter months when all that blooms outdoors is fast asleep.
If you’d like to share your successes and quandaries in your houseplant adventures, please don’t hesitate to comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
Folks are like plants; we all lean toward the light. – Kris Carr