Quickly becoming a favorite houseplant, the peace lily, or Spathiphyllum, is one of the easiest plants to care for as long as it gets its requirement of water and stays out of the sun. I know some people like that too.
Several years ago, I was given what gardeners fondly refer as a 'Spath,' and the plant is still thriving and blooming. I repotted it once and left it in the sun a couple times. Leaving your Spath in the sun isn't recommended. The plant has delicate leaves that burn easily. When my plant suffered from sunburn, I pruned away the whitened leaves and learned my lesson.
The plant also doesn't take kindly to drying out. Although the leaves can be quite large, depending on the variety of Spath you have, the stems are strong and adept at holding up those leaves. It shouldn't, however, be left to dry out until it wilts. Watering will most assuredly perk those leaves back up, but if the drying occurs too often, the stems grow weak and will eventually not be able to recover.
I suspect this is what happened to another Spath that I was recently given.
"It's ugly, take it and do whatever you want with it,'' I was told.
So I set the plant in a corner in my office and watched it awhile. The stems are long and leggy and the leaves are large. It is in a gallon container and looks as though there are several crowns from which the tall stems emerge. It likely needs repotted because it dries out quickly and needs frequent watering to keep from wilting to the ground. But even so, if the stems have been weakened from too much wilting in the past, it may not recover to the point that it doesn't need constant care.
I am tempted to prune it. I've never pruned my original Spath, so I have no past experience in this matter. Articles I've read about Spath care say they shouldn't be pruned, but none explain the reason. Plants don't read, and I know they routinely grow new stems.
I know what would happen if I took the plant home. My husband, the self-proclaimed plant doctor, would do two things. He would divide the plant into several separate crowns and repot each division into individual containers, but not before shearing the stems back to about six inches tall.
And then he would wait. Perhaps pruning would be the plant's demise. Or perhaps the plant would be invigorated and respond by sending up new, stronger stems. This is how we learn.
According to information from Clemson University Extension in North Carolina, peace lily soil should be "kept moist but not soggy. The soil should dry out between waterings."
What? How do you keep it moist but let it dry out? See what I mean about the plant not reading the instructions? Perhaps we shouldn't either.
In my search for information about whether or not to prune the Spath, I was introduced to another, similar plant called Chinese evergreen or Aglaonema. This houseplant, has similar leaves and flowers as the Spath. It is so similar in fact, that some people call it a peace lily even though it is not. This is the problem with common names.
According to Aglaonema information, it is OK to cut this plant back to within six inches of its life and it will thrive and grow even stronger. Someone mistaking their Spath for a Chinese evergreen might be discouraged when their plant responds by dying.
There is an easy way to tell the difference between the two plants. Unlike the Spath, which grows individual stems with individual leaves from a central crown, the Aglaonema leaves grow alternately along its thick stem.
The Spath, as I mentioned earlier, is a very easy plant to grow. It doesn't need a sunny window in winter, instead preferring filtered light. This means you can set it on the other side of the room and it will still be happy. It doesn't require frequent fertilizing, perhaps a diluted balance of 20-20-20 every two or three months and not at all in winter.
While some might find a leaf-prominent plant boring, it does occasionally bloom white hood-shaped flowers on equally long stems.
Another selling point on the Spath is that in a recent study by NASA, the plant was among the top 10 shown to be effective in cleaning the air by removing removing formaldehyde, benzine, and carbon monoxide. How great is that?
I'm taking this one home and letting the "doctor" take over. I'll let you know how it goes.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.