I realize that this is probably the first winter I haven't written about houseplants.
That's not to say there weren't any, because there always are plenty of plants in just about every room of the house all winter. They just didn't seem to stand out this year.
My husband likes the houseplants more than I do. He tends to their watering and trimming while I am busy trying to find places to tuck them away so they are out of the way and don't block the views through the windows. Orchids are hanging from the ceiling and occupy a stand table or two in the living room. A dwarf banana tree, that has yet to produce a banana, sits in a corner on a tall plant stand. A peace lily that I can live without, but he evidently can't, sits on another table and a Norfolk Island Pine taller than I am sits in the tile entrance to the front door.
I've run the gamut of houseplants. Back in the 1980s, I had them all. Burro's tail, sansaveria, pothos, giant philodendron that grew to the ceiling and all the typical nursery houseplants left over from floral arrangements. We had a small, homemade greenhouse where we kept the plants all summer and in winter. To keep from having to heat the greenhouse, we brought the plants indoors and filled our largest windows until from the outside looking in, it seemed as though we lived in the tropics.
As the plants succumbed to old age, poor watering (my fault) and neglect, they weren't replaced. After a while, I just didn't care anymore. I had other things to do. I found by talking to other backyard gardeners, we either love our houseplants or we love our outdoor gardens, but we don't have time for both. All those years ago, I didn't do much flower gardening, preferring to spend my summer days in the vegetable patch. But then I started planting flowers and building perennial beds and collecting daylilies and roses and ornamental grasses. And it was true. I didn't care about houseplants any longer.
But houseplants today aren't the same as they used to be and neither are the trends. Sometime in the 1990s, there was an explosion of new and different types of houseplants made available to indoor gardeners. Now trends run more toward short-lived blooming plants. Instead of filling every available window space with as many plants we could collect, these days plants are used to decorate, such as a simple cactus garden on a coffee table or a large ficus in an entryway.
Regardless of how you use your houseplants, there are a few things to keep in mind so that plants don't needlessly suffer.
The first golden rule when growing houseplants is don't overwater. This can't be stressed enough as many people who claim to have black thumbs actually kill their plants with kindness. The main symptom of underwatering, wilting, is also a symptom of overwatering. Even though they are plunged deep into the soil, a plant's roots need oxygen. When the soil is kept wet all the time, there is no oxygen and the roots begin to rot and die.
An attentive resident might walk by and think the plant needs a drink because it looks a bit wilted. A while later, another concerned member of the household might do the same thing. Before long, the plant is so waterlogged it can't possibly survive.
In addition, when a plant is stressed due to poor conditions or overwatering, insect pests start to move in and basically kick it while it's down. Whiteflies, spider mites, mealybugs and fungus diseases start to take over. In just a few days, a plant can be beyond help.
Houseplants also need more light than the average house's windows can provide. We have to remember to cut back considerably on watering and don't feed at all during the winter. We don't want to encourage the plant to grow when the sun is lower in the sky and the plant's natural instinct is to slow down or completely stop its growth until conditions improve.
In spring when the sun is higher and brighter and days are longer, some plants might need repotted or at least have the soil refreshed. When it really warms up outside, they prefer to be moved outdoors either in a shady or filtered shade location. Most houseplants are tropical understory plants, unless you're collecting cacti.