I've heard a lot of people say they can't keep a houseplant alive.
"I kill everything," is a common diatribe among would-be growers of indoor plants. "I don't have a green thumb, I have a black thumb."
I'm a skeptic and believe that anyone can keep houseplants alive if they really want to put forth the effort.
But what happens when you don't want to make the effort and find yourself with plants that refuse to die? What do we do with those?
It doesn't help to have a husband who can't bear to see anything perish. It doesn't matter that the leaves constantly turn brown but are still so tough it takes sharp pruners to cut them. It doesn't matter that the plant requires near constant maintenance, or that it hardly ever blooms and takes up too much room.
If there's a slight spark of life, he will opt to give it water, give it food, repot it or put it in the sun versus just letting it go.
I am referring to probably the most gifted plant in the world, Spathiphyllum, also known as Peace Lily, or what gardeners simply call spathe. If you have one, you either love it or hate it. Or, if you are like the husband, you are indifferent to it unless there is a slight chance you could save its life.
Browning on the leaves is the most common issue with this plant, and there are so many causes it's a wonder anyone would want to bring one home. My opinion about spathes is that it is a boring plant that shouldn't live anywhere other than where it naturally grows, or in an office building where people are paid to come in once or twice a week and tend to it.
Finding the cause of brown leaves is not easy. It can be the result of over-fertilizing, over- or under-watering, low humidity, pests, or a combination of more than one of these reasons. Or it is just part of the plant's natural growth, evident by the browning of the outer leaves while new growth continues from the center.
When this occurs, it is easy to clip out the offending leaves, but the bigger the spathe, the more maintenance involved. I prefer to water my plants in winter as they need it and nothing more. In spring, I don't mind repotting those that need it and mixing up diluted fertilizer I start them on before they more outside for the summer. I have enough to do, and I don't need fussy plants.
And then there's the issue of flowers.
Emerging from the ends of a leaf stalk are leaf-like bracts that are white, cupped ovals surrounding a central spadix. The spadix is actually a spiked inflorescence that holds the plant's tiny true flowers. You thought the white part was the flower, didn't you?
Spathiphyllum is a tropical plant from the Araceae family. Although I'm not impressed with the peace lily, I think the arum family is fascinating. The largest flower in the world comes from this family, as do the plants that produce flowers with the scent of rotting meat, their fragrance is specialized to attract specific pollinators.
The spathes we buy are not the wild, tropical plants that grow near the equator. They are hybridized versions, created for the houseplant market and given the attractive Peace Lily name.
If your spathe fails to bloom after its original flowers have faded, be patient. Growers like to use a chemical to force the plants into bloom. Blooming plants are more attractive to buyers. Your plant is virtually addicted to the chemical and for a while won't bloom without it. The plant eventually will get over its addiction and will bloom again.
Give your spathe filtered light. In summer, put the plant under an awning or small tree. Too much sunlight will burn the leaves, but it doesn't like to be completely in the shade either.
Keep it watered regularly year-round. This is a tropical plant and won't appreciate drying out. The leaves will wilt when it gets dry and although they bounce back once watered, continual drying and wilting will weaken the plant's stalks until they won't be able to stand up at all.