As much as we hate to admit it, it's time to start making room for the indoor plants.
Temperatures this season gradually got colder as the weeks progressed. We started by moving them to the protection of the patio for the first few weeks, but now they are back inside as temperatures begin to dip even lower.
Some of these plants are huge, and their containers are heavy, especially the Norfolk Island Pine and the miniature banana. The rubber tree, which isn't a tree but with its many trunks filled with leaves is becoming a large shrub, also has gotten so big it demands a huge share of available space once it comes indoors.
A few weeks ago I wrote about decorating with indoor plants, basically how to bring them back indoors and incorporate them into the flow. While we want to make sure our plants look nice inside our homes, we also need to consider their care.
Indoor plants consist of tropicals, euphorbias, cacti and other tender perennials that can't withstand our cold winter temperatures. There are thousands of varieties of indoor plants and like our clothing, appliance colors and decorating habits, trends change. In the 1970s, we had tall elephant's-ear philodendron climbing on wooden slabs with the bark still attached, sometimes reaching as high as the ceiling. I remember the husband and I sitting in our living room discussing what we would do when the plant finally did touch the ceiling. Would we cut off its top or find it a new home? In the end, I don't even remember what ever happened to that plant.
In the 1980s, it was trendy to have a huge umbrella palm behind a wicker chair in a corner of the living room. We kept it there until summer when we could move it to the patio, chair and all. By the 1990s, we were getting more sophisticated with our indoor plants and usually chose smaller plants in compact containers, miniature plants and dish gardens. The Victorian look was popular, and it wasn't hard to find metal and wooden miniature conservatories (I still have mine) for filling with miniature plants, fake ponds made of colored glass, tiny benches and bridges. This is around the time fairy gardens became popular, and before long we were using our imaginations to design gardens in every available container from abandoned birdbaths to rusty wheelbarrows.
But in the long run, when it comes to house plants, most people are more inclined to bring them home, put them in a sunny window, give them water once a week or so and bemoan the fact that when they die, it is proof they really do have a ''black thumb.''
The best way to care for indoor plants is to learn the plant's origins and give it similar conditions. For example, tropical plants can be everything from treetop sun worshipers, such as citrus trees, ficus and tropical hibiscus, to understory plants that prefer to be out of the spotlight, such as orchids, philodendrons, pothos and many dark-leafed non-blooming plants. Tropical plants prefer higher humidity and not be placed in the path of cold drafts, such as entries where doors are opened regularly on cold days. Although they prefer moist conditions, care should be taken not to overwater to the point they are constantly sitting in soggy soil.
Cacti and plants that don't mind dry conditions are usually sun-lovers as well. Give them the south-facing windows. These plants can go as long as a month without watering.
Insect pests can be a problem for indoor plants, especially if there are many plants crowded into a small space. Good air circulation is a must to avoid fungal diseases such as powdery mildew. Insects that can attack indoor plants include whiteflies, mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, scale, thrips and fungus gnats. Most insects attack tender, young growth and often hide on the undersides of leaves. If insects are suspected, immediately remove the affected plant from the others to avoid an infestation. Before resorting to chemicals, try washing the plant's leaves or spraying it well in the shower or with a kitchen hose.
The best way to avoid insect infestation is to routinely bathe the plants, wipe off large leaves and pick up any debris and dead leaves that fall off. Many house plants will lose some of their leaves when they move from outside to indoors. This is a normal reaction as the plant adapts to its new location.