Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Houseplant review

When I first moved into my current apartment I placed many plants away from windows. I had almost always kept my plants close to light, be it natural or artificial, but my apartment seemed so bright that I decided to be take a slightly more "interior design" approach to my plant arrangements. For months it seemed to be working just fine. But, as the days grew shorter and the angle of the sun grew less, I started noticing definite signs of decline. I started moving plants gradually, eking out just a bit more room near a window or under my lights for another refuge from the darkness. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I took pity on the last of the down-trodden and moved all of my plants to brighter areas. It helps that I've discarded some of my plants over the course of the winter. My small amorphophallus collection were some of the first to go. Potting soil given given by a friend turned out to have a high level of mineral deposits (and who knows what else), that I'm sure contributed to their decline. Also cold, dry air, and finally the darkening days as autumn progressed. Now, since amorphophallus are deciduous, they may have simply been going dormant. However, the way they were declining looked less like natural dormancy and more like dying. There is a difference. And I've never been a fan of houseplants that go dormant. So either way, these freebies were not hard to cull from my collection.

Others followed, some because they declined to a point that it wasn't worth my time to baby them, more recently for another reason which I will share when the time comes. I'm still looking around with a critical eye, trying to reduce my collection, but it's reached the point where I'm down to things that have sentimental value or are potentially hard to replace (either because they are hard to locate or are slow growing and I don't want to start over again).

So here I will share some of the plants that are doing really well for me and some that are doing not so well. I may be looking for good homes for some of these plants in a couple months, so that I can claim propagation material at a later date.

Begonia 'Starry Night' is one of the first begonias that I've had success with, my previous experience being mostly comprised of rex begonias purchased from big box stores that always got mildewy and dwindled to nothing before spring came around to revive them, if death wasn't already inevitable from their treatment at the store. With all the beauty of a rex begonia and none of the fussiness, 'Starry Night' asks only for bright indirect light and water when the soil is dry. I've even found it wilting several times and I simply water and it comes back just fine. Granted, if I gave the poor, root-bound thing a bigger home it wouldn't wilt so suddenly. 'Starry Night' was down to only about a half dozen leaves when I moved it from my dark bedroom to a northeast facing window. Now it's bursting with new growth. The dark areas are a charcoal to very dark green color, while the silver areas are a true, glittering silver. Definitely a worthy houseplant.

Siderasis fuscata, commonly called brown spiderwort (or the kitty plant, by some acquaintances) has dark green leaves striped greenish silver, with bright fuchsia reverses. The entire leaf surface is covered in soft, red hairs. This is one tough plant. You can let it go dry to wilting before watering and it comes back just fine, though I don't recommend letting it wilt regularly. I water it about once every 1-2 weeks and it's in a very open, fast-draining mix in a clay pot. A heavier potting mix and plastic pot would make it even more low-maintenance. As a bonus, this beautiful foliage plant also bears triangular purple spiderwort flowers amid the leaves in random flushes. This is one of the few plants that didn't show any signs of decline in the dark bedroom, though it did stop growing at any visible rate after producing leaves that were lankier and less fuzzy than normal. I'm sure it's happier to get a decent amount of light now. I never want to be without one of these in my collection.

Chamaeranthemum venosum is a cute little member of the Acanthaceae with white veins across its very green leaves. The flowers aren't much to write home about, though the seed pods will launch the seeds for several feet and wake light sleepers just as they are drifting off to sleep. It went on a blooming kick this summer, then put out a bit of growth which I snipped off and rooted to make the plant fuller. This plant started declining in my bedroom. It took longer to show signs, and it was a very slow decline, but I did finally move it into more light with the others. The cuttings that I stuck at the end of summer just barely had the strength to survive. I'm hoping to start seeing growth on it again with the lengthening days. If not, I have lots of seedlings, which you'll see later.

I am slightly obsesses with mottled-leaf Phalaenopsis orchids. All but one of these are species, the one that isn't is a primary hybrid (the offspring of a cross between two species). I now have six of these beauties, and the one on the top right is going to bloom! Some orchid growers remove the flower spike on a seedling blooming for the first time, to force the plant to direct more energy towards growth. This may be the smarter thing to do, but I couldn't help myself. These plants have been in my big northeast window the entire time. Their only problem is low humidity in winter. I water them once a week by giving them a good drenching, then mist them once or twice during the week. The misting is not to raise humidity. I have a humidifier for that. It's more of a light watering to tide them over until the next heavy watering. I've got some leaves that are growing a bit cupped from the really dry periods this winter, both because of the heat blasting to keep the apartment warm and from some laziness on my part regarding watering. Still, these lovely orchids are beautiful in or out of bloom and really aren't that difficult as houseplants provided they have at least bright indirect light and humidity preferably no less than 50%.

Most of my vireya rhododendrons are on a light shelf enclosed with a shower curtain to raise humidity. Rhododendron mendumiae not only has spent the whole winter outside of the humid enclosure, it didn't even fuss in my dark bedroom. However, it also didn't grow at all, so it gets to live in the northeast window with most of my plants. I'm very impressed with this little rhododendron so far. I've only had it since last May. It's grown slowly so far, but it didn't lose any leaves or even show any damage like other plants did in the dark and dry. I can't wait to see the flowers, which can be up to four inches across, dwarfing the leaves and bearing a strong, sweet scent. Given its performance this winter, I have great expectations for this little vireya.

Rhododendron rushforthii has not handled winter as well. The dark room and dry air weakened it and several leaves have been turning brown which should have stayed green for much longer. With the humidifier running nearby and being placed in better light, I am hoping to see it reverse course and start putting out some new growth soon. It is such a beautiful light silvery blue color that I won't give up on it until I've run out of options and it's run out of leaves. You can see what the leaves are supposed to look like (and understand why I'm not willing to give up on it) in this post.


I'll stop there for now. I have a lot more to show, but am lacking in time at the moment. More stalwart, stellar, and not-so-super houseplants in my next post.


10 comments:

  1. It's so discouraging when houseplants that looked spectacular in the nursery greenhouse come home with us and start to decline. It always makes me feel like a bad steward. I haven't had any luck keeping orchids alive, let alone reblooming. My Begonias are doing well, though, so I'm doing something right with them. You always have such interesting houseplants that I've never heard of.

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    1. For some reason I never had luck with begonias until a couple years ago, except for a rhizomatous one that didn't hold its color well enough to merit keeping in the light I could provide at the time. Houseplants are the one area where I don't have to worry about deer, so I've explored them quite thoroughly.

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  2. What a collection! "the kitty plant" I'm going to be chuckling about that one for awhile.

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    1. I'm glad you liked that. I have a feeling there will be a few plants in a later post that might peak your interest.

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  3. A fan collection you have there Evan and handy to know what does well for you there as indoor wise we should all have similar conditions :)

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    1. Thanks guys! I've found that even indoor conditions can vary much more than one might think. In Washington, winter can be very dark unless you have lots of big windows, and even then it's pretty dim. The mild temperatures mean the heat doesn't kick on as much as colder areas like Wisconsin, so the air doesn't get nearly as dry. Also, the temperature settings in different homes vary widely. These can make surprisingly big differences and some things that have looked awful in some of the places I've lived grow well in others.

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  4. You have a beautiful indoor plant collection, Evan, despite the problems here and there. I love those mottled-leafed orchids - I've never come across them year. (I clearly shop in boring places.)

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    1. Thanks, Kris. Those mottled-leafed phalaenopsis can usually only be found at nurseries and on websites that specialize in orchids. Orchids were one of my earliest obsessions.

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  5. How about stepping back and taking some photos of your apartment? I would love to see all of these fabulous plants in your habitat.

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    1. I could try that. It can be a bit hard because of the backlighting from the window, but I might give it a shot. I'm afraid it wouldn't be a very impressive sight, though. I'm no interior designer.

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