For Gardeners With Busy Lives, There's Low-maintenance Plants

April 21, 1991|By William C. Ward | William C. Ward,Staff writer

Houseplants often bring me great pleasure and a feeling of harmony with nature. For about a month.

Then they die.

It's not really my fault. I buy the plants fully intending to take great care of them -- to nurture them like the tiny living things they are -- but I can't. I don't have the time.

Living in the fast-paced world of journalism and working a second job, I'm barely home long enough to shower, change and get out the door, much less take care of a miniature rose plant. My plants wither unnoticed. I'm not sureif a falling tree makes a sound if no one's around to hear it, but Ido know that an African violet needs no witness to shrivel into a crunchy ball.

Determined to overcome my brown thumb -- a common affliction, I learned -- I set out for Davidsonville's Homestead Gardens to try to find some low-maintenance plants that would look nice and live longer than a month in negligent conditions.

The huge Homestead Gardens greenhouse is nestled on several acres along Route 214 nearRoute 424 in Davidsonville. Thousands of green, healthy plants create lush rows on elevated tables as far as the eye can see. If these professionals can keep thousands of plants healthy, flowering and growing, surely they could help me.

"The main thing to realize is that they're alive and they have . . . basic requirements," Linda Gill, the greenhouse sales manager of Homestead Gardens, lectured me. "Peoplewalk through here and fall in love with a plant, and it requires five hours of direct sun. They put it in a dark corner and it dies."

Gill handed me a list with a fairly large selection of easy-to-care-for plants that require low, indirect sunlight to survive.

"Some good news is that most plants that require low light also purify the air," she said.

After rattling off several botanical names, which I diligently scribbled down, Gill explained that any houseplant is basically a tropical plant that grows natively where it is warm and thereis no killing frost. The vast majority of these plants are originally from South America. This makes a comfortable house temperature nearly ideal for these plants.

Many low-maintenance plants are foliage, defined as all leafy plants not grown for their flowers. Foliage became a big industry around 1975. Because of Florida's tropical climate, 90 percent of all the foliage in the United States is produced in that state.

Whether it's S. Pathiphyllum, the "peace lily," or Philodendron cordatum, the "heartleaf philodendron," low-maintenance plants are what Gill calls her "anywhere plants," because you can put them almost anywhere in the house.

Gill suggested several plants, including Aglaonema modestum, or the "Chinese Evergreen," and members of the Dracaena species, which require medium-to-bright indirect light, as perfect candidates for homes where the human occupants are on the go.

"They're very flexible, and very pretty," Gill said of the plants.

Also included in her list were Neanthabella Palm, or the "parlor palm," and a Chamaedorea hybrid called the "bamboo palm."

Despite their resilience, these plants do require some care. As each plant is an individual, the amount and type of care varies, but some general guidelines to caring for them can be used.

When considering a location for the plant, think about sunlight. Just because most ofthese plants require lower sunlight doesn't mean they should be keptin the dark. Put them in a location that will get some light, and adjust the location using your plant's health as a guide.

When watering a plant, use room-temperature water. Water the plants thoroughly,and make sure the plant is not sitting in water longer than half an hour after watering.

Adjust your watering schedule to the change with the seasons. A house that is dry in the winter may be humid in the summer. Take note of the humidity and lessen or increase the numberof waterings a week accordingly. Always feel the soil before you water to measure the moisture content.

Fertilize your plant with a 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer about once a month in the winter and twice a month in spring and summer.

More good news is that low-maintenance plants are fairly inexpensive. At Homestead Gardens most six-inch pots with plants go for about $9.99; three-foot plants in 10-inch pots go for $29.99 and six-foot plants in 14-inch pots run between$70 and $100.

Gill hinted that the best time to buy houseplants is during the change of seasons, because nurseries restock at this time and have to clear the space. Also, promotional foliage is offered during this time. Plants in 10-inch pots at Homestead Gardens can dropdown to $20 during a seasonal change, about $10 off the regular price.


Here is a partial list of low lightplants that require little care:

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)

Cast-Iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)

Caladium species (Caladium)

Grape Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia)

Fittonia species (Fittonia)

Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)

Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)

Rabbit's Foot Fern (Davallia fujeensis)

Brake Fern (Pteris species)

Kentia Palm (Howea forsterana)

Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)

Snake plant (Sansiveria trifasciata)

Peace Lilly (S. Pathiphyllum species)

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