Hardy houseplants can thrive with proper care
By: By LEE REICH For The Associated Press
Spider plants and rubber trees don’t have to look forlorn.
These plants often take on a downtrodden look because of their uncanny ability to survive, even grow, in the far from ideal growing conditions of our homes. But eventually they just cannot keep up appearances.
Many such tough houseplants are tossed in the compost pile not because they die, but because they’re no longer worth looking at.
With the proper knowledge and care, though, each of these plants can be lush and beautiful. Here’s a primer:
A spider plant’s trick to survival lies in its roots. Repot one of these plants and you can’t help but notice its white, fleshy, pod-like swellings below ground. These vesicles, as they are called, store moisture for when we forget to water.
And eventually any spider plant needs plenty of water, what with all the baby plantlets dangling over the sides of the pot on the ends of arching stems. These plantlets form roots, even as they dangle in midair, but those roots, of course, can do nothing to help replenish the water given off by the plantlets’ leaves.
Without proper care, spider plants become pale and overgrown, crowded with youngsters and the mother plant starting to push itself up and out of the pot.
This plant’s toughness comes from its rubbery leaves. Although large and lush looking — generally not the ideal for survival of a houseplant — rubber tree leaves have waxy surfaces that prevent excessive loss of moisture. The leaves are also stiff, so they keep their perky look over a wide range of conditions.
If neglected, the leaves stay large and crisp, even green, but the space between them lengthens as they stretch for light. The plant eventually looks like an artificial tree whose leaves have been grudgingly attached.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
Mostly, what these need is more light, especially rubber trees. More light will green up a spider plant. Shorten the spaces between new leaves of a rubber tree. Light isn’t the only thing needed to keep any of these tough plants looking their best. Regular watering and occasional fertilizer also help. And repot the plants into new potting soil when they outgrow their containers.
Still, with even the best care, none of these plants is going to compare with their counterparts growing under native conditions. In the tropics, intense sunlight and steamy air coax rubber trees to spread their limbs as wide as our maples, limbs dense with foliage and dripping thin aerial rootlets — nothing like even the happiest indoor rubber tree.
Published in The Messenger 1.22.08