Low Maintenance House Plants Are Back

Ok… I am old enough to remember the houseplant mania (usually with macrame) in the seventies, but people now are just rediscovering what we knew all along……that houseplants have been reborn and many are actually very easy to take care of. Many more varieties are available to growers now than ever before, and new ones are always hitting the plant nurseries.

House Plant Fashion Show

A nearby garden center/nursery, Valley View Farms, even put on a “fashion show” of houseplants so people could see the large variety that is out there, with lots of old stalwarts, like Philodendrons.

At a recent “fashion show” of houseplants at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, MD-showing off products to take care of your houseplants
Valley View Farms “fashion show”
Showing off plants at Valley View Farms

And it goes without saying, low maintenance is key with our busy life styles.  For a good article, read 9 of the easiest house plants that anyone can grow. 

 

A bay window of houseplants stage at the Philadelphia Flower Show
A bay window of houseplants staged at the Philadelphia Flower Show
Old fashioned houseplants fill a window
Old fashioned houseplants fill a window

Yes, that Monstera Philodendron that you have been growing for ages is suddenly very in and on Instagram. Who would have thought? The 70’s and 80′ s mod houseplants are the social media stars of 2019 and I don’t see any end to the trend. In fact, the bigger the plant, the better. Get rid of some furniture to make some room for plants. I removed some seldom used easy chairs from my living room to make space for some large plants.

Monsteras are huge

New Varieties

But, just like those old bell bottoms that are shoved to the back of the closet, there are new iterations of the same “old”. Take Sheffelaria……. you can buy a variegated one now.

Variegated Sheffelaria
Variegated Sheffelaria

Collections of houseplants are in. Not just one, but many- like over 100 specimens decorating your house or apartment. The more, the merrier!

All kinds of houseplants, from succulents to ferns to tropicals, are decorating indoor spaces
All kinds of houseplants, from succulents to ferns to tropicals, are decorating indoor spaces

Reasons to Grow

Why grow houseplants? If you are a city dweller, the reason is simple…..to bring nature in. If you live suburban, the reason is more complex. Bringing nature in is one of them. But also, growing things that you wouldn’t normally do outside, like growing a pineapple. Yes, you can grow a pineapple in your living room! Or bring in succulents and cacti that normally wouldn’t grow for you outdoors, but with such interesting forms and shape, and ease of growth, why not? Or maybe you are fascinated with citrus….. you can easily grow limes, lemons, kumquats, or oranges. Not enough to feed you, but enough to satisfy your green thumb curiosity.

Pineapple
Pineapple

Plants elevate empty spaces and large rooms and make them alive. If you have cathedral ceilings and wondered what could fill the space…look no further. Many can tolerate fairly low light conditions which allows them to be placed near doors, stairs, and in hallways. Be sure to look at the plant requirements and try to match the correct conditions for best success.

Display your houseplants creatively

One of the huge advantages of growing plants indoors is the improvement of air quality and the removal of toxins from the environment. Most of you will be aware from school Biology that plants convert carbon dioxide into the air we breath (oxygen), so it makes sense to allow some space in the home for them to promote good health.

Houseplants can be hung, elevated, and displayed creatively to suit your space
Houseplants can be hung, elevated, and displayed creatively to suit your space

NASA created a clean air study for space stations and produced a list of house plants that do more than just turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Removing large quantities of benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the atmosphere is the normal everyday benefits of growing houseplants.

Bat Flower (Tacca chantieri) is an exotic flower that mimics a bat in flight
Bat Flower (Tacca chantieri) is an exotic flower that mimics a bat in flight
Woven Sanseveria makes a cool plant
Woven Sanseveria makes a cool plant

For the top 10 air purifying houseplants, go to Nasa’s Clean Air Study.

I like the weird ones though. The climbing onion is bizarre and a conversation piece.

The weird climbing onion, Bowiea Volubilis, is a unique addition to my houseplants

There is a houseplant out there that will satisfy anyone, from someone who wants to really get into the minutiae of growing-like orchids, or just to have something that requires little to no care-succulents.

Adding grow lights to your house is easy with these set ups
Anyone can grow succulents
Anyone can grow succulents; just give them lots of light
Wow! Cool Philodendron!
Wow! Cool Philodendron! White Variegated Split Leaf Philodendron
Sometimes my houseplants surprise me. This is a cactus bloom that appeared!
Something blooming in the middle of winter, Streptocarpus, lifts your spirits

 

Succulent Heart Trio

Heart made out of thousands of succulents at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, 2015
Having a bunch of succulents on hand from various projects, I wanted to create something special for Valentine’s Day. Rooting succulents is easy and I wanted to make the rooting process attractive as well as productive.
Succulent cutting
Succulent cutting

Succulent cuttings simply involves cutting a 3″ terminal branch and removing the lower leaves. Leave them out for a few days to form a ‘callus’, a hard, dry, crust at the stem cut.  This will prevent the cuttings from rotting which can easily happen with succulents.

All these rooted cuttings will be made part of my spring containers.
Succulent container
Succulent container
A trio of succulent hearts
A trio of succulent hearts

I thought I would use hypertufa which is a lightweight stone-like material made from Portland cement, peat moss, and perlite. Read my post on a Hypertufa Party. But in the middle of winter, I didn’t want to get into a messy outdoor project so turned instead to Shapecrete. An easy to use clay-like material that you mix with water, I picked  up a tub at Home Depot. Simply mix with water, and shape into your preferred shape, and it hardens like concrete. Watch this video on how to use it. Another product that I use for lots of craft projects is Wonderflex, a plastic-like composite material used in theater, puppetry, and costume making. Easy to cut and shape, I use it for lots of things.

Shapecrete from Home Depot
Shapecrete from Home Depot
Variety of cuttings from my succulent plants
Variety of cuttings from my succulent plants

DIY Succulent Hearts

Step 1

Shape strips of plastic called Wonderflex (available on-line)into a heart shape and fasten with a clip on a cardboard covered table. Attach the Wonderflex to the cardboard with duct tape all around the inside of the heart.Shape strips of plastic into a heart shape

Duct tape attaches the heart to the cardboard
Duct tape attached the heart to the cardboard keeping the shapecrete from bleeding out

Step 2 

Mix up your shapecrete according to the directions on the tub and smear into the heart forming a lip around the perimeter about 1/2 inch high. Poke some drainage holes with a dowel in the bottom.

I mixed the shapecrete in a disposal container with a paint stirrer
I mixed the shapecrete in a disposable container with a paint stirrer
Smooth out the shapecrete and poke two drainage holes in the bottom
Smooth out the shapecrete and poke two drainage holes in the bottom

Step 3

Let dry for at least 48 hours and peel off the plastic
Let dry for at least 48 hours and peel off the plastic and duct tape

Step 4

Moisten some sphagnum moss and place in the bottom, inserting the succulent cuttings. Keep the cuttings moist, misting them every day and they will root in a couple of months.

Moist moss in the bottom
Moist moss in the bottom
Succulent heart finished
Finished Succulent heart

Step 5

I made three different sizes of hearts, ranging from 5″ wide up to 10″ wide. for a trio of hearts. Any shape will work though…..

Heart trio
Heart trio

For more projects with succulents, go to Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating With Succulents.

 

A few of my cuttings I used in a succulent necklace
A few of my cuttings I used in a succulent necklace

Microgreens: Health Benefits and How to Grow

Have you ever been served a dish in a restaurant which was garnished with colorful and vibrant  greens? Most likely these were microgreens, know for their visual appeal, and crunch. Though minuscule in size, they are concentrated with nutrients. Studies have shown that micro greens are loaded with good stuff, such as vitamins C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene- many times more than the mature leaves of the plant.

Flavorful and providing a textural contrast to a dish like a soup or slab of fish, a few microgreens can go a long way.

Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla
Pea shoots garnishing a tortilla

Not to be confused with sprouts- germinated seeds that are eaten whole-a microgreen is an immature green that is harvested with scissors when the plants are about two inches tall. The stem, cotyledons (or seed leaves) and first set of true leaves are all edible. You are essentially eating seedlings! And the variety of seedlings include herbs and flowers, and vegetables. Most popular are sunflowers, radishes, peas, arugula, basil, beets, kale, and cilantro.

Countertop Gardening

Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens
Sunflower, peas, and mixed salad greens ready to be harvested

Pricey to buy in a grocery store and hard to find, microgreens are a snap to grow quickly in a small amount of space. Gather your supplies and you could have a variety of greens growing within a half hour of starting. The harvest time is a mere one to two weeks.

Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available
Botanical Interests seed company has an array of different microgreens available

I use Botanical Interests seeds because they are organic and  have a wide variety of heirloom varieties.

The easiest method to grow microgreens is using a soilless method with jute pads. Soilless means no splashing up of soil to spatter the newly emerged sprouts and I prefer this way of starting to others now.

No fertilizer is needed for these quick growers; it is all included in the seed package.

Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Green Ease jute pads are perfect for microgreens
Use two flats that fit together, one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Use two flats that fit together, the top one perforated for drainage, the bottom one solid
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens
Saturated jute pad ready to be planted with microgreens

You need two seed flats, one perforated for the top and a solid one to hold water on the bottom. Nest these together and place the pre-cut jute pad inside and fill the trays with a half-inch of water. After an hour or two, the jute pad should be saturated and you can dump out the excess water and you are ready to sow your microgreen seeds. Sprinkle them thickly on the top of the jute pad-you don’t need to cover or press them in-just sprinkle. Then spray with a mister to moisten everything and place a clear plastic cover on top to hold in moisture. That’s it! And you will be harvesting in less than a week.

After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them
After sprinkling your seeds in, mist them; I planted three varieties in each tray

To speed up the process, I placed my flats on top of seed heating mats.

Heating pads are just coils that heat up encased in plastic
Heating pads are just heat coils that are encased in heavy plastic

Place the clear plastic lid on top and place on top of a heating mat

Heat mats are wonderful tools for seed starting and inexpensive. I have two of them and they are in constant use in January and February. Bottom heat will jump start your seedlings even in your warm house. Seeds actually germinate quicker and healthier when supplied with warm soil or substrate (jute)—obtained through a bottom heat source. For seed germination, ideal temperatures should range from 65 to 80˚F. You could actually duplicate these conditions by placing on top of a radiator or furnace, but watch out that the soil doesn’t dry out too quickly.

In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted
In less than 24 hours, the seeds had sprouted on the jute
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves
Plant the seeds pretty thickly so the sprouts support themselves

After the microgreens have germinated, I place the trays under a four foot all-season shop light suspended by a PVC frame that is easy to put together. For about $47, you can cut up PVC to make a quick hanging frame that will suspend your light over your seedlings-much superior to natural light on a windowsill.

My PVC set up with a grow light
My PVC set up with a grow light; the trays should be a few inches from the light

Root Pouches

Another option are root pouches which are perfect for use in growing microgreens.  The Designer Line of Root pouches are made out of porous material that allows the plants to breath, and the containers come in three colors: Navy Blue, Forest Green and Heather Grey. For my microgreens, I used the Joey size at 5″ in diameter and 3″ high.

Root pouches planted, labeled,  and ready to go

Studies have shown that using grow bags made out of recycled materials, produce healthy, strong fibrous root systems on plants. Breathable material, the Root Pouch company says on its website: “Root Pouch is a family run business that turns discarded plastic bottles into a versatile, geotextitle material. The Root Pouch fabric planting container keeps plants healthy by letting excess water drain and allowing roots to breathe and grow.” Allowing air to pass through the pot, it promotes a healthy root system.

Pea tendrils ready to harvest

How to Plant

  • Fill pouch or container about 2/3 full of potting medium
  • Press your seeds ( I get mine from Botanical Interests) into top of potting medium
  • Sprinkle top with a light covering of soil
  • Firm soil with fingers, and mist with a light spray until saturated
  • Place in a warm place (heating mat) in indirect light
  • Shoots will sprout within a few days
Pea seeds don’t even have to be covered with soil-these are started in milk cartons

Harvesting

Working carefully, taking care not to crush or bruise your tender seedlings, cut the shoots right above the soil or substrate line. Begin cleaning the sprouts by laying a damp paper towel on a tray and placing it near the sink. Give tiny clumps of seedlings a dip in cool (not icy) water, and lay out onto the paper towel.

You can start them in greens containers from the grocery store

Store greens between the paper towels and place in a ziploc plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will last about a week wrapped up this way. Garnish your meals with these high nutrient-packed greens to add more vitamins to your diet.

Pea tendrils freshly washed