With Summer Nearly Over, It’s Time to Think About Houseplants

In a moment filled with all too much that is unfamiliar, there is consolation in small things that remain constant.

My grandmother’s Clivia sits beside me faithfully, asking little, as it has for more than 40 years. Although it’s not that small anymore — there are now three massive pots of it.

Marc Hachadourian, the director of glasshouse horticulture and senior curator of the orchid collection at the New York Botanical Garden’s 55,000-square-foot Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, has a similar companion, a Sansevieria he adopted as a boy from his grandmother. It survived a house fire and has been thriving for decades.

“It’s more a pet than a plant,” Mr. Hachadourian said, acknowledging a common attachment that has grown more widespread during these homebound months. “I’ve seen people running adoption ads for houseplants, like a social-media influencer moving to L.A. who couldn’t take them along, but wanted to make sure they found a good home.”

During the pandemic, Mr. Hachadourian’s job — overseeing the care of more than 2,000 kinds of plants in the conservatory’s 11 interconnected galleries — has continued, even with the building closed and the 117-year-old palm dome under renovation.

Let’s start with the nearly indestructible, “the ones that won’t miss you when you go away for two weeks and nobody waters them,” Mr. Hachadourian said.

He calls them “the pizza-parlor plants”: a Pothos or Dieffenbachia, he said, “defies all possibilities, and stays alive in the corner of the restaurant, even with an inch of dust on its leaves.”

Moses-in-the-cradle (Tradescantia spathacea), with its purple, white and green foliage, is extra durable, too, “a classic houseplant.”

So is that Sansevieria, or snake plant — and besides Grandma’s plain, dark-green version, there are variegates marbled or edged in white or gold, dwarf varieties and ones with cylindrical rather than blade-like foliage. “Definitely keep them in bright, indirect light and pot-bound,” Mr. Hachadourian said. “They may even bloom, with honeysuckle-fragrance flowers at night.”

Clivia miniata is another reliable choice; the only difficult part may be acquiring a good-sized plant to start. Give it bright light, but not direct midday sun, and a well-drained potting mix. Attempting to mimic the dormant period that triggers bloom in its natural environment, I bring mine indoors before the first freeze. I move it to the coolest place in my house, a mudroom with lots of windows, and start withholding water.

Although I can’t control it precisely — it won’t ever bloom on schedule and qualify for the annual Clivia Society shows in March — I try to keep it under 55 degrees (but above 35) and dry from October to January. Next, after a couple of weeks of raising the temperature into the 60s, as the days get longer, I resume watering and flower stalks begin to emerge.

Mr. Hachadourian and I both have a soft spot for oddballs, including a couple of very low-care, low-water individuals that basically have no leaves.

Like that pile resembling fat, pale-green onions in my dining room, from which a frothy vine emerges for maybe half the year: Bowiea volubilis, the climbing onion, is a long-lived bulb in the Asparagus family.

“Quirky doesn’t always mean difficult or challenging,” said Mr. Hachadourian, who puts the once-ubiquitous Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) in this category, because among cactus family members, it is odd.

“It’s a very different kind of cactus,” he said. “Most are spiny and angry, but not this one, with its leafless, jointed stems and then those wonderful flowers. I wish more people would grow them again.”

No desert plant, this bright filtered-light guy: Its ancestors were epiphytic, living in trees in Brazilian rain forests. Schlumbergera blooms in response to shorter days, with continuous darkness (13 hours or more a night) accompanied by cooler nights (55 to 65 degrees), from around the autumnal equinox until about Thanksgiving.

Both Bowiea and Schlumbergera like a fast-draining potting mix. And don’t overpot them: Tight quarters are preferred. Also, go easy on the water. (With Bowiea, begin withholding water when the vines start yellowing in fall, signaling dormancy.)

And what’s not to love about a plant that moves? Prayer plant, Maranta leuconeura, has vividly marked leaves that fold up at night. Mr. Hachadourian’s aunt had one on her kitchen windowsill (it also makes for a nice hanging basket).

Her reaction when she clued in to its nightly routine: “Miraculous — magic!”

Begonias, many of which have showy foliage and bonus flowers, are a must. But Mr. Hachadourian suggested staying away from the silver-leaved Rex types, at least at first. Their exacting requirements, including high humidity, can be hard to satisfy, especially in winter.

“With this newest houseplant generation, they may not be collecting things to hand down like Grandma did her china,” Mr. Hachadourian said, “but you could take cuttings of a plant, take a leaf with you to hand down.”

Speaking of grandma plants, he said, consider the African violet: “It has waned in popularity, but if people realized they could keep propagating it — the sharing mentality of some houseplants is making them a social thing, so why not those?”

His multiplication how-to: Take a leaf cutting, leaving as much petiole, or stalk, as possible. Cover a water glass with aluminum foil; poke a hole through with a pencil. Place the stem through the hole, where it will root in the water and eventually make a new plant.

Or give someone an amaryllis bulb. (Mr. Hachadourian does, and then enjoys the excited email progress reports from recipients.) Pass along a jade plant, a Philodendron, a Peperomia.

And why not share Cryptanthus, “an odd little bromeliad I got at the Two Guys discount store for $1.99 and used to propagate as a kid, and give away,” he said. “I couldn’t bear to throw the offsets out.”

Adaptable to varying light levels, Cryptanthus plants develop the best foliage color in bright light and, unlike other bromeliads, don’t store water in their cup of leaves.

Mr. Hachadourian, the author of the recent how-to book “Orchid Modern,” acknowledges that people are looking to expand beyond the familiar Phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, and suggested two alternatives.

Ludisia discolor, the jewel orchid, is prized for its velvety foliage — unlike most orchids, where the flower’s the thing. Easily rooted from stem cuttings, it produces little, white spring blooms, even in lower light, so it can grow happily among other houseplants.

Paphiopedilum Maudiae hybrids, lady’s slipper orchids with mottled, checkered foliage and charming blooms, need medium to low light. And after the Paphiopedilums, they are among the easiest orchids to grow on a windowsill.

Sahred From Source link Real Estate

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