Friday, October 29, 2010

Gifting the Gardener

Previously published in the Hoopa People News

Carefully chosen gifts can improve our loved one’s lives! You don’t need to spend a ton of money to show you care, brighten up a dreary room, and improve the air your gift recipient breathes. Houseplants provide all these benefits and more. If you have elderly or ill family members, research has proven that when they have plants to look at, they recover faster and feel less pain. House plants bring many of the benefits of gardening to those who can’t or won’t get out and dig in the dirt. Below you will find two easy to care for plants that make long lasting gifts.

If free is a sound you like to hear, check the end of this column for information on a couple of garden related downloads. The first is curriculum for teachers from the California Oak Foundation and the second is an e-book on herbs. (Check the paragraph right above the e-book and curriculum section, for another free curriculum download!) Whether you gift yourself with these offerings or print them out and tuck them into holiday stockings, they are sure to please.

House Plants Keep on Giving

Extensive research has been devoted to the effects of house plants on indoor air quality. While researchers don’t always agree on which plants are the best, Philodendrons and spider plants feature prominently on most lists. These tough guys don’t need any special care. They make good gifts for those who may be just starting out with houseplants and others who have limited time or abilities. They also make good gifts for busy people, for elders, disabled, or ill family members; in which case, part of the gift can be your regular plant care visits.


Philodendrons, while not traditionally thought of as holiday gifts, actually live much longer than most of the plants marketed for the season. Philodendrons are a very diverse group of plants. Native to the tropical zones of the Americas and the West Indies, there are over 900 different species found in the wild. They typically grow in the dim light found under the canopy of tropical rainforests. This adaptation to low light allows them to thrive indoors. They do need adequate light, however; and will do best in a bright room. They love cool morning sunlight, but they are likely to burn if exposed to direct afternoon sun during the warmer months.

Philodendrons would certainly prefer to be watered on a regular basis, as long as their soil is allowed to dry out in between watering. However, I have proof positive that they can stand a lot of neglect. (I am much better at caring for my outside plant menagerie than the poor souls stuck inside.) Of the three varieties of Philodendron that share my home, the largest, a split leaved Philodendron (now classified as a Monstera), is about to take over my front room. It came to me as a tiny one leaved start in a vase with some ivy. Each leaf is now over a foot across, and there are at least fifteen leaves on the sprawling ten year old plant. What poinsettia ever lived so long?

For small rooms, look for heart leaved or trailing Philodendron. There are varieties with solid leaves, with decorative holes through the leaves, and some with variegated foliage. They also do very well in our area and are easy to start from cuttings. Philodendrons are best for households without young children. They contain calcium oxalate and are considered toxic, so avoid them where youngsters feel they have to put everything in their mouths. (Spider plants are considered child and pet safe. More information on them is coming right up.)

Water your Philodendrons once a week or so, first checking to make sure the soil has dried out. Overwatering can lead to root rot and fungal infections. Occasionally adding a little dilute organic fertilizer or diluted left over coffee will help them stay happy and healthy. When the leaves are dusty, a damp cloth gently applied will return their shine. While polishing the leaves keep your eye out for scale and mealy bugs. They can be easily removed with the same cloth; or with a moistened swab, if they are hiding in hard to reach spot.

If you are on a budget, Philodendrons, and many other house plants can be grown from seed. Get a fancy card and include a packet of seeds for your hard to please gardening fanatics. For more information (and very reasonable prices) see:

Spider Plants:

These tough and prolific plants do a great job of removing toxins from the air, and they are considered safe for children and pets. (This certainly doesn’t mean you should encourage them to take a taste.) As resistant to neglect as they are, they still provide a delicate and lacy accent to any bright room. Spider plants have long gently curving grass like leaves in solid green or striped with white. They produce long flowering shoots that sport tiny lily like flowers, followed by young plantlets that hang in mid air. As the little “spiders” grow in size and number they hang down from the mother plant, forming a curtain or veil. When the plantlets begin growing roots they can be removed from the stems and rooted in water or moist potting soil and then put to work as air cleaners in other rooms. A spider plant makes a great gift that keeps on giving, whether for yourself or for others on your list.

Like Philodendrons, spider plants are happiest if you let their soil dry out in between watering, once they have well established root systems. They are rarely bothered by pests, especially when they are kept inside. But if you see signs of mealy bugs or scale, a damp cloth or swab will make quick and easy work of these pesky guys.

If you can’t find spider plants locally, Butterfield Organic Growers offers small plants for $4.00 each. (Click on Plants and Herbs to see what else they have to offer.) You can also reach them by phone: (603) 435-7260. Here is a special bonus for teachers and home school moms, Teacher Vision offers free curriculum using spider plants:

More Free E-Books and Curriculum

Here are two items you can give yourself without spending much more than a dime. (Download at the public library if you don’t have a computer at home. Printing will cost about ten cents a page for black and white, more for color, so check the number of pages before printing. If the pages are in color and you want to print in black and white, ask the librarian for help.)

The California Oak Foundation offers curriculum designed for fourth through eighth grade students available as a free download. Click on “Kids” right below their mast head for more information.
Everyday Herbs, by Ann McCormick is a free 37 page e-book available by sending an e-mail to Use “Everyday Herbs” as your subject line. She gives tips arranged in a number of sections, including: “In the Garden,” ‘The Recipe Box,” “Crafty Ideas,” and “Personal Care.”

Copyright 2008, Harvest McCampbell Please contact me before posting or publishing.!/harvest.mccampbell

No comments: