Tuesday, December 20, 2016

House Plants for the Holidays

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.

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 had 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 have shared my homes, the largest, a split leaved Philodendron (now classified as a Monstera), once nearly completely took over my front room. It came to me as a tiny one leaved start in a vase with some ivy. After ten years, each leaf grew to be a foot across, and there were at least fifteen leaves on the sprawling 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. Over watering 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 cuttings.  If you don’t know anyone with cuttings to spare, Etsy has many offerings.  They have more variety than most dedicated nurseries, better prices, and offer everything from cuttings, small plants, to mature specimens.  Simply search on “Philodendron” from Etsy’s home page:  <https://www.etsy.com/>  If you are in a hurry and have a little money to spend, you might want to check out Blooming Crazy Floral in
Astoria.  They have three different kinds of philodendrons, starting at $35.00 per plant: <http://www.bloomincrazyfloral.com/plants.php>

Philodendron and Spider Plant, happy together!

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.) Resistant to neglect, 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.

Etsy also seems to be the go-to place for spider plants as well.  They have a large selection of varieties.  Starts can be purchased for a few dollars, while more mature plants can range up to about $40.00.  Search on “spider plants” here to check out the selection:  <https://www.etsy.com/> 


Published by the Willapa Harbor Herald, December 7th, 2018.  Posted here with permission.

A version was previously published by the Hoopa People News, which you can view here:


Copyright 2016, Harvest McCampbell.  Please feel free to use the buttons below to share.  All other rights reserved. 

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