Indoors, keep an eye on houseplants, especially any you kept outdoors for summer. Pests multiply quickly in the warm environs of a winter home. This vining violet is infested with spider mites, which are very difficult to eradicate on indoor plants. The white speckling on leaf surfaces is a clue mites are feeding. Webbing where the leaf attaches to the stem is another dead giveaway.
Crush the leaves of lemon button ferns (Nephrolepis cordifolia) to release their citrusy scent. They’re the smallest of the Boston ferns and fun to grow as houseplants or in trendy terrariums. Give them filtered shade; they can’t take direct, hot sun. If your home is dry, mist your fern regularly or put it on a tray filled with pebbles and a little water. To avoid root rot, don't let the bottom of the pot touch the water.
Place houseplants to provide a leafy contrast to the hard lines of windows and furniture. Peace lily is a natural for filling a corner, especially if you select the one known as Sensation. This beauty grows to 6 feet tall and easily commands attention in a large room. It holds its own beside a large window, where it receives the high light necessary to promote steady bloom. Tuck it into a simple dark container to let glossy leaves and stately flowers steal the spotlight.
Native to the Mediterranean region, the bay tree is widely cultivated as an ornamental there and as a houseplant in colder climates – mainly because it’s an excellent candidate for growing as a topiary. Hardy only to zone 7, it’s ideal for forming low hedges. Although it can grow into a tree up to 40 to 50 feet tall, bay is often maintained as a large shrub in containers. In spring, it puts out small yellow flowers, which by fall develop into dark purple berries.
Problem: Swarms or clouds of tiny white creatures fly into the air when you move your plants. Solution: You’ve got whiteflies, insects related to aphids that suck plant juices. They make a sticky substance called honeydew that can attract fungal diseases. Spray the plant with an insecticidal soap, following label directions. You’ll probably need to re-treat. Some gardeners use a homemade spray of 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water and one tablespoon of mild liquid soap. The good news is that some houseplants, like this red Anthurium, are seldom troubled by these pests.
Focal point houseplants don’t have to be large to get the job done. Draw attention to an area of a room or a special piece of furniture with an unusual plant like Alocasia Poly. Its variegated leaves are a can’t-miss in any size room and look even more striking when unfurling above an heirloom footed cachepot. The secret to success with Alocasia Poly is high light and high humidity. Variegation patterns on leaves are prettiest when the plant receives strong sunlight. Use a sheer curtain to filter sunlight in southern regions.
Flowering plants provide attention grabbing color, especially when you choose a plant with long-lasting flowers, like anthurium. This tough-as-nails houseplant unfurls red blooms with a waxy sheen and open steadily all year long when plants receive bright light. Give the thick, leathery leaves on anthurium—or any houseplant—a sheen by spraying with a solution of ½ cup milk (skim or reduced fat) and ¾ cup water. Rub the leaves gently with a soft cloth, then dry with a clean, soft cloth. Be sure to spray both top and bottom of leaves.
Evergreen Norfolk Island Pines aren't just fun houseplants; they also make great Christmas trees. Their after-holiday care is no different from their daily care. Give these tropicals high humidity and protect them from drafts. They prefer bright light, such as from a south-facing window, and should be watered when the top of the soil starts to feel dry. Don't keep them too wet or let them dry out completely. Feed with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer in spring and summer, following label directions.
Shiny, leathery leaves feature finger-like lobes on easy-growing ‘Xanadu’ philodendron. This plant is an upright type of philodendron, forming a bushy plant that can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide in the landscape. As a houseplant, it happily grows to fill a 10- to 14-inch pot over time. ‘Xanadu’ is undemanding and gets by with minimal light and water. Give it spot near a bright window, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a bushier plant. It’s sometimes sold as Winterbourn philodendron.
Available in orange, pink, bicolors, salmon, purple or yellow, calla lilies are easy to grow houseplants. White callas are lovely in Christmas-red containers, and stay in bloom a long time. They're tropicals, so wait until all frost has passed if you want to transplant them into your garden. They'll thrive in a sunny spot in slightly moist, organic-rich soil, but will require repotting and bringing indoors before the first fall frost. If you prefer, you can let the bulbs go dormant and store them in a cool, dry, dark place until you're ready to replant next spring.
Streptocarpuses like the same basic growing conditions as their relatives, African violets. We’re luckier than early British gardeners, who first grew the species after a collector brought the plants back from South Africa. Today's varieties bloom more abundantly, and in a wider range of colors. Streps, as they're known, like an eastern-facing exposure when grown as houseplants. Let them dry between waterings and keep them in a room that stays around 70 degrees F. during the day, with a 10-degree drop at night. Never let them sit in water, and fertilize regularly. This variety is 'Galaxy Blue.'
Christmas cactus are succulents, not cacti. They need warm temperatures and bright light; after their holiday flowers fade, reduce the amount of water you give them. You can enjoy your potted Christmas cacti as a houseplant or move it outdoors in the spring, after all danger of frost has passed. Give it bright light, but not direct sun, and in some parts of the country, as the daylight hours naturally lengthen and then shorten again, new buds will form. Some gardeners may need to put their Christmas cacti into a completely dark location for 12 hours a day, for several weeks, in temperatures from about 50 to 55 degrees F., to stimulate new buds.