CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This is the time of year I usually get garden fever. It has been months since putting the garden to bed, and the recent spate of arctic weather makes longing for plants and sunshine even stronger. When stuck indoors, even the most desperate winter monotony can be tamed by tending indoor houseplants.
Even this most practical Garden Guru who grows mainly food plants has a soft spot for a few traditional houseplant favorites. Believe it or not, there are even some tasty tropical plants that you can grow as houseplants.
Easy traditional favorites
Go to any garden center, or even a grocery store, and you can find a selection of basic houseplants. This column isn't long enough to list all of them, but I do have a few favorites and suggestions.
Of course, the easiest to care for are the old stand-bys like pothos and philodendron (both the vining and split-leaf variety). These are fairly simple plants that even take low light. Sanseveria (mother-in-law's tongue) and dracena (corn plant) are equally easy-to-care-for common plants.
While these are indeed fine houseplants, I tend to appreciate a little more personality in my plants. My favorites to grow are African violets and orchids. These little gems are wrongly accused of being hard to care for, but they really aren't all that much more difficult to care for than other plants.
African violets can bring a splash of color to any windowsill, and it is easy to find basic colors and varieties. One secret to healthy violets is a nice, light soil mix.
Special pre-mixed soil that is high in peat moss can be purchased, but you can mix up your own with regular potting soil with extra peat moss or coconut coir. If you use one of those self-watering pots, you'll need to add more peat moss, even to the pre-mixed soil.
The other secrets to growing them are to keep them well-watered but not over-wet, and give them plenty of indirect light.
There are also several plants in the same family (Gesneriaceae) that make great houseplants. In addition to violets, I also grow the related plant Streptocarpus, or cape primrose.
Several specialized nurseries and breeders offer a variety of these plants. I splurge and get mine from Rob's Violet Barn in New York (www.violetbarn.com).
Orchids are another class of plants accused of possessing divalike qualities. There are several different species grown as houseplants.