Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 Houseplants for Low Light

Photograph by Kelly Butts
One of the most common questions asked, with regards to houseplants, is which plants will survive in low levels of light.    I think part of my passion for plants comes from not only wanting to make a plant survive... but also being able to make it thrive.  In order for a plant to thrive, we need to duplicate its natural environment to the best of our abilities.  A large part of that is choosing the right plants for the right places in our homes as well as our gardens.

Choosing houseplants for low light spaces can be a bit daunting.  Low light levels are defined as any location in your home 8 or more feet away from a large window with no direct light.  Areas such as hallways, offices, basements, a room with heavy window coverings, or small windows would all be considered low light.  There are still some great choices in plant selection for low light areas.  Here is a list of my top 10, easy to grow houseplants for low light conditions:

Epipremnum aureum

Photograph by Paul Gellatl
This low-maintenance vine is often confused with the heart leaf philodendron.  The Pothos has heart-shaped leaves and can be grown as a table top plant, in a hanging basket, or trained upright on a support.  It is a low light plant, however the more light it receives the more variegation will show on the leaves. 

Photograph by Kelly Butts
If this plant gets too long, cut the plant back, place the cuttings in water.  Once the roots have formed, transplant into soil.  Tips for Success:  Low to bright light; 60-75 degrees F.; keep the soil moderately dry
Size:  Trailing plant to 8 feet.

Philodendron hederaceum oxycardium
Photograph by Kelly Butts
The Heart-leaf philodendron is a strong; easy growing foliage plant, very likely the same variety you might remember in your grandparents home.  It has pretty, heart-shape leaves and does very well in low light locations.  Often seen trailing over the edge of a bookshelf or hanging in a pot.

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
If this plant gets too long, cut the plant back, place the cuttings in water.  Once the roots have formed, transplant into soil.  I have given many friends cuttings of this easy to grow houseplant.  Tips for Success:  Low to bright light; 60-80 degrees F.; allow the soil to dry between watering
Size: Climbing or Trailing to 8+ feet.

Snake Plant
Sansevieria trifasciata
Photograph by Kelly Butts
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
This architecturally shaped succulent is one of the easiest houseplants to grow, as it truly thrives on neglect.  There are both tall and short varieties available, making it a versatile addition to your home.  They withstand low light but also do well in brighter locations.  The only problem that may develop is root rot if you over water this plant.  Tips for Success:  Low to bright light; 60-85 degrees F.; allow soil to dry between watering
Size: 6"-4 feet tall (depending on variety)

Zeezee Plant
Zamioculcus zamiifolia

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
This succulent plant is another very easy plant to grow, thriving on neglect, and probably one of my favorite low light plants.  The thick, fleshy leaf stalks are very durable, and shiny.  It is a slow grower, so be sure to purchase a large plant if you want a big specimen.  Tips for Success:  Low to bright light;  60-75 degrees F.; allow the soil to dry between watering.
Size: 2 to 3 feet

Arrowhead Vine
Syngonium podophyllum
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
One of the most common houseplants, arrowhead vine features distinct arrow-shaped leaves.  The colourful leaves keep their variegation, even in low light locations.  Unlike a lot of plants, there are many different varieties to choose from.  Most have variegated foliage; depending on the variety, the leaves are green with white markings, or bronze with traces of pink.  Small plants form a mound up to a foot high, but stems begin to vine as the plant matures.  This plant can be grown upright, or trailing in a hanging basket.  Tips for Success:  Low to medium light;  60-75 degrees F.; keep evenly moist
Size:  Climbing or Trailing 3-4 feet.

Cast-Iron Plant
Aspidistra elatior
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
One of the toughest plants you can grow, cast-iron plant thrives through neglect, low light, low humidity, and a wide range of temperatures.  It is a slow grower so try to buy a plant that is large enough for the space you are looking to accent.  Several varieties have white or yellow variegation on their leaves.  Tips for Success:  Low light;  45-85 degrees F.; keep evenly moist during the spring and summer, barely moist in the fall and winter.  Size:  Up to 2 feet

Chinese Evergreen
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Aglaonema commutatum

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
This plant has great foliage with shades of silver, gray, or different shades of green making this plant a strong choice to brighten low-light areas in your home.  Many shopping malls use this plant around the base of taller tree-like houseplants, due to their hardy care free nature.  Tips for Success:  Low to medium light; 60-75 degrees F.; keep soil evenly moist
Size:  To 3 feet tall.

Dieffenbachia spp.
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Several closely related species share the common name of Dieffenbachia.  Its large, green and white leaves create a tropical look to any room of your home.  All produce cane-like stems, with large, lush foliage, variegated in green and white.  Grow one by itself for a tree like appearance, or several together in a single container for a shrub like look.  Tips for Success:  Low to medium light; 60-80 degrees F.; keep evenly moist
Size: 2-6 feet tall (depending on variety)

Peperomia spp.

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Peperomia puteolata
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Peperomia caperata

Peperomias are a diverse group of small houseplants with waxy and often textured leaves.  Varieties commonly available include the ripple peperomia, watermelon peperomia, and silverleaf peperomia.  One of my personal favorites is Peperomia puteolata, although this variety is slightly harder to locate than the others.  Tips for Success:  Low to medium light;  60-75 degrees F.; allow the soil to dry between watering
Size: 4-12 Inches (depending on variety)

Peace Lily
Spathiphyllum sp. 

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Most low-light plants, and all discussed up to this point are only foliage plants.  The Peace Lily offers a stunning large white flower as well as large, dark leaves.  Variegated varieties are also available , however these varieties tend to be smaller plants, with smaller flowers.  The single-petaled flower hovers above the leaves.  It is also known to be one of the top 10 plants for cleaning toxins out of the air in your home.  
Photograph by Paul Gellatly

Tips for Success:  Low to medium light;  68-85 degrees F.; Prefers damp soil, and shouldn't be left to dry out completely between watering.  

Size: 3-6 feet

All of these plants are readily available at garden centers worldwide.  If you have a low light area in your home or office that needs some livening up... why not give one of these choices a try?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Photograph by Angel W.
The blog is off to a great start!  There are over 400 views, people from Canada, United States, England, Australia, Germany, Russia and the Ukraine!  I look forward to writing and inspiring you to try something new, and expand your knowledge and love for the common, and unusual plants available to us.

Photograph by Kelly Butts
I welcome any comments, or questions you might have on what I've written, or what you would be interested in learning more about.  Be sure to click follow, and share the link with family and friends you think might enjoy learning more about the plants we know and love. Together we can walk down the path of Horticulture.

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
The New Year brings exciting new things!  I am hoping to publish my first book "25 Years and Still Growing."  I will also be adding Video Blogs, and profiles of Gardens, Shows, Festivals, and Garden Centers that shouldn't be missed.

In addition to the new features of the blog i'd like to take this opportunity to introduce Angel W., and Kelly Butts.  Angel is a long time friend of mine, and quite possibly the best photographer I know.  Kelly is a good friend, and new photographer with a keen eye for detail and strong interest in plant and flower photography.  Together the three of us will be providing the photographs for the blog, as well as my upcoming book.  Prints of the photo's on the blog are available from the photographer, if you are interested please let me know.

Wishing you, your friends, and family a Happy Holiday season, and I look forward to growing with you in the New Year.

Below is a photo sent to me by a reader, inspired by the Poinsettia Blog.
Shelley Marshall excited about her Poinsettia knowledge!  

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Photograph by Angel W.
Year after year, around the beginning of December Poinsettias start showing up and welcoming in the Christmas Season.  I don't think a year has gone by where my home didn't have one.
Photograph by Paul Gellatly

A very common gift at this time of year, yet many people know little about Poinsettias, or how to take care of them.   Poinsettias are fairly inexpensive, ranging from a couple of dollars up to $60 or $70 for a large pot or one made into a standard.

Photograph by Angel W.
When choosing a good poinsettia, you want to first look for a healthy strong looking plant.  Make sure to check for the yellow flowers inside the coloured bracts.  This will indicate that the plant isn't past its prime.  I would not recommend purchasing plants that are in a paper or plastic sleeve, over time if the poinsettias are kept in the stores in these, the leaves will often turn yellow and fall off.

Once you've picked out a good one, its important that the store you purchase it at, wrap the plant up so that it doesn't get more of a draft than needed when transporting it home.  Remember that Poinsettias are tropical plants,
and not being protected from the cold, even for
short amounts of time may result in it dropping
its leaves.

Photograph by Angel W.
Find a place in your home where the plant will receive bright but not direct light, and is out of the way of warm or cold drafts.  This will ensure you get the longest bloom time out of your plant.  Water the Poinsettia only when the soil is dry to the touch.  If the plant looks limp, you waited too long.

I have never really given much thought to the plants after the season.  However, if you are looking for a bit of a challenge and would like to attempt to get your Poinsettia to re-bloom next year, here are some tips:

January - April      Move the Poinsettia to a bright window, continue to water; and fertilize with houseplant fertilizer when you see new growth appear.    Trim the stems back to about 7-8"

End of May - June    I would recommend re-potting the plant, and begin to fertilize with 20-20-20.  Move the plant outdoors, continue to water when dry to the touch, and keep in a slightly shaded location.

August    Bring plant back inside to sunny window, and cut the stems back, so there are 3 or 4 leaves remaining on each stem.  Continue to fertilize and water as necessary

Mid September - December 1st  Begin the most important step to success in getting these to re-bloom which is the cycle of light / dark.    Keep plants in the light from 8 am to 5 pm, then put the plant in a dark location (no light at all) from 5 pm to 8 am    If you adhere to the light/dark cycle strictly once December 1st rolls around you should have nicely coloured bracts and the plant will be ready to flower again for Christmas next year.

Photograph by Paul Gellatly

Monday, December 12, 2011

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) From Bulb to Bloom and Beyond

Photograph by Kelly Butts

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Hippeastrum "Papillio"
We have all seen boxes of Amaryllis at our local grocery stores, ranging from $5.00 to about $15.00.  For many years I have given these as part of a Christmas present, and always managed to get myself one or two.  After all they are fairly foolproof!  Most people buy them, and treat them as disposable bulbs.  Choosing to toss them, over trying to keep the bulb for another year;  or attempting to grow them only to have little success in getting them to flower again.

Until this year,  I was vastly unaware of the selection, quality, and caliber of the bulbs that are available.  As nice as the typical red, pink, white Amaryllis are...  they are not spectacular.

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
Hippeastrum "Papillio"
A few weeks ago, I walked into work to find about 40 different varieties... this is dangerous for someone who likes 'unusual' and 'different' flowers and plants.  I managed to escape with only three.

Photograph by Paul Gellatly 'Chico'
I have planted them 7 to 10 days apart, in order to get an extended bloom time into the new year.  The first (Chico) has recently started flowering (pictured below) The second (Papillio) has bloomed and although disappointed in the length of time in bloom, and the flower count, it is still a beautiful specimen.  The 3rd (Showmaster) definitely lived up to its name and provided an amazing show of 8 flowers.  I would highly recommend looking for Showmaster.

Cybister Hippeastrum 'Chico'
Photograph By Paul Gellatly 'Chico'

After looking at how beautiful this flower is, I can't help but feel its not a disposable bulb.  There truly is no comparison with the unique almost orchid like flower of 'Chico'

One reason to hold onto these bulbs year to year is that as the bulb grows larger more flower stems will be produced.  I have heard of this particular variety with 4 or more flower stems, that is not something you're going to easily find for sale.

To grow a typical Amaryllis plant, and enjoy it year after year, is not as difficult as you may think.  After a flower stalk has finished, cut off the flowers (before they go to seed, as this will take energy away from the bulb as well as the remaining flowers).  Let the leaves continue to grow, treat it as you would any houseplant.  Water and fertilize it with houseplant fertilizer (I use Schulz 10-15-10) I have had success using the fertilizer half strength every time I water.
Photograph by Paul Gellatly 'Showmaster'

You can plant the bulb (in the pot) right into the garden at the end of May, or anyplace outdoors if you have a sheltered spot, or continue to grow it as a houseplant indoors. At the beginning of September cut back water given to the plant.  In October cut the leaves from the bulb, and put the bulb (pot and all) in a dry, dark, cool (but frost-free) location, leave it alone for a few months (just don't forget about it).  At the end of December or into January, remove the bulb from the pot, remove the dirt, and trim the old roots off the bulb.   Replant the bulb in new soil, and cross your fingers!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Plan...

Photograph by Kelly Butts
As some of you may or may not know... I am currently in the process of writing my first gardening book. I decided that it might be a good idea to start blogging about some of my plants, experiences, knowledge....  and use some of that in my upcoming book!

Photograph by Paul Gellatly
As far back as I can remember I have been into horticulture.  When i was in my mid-teens, I was a director of the Waterloo Horticultural Society, took classes in the art of Bonsai, and became a member of the Bonsai Society.   I entered flower shows, city wide garden competitions, attended numerous conferences and exhibits.  Traveled coast to coast across Canada to some of the better known gardens, as well as the hidden gems.  Dabbled in landscaping, and completed work on some beautiful properties.

Plants were always part of my life, interest and passion.  It was not until recently, that I decided to make a career shift and enter the world of horticulture as a profession.  I began working part time at a high end garden center in Toronto, and secured a position as a gardener with the City.  I continue to learn new things every day, and apply the knowledge I've built over the last 25 years.

I currently have a collection of close to 200 different houseplants.  Some you know, many you likely don't... but should!  

This blog will provide the opportunity to share with you some of the knowledge I have learned over the years, show you some pictures, plant profiles, and answer questions you might have.  I also will discuss various gardens, garden centers  festivals, and shows that shouldn't be missed.  

I look forward to introducing you to the passion of plants.

Photograph By Paul Gellatly