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Ed's New BookWant to know what Ed's new book is all about! Here is his chapter on 'houseplants' that ended up on the editing room floor…simply because there wasn't enough space in the book to include it. It'll give you a great idea of the kind of information you will find in this very informative, easy to read gardening book. Over 400 pages, it's 17 chapters, provides wonderful information which will really help 'MAKE YOUR GARDENING EASIER'.

Over 400 pages of valuable gardening information written for the northwest gardener. Finally a book that says it, like it is! A book you can take into the garden with you! Each paragraph stands on it's own, so you can get the information you need without reading the entire chapter!   Order your 'GARDENING WITH ED HUME' book today!


Interest in houseplants has increased tremendously in recent years, due in part to their beauty and the desire to bring a bit of the outdoors, indoors. Houseplants have also become a popular part of interior decorating because of their interesting leaf colors and textures that can be used to soften or highlight various areas of the house. Possibly the most important feature of houseplants, and the one most often over-looked, is that many help purify the air in the home. So in this chapter, let's look at some of the easiest ones to grow and try to dispel the mystery of houseplant care:


It has been my experience that with a little common sense, and even some neglect, houseplants are more likely to thrive. In fact, in a recent survey it was revealed that approximately 93% of all houseplant loss is caused by over-watering. Likewise, another of the most important factors in successfully growing houseplants is being certain that they are placed in a spot where they receive proper exposure to light and heat.


Later in this chapter, you will find lists of plants that grow in low, medium or high light exposures. Here are some key points to consider when placing plants in your house:

  1. Keep the plants away from heating (ducts) registers. Most tropical houseplants need humidity, not hot dry air.
  2. During the winter months, keep your plants away from doors that open to the outdoors. As cold temperatures could damage or even be fatal to them.
  3. Place your houseplants in a spot where they will get good air circulation.
  4. If areas are too dark, provide artificial florescent lighting for them.
  5. The higher plants are placed in a room, the air becomes hotter and dryer. Consequently, soil will dry out more quickly when a plant is hanging near the ceiling than it will when the same plant is on the floor or on a low table. So the need for more humidity also increases with height.
  6. Once you find a place where your plant does really well, leave it there. Avoid continual moving of your plants.
  7. Occasionally turning your plant one-quarter of a turn will keep it from growing lop-sided toward the light.


As mentioned earlier, it is estimated that 93% of all houseplant loss is due to over-watering. Yet, by experimenting a little you can develop a regular schedule for watering each of your houseplants. Here are a few of my ideas, that I think really work:

  1. One of the easiest methods of testing moisture in the soil is to simply lift the pot; when it is heavy, the soil is wet; when it is lightweight, water is probably needed.
  2. Several types of watering meters are available to help you determine when more water is needed.
  3. My favorite method of testing moisture is to insert a toothpick three quarters of its length into the soil (much like when you insert a toothpick into batter, to see if a cake has finished baking.) Use a long wooden matchstick for plants in large containers. The condition of the toothpick (matchstick) when you pull it back out of the soil will provide you with the information you need. If soil particles are clinging to it, the soil is still moist enough, if it come out clean, the plant is dry and needs to be watered.
  4. Some folks let a plant wilt just a little, then water; and keep a record of the time until the plant wilts again, and use this as a guideline of how frequently that particular plant needs to be watered. That's not my recommendation, and I certainly would not make it a habit of doing it.

Using one of these methods, you soon will be able to develop a regular timetable for watering each individual plant. Use room temperature water. Avoiding the extremes of hot or cold water.


Do not be fooled by pot size or same type plants. Today, growers are using many different soil mixtures, and some retain water for a long time, others dry out quickly. So the old idea that you could water all your houseplants once a week (on Saturday?) is probably not a good idea, unless you vary the amount of water given each plant. There's where a little experimenting with the methods covered above will help you get it right! My guess is that when you take the time to find out the water needs of a plant, you will end up watering a lot less frequently than you thought necessary.


Remember the indoor tropical houseplants that you purchase have been greenhouse grown where humidity is kept at an optimum level. Such plants are bound to suffer if you take them home and subject them to the hot, dry air of the average house. However, there are easy ways to provide the humidity these plants need:

  1. I have found one of the best ways to provide humidity is to fill a plant saucer (like a pie pan) with gravel, then add water halfway up the gravel. Next, place the plant on this bed of gravel, being certain that the base of the pot does not come in contact with the water. This provides an island of humidity around the plant.
  2. Another method of providing humidity is to simply place a glass or decorative container of water near the plant. As the water evaporates it helps provide some humidity for your houseplant. If the container isn't decorative; hide it around the backside of the plant.
  3. Houseplants create their own mini-climate when clustered together, so this is another way to help solve humidity problems.
  4. Of course, the ideal way to increase humidity is to have a humidifier installed on your furnace or place a portable humidifier somewhere in the home. It's not only better for the plants, but better for you too!

I do not recommend misting plants. I think this technique does more harm than good in the average home. Misting the foliage of plants with water is apt to cause disease problems and often creates water spots on furniture, carpeting or drapes.


Establish a regular schedule for feeding houseplants, but change the frequency by the seasons. For example: during the growing season (spring and summer) houseplants can be fertilized as frequently as once a month. But, during the winter dormant season (fall and winter) those same plants should only be fertilized once or at most twice, because they are not in their growth cycle. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. African Violets and several other flowering houseplants will benefit from monthly feeding year-round, because they are growing and flowering non-stop. Here are a couple of hints that will help you:

  1. Acid loving plants like Gardenias and Citrus should be fed with and acid-type fertilizer. Most other tropical houseplants can be fed with one of the all-purpose houseplant type fertilizers.
  2. If you find a whitish or grayish substance on the pot or the soil, this is often a sign of a build-up of fertilizer salts and indicates over-feeding. However, the whitish substance could also be a build-up of salts from Fluorides or Chlorine in the water. This indicates a need to change to rain, well, stream or drinking water. If the build-up is extreme, you should consider re-potting your plant.
  3. Be certain the soil is moist before applying any type of fertilizer. If the fertilizer is a granular type, be certain to water it in after application, so it does not burn the plant roots. Read and follow label instructions.


How do you know when to re-pot a houseplant? That's easy! 1) When the plant is too large (top-heavy) for the pot. 2) When matted roots begin to appear above the soil and they may even begin growing over the edge of the pot. 3) When roots protrude out through the drainage hole. Of course, poor leaf color or stunted growth is another sign to look for. Here are five important steps in re-potting:

  1. Water before re-potting, so soil will cling to the roots and lessen transplanting shock.
  2. Lightly tap the plant out of the pot. If you find the roots are matted, gently loosen them with your fingertips. I call this "massaging the roots"!
  3. Replant into a container only one (two at most) size larger than the original.
  4. Use a top quality houseplant potting soil for this job.
  5. Water thoroughly after transplanting.


The quality of potting soil varies tremendously. Therefore, I suggest that you look at the potting soil before purchasing it. Actually, I think stores should have one open package of each brand soil, so you can examine them before making a purchase. Here are three other suggestions:

  1. If you don't have access to the contents, I have found it helpful to lift and squeeze the package to determine if there are large particles of wood or debris in it. These you do not need.
  2. If you are still in doubt, ask the clerk which one they recommend or which one they use for their own re-potting.
  3. Then, if you find the houseplant soil to be of poor quality, take it back!

If you use soil from your own garden, be certain to sterilize it first. To sterilize; bake it in the oven for 2 hours at 170 to 180 degrees. I like to add twenty five percent peat moss, and a bit of vermiculite to the sterilized soil before using it.


Always select containers for your houseplants that have at least one drainage hole. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, remove it or punch a hole through the bottom of the wrapping, so excess water will drain away. When a houseplant pot is placed inside a decorative ceramic container check occasionally to see that water has not accumulated between the two pots. If it does, pour it out, otherwise the soil will become saturated with water and you will lose the plant.

The old idea of covering the drainage hole with rocks or a piece of pottery is no longer recommended. Researchers have found that it actually inhibits drainage. (You have probably noticed that now when you buy a new plant, the soil fills the pot, with no drainage material in the base of the container.)


The best time to pinch or prune houseplants is during the spring and summer growing season, so the new growth will cover the pruning cut. Make your pruning cut or pinch just above a node, the point where a new leaf can readily develop. Many houseplants will grow an entire lifetime without the need of any kind of pruning or pinching. However, here are four instances where it may enhance a plant's beauty:

  1. Pinching or pruning back leggy (spindly) growth.
  2. Removing misshapen irregular growth.
  3. To reduce the size of a plant.
  4. Create a bushier, denser growth habit.

Sometimes large plants will lose their lower leaves, resulting in ugly bare stems, with just a few leaves at the top of the plant. To correct this problem, simply prune the plant back six to eight inches from the soil. New growth will usually appear from the base node within a few weeks. Then, within a few months once again you will have an attractive houseplant.


Tall weak stemmed plants or vining plants may need to be staked, so they will not fall over and break off. Commercial products made from wood, fernwood, Styrofoam or plastic are generally used for staking. Driftwood also makes an artistic, decorative support. Use twistems or plastic ties to hold the plant in place without scarring the stem.


Pots of houseplants can leave ring marks, water stains or indent the carpets. So one way to avoid this is to roll four marbles under each pot. This helps keep the pot up above the carpet. Actually, pot stands, water trays and roller type devices can be purchased to accomplish the same purpose.


CUTTINGS: If you want to try your hand at starting another plant from one of your houseplants, try taking a cutting. Simply cut off two or three inches of the tip of a stem or small branch. Dip the cutting into a rooting hormone and place (strike) the cutting into a commercial potting soil, perlite or a combination of 50% peat moss and 50% fresh water sand. Keep the cuttings in a warm (70 degrees Fahrenheit) spot, with bright light, until new roots become established. Start houseplant cuttings in spring, summer or earliest autumn.

WATER: Some plants like Ivy, Pothos and Philodendrons can be started by simply placing a 4 to 6 inch tip cutting in a glass, vase or bucket of water. Once you see roots forming, the cuttings can be transferred to soil, or you can begin adding soil to the water and gradually switch from water to soil. This is best done in spring or early summer, when the plants are in growth.

DIVISIONS: Multi-stemmed plants like ferns, Snake plant, and pot mums can be multiplied by simply dividing the root system. Do this in early spring, just as the new growth begins.

AIR-LAYERING: This is a fun way to reduce the height of a tall ugly houseplant that has lost its lower leaves (see illustration). To do this, simply scar two sides of the trunk at the desired height (usually just below the remaining leaves) with a sharp knife. Next, take a couple handfuls of moist (green) sphagnum moss and sprinkle it with a pinch of rooting hormone. Then place the moss around the two cut scars, holding it in place with a piece of clean polyethylene (a cleaner's bag works great for this job.) Secure the poly by tying a twistem at each end (top and bottom), keeping the interior as airtight as possible. Once the new roots begin to grow in the moss (you'll be able to see them through the poly), cut off the top of the plant just below the new roots, creating your new plant. Pot it up in new soil and care for it as you would the parent plant.

PUTTING HOUSEPLANTS OUTDOORS DURING THE SUMMER: See chapter on vacation tips.  (in the book)

VACATION TIME HOUSEPLANT CARE TIPS: See chapter on vacation tips.  (in the book)


Sticky substances on the floor under your houseplant, mottling or discoloration of the leaves are often signs of insect or disease problems. Drooping leaves, rolled leaves or webs on the stems are other signs of trouble. At the first sign of any of these conditions, visually check for insects or disease. A magnifying glass is the most effective way to do this because many insects are so small it is almost impossible to see them with the naked eye. If you are not comfortable in making this on the spot diagnosis on your own, take the plant or at least a couple of leaves to your florist, garden center or nursery and have the 'Certified Nursery-person' on staff make an on the spot diagnosis for you. 'Master Gardener Clinic's' can do the same thing for you.


If an insect or disease problem is found and it is necessary to spray the plant, take it outside on a warm day and do the spraying outdoors, so there is no chance of getting the spray on your furniture, carpeting or drapes. Use a type of spray that is safe to use on houseplants. Most major companies market a 'houseplant spray' that can be used to control both insects and disease problems. Read and follow label instructions to the letter. Most insects appear in cycles, so more than one application may be necessary for complete control. The instructions on the label of the product you use should indicate the frequency required to correct the insect or disease problem.


Now it's time for the fun part! Here are my recommendations for choosing houseplants based on location, or the attributes of the plants themselves.


This group will grow best with a northern exposure, in a semi-lit hallway or bathroom. They will also grow in rather bright light, but not direct sunlight. The term often used on labels to describe this lighting requirement is 'low to medium light'. Many homeowners find these areas difficult for growing houseplants, but if you select the right ones you'll be surprised at how easy it is to grow and enjoy them. Here are my favorites:

AFRICAN VIOLETS, Saintpaulia spp ANTHURIUM, andraeanum (flamingo flower)

BEGONIAS, flowering and leaf spp. CALATHEA, several spp.

CHINESE EVERGREEN, Aglaonema modestum CINERARIA, Senecio x hybridus

COLEUS, C. x hybridus CYCLAMEN, C. persicum (florist type)

FATSHEDERA, F. lizei FERNS, all species

GRAPE IVY, Cissus rhombifolia JAPANESE ARALIA, Fatsia japonica

PEACE LILY, Spathiphyllum POTHOS, Scindapsus aureus

PRAYER PLANT, Maranta leuconeura WATERMELON PLANT, pilea cadierei


Most homes have at least one spot where it is quite bright and sunny indoors. Believe it or not, there are only a few plants that will tolerate such conditions. However, if you set the plants on a table or shelf a couple of feet back from a bright sunny window, then there is a broader range of plants you can use. Here are half-a-dozen of my favorite plants that will tolerate direct sunlight:

BURN PLANT, Aloe CACTUS, Cactaceae spp. (Desert type)

CITRUS, several spp. IVY, several species



By combining houseplants with interesting leaf textures, colorful foliage and flowering plants, one can create a very pleasing visual indoor setting. So here are six of my favorite houseplants that are noted for their attractive leaf textures:

CROTON, Codiaeum variegatum pictum spp. DRACENA, Dracaena spp.

FALSE ARALIA, Dizygothecas elegantissima FLOWERING PINEAPPLE, Bromeliad spp.



Houseplants with variegated leaves can add beauty and a bright spot of color to any part of the home. Add a plant or two with interesting leaf texture to create a miniature landscape indoors. Here are one dozen of my favorite houseplants that have especially attractive leaf color:

BEGONIAS, Rex types BEEFSTEAK PLANT, Iresine herbstii

COLEUS, C. blumei ssp. CROTON, Codiaeum var. pictum spp.

DRACENA, Dracaena spp. DUMB-CANE, Dieffenbachia maculata

ELEPHANT EARS, Caladium hortulanum FLOWERING MAPLE, Abutilon striatum

FLOWERING PINEAPPLE, Bromeliads spp. PRAYER PLANT, Maranta leuconeura ssp.

PURPLE PASSION, Gynura sarmentosa ZEBRA PLANT, Aphelandra squarrosa


Smaller low growing houseplants are ideal to use in small areas, as foreground plants in containers or as ground cover in the soil of large plants. Check these out for leaf color, texture and growing habit:

ALUMINUM PLANT, Pilea cadieri BABY TEARS, Helxine soleirolii

BERTOLONIA, B. marmorata aenea FLAME VIOLET, Episcia cupreata

FRITTONIA, F. verschaffeltii ssp. IVY, small leaf varieties

PEPPEROMIAS, P. caperata & others POLKA-DOT PLANT, Hypoestes spp.


Whether it is in the entry area, sunroom, family room or hallway, there is often the need for a taller growing houseplant. In fact, a tree type plant may be just the answer to enhance the beauty of an area of your home. So here are a dozen of my favorites:

BIRD OF PARADISE, Strelitzia reginae COFFEE PLANT, Coffea arabica

CORN PLANT, Dracena fragrans ssp. DUMB CANE, Dieffenbachia maculata

FIDDLE LEAF FIG, Ficus lyrata NORFOLK PINE, Araucaria heterophylla

PALMS, several species ROSE OF CHINA, Hibiscus, rosa-sinensis

RUBBER TREE, Ficus elastica SWISS CHEESE PLANT, Monster araceae

UMBRELLA PLANT, Schefflera WEEPING FIG, Ficus benjamina


Looking for a hanging basket houseplant or one that will be trail down from a shelf, table or low light windowsill? Here are eight of my favorites:

CACTUS, Christmas plus other spp. CANDLE PLANT, Plectranthus oertendahlii

GOLDFISH PLANT, Columnea gloriosa GRAPE IVY, Cissus rhombifolia other ssp.

LIPSTICK VINE, Aeschynanthus lubbianus POTHOS VINE, Epipremnum aureum

ROSARY VINE, Ceropegia woodii SPIDER PLANT, Chlorophytum comosum


Need a vine to climb a post, railing, or cover a wall? I suggest the following seven because they are particularly easy to grow, and some of them provide the added bonus of flowers, fragrance, or interesting leaf texture:

ARALIA IVY, Fatshedera lizei BLEEDING HEART VINE, Clerodendrum thomsoniae


JASMINE, J. polyanthum & ssp WAX PLANT, Hoya carnosa

WAX FLOWER, Stephanotis floribunda


It's always nice to include at least one houseplant that has attractive flowers and provides pleasant fragrance. Use these fragrant houseplants near the entry area or in a room that is most frequently used, so you can thoroughly enjoy the fragrance and beauty of the flowers. Eight of my favorites are these:

CITRUS, Lemons, Oranges, & limes EASTER LILY, several other ssp.

GARDENIA, G. jasminoides HYACINTH, H. hybrid

JASMINE, J. officinale and spp. PAPER WHITES, Narcissus

WAX FLOWER, Stephanotis floribunda WAX PLANT, Hoya carnosa


Many houseplants provide the bonus of attractive flowers. Here are some of my favorites:

AFRICAN VIOLETS, Saintpaula BEGONIAS, Rex and other ssp.

CACTUS, Christmas and others FIRECRACKER FLOWER, Crossandra undulifolia

FLOWERING PINEAPPLE, Bromeliads GARDENIA, G. jasminoides

GESNERIADS, many species IMPATIENS, New Guinea

JASMINE, J. polyanthum KAFIR LILY, Clivia miniata

KALANCHOE, K. blossfeldiana WAX PLANT, Hoya carnosa

WHITE FLAG PLANT, Spathiphyllum ZEBRA PLANT, Aphelandra squarrosa


Florists 'forced' flowering plants are ideal hostess gifts, and are ideal for providing seasonal color indoors. These are twelve of my favorites:

AMARYLLIS, Hippeastrum hybrida AZALEAS, several ssp.

BEGONIA, Rieger series CACTUS, Schlumbergera Christmas/Easter

CHRISTMAS PEPPERS, Capsicum annuum CINERARIA, Senecio cruentus

CYCLAMEN, C. persicum GLOXINIA, Sinningia speciosa

HYDRANGEA, H. macrophylla MINI-ROSES, R. miniature roses

MUMS, Chrysanthemum spp. POINSETTIA, Euphorbia pulcherrima


There are many plants that grow and perform exceptionally well when placed on a windowsill. However, here again the exposure is the key to choosing the right plant. You must select houseplant varieties that will tolerate considerable light exposure. So here are six of my favorites, with the location that is most favorable for them:

AFRICAN VIOLETS, many ssp. (north/east exposure) BEGONIAS, Rex/Rieger (north/east)

BURN PLANT, Aloe (south/west) CACTUS, Desert ssp. (south/west)

IVY, many ssp. (filtered south/west) KALANCHOE, (north/east, filtered south/west)

POTHOS, (north/east, filtered south/west) SEDUMS, many ssp. (south/west)

Needless to say, these are only a few of the windowsill plants. Practically any low growing or trailing houseplant will do well on a windowsill as long as the plant does not get direct (hot) sunlight.


We usually think of orchids as greenhouse plants. Surprisingly, some are rather easy to grow houseplants, if given just a little special care. The key to successfully growing them is providing the proper light, room temperature and humidity. Here are six that I think you will find the easiest to begin with:

CYMBIDIUMS, several ssp and varieties DENDROBIUMS, several ssp.

MILTONIA, 'Pansy Orchid' several ssp. ONCYDIUM, 'Dancing Lady Orchid' ssp.

PAPHIOPEDILIUM 'Lady Slipper Orchid' ssp. PHALAENOPSIS, 'Moth Orchid' ssp.

Be certain to pick up cultural directions when choosing any type of orchid. Make sure that you have a place in your home that will provide the exposure for that particular species.


It's really important to choose plants that are easy to grow and will provide quick results and interest for the kids. However, it seems like they always want to grow the unique, harder to grow ones. So try to encourage them to start the seeds of Avocado's or Citrus, or the bulbs of Hyacinths or Crocus. Then once they get the hang of it, the kids will want to try their hand at the harder to grow exotic insectivorous plants like the Venus Fly Trap or Cobra Lily. Over the years, I have found these to be the favorites of youngsters:

AVOCADO, start them from the seed. CITRUS, (lemon, orange, limes) start from the seeds.

COBRAPLANT, Darlingtonia Cal. (insect eating plant) CROCUS, start in fall from bulbs.

HYACINTHS, start in fall from bulbs. SWEET POTATO, (vine) start tuber in soil or water.

TILLANDSIA/AIR PLANTS, start with plants. VENUS FLYTRAP, Dionaea (insect eating plant)


Houseplants are not only beautiful in the home, they also help cleanse the air. NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America in an ongoing two-year study 'Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement' concentrated on solving the very important question, "Indoor pollution is a realistic threat to human health, so how can the problem be solved?" A promising, economical solution to indoor air pollution was to take a look at nature's life support system; plants. In the NASA/NLCA research it was determined that some plants are better than others for purifying the air indoors. These twelve plants showed the best results:

BAMBOO PALM, Chamaedorea erumpens CHINESE EVERGREEN, Aglaonema modestum

CHRYANTHEMUM, Pot mums CORN CANE, Dracaena massangeana

DRACAENA, 'Janet Craig'  DRACAENA, 'Marginata'

DRACAENA, 'Warneckii'  ENGLISH IVY, Hedera helix

GERBERA jamesonii, Transvaal daisy PEACE LILY, Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa'

SNAKE PLANT, Sansevieria laurentii WEEPING FIG, Fiscus 'Benjamina'

The research indicates that a combination of 15 to 20 of these 'tested houseplants' can purify the interior air of a typical house (1,800 square feet).


Houseplants are a great way to help purify the air in your home, bring the outdoors inside, and beautify your home at the same time. And, remember many houseplants thrive on a bit of neglect!


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