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Florida Gardening – By Violette Govan
House Plants For Self-Labeled Brown Thumbs
I’ve spent my entire life studying plant nomenclature, biology, reproductive methods, environmental impact, growth patterns, health, diseases, and mutation, so perhaps it’s unfair of me to be shocked each time I am told someone can’t grow plants. What do you mean you kill every plant you touch? My mind immediately runs down a list of basic plant maintenance issues and common problems, then I firmly recommend the following plants in this article. For those who are looking for plants that thrive otherwise on their own, the draw of these plants is fairly simple; they’re low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, don’t require much sun, and can be grown by the novice gardener.
Let me begin by saying that every living plant requires some degree of nutrients, water, sunlight and air to grow. Luckily we live in Florida, and our conditions allow us to have an abundance of green scenery year-round. Many succulents, ornamental palms, vines, and small shrubs can do well with little upkeep by the homeowner. Depending on where you intend to keep your potted plants, take note of the amount of sunlight and water the area receives, and be sure you’re selecting the right plant for the right place. For those of us working with shaded patios, apartment windows, or areas that receive indirect light, there are plenty of options for you. From your Florida native ferns like Southern Shield fern (Thelypteris kunthii) and Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) to capable houseplants like Dracaenas, Money Tree (Pachira Aquatica), Bromeliads, and Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), there’s a plant for everyone. In this article, I will narrow my focus to these plants, but for those of us who have bright afternoon sun please look forward to my next article for equally resilient and forgiving plants to grow!
Naturally, your ferns will do best in indirect light, but your Resurrection fern is an air plant and is typically attached to bark or another plant. It shrivels and turns grey when the sun is high, and when rehydrated unravels its bright green fronds. If you prefer bright green shrubbery year-round the Southern Shield fern grows in dense bundles and is often found as a ground cover. Once established, I’ve seen this plant thrive in hanging baskets and offer the benefit of lush, green foliage to any porch or patio. This plant can appreciate moist soils but is extremely drought tolerant so it’s perfect for those who may forget to water from time to time or those who would prefer to see them in a hanging basket where they can receive rain from time to time.
Dracaena is a genus of around one hundred twenty species of trees and succulent shrubs, many of which make great house and patio plants as they do best in partially shaded areas or where they can receive indirect sunlight. Like most of the plants, I’ll mention in this article, these plants prefer rich, well-draining soil. A soil blend of regular potting soil, perlite or pumice, and fertilizer containing micro and macronutrients should suffice. Dracaena marginata, or Madagascar Dragon Tree, comes in four stunning varieties which range from dark green striped foliage to red striped with a yellow band through the center. I highly recommend the most modern cultivar ‘colorama’ for its prominent pink color and sturdy canes which need no help in keeping upright. These plants are slow-growing, require no special pruning, and only need repotting when roots become congested. They too like a good watering, but won’t tolerate sitting in water, and would be better off on the dry side if this were ever to be a concern. The commonly found houseplant, Money Tree (Pachira Aquatica), can be treated similarly to dracaenas, except these small trees require a bit more water. Outside of the low maintenance needed to successfully grow these plants, they additionally offer indoor air purifying qualities.
Bromeliads, from the family Bromeliaceae, are flowering monocots which can be grown in very little substrate. There is an abundance of bromeliad cultivars to choose from, many of which have been propagated to thrive in every condition imaginable. This underrated houseplant provides brilliant pops of colors to contrast interior bleakness or can be grown as a ground cover for problematic areas such as underneath your oak trees. Bromeliads are super easy to care for, but the trick is to select a type that is suitable for the conditions you want them to grow in. Keep in mind that bromeliads typically want a humid environment but will rot if you submerge the base in water. Rather, grow your bromeliads in a shallow pot containing a small amount of orchid mix or sphagnum moss and place this in a saucer with gravel partially filled with water. This will help to increase humidity in an indoor setting. Bromeliads naturally collect water in their central well when in nature. Give your bromeliads water in that basin but empty it every so often to remove the insects and debris stagnant water tends to attract. Once your bromeliad flowers, don’t be quick to label yourself a brown thumb, part of their lifecycle is to flower before they die off, but they will send out pups from the base which can then be divided and grown separately from the original mother plant.
Lastly, we have Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), commonly sought for it’s large, heart-shaped, marbled foliage reminiscent of a tropical rainforest. This vining plant is arguably one of the most popular houseplants found in this region, for reasons both good and bad. Golden Pothos is an extremely tolerant, oppositely arranged vine best exhibited in hanging baskets, however, it is also labeled a category two invasive exotic in Florida and should never be grown outdoors no matter how tantalizing the jumbo-sized leaves may seem. If you know where one of these vines currently exists, you need only a segment to begin your own. You may place a portion of this vine directly into a jar of water and set it nearby a sunny window to begin the rooting process. Once roots have formed, the vine can be transplanted into a hanging basket with a small amount of well-draining potting soil, or you can keep it in the jar for the entirety of its life. That’s pretty much it. If the plant is in a hanging basket with substrate, then you don’t need to worry about watering it very often. If your plant is kept in a jar, then change or add water as needed. Golden Pothos comes in a few cultivars, with some of the fancier types having mottled leaves of yellow, white, and light green streaks.
Thankfully, these hardy houseplants need very little attention to thrive but will become the center of attention in any indoor setting. Houseplants can purify indoor air quality, relieve stress, provide color and a conversation piece for company. The best solution for any self-labeled “brown thumb” is to grow your knowledge of your selection, pick the right plants for your expertise level, and to make sure to choose a place appropriate for its needs. Anyone can become overwhelmed with gardening if there’s a history of letting plants shrivel up, but we must remember that without plants- we wouldn’t be here!