Houseplants fight cabin fever

A cymbidium orchid is a recent acquisition to my collection.
A cymbidium orchid is a recent acquisition to my collection.

While I may concentrate most of my gardening in the realm of edible plants, I do dabble a bit in houseplants.

It turns out that houseplants are something that can keep a gardener from going bonkers when they are stuck indoors in the winter. They are especially helpful when stuck inside for long periods of time when a foot of snow falls outside, temperatures fall below zero, and your office is closed and meetings are canceled.

The houseplants I most commonly grow are orchids, African violets and relatives of violets called Streptocarpus (cape primrose). I know what you are probably saying — “Those are the hardest plants to grow.”

Well, you would actually be wrong.

While I do definitely know how to grow a great deal of things, most of my plants, especially the indoor ones, have to survive on a healthy serving of neglect. I don’t take nearly the care that I should with my plants, but they seem to thrive.

A pink and purple-spotted African violet hybrid from the violet barn.
A pink and purple-spotted African violet hybrid from the violet barn.

It is because one of the secrets of growing indoor plants is that we usually pamper them to death. Aside from keeping houseplants watered, fertilized from time to time, and repotted every year or so, there’s not too much to it.

African violets and orchids both seem to thrive on minimal interaction. It certainly is true that the leading cause of death among houseplants is drowning. Continual overwatering displaces the air, which roots need for oxygen, in the potting mix. Too much water and the roots die off and the plant dwindles.

Of course, under watering is an issue too. That is one issue my plants suffer from, especially when my schedule is busy. While I enjoy interacting with them, they are sometimes on the back burner.

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Even a violet from the grocery store can brighten up a dull winter day.

One thing that helps is a little gizmo I bought on clearance last gardening season — a singing soil moisture monitor called a   Plant Pal. I have two of these little guys that look like common songbirds. When the plant is dry, the bird begins to sing. It even sings the right song for its species.

Unfortunately, I have found that the meter has been discontinued by the manufacturer, but you can still find them online. I’m sure there are other models. (Don’t worry, they have a light sensor so they don’t squawk all night long).

Another Streptocarpus hybrid from the violet barn.  I love these things.
Another Streptocarpus hybrid from the violet barn. I love these things.

Just don’t be afraid of those houseplants that have been wrongly labeled as divas of the indoor plant world. When I tell people that I grow violets, people often get wistful and tell me how their grandmother or mother grew them but they could never grow them for themselves.

Have a little more faith in yourself. African violets and orchids are no harder to care for than any other plant, and often the rewarding blossoms are more than worth it. I even spring for some cool violets and Streptocarpus every few years from a breeder called Rob’s Violet Barn (violetbarn.com). Just remember to give them a little water, a little light, and a little love.

– See more at: htp://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150222/GZ05/150229993/1158#sthash.bM7MS3mN.dpuf

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