In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2003
Regional Report

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Aspidistra is the hardiest of indoor plants, making it an ideal choice for neophyte indoor gardeners.

Bullet-Proof Houseplants

Somebody asked me this morning what type of plant I would recommend for a beginning gardener. He wanted a houseplant that was easy to care for. The first answer that popped into my head was an aspidistra. I told the young man that the common name for this hardy perennial is cast iron plant because it's almost indestructible. As a matter of fact, an aspidistra was the first plant I ever owned.

My grandmother gave me the plant as a housewarming gift for my first apartment in 1970. She told me, "Don't invite the boys up to see your aspidistra, Dearie." Of course, that was the very first thing I did. That plant was with me for over 20 years. I finally left it planted in the ground when I left Sunset in 1996.

Aspidistra is the hardiest of indoor plants, but there are a few others that I would like to suggest for neophyte indoor gardeners. Some plants are hardier than others. If you want to try your hand at this rewarding hobby, here are my top five, hard-to-kill plants. They are all very forgiving, one or two even bloom, and every one will teach you the basic principles of gardening.

Aspidistra
This plant requires medium light and whatever water you care to throw its way. Most plants don't want to sit in standing water, though, so empty the saucer after you water.

Wandering Jew
This vining plant also requires medium light, but it takes a bit more water than the aspidistra. Wandering jew does well in a hanging pot, and when it gets too stringy, you can prune it back and start cuttings in a jar filled with water. It's fun to watch the roots grow.

Mother-in-Law's Tongue
The sansevieria is another hardy plant, and it tolerates low light conditions. But this one you can kill if you are heavy-handed with the watering can. A native of Africa, it prefers to stay on the dry side. Plants that thrive in low light conditions usually require less water than those that live in the sun.

Pothos
This member of the philodendron family is a vining plant that almost thrives on abuse. You see these sturdy little plants in restaurants and mechanic's shops -- anywhere that needs a bit of low-maintenance greenery. Provide even the most minor care and pothos will reward you with lush, green growth, giving you the confidence to move on to other, more demanding plants.

Dracaena
This plant is number 5 on my list because it is a little more fussy. You can easily overwater a dracaena, which turns the stem to mush. The best way to water any of these plants is to poke your finger into the soil up to the first knuckle. If the soil feels dry, water. If it feels damp to the touch, wait a day or two.

These five plants will put up with some neglect, a variety of light conditions, and some over- or underwatering. However, they will thrive with regular care, an application of fertilizer in spring and summer, and dusting from time to time to help the leaves photosynthesize.

See if you can't get your thumbs to turn green, then sit back and watch your plants grow. New growth is an indication that you are doing something right. Besides, watching plants grow is a large part of the pleasure to be derived from gardening. You are in charge of a living thing that depends on you for its very survival. Powerful stuff...


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