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Growing houseplants is gardening too!

By Melanie Mathieson
Gardening Guru

Many people tell me that they do not have a green thumb or are not gardeners. I always tell them anyone can grow plants successfully indoors or outdoors without some good directions. Others argue that those who grow plants indoors are not gardeners. Well I strongly disagree. I started growing houseplants when I was about 5 years old. I had houseplants long before I ever had my own property where I could plant flowerbeds and a vegetable garden. I have vast experience growing many types and varieties of houseplants as well as working in a greenhouse caring for houseplants. My first badges as a Brownie and a Girl Guide were for gardening and I used houseplants for my projects. So whether you your goal is to grow plants indoors or an entire yard full you can learn many things by starting with just one houseplant. I encourage you to discover your green thumb and call your self a gardener - get a houseplant.
Many of the plants we consider houseplants in Canada are actually plants from the wild in other parts of the world. Essentially, house plants come from the forests, jungles and deserts of the tropics and sub-tropics. However, a number of species also come from the Mediterranean and a large number of succulents are native to the drier parts of southern Africa, such as Aloe, Haworthia and the living stones, Lithops. Humid areas in Africa provide varieties of Dracaena and Peperomia and Saintpaulia and humid areas in South Africa are the home to beautiful bulbs such as Freesia and unique plants like the Bromeliads (Billbergia and Tillandsia). Varieties of Dieffenbachia and Philodendron are native to some parts of South America. Orchids have always been a popular choice for floral arrangements but are now very popular among indoor gardeners. Orchids are native to Malaysia and the Philippines. Originating from Mexico is probably the best known of all house plants, the Poinsettia. And just for the record the Boston fern is not native to Boston but is native to the tropical regions in humid forests and swamps throughout the world, especially in northern South America, Mexico, Central America, Florida, the West Indies, Polynesia and Africa.
Knowing where plants come from helps to understand how to care for it them your home and where position to them in the house. Many of the species mentioned above have been hybridized to be more colourful, lush and more suited to indoor growing. These are the varieties we find when we visit our local supplier.
When selecting a houseplant, select only those foliage plants which appear to be insect and disease free. Check the undersides of the foliage and the axils of leaves for signs of insects or disease. Select plants that look sturdy, clean, well potted, shapely, and well-covered with leaves.
Choose plants with healthy foliage. Avoid plants which have yellow leaves, brown leaf margins, wilted or water soaked foliage, spots or blotches and spindly growth. In addition, avoid leaves with mechanical damage, and those which have been treated with “leaf shines” which add an unnatural polish to the leaves. Plants which have new flowers and leaf buds along with young growth are usually of superior quality.
When transporting plants, remember the two seasons of the year that can cause damage to the plants, the hot summer and the cold winter months. In the summer, avoid placing plants in a car and leaving the car shut up, because the temperature will rise and destroy the plant in a short period of time. If you have to travel for any distance at all, the plant can be burned by the sun shining on it even though the air conditioner is on and the temperature is comfortable in the car. Shade the plant from direct sun while it is in the car. During winter months, wrap plants thoroughly with newspaper or paper bags (not plastic) before leaving the store to carry them to your car. A short run from the store to the car in very low temperatures can kill or severely damage plants. Wrap plants thoroughly, and place in the front of the car and turn on the heater but make sure the heater is not blowing directly on the plant. The trunk of most cars is too cold to carry plants safely during winter months. On an extended trip make special arrangements so that plants will not be frozen or damaged by cold weather. Many foliage plants will be damaged considerably if the temperature drops much below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so maintain as warm a temperature as possible around these plants when transporting them from one location to another.
Remember that it is easier to purchase a plant which requires the same environmental conditions your residence has to offer than to alter the environment of your home or office to suit the plants. Make sure you assess your home before you venture out to purchase a plant. Just like buying plants for the outdoors, it pays to do a little research ahead of time. There are many good books on houseplants available at the local library. Research what you like and then narrow it down to what will grow in your home conditions. Also base your choices on the care commitment required and what you are willing to provide. Remember your friend may have a lovely Boston fern but if your house is not suited to the growing requirements for ferns then you will have to choose something else. But on the same hand, I encourage you to take a chance if you can find some reasonably priced plants in small pots, then go ahead and give them a chance. Sometimes it is experiments like this that yield the best results. Watch for future columns that will give you some more information on houseplants.