5 Easy Houseplants

Plants are my weakness. I love plants and I love them outside AND inside. I meet a lot of people who when they learn I am a gardener, insist that they have a black thumb and can’t grow anything. This post is dedicated to all the black thumbs out there. It’s time to turn those thumbs green! We can do it!

Right plant, right place

The secret always is selecting the right plant and right place. The right plant for you is a plant that matches the space, room temperature, available light and your style of neglect or attention. If you tend to overwater, then it’s best to pick a plant that can survive occasional over-loving. If you often forget that you have plants, pick a plant that prefers to be on the dry side.

Here are some of my favorites.

  1. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum): This is a plant that seems to endure anything that you can throw at except for cold temps and no sunlight. It’s fantastic in a hanging basket. For me, they have survived both underwatering and overwatering. As long as you have a sunny spot that’s above 55 degrees, please meet your new friend.
    The last spider plant I bought was about $9 bucks at Lowe’s. Spider Plant
    Pro tip: Once you have one spider plant, you never need to buy another. These plants reproduce well, sending out shoots that will bear tiny replicas of the mother plant at the tip. Wait for the babies to get large enough, 4-6 inches and then snip them off and place in a small pot with good quality potting soil. You will need to keep these watered until they root. The babies do need babying. OR – keep them connected to the mother plant and root them in soil by placing a small pot nearby. Plant propagation is a huge thrill and once you learn to make your own plants, you’ll be set as a gardener.
  2. Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum): This beautiful trailing plant with golden green leaves that will light up a dim corner. It doesn’t need a lot to stay happy and will tolerate occasional overwatering. I purchased a large hanging basket at Home Depot for about $20.00. That seemed a little expensive to me but it was large and beautiful and it made an immediate impact brightening up a dark corner.Golden pothos
  3. Sansevieria (also called snake plant and sword plant and another not-so-nice name): Sansevieria is a beautiful sculptural plant that is a perfect fit for modern decor. There are lots of varieties from very small to very large. This is a plant that seems to like to dry out between waterings and watering once a month in the spring and summer–less in the winter– is often plenty for this tough plant. Do not overwater.
    Pro tip: I have propagated this plant from a cutting as well as division and both worked surprisingly well. I have three completely different-looking varieties at the moment, all from IKEA,  which is a great place to buy plants. I just walk through and see what I like.
    I have sansevieria cylindrica and a mini sword plant that I haven’t been able to ID yet.

    Unknown sansevieria and sansevieria cylindrica
    Unknown sansevieria and sansevieria cylindrica
  4. Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata): This fun and funky plant looks like the long-haired version of its much taller palm cousins and the trunk looks like an elephant’s foot, another common name for this tough plant. This is also a plant that doesn’t mind getting dry but will look better with regular watering. I purchased my current plant at Lowe’s. It’s a  Plants of Steel selection. (I haven’t seen these in the store lately but I thought it was a great idea and good marketing!)Ponytail Palm
  5. Dracaenas: This is a plant that also offers a lot of variety. I have a Dracaena Marginata (Long red-edged leaves on brown branching canes, a star of India with gold and green leaves, and I love the long red and green leaves of this plant. My best specimens have been in a very sunny living room in Colorado that had windows on two sides and outside in Mesa, Arizona on a covered porch. (Note that in the summer, you will need to water houseplants more often if they are outside in a hot climate. Also, plants that like full sun may not appreciate full ARIZONA sun.)  I recently learned that you can prune canes back and I am going to try that with one of the canes that looks like it has a comb-over. All of my current Dracaenas are from IKEA: Song of India, Dracaena Marginata and this unknown little guy. Dracaena Marginata is my go-to plant. This seems to be a plant that will rot if overwatered. Sadly, I have never done well with dracaena marginata tricolor. Someday I’ll figure out the right mix!

    Dracenas
    Song of India, Dracaena marginata and a mystery Dracaena

Watering tips

Add a reminder to your calendar to check your plants. Stick a finger in the dirt at least an inch to test the soil. If the soil is dry, water, if not, wait a few days. For an 8-inch pot, a cup of water is usually sufficient. Resist the urge to soak the plant unless it feels like the best option or that is the prescribed care for your plant. Wet soil provides an ideal breeding ground for soil gnats and soil gnats can kill anyone’s enthusiasm for indoor plants. In general, back off watering in the winter unless it’s a seasonal plant like a Poinsettia.

Fertilizer

I use Jobe’s Indoor Beautiful Houseplants Fertilizer Food Spikes – 30 Pack because they are easy and it’s hard to overdo it and otherwise, frankly, I forget.

Repotting

I used to think that all plants wanted to be repotted but some don’t and I have learned that sansevieria is one of those plants. It prefers to be snug in its pot. Same with spider plants. When in doubt Google your plant and see what others have to say.

Plants grow

So it’s okay to start out with smaller, less expensive specimens. The $1.99 Dracenas at IKEA are the perfect starter plant.

Need more ideas for plants for beginners? Check out this handy chart from Lowe’s.)

If you want to learn more about propagation, I suggest Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation.

Happy gardening! Go grow!


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Rebooting your life

These boots are made for walking

In the land of computer support, when all else fails, you reboot and see if that fixes the problem. As you spend more and more time doing support, you get to the reboot step sooner. Pretty soon you begin all troubleshooting by starting with a reboot.

My troubleshooting skills are a little rusty, but they are coming back. (I did boost the Wi-Fi signal to a TV in a little sitting room at the far end of my house with this handy little gadget. Ha! I still have it.)

So the reboot is in process. It’s taking a while, like those old Macs and PCs that I used to support. But I see now it’s the right thing to try. My reboot started back in August when I read this article in the New York Times. It featured engineering professor Barbara Oakley, who is one of the co-teachers of the most popular online learning course of all time, Learning How to Learn.

It was one of those right things at the right time. Intrigued, I signed up. Coursera allows a free audit of classes so you can try before you buy. I checked Professor Oakley’s book, A Mind For Numbers, out of the library and I threw myself into my second online class and my first MOOC (massively open online course). I was blown away by the experience and what I learned. In the course of the next month, I started rewiring my brain. I changed my approach from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that yet.” 

I’ve also learned a lot about MOOCs by enrolling in them and it’s been eyeopening. I have turned into an online learning evangelist. Who knew? I think everyone should go to college, but what if you already have more degrees than you know what to do with? What if life or work makes a traditional classroom experience impossible? Or what if online learning is the way for you? I have three classes under my belt and I am enrolled in three more and I have learned a lot. I keep having these ah-ha moments to the point that I think there’s no end to the ah-ha moments.

In addition to throwing myself into learning the content of the courses, I find myself wanting to understand what works and what doesn’t in the world of online learning. I wanted to know why Learning How to Learn is so popular and to dissect why I found it to be so effective. (Professor Oakley also takes learners behind the scenes of the LHTL course in her book Mindshift and the companion online course of the same name.) I am particularly impressed that she “just did it” and learned whatever she needed to in order to make it happen. She used Google to figure out what video equipment to buy and how to setup and use the equipment and she used all her spare time to learn video editing. I am inspired by her grit and determination and have asked myself more than once, “What can I accomplish if I do the same?”

Reboot Virtual Book Club
I started this online reading list for anyone who wants to reboot their life. I think it will grow based on my ever-growing “To Read” Google Doc that is rivaled only by my “Classes to take” Google Doc. I have a lot to learn.

How about you? Who are your virtual mentors? Let me know in the comments or send me an email.

Who’s excited?