If someone were to ask me to recommend a houseplant, my first choice would be spider plant, otherwise known in botanic circles as Chorophytum comosum. One reason for recommending this plant is that it can tolerate lots of abuse. I’m not suggesting that a person making such a request is abusive toward leafy green things. It’s just that the environment in a typical home changes considerably from season to season in terms of lighting, temperature, humidity, and the amount and nature of pollutants in the air. As a result, there are not many plants that can withstand a wide range of environmental conditions and/or neglect.
So, do you occasionally forget to water your houseplants? Spider plant is forgiving as it actually prefers that the potting soil dry between applications of water. If the plant needs water, it will let you know by its drooping leaves.
Is the room where the plant is to spend its life cool or quite warm? It doesn’t matter as spider plant tolerates both, but it prefers temperatures above 50 degrees F.
Is the plant to be near a sunny window or in a room with low light? Spider plant can take both, but it will be happier in bright, but indirect, sunlight.
Are you in the habit of forgetting to fertilize your houseplants? Spider plant does not want too much fertilizer. In fact, over-fertilizing results in a buildup of salts in the soil with the result that the leaf tips of spider plant will turn brown. Apply fertilizer only when the plant is actively growing, i.e. spring and summer, and according to directions on the product label.
Do your pets like to nibble on the leaves of houseplants? Not to worry; spider plant is non-toxic to Tabby or to Barky.
There is another benefit to growing spider plants which was found in studies conducted by NASA. No, NASA was not looking for a houseplant to put aboard space stations to prevent astronauts from getting home sick. Rather, it was to cleanse the air in closed environments of pollutants. What they found was that spider plants were among the most effective in removing formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, xylene, and toluene and other air pollutants from the air. All of these pollutants often emitted from synthetic products in our homes.
Admittedly, I’ve never given much thought to all of these factors when choosing houseplants. I just love the appearance of spider plants, especially the variety Variegatum which has green leaves with white edges. It reminds me of an exploding star. The common name, spider plant, comes from the appearance of the tiny spider-like plantlets, called spiderettes, produced on long, thin stems dangling down from the mother plant, all of which make the plant even more attractive. Because of these dangling stems, either grow spider plants in hanging baskets or in pots on plant stands.
An easy way to expand the number of spider plants in the home is to cut off some of the spiderettes and root them in soil or water. Within a year, one can expand the number of spider plants in the home from one to dozens. Who would not want that?
THIS WEEK'S TO-DO LIST
Here are some tasks you may not want but that are worthy of attention:
- Check the long-range forecast! If night-time temperatures look to be in the 50s, go ahead and transplant tender crops, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and vine crops. As a precaution, keep some floating row covers or hot caps handy to place over the seedlings should temperatures be forecast to drop into the 30s.
- Keep an eye, preferably both eyes, out for pests dining on plants in landscape and vegetable gardens. With the arrival of June on the horizon, this is the time when the population of many garden pests increases dramatically. The best way to avert problems is to go on pest patrol, i.e. make daily inspection tours of gardens. Early morning is a good time for such tours. Look at stems and leaves — not only at the surface of plant leaves, but also at their undersides. Identification of pests can be a problem, but since many are host-specific one can narrow down the possibilities by searching the internet for “pests and diseases” of each affected plant.
- Got rocky, gravelly soil? Create a rock garden. Gravelly and well-drained soils are ideal for many plants, such as sedums, creeping thyme, creeping phlox, lavender, stonecrop, hens and chicks, and many other plant species.
- Use the finger-dip method to determine when to water potted rosemary plants. This simply involves inserting a finger into the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. If the soil feels dry, apply water till it drains from the bottom of the pot. If the pot sits on a tray, immediately dump the drained water. Don’t let rosemary stand in water.
- When watering transplanted annual flowers and vegetable plants, apply water every three days if Mother Nature does not take on the task. Apply the water directly to the soil, rather than over the foliage. This will help prevent foliar diseases. If only we could get Mother Nature to adhere to this water practice ...
- Prune spring flowering shrubs including azaleas, lilac, forsythia, fothergilla, mockorange, rhododendron, and weigela right after they have finished flowering and before the end of June. Pruning later will result in the removal of the buds for next year’s blooms. The key to pruning these shrubs is to retain their natural shape. Therefore, prune only any dead or very weak stems and thin out a few of the oldest stems at the center of multi-stemmed shrubs as a way of rejuvenating the plants.
REMEMBER THE FALLEN
As everyone knows, Monday is Memorial Day. As a result of the pandemic, there will be fewer parades and memorial services than normal to honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country. At the very least, pause for a few moments to remember them.