Top 5 Difficult-But-Worth-It Houseplants
The Best Indoor Plant for You (And How to Take Care of It): Part 5
The top five exotic, delightful and, let’s say, “somewhat more finicky than most” houseplants make this list. And they’re really not that much extra work.
The show-stopping nature of these plants make the spritzing, humidifying and care worth it. Follow these simple directions and keep your peacock plants fully feathered and flourishing.
CROTON (Codiaeum variegatum pictum)
Crotons are wide-leaved Seussian specimens in funhouse colors. I’m talking red, orange, yellow, green, indigo—even pink, all on one plant!
The leaves of the C. variegatum pictum are leathery and smooth, and aptly earn the plant the nickname Joseph’s Coat for their Technicolor display. If you want drama and a color riot (and have a very bright location) pick the rainbow-colored croton.
How to grow: The croton’s vibrant colors make it one of the most unique indoor plants available, but those colors also make for a difficult plant. Crotons need a huge amount of sunlight—four-to-six hours of direct sunlight—in order to keep their bright colors.
Keep the soil consistently moist, but not too wet. If crispy leaf tips start to appear, try raising the humidity around the plant.
One way to increase humidity is to use a humidity tray. In a shallow dish, place a layer of pebbles and add enough water to cover the stones. Place the plant on top of the pebbles. Water will slowly evaporate around the plant without drowning it from below.
One other difficult aspect of growing a croton: It’s a fast grower. Within two or three years in an ideal location, your plant could come close to outgrowing its pot. When this happens, replant it in early spring in a pot that’s twice as large.
MINIATURE ROSE (Rosa roulettii, R. chinensis minima)
The miniature rose: oft given, rarely long-lived. Miniature roses can be temperamental. They need a lot of light, prefer not to be too chilled at night and are susceptible to pests, including spider mites and aphids.
It’s just a shame that so many are given and so few seem to survive. They can bloom all year long so a little extra work is worth the effort for the glory of tiny roses in winter.
How to grow: Miniature roses prefer four-to-six hours of direct light a day in a location that maintains nighttime temperatures above 50 degrees year round.
Keep the soil moist and well-fertilized; a balanced 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer works well for most indoor plants. Cut the recommended dose in half and feed every few weeks.
Watch for spider mites and aphids! What signs should you look for? Tiny webbing of any kind or light speckles on the top of the leaves (it’s actually damage on the underside where the dastardly mites have sucked the leaves).
Spider mites are red, black or white, oval shaped and the size of a period. If you see them on or under the leaves, wash the plant vigorously with clean water. If the infestation is bad, spray with Neem oil.
Spider mites will rarely kill the plant outright, but they’ll target young new leaves and could eventually completely defoliate the rose.
CALATHEA (Calathea roseopicta “Medallion”)
The colloquial name for Calathea is peacock plant, so naturally it had to grace the worth-it flashy plants list. They’re from Central and South America they so need a high level of humidity to avoid dried brown edges.
The “Medallion” Calathea has broad oval leaves marked in cream and bright green. The wavy leaves are matte and soft to the touch, almost like stiff suede (if suede wasn’t animal hide but a native plant of the Americas). The undersides are a dramatic purple-maroon color.
How to grow: Calatheas prefer bright indirect light for up to six hours a day. Keep them out of direct sunlight to reduce the chance of scorched leaves.
We’ve talked before about optional humidity trays. For Calatheas, it’s a must. Alternately, you can place a humidifier near a grouping of plants to raise the ambient humidity.
Make sure there’s adequate air flow to reduce the chance for disease to develop on the leaves in the warm, wet environment.
Besides moist air, Calatheas prefer moist soil and regular fertilizing during the growing seasons. Dilute the fertilizer to half strength and apply every few weeks.
MOTH ORCHID (Phalaenopsis spp.)
The Phalaenopsis orchid, also called moth orchid, is the one you’re most likely to see at the supermarket and florist.
Slender stems, called spikes, are held upright with sticks and clips to better display the showy blooms. The spikes rise from beneath long, leathery, almost succulent leaves at the base of the plant.
Orchids exemplify simple beauty but their simplicity ends there; caring for one, and getting it to rebloom, takes patience and dedication.
How to grow: Orchids prefer bright indirect light, and moth orchids in particular fare better in less-intense light. Place them in a north or east facing window, or farther away from a high-intensity window.
Avoid direct sunlight as it can scorch the leaves. Brown spots, or blanched white areas, are sunburns on the leaves. Use a curtain to filter the light, move the plant farther from the window or choose a new location.
One common misconception about orchid health is leaf color. Light, grass-green leaves indicate a happier plant than deep green.
Dark, lush green—desirable in most houseplants—is actually an orchid that’s not getting enough light. That’s not to say it isn’t healthy, but it may not be on its way to reblooming.
Water your orchid sparingly. Phalaenopsis prefer a drier growing medium than most orchids. Wait until the pot feels light, or, when you think it’s about time to water, wait three more days. Extra time on the dry side is much better for your orchid than too much time soggy or wet.
Oh! And don’t water with ice cubes. They’re tropical plants! Ice is not in their vocabulary and any shock won’t do much to help the roots. Water your orchid with room-temperature water. Even better: Leave tap water out overnight to let the chlorine evaporate before using on your plants.
Tropical plants prefer high humidity. Use a humidity tray, spray with a light mist or put your orchid in a bathroom so it gets a regular steam from the shower.
Feed your Phalaenopsis regularly with a liquid 10-10-10 fertilizer that’s been diluted to half or quarter strength. Among orchid growers, they call it “weakly, weekly.”
A weak fertilizer will always be better than a stronger dose, and weekly feeding is fine so long as the solution is heavily diluted.
After two or three years, repot the orchid into a pot that’s just big enough to hold all the buried roots. Orchids like a tight squeeze, plus less growing medium means you’re less likely to overwater the plant or leave the roots too wet for too long.
Do not bury any roots that have grown outside of the pot. They are air roots and they've developed to absorb moisture from the air. Buried air roots will drown, rot or die if put in a growing medium.
Lastly, be patient. Some Phalaenopsis orchids will take a year or more to begin producing a new spike or flower. So long as the roots look bright green and firm and the leaves aren’t wrinkly or discolored, you’ve got a happy orchid that simply needs time.
Most moth orchids will initiate a new spike in the fall or winter and bloom the following spring. Exposing your Phalaenopsis to few cold nights in fall can sometimes help spurn the plant into producing a spike.
RED AGLAONEMA (Aglaonema spp.)
Aglaonemas, or Chinese evergreen, aren’t new to houseplant lovers. However, the green and mint-colored original has just recently been bred into a glorious green, red and pink variety.
Erect pink stems support colorful sword-like leaves. Each leaf is vibrant green with a red outline. Red Aglaonemas are truly unique among indoor plants: showy, candy-colored and hardy.
How to grow: As a group, Aglaonemas are hardy, hard-to-kill plants that can bring color and texture to dimmer parts of the house. A good general rule of thumb: The darker the plant, the more shade it can tolerate.
If possible, provide bright, indirect light. Keep the soil barely moist at all times. Fertilize your Aglaonema two or three times a year with liquid plant fertilizer that’s been diluted to half strength.
A humidifier or humidity tray is not imperative for the Aglaonema. If you notice dried-out tips on the leaves, however, up the humidity around the plant.
Flashy plants may take a few extra steps to flourish, but plenty of houseplants are hardy, pet-friendly and easy to take care of. Check out our Top 5 lists for more ideas on the perfect plant for you (and how to take care of it).
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