Sunday, January 23, 2011


It has been bitterly cold here for the last few days, with temperatures dropping to -8° at night. And we're not even officially into the three "days of the blackbird" at the end of the month, traditionally always the coldest of the year. (Why "days of the blackbird"? I blogged about it a couple of years ago. You'll find it here)

So I've found myself putting off the clearing up jobs that are waiting for me on the balcony, and I've spent the time giving my houseplants some TLC instead.

I have very few in the flat. It's quite dark, and most plants suffer from the lack of light. In the summer, in fact, they stop being houseplants and go out on the balcony, but in winter have to come in to protect them from the cold. But I do have a bit more luck in my office.

One of my favourites (apart from my beloved Pothos, Scindapsus or whatever you want to call it) are these little Spathiphyllums, Peace lilies. I got them last autumn (a present from some students - thank you Module 3 people) and they've been super all winter, blooming their little hearts out.

Native to the rain forests of Central and South America, Spathiphyllum thrives in slightly shady conditions. And so is well at home in the office where, except on the sunniest days of summer, I need a light on constantly. Being a tropical plant, it does like to stay warm though -keep it at over 15°C (60°F).

They come in all sizes from small to medium to large. I'm not sure what this one is. Possibly Spathiphyllum wallisii "Chopin", a dwarf cultivar. It's tiny in comparison to other spathiphyllums I've had in the past.

As a rain forest plant it likes to stay moist - though not soggy. Let it dry out and it will flop horribly. Don't panic however - as long as you catch it quite quickly and water well, it will pick up again as if nothing had happened. It's only fainted.

Like all houseplants, it needs to be kept clean. If the leaves get dusty then their stomata ( the plant version of skin pores) get clogged. Plants absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide to create their own food in the form of sugars, releasing oxygen as a waste product. This process, called photosynthesis, is impossible (or at least inefficient) if the stomata are clogged, and the plant will suffer (wouldn't you?).

Plants growing outside will be washed regularly by the rain, but in the house (or on a balcony) they need cleaning regularly. Use a soft sponge or cloth dipped in tepid water. You'll usually be horrified at how much muck comes off.

Smallish plants with tough leaves (like Scindapsus) can also be popped into the sink under a gentle stream of tepid water and given a shower. This is also a good way of getting rid of any pests like aphids and the dreaded red spider mite. Make sure though that any excess water that gets into the soil is allowed to drain off immediately.


Jan said...

That small lily looks a fabulous plant. I don't have houseplants as there's nowhere suitable to put them, windows that open inwards and no windowsills, dark inside etc. Thanks for your comment Sue, all is well... apart from the blogging. But it'll return I'm sure.

Gary said...

Hi Sue,
I my book there are two house plants that offer everything I need...Sansevieria (Mother-in-laws tongue) and Spathiphyllum. Both grow in shade, don't take up too much room, and give a real focal point all year round, so I say 'bring on the Spath's!' I prefer the larger varieties, perhaps that is a man thing though.

Alistair said...

Hello Sue,We don't have many house plants, but we do have the peace lily. As well as the white spathes the glossy dark green leaves are beautiful. I didn't realise that it got quite so cold in Milan.

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