If you have ever visited a warmer climate you may have seen plants that you only knew as houseplants growing outdoors. It can be inspiring or daunting to see the small palm you have been pampering growing with weed-like vigor to enormous proportions in a tropical courtyard with little care at all.
Did you realize that some of the hardy plants we grow outdoors in Georgia can also be grown as houseplants? That’s the only way people up North can grow some of these plants. However, just because we can grow them outdoors doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t make good additions to our interior landscape as well. Below are a few plants you can find at Georgia nurseries that can also be grown as houseplants. Give one or two a try. You may begin to look at them in a whole new light. If you get tired of them indoors, you can try them outside.
Aspidistra or Cast-Iron Plant gets its name because of its cast iron constitution. It has been called “barroom plant” because it used to grace saloons. It continues to be one of the best houseplants, bar none. It tolerates low light and neglect. The strap-like leaves are excellent for flower arranging. It likes shade outdoors and low to moderate light indoors. Not hardy in the Georgia mountains.
Nippon Lily or Rohdea has a similar culture, color and texture to aspidistra but its leaves are more lily-like. Its flowers are insignificant but it bears attractive orange berries. Also known as “sacred lily of Japan,” rohdea likes shade outdoors and low to moderate light indoors. Hardy throughout Georgia and an excellent companion for hostas and ferns in the garden.
Fatsia or Japanese Aralia is a bold plant does best in southern and coastal Georgia but will grow in Atlanta and many other parts of central to north Georgia if protected. Shade outdoors and bright light indoors.
Amaryllis – If you received an amaryllis for Christmas and don’t want to grow it as a houseplant, plant it outdoors in spring after danger of frost. Select a sunny, well-drained spot and mulch it in the fall. It will bloom for you in the summer. Indoors it likes a sunny window.
Ghost Plant or Mother-of-Pearl Plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) – I always bring a pot of this succulent indoors in case an extreme cold snap kills the ones outside in the garden. Give it the sunniest window possible indoors or a sunny, well-drained spot outdoors. The pearly gray leaves account for the name. Easy to grow.
Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus) is a sedge-like plant with leaves that may be green, variegated or yellow. It likes sun to shade outdoors and bright light to sunny conditions indoors. It also likes to be kept moist. Hardy throughout Georgia.
Creeping Fig – There are some fine examples growing in Athens and Atlanta, but this little vine never achieves the lushness there that it does in Savannah or Brunswick. It likes bright light indoors and can be used in hanging baskets. Outdoors it will grow in sun or shade.
A few other plants that are hardy outdoors but can be grown indoors as houseplants are English ivy, aucuba, bay, fatshedera, gardenia, strawberry begonia and pittosporum.
A few overall tips for houseplant success: Don’t overwater; it is the number one cause of houseplant deaths. Don’t leave plants sitting in water. Don’t fertilize in the winter unless you are providing ideal growing conditions and the plant is definitely showing signs of deficiency. Otherwise, wait until spring. Keep plants away from heat sources. The plants mentioned in this column actually prefer to be on the cool side, and no houseplant likes the dry heat coming from a vent or radiator. Most houseplants benefit from an occasional bath to clean dust off their leaves and to help keep spider mites, mealybugs and other pests in check. Put them in the shower or sink and rinse them with water from a hand-held sprayer.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.