When in doubt about what to take to a hostess or give as a last-minute gift for someone special, select a plant that can be enjoyed indoors.
Houseplants are affordable, caring ways to show your appreciation for anyone of any age — even school-age kids.
Just like a garden outdoors, plants indoors can help children learn responsibility because they can monitor the plant’s water, light and fertilizer needs. They can research the plant, write a paper about it, discuss its progress with you and even use it for show-and-tell times at school. Just think, one plant could help a child develop a passion for a lifelong pastime, or maybe even a fulfilling career.
Indoor plants offer many other benefits, too — they cheer the elderly, help clean household air and improve mental health, according to research and experts. Fruit-producing miniature lemons and oranges add to the fun.
Plant gift ideas
• Norfolk Island Pine. This open-branched evergreen fits into small spaces — on top of desks, counters and tables. It likes bright light near a window, but not direct sun or heat, or its needles quickly drop. Keep the soil moist but don’t let it dry out or stand in water. It’s perfect for year-round miniature embellishments — shiny red ornaments for December, red paper hearts for February, bunnies for March-April, American flags for summer and pumpkins for fall.
• Cast Iron Plant. This indoor plant is as rugged as its name because it needs virtually nothing to thrive. Its foot-long, upright dark-green leaves are narrow and nice — they just need dusting occasionally with a clean, damp cloth. Place it near bright light, not full sun, and don’t water it very often. To add color for gift-giving any time of the year, place some fresh-cut florist flowers in water tubes and insert them among the plant’s foliage. Cast Iron Plant is a cold-hardy ground cover in Hampton Roads, Va. It’s cold hardy outdoors in zones 6-11.
• African violet. These grandmotherly flowers, often grown on wide, bright windowsills in country kitchens, are returning as favored plants for indoor miniature/fairy gardens. These violets like bright, filtered sun, nothing hot and direct. Give them moist, not wet, soil; feed with a special African violet fertilizer.
• Combo planters. Using a basket, china bowl, small metal tub or whatever container strikes your fancy, tuck a few small pots of greenhouse-grown plants — miniature ivy, creeping fig, ferns, mini orchids — and group them in the container. Tuck packing straw, moss or shredded paper round them. Your recipient can enjoy them on a windowsill or permanently plant them as a terrarium or dish garden to enjoy for months to come.
• Water misers. Succulents and bromeliads are ideal indoor plants for anyone who has difficulty keeping plants alive. Watering plants too much is as bad as watering them too little; in fact, over watering is the common cause of plant death indoors and outdoors.
• Kathy Van Mullekom is gardening and home columnist for the Daily Press, Newport News, Va.; e-mail her at kvanmullekomaol.com; follow her at roomandyard.com/diggin, Facebook.com/kathyvanmullekom, Pinterest.com/digginin and Twitter.com/diggindirt.