Garden Help Desk: How do I keep my houseplants alive?

November 18, 2018

Question: I like having a few houseplants in my kitchen, but I just can’t seem to keep them looking good for very long. They don’t seem to last more than a year. Before I admit I’m just a plant killer, can you recommend some plants that even I can keep alive?

Answer: There are a few houseplants that are pretty tough to grow, but before you look for new plants, let’s review the basics of good indoor plant care.

1. Choose the right plant for the right place. A tropical plant that likes bright light isn’t going to do well in a chilly north-facing window. Most plant tags will give you an idea of the lighting, temperature and care that a plant needs. If you don’t find the information you need on the tag, you’ll find reliable information online at an Extension website or plant society website.

2. Water properly. Some plants like to dry down a bit between waterings and some plants like to be kept evenly moist but there aren’t any popular houseplants that like to stay wet. Make sure your plants are in pots with good drainage holes. Pour off any drainage water that collects in saucers under your plants; never let them sit in standing water.

3. Take a few precautions. Even tough houseplants don’t like to be in drafts, warm or cold. Also avoid putting houseplants too close to wood stoves and fireplaces.

So, what about some tough plants you can try?

• Pothos is a really sturdy, but friendly, forgiving plant.

• Snake plant is another tough plant. It’s very upright, and not particularly touchable, but very attractive.

• Cast iron plant is another indoor plant you might consider. It really lives up to its name.

• The ZZ plant is worth looking at as well. It’s unusual, and pretty hard to kill.

Q: I found some funnel-shaped spider webs in my yard while I was doing some fall cleanup. Aren’t funnel-web spiders dangerous? What should I spray?

A: The funnel-web spiders are very common in our area. Their webs form distinctive funnel-shapes that help them catch insects and these spiders are hardworking beneficials in the landscape.

Some people worry about funnel-web spiders because one species in this family of arachnids, the Hobo spider, has a reputation as a dangerous spider. We now know that this reputation is undeserved. There isn’t any reliable, science-based evidence to support the belief that Hobo spider bites result in the kind of infected wounds that they’ve been blamed for. To know that you’re dealing with a Hobo bite, you would need to see the spider bite you, catch the spider without losing sight of it and then have it identified by an expert to know what kind of spider bite you have. Most of the “bites” that get blamed on spiders are actually the result of other things such as contact with thorns or prickles on plants, small cuts and scrapes, etc.

So, back to funnel webs in general. If you see lots of webs in your landscape, you probably need to do a little basic insect control. Clean up leaf litter and other plant debris in your yard to reduce shelter for insects. This is especially important near the foundation and window wells of your home where insects and spiders might find a way indoors.

To reduce webs in your landscape next year, get in the habit of raking and sweeping in the areas around the exterior of your home and along fence posts and outdoor furniture where spider webs are common.

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