Opinion: The challenge is to find plants that can tolerate the poor light quality, lack of humidity and overall less-than-ideal inside conditions at this time of yearOpinion: The challenge is to find plants that can tolerate the poor light quality, lack of humidity and overall less-than-ideal inside conditions at this time of yearRead MoreFeedzy

Opinion: The challenge is to find plants that can tolerate the poor light quality, lack of humidity and overall less-than-ideal inside conditions at this time of year

Philodendron birkin, with its pure white new growth, is stunning. Photo by Minter Country Garden

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After all the decor of the holiday season has been boxed away, and its colour and warmth have disappeared from our homes, we can often feel a bit of a letdown, especially during the month of January. But indoor tropical plants, with their fresh, vibrantly green foliage, can bring a new sense of life to our living spaces that will nicely fill that emotional void.

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The challenge is finding plants that can tolerate the poor light quality, lack of humidity and overall less-than-ideal conditions in our homes at this time of year. We can add LED grow lights, turn down our heating systems a bit and group all our plants near windows, or we can choose a smarter solution by selecting plants that cope fairly well with the realities of indoor winter environments.

A number of low-light tolerant plants have become very popular for home décor. The sansevieria family (so-called snake plants) has some of the very best candidates. They are one of the hardiest of all indoor plants, and with so many new varieties having been introduced during the past couple of years, they have become hugely popular.

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The tall, thin, strap-like leaves of S. trifasciata measure about two inches wide and grow up to four feet in height. They come in a range of colours from dark green and green with mottled grey patterns to the much-admired S. laurentii, a grey-green with creamy yellow stripes. These tall, stately varieties make great architectural plants, especially when displayed in an equally elegant pot.

Shorter varieties of sansevieria, like S. hahnii, have rosettes of broad, triangular leaves that can grow up to one foot in height, making them ideal tabletop specimens. The S. cylindrica series are the hot new varieties. Their stems are round and come in various thicknesses and heights. They, too, have a beautiful architectural form, and look amazing when planted in a classic cylinder-shaped pot.

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The Sansevieria cylindrica series are hot new varieties, with round stems and coming in various thicknesses and heights. (Photo: Minter Country Garden)

Sansevieria masonianas (known as the whale fin varieties) come in many colours, ranging from dark green and variegated yellows to a lovely grey-green. Their thin, wide stems make them a unique specimen, but they can be a little more difficult to find. There are many other rare varieties, making sansevierias a much-sought-after family of very versatile plants.

Philodendrons are the next most resilient plant family. One of the oldest and most well-known variety is Monstera deliciosa (the split leaf philodendron). Its thick, broad, dark green leaves tolerate both low light and lower humidity. This family offers incredible diversity with more than 200 different species, plus with today’s huge demand for new varieties many rarer species have now become mainstream.

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Monstera deliciosa (the split leaf philodendron) is one of the oldest and most well known variety of Philodendrons, with thick, broad, dark green leaves that tolerate both low light and lower humidity. (Photo: Minter Country Garden)

About half of all philodendrons have upright forms, and the other half have a trailing habit. Of the upright varieties, there are some true standouts in terms of household resiliency. Philodendron selloum, (the lacy tree philodendron) has a lovely spreading habit. The more compact P. Shangri-La has smaller, lacey foliage and looks stunning set on a fern stand.

Many vining varieties of philodendrons are grown on stakes, making them look like uprights. Two of the most popular ones are P. hastatum (shade leaf philodendron) and the Red Emerald variety. Philodendron birkin, with its pure white new growth, is stunning. Equally gorgeous is P. scandens oxycardium (better known as P. cordatum), one of the oldest and best-known vining philodendrons. Its small, thick green leaves look beautiful in hanging baskets or when staked on a cedar slab as a unique upright specimen. Without a doubt, it is one of the most resilient and long-lasting philodendrons.

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I also love the very popular pothos plants. They are some of the most vibrant, easy-to-grow indoor plants. Epipremnum aureum is the botanical family, and today there are many newer varieties. From the soft green speckled Satin pothos to the green and white speckled Marble and my favourite, the pure gold Neon pothos. They all stand up well in our homes at this time of year, and like Philodendron cordatum they make both great hanging baskets, as well as poled specimens trained on trellises.

Pothos ‘Neon’ is one of the most vibrant, easy-to-grow indoor plants. (Photo: Minter Country Garden)

The dracaena family also presents a number of varieties that have a nice architectural form and stand up well in winter months. One old-timer, Dracaena marginata, has withstood the test of time. Its long, narrow, green leaves, edged with purplish-red margins, are virtually bulletproof. They tolerate low light, low humidity and seem to be very pest resistant. They grow naturally tall and slender, but the most interesting forms are the so-called cutbacks; the technique of cutting back the main trunk creates a beautiful clustering of newly sprouted stems.

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There’s also a Tricolour dracaena that has gold, red and bronze stripes on its long, narrow leaves. Dracaena fragrans (often known as the corn plant) has medium green leaves with a yellow stripe in the centre. A silver leafed variety with a white stripe, D. sanderiana is a nice complement to this family. From all these older varieties, new versions have been bred that are far more vibrant in colour, have fewer problems with leaf tips browning and stand up well in our winter households. Lemon Lime, Carmen and Sunshine are just a few of these new dracaena varieties.

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Very few indoor palms thrive through the winter, but if that’s the look you wish to have there are three slower growing varieties that are exceptional. Howea forsteriana (the kentia palm), Rhapis excelsa (the lady palm) and Caryota mitis (the fishtail palm) are among the best.

Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Aglaonema modestum (Chinese evergreens) and Syngonium podophyllum (arrowhead vines) are also good winter indoor plants.

Our indoor growing conditions will improve in April, when our homes will have more light and less need for heat. At this time, these great indoor plants will provide many health benefits and beauty to our indoor winter environments.

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