September 13, 2009 in Features

Winter of content

Houseplants help green thumbs endure winter
By The Spokesman-Review
J. Bart Rayniak photo

Greenhouse supervisor Ann Jackson-Avery checks the moisture in Rabbit’s Foot Ferns that will be sold at the YMCA of the Inland Northwest Green Way Program Fall Bulb and Plant Sale from Sept. 24-27 at the Spokane Valley YMCA Greenhouse. Nova Services, which provides vocational and personal development to individuals with disabillities and limitations, assisted in filling the flats and planting the cuttings in the greenhouse. Christmas Cactus and Troy’s Gold Plectranthus (in the foreground) will also be sold, as well as scented geraniums and Coleus.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

More information

•There will be a plant sale at the Spokane Valley YMCA greenhouse, 2421 N. Discovery Place, on Sept. 24 and 25 from noon to 5 p.m., Sept. 26 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sept. 27 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sale includes houseplants, perennials and spring-flowering bulbs which were grown at the greenhouse by disabled volunteers.

•“The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual” by Barbara Pleasant (Storey Publishing, 365 pages, $24.95).

•Spokane County Master Gardeners and Kootenai County Master Gardeners can answer questions about growing houseplants. Call (509) 477-2181 or (208) 446-1680.

Plant picks

Here are Ann Jackson-Avery’s favorite houseplants:

Easy to grow

•Dracaena, Red-Edged or Tricolor

•Ficus (many species)

•Inch Plant (Tradescantia albiflora, Zebrina pendula)

•Ivy (Hedera helix)

•Jade plant (Crassula ovata)

•Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

•Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

•Philodendron (many species)

•Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

•Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

•Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus australis)

•Umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla)

Cool houseplants

•African Violet (Saintpaulia hybrids)




•Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus hybrids)

•Carnivorous plants (in terrariums)

•Goldfish plant (Columnea gloriosa)


•Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

•Piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii)

•Succulents (Echeveria species, Aloe, Kalanchoe)

•Wax plant (Hoya carnosa)

It’s hard to believe this gardening season is rapidly coming to a close. If you dread the thought of hanging up your garden gloves for the winter, a simple solution is to switch to indoor gardening with houseplants.

“Houseplants are great because they bring the outdoors inside, especially when we really need some green,” says Ann Jackson-Avery. “They help filter toxins out of our air and give us a sense of well-being.”

As supervisor of the Spokane Valley YMCA greenhouse and the former manager of Manito Park’s Gaiser Conservatory, she knows a thing or two about houseplants.

Even though houseplants can be purchased just about anywhere, many folks are less than successful at growing them. According to Jackson-Avery, the most common problems are watering too much or not enough, not giving a plant the right amount of light, not taking care of plant pests and using the wrong size pot.

The first and most important step is to know what type of plant you have.

“Read about it and find out what it needs by researching in books or on the Internet, or contact your local Master Gardeners,” she says.

The second step is to learn proper watering techniques.

“Over-watering usually occurs when folks just water their plants on a schedule and under-watering is a result of not watering the whole surface of the pot,” Jackson-Avery explains. “It’s so much better to feel the soil with your fingers or you can use a water meter.”

Plants that need higher humidity – tropical plants, African Violets, spider plants and orchids – can be set on trays filled with gravel and a small amount of water.

Giving plants adequate light is very important. Jackson-Avery prefers fluorescent lights because they won’t burn the plants like incandescent bulbs can. She also keeps an eye on the amount of sunlight her house gets during the day throughout the seasons and either moves the pots or adjusts the indoor lighting accordingly.

While insects like spider mites, aphids, scale and whiteflies can attack houseplants, this doesn’t happen very often. They usually were already on the plant at the time of purchase or they climbed onto the plant if it was moved outdoors during the summer.

Jackson-Avery uses a handheld shower nozzle to keep her plants clean and advises monitoring them frequently to catch problems early. There are also insecticidal soaps and other products specifically labeled for use on houseplants.

As a houseplant grows, it will occasionally need to be repotted. The best time of year for this is in the spring or early summer. Choose a new pot that is one size larger than its current one and use a good quality potting soil.

“At that point, take extra care in watering the plants as they usually won’t dry out as quickly as when they were pot-bound,” Jackson-Avery advises.

Plants should be fertilized during the warmer months. During the colder months, houseplant care varies somewhat.

“Most plants will go dormant, or they will not grow as much because there will be less light, so little or no fertilizer is needed,” Jackson-Avery explains.

Since the air in most homes tends to be dry during the winter, the plants’ water needs should be monitored closely. Keep an eye on the amount of light in your home and adjust it based on the plants’ needs.

Jackson-Avery doesn’t underestimate the important role houseplants play in our homes.

“They are living, breathing organisms with which we share this Earth,” she says. “They truly connect us back to nature.”

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at

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