It is said that “familiarity breeds contempt.” I think contempt is a strong word. We do crave things that are new: in food, for example, there seems to be no end to creative combinations of things that are visually intriguing or strike the palate in new ways. But most of us dine on the familiar or “comfort food” most of the time.
It’s the same with plants. In the business, we know that “new” sells. This may be driven more by the trade than the customer. The perennial buyer looks through the catalogues each winter and is excited by the dozens of new coneflowers and heuchera available. The orders are filled out and the staff “oohs and ahhs” as the plants come off the trucks to go onto the sales tables.
I’ve gone through that at home with houseplants over the years, growing cacti and other succulents under lights, and orchids. (With my first try with orchids, I kept a humidifier going all the time…that was until I realized my books in the same room were getting moldy.)
The last few years I’ve grown to appreciate the old standards more, the “taken-for-granted” plants that perform well year after year. My current prize is a pot of variegated spider plants, Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum.’ I started them two summers ago as a couple of small plants in mixed outdoor containers. In the fall, I potted them up into one pot and brought them inside. This past summer it went back outdoors, and now it resides in a bright corner of the dining room where it gets a couple of hours of sun during the day. It really is a showpiece.
Spider Plant Care: bright light. In the summer outdoors it gets full sun for several hours and thrives in it. After it comes inside, it will lose some of the older leaves as it adapts to lower light. The newer leaves will have more green than those grown in the sun, and they may be weaker (bend in the center.) By the end of winter, it will look somewhat the worse for wear, and will respond well to going back outdoors when night temperatures are in the high 50’s or higher.
They have tuberous roots (fleshy) that store water, so they will tolerate some drying out. People often have trouble with the tips of the leaves turning brown. This is ascribed to various things and I suspect it has various causes, including low humidity in the winter, and salt buildup in the soil from fertilizer or salts in tap water.
The latter can be avoided by occasionally watering a couple of times in succession, say a half-an-hour apart, so that water goes through the soil and the excess that accumulates in the saucer is discarded. (Or water it in the sink if convenient.) Fluoride in tap water is said to cause tip burn: I can only say that over the eighteen months I have been watering with tap water, I have not had any tip burn.
The “babies” can be planted and should root out quickly. Just stick them in moist potting soil, just deeply enough that they don’t fall over. They might make a nice seasonal ground cover accent, but I’ve found that the local rabbits like them, and it hasn’t worked out for me.
Larry Hurley, Behnke’s Retired Horticulturist
Note: I would say the baby spider plants would make wonderful gifts ~ Stephanie