What are you, an herbicidal maniac?
Plants need Richard Simmons, not Robespierre.
If you have a bright room and a willingness to spend a little time during the winter months patrolling houseplants for watering and bugs, you can keep your green charges healthy and your precious decor dazzling.
In reality, though, the object of having plants in the home is not to turn your abode into a set for a glossy magazine photo shoot, but to keep plants alive until the warm weather allows them to regenerate.
In other words, we serve the plants, not the other way around. Once this arrangement is understood, everything falls into place.
In our brick cottage, the only bright corner is in the dining room, which has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. By closing both heat vents and hauling in a humidifier and an electric fan, it is possible to create an environment tolerable to a modest collection of various plants. The children object to having to do homework in such a place, but it seems to me that a cool, damp room is an excellent place to study: It keeps you awake and longing for the task to end.
Once, I was taken to a top-secret government greenhouse where they kept the prized gardenia of J. Edgar Hoover. I felt honored to see this floriferous beauty (I refer to the plant) because access to the hothouse was on a "need to grow" basis.
Now, if Mr. Hoover could tend a gardenia while simultaneously keeping us safe from Communism, Subversives and Organized Crime, we, surely, can devote a little of ourselves to keeping a philodendron climbing up the wall.
All you have to remember is that houseplants fall into two basic categories: classic domesticated vegetation that has learned to live in the low light and dry conditions of the home, and plants that will survive indoors but should go outside in late April to spread their wings.
The former category includes African violets, rubber plants, cacti and sansevierias; the latter banana plants, geraniums, Boston ferns, citrus and hibiscus.
It is true that sickly plants make us feel guilty, and only the most flagellant would try to keep poinsettias or florist's cyclamen going past their brief season of glory. But the bulk of our winter-wan stock can be revived now with watering and feeding, repotting in fresh soil and larger containers, and by gradual acclimation to the outdoors in the weeks ahead.
These scrawny plants will look even worse in contrast to the verdant specimens at the local nursery, but do the right thing, keep them out of the trash, and they will bounce back.
If they live, they will declare their supremacy over us. If they die, we will become consumed by remorse. Treatment can be found at the garden center, in eight-inch pots.
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