Tough as Nails


All good gardeners have friends and family and colleagues who say these two things: 1) you should come over and take a look at my garden, I just don’t know what to do! (don’t fall for this one); and 2) I have black thumbs, I can’t keep a plastic plant alive!

For the latter, I have some suggestions.  My good friend Mike, years ago, allowed me to overwinter some of my huge collection of houseplants in his office.  I would take care of them and they would enjoy the sunlight on his windowsill, as my office at the time did not have a window.  Once I won the office lottery and got a window, I moved most of my plants back into my office, but gave Mike some plants of his very own to take care of.  This was probably three years ago (at least).

Things changed in my life and, as we know, I lost most of my garden and houseplants.  Which was probably for the best because I had too darn many of them.  Alas, this winter I was a little homesick for those plants, so I stopped by Mike’s office to see if I could steal a few cuttings.  Mike offered to give me all the plants back, because he’s so nice.

What resulted was basically a multi-year experiment in how tough houseplants could be.  Mike had an Outlook reminder to water the plants every week, which he may have been doing (but I suspect once every 2-3 weeks), and no fertilizer or repotting.  They were in a southeastern facing window this whole time.

And the winner by far was the Gasteria (on the far right in the picture above).  This particular plant (like an Aloe but spotty and rounded leaves) looks robust and green.  It was able to take the full sun and shrugged off irregular watering… it was truly tough as nails.

In second place: a miniature snake plant (second from right, above).  Although some of the leaves are a bit yellowed, this plant has expanded so much it clearly needs to be repotted, which means it is growing happily.

Echeverias, Jade plants, and a surviving cutting of a different echeveria (yay!  I loved that one) all survived, but did not thrive.  The Jade plant has an as-yet undetermined ailment (which I recall plagued my old Jade plants, so likely came from my house) and does not look robust.

The spider plant seemed to go into hibernation.  While it still has leaves, it has the same two stems that it had when I gave him the plant.  For a non-succulent, it did quite well.

The asparagus fern acted just like asparagus do… it went into dormancy.  While this is good for a plant…we know I love a resurrection, it is not your most desirable feature in a houseplant.  However, with a little water and fertilizer I now have two new fern fronds coming up, after just a week and a half.

If your “black-thumbed” friends want to try a houseplant- I recommend succulents, especially the slow growers.  They really are a tough as nails, and will be very rewarding- no matter how demanding your schedule is otherwise.

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