What are the best houseplants to get through the winter?
It seemed like a simple question: What are some remarkable houseplants to consider adopting before winter puts an end to our commitment to outdoor plants?
But when you ask the greenhouse staff at Steve’s Leaves Inc. in Lewisville, Texas – where the collection includes somewhere “between 1,500 and 2,000” species and varieties – you can expect a cheerful response.
“Are you asking us to choose from our favorite children?”
Even quantifying the exact number of choices was apparently not easy.
“We’re too busy to stop and count,” said Steve Rosenbaum, who started the business as a wholesale business 45 years ago, then built a website and added mail order retail there. about 10 years ago. “We have so many hybrids that we are testing that don’t have a name yet, which probably adds up to several hundred in total.”
Over 900 orders come out most weeks, he told me, including over 1,000 during peak summer shipping season, all miraculously propagated and prepared to be ready in just 12,000 square feet. greenhouse space. It’s a place where innovation in growing plants is the signature, rather than automation.
“We always fill the jars one at a time; there are no automatic flat fillers on a conveyor belt, ”said Rosenbaum. “These plants are really handcrafted.”
Adding the machine would take up space, reduce growing space – and how could he choose which of the kids was no longer suitable? Impossible.
The more colorful, the better
Yes, “leaves” does correspond to Mr. Rosenbaum’s first name, but the choice of the company name was more than a fluke.
“I chose Steve’s Leaves for my business name because it rhymes, of course,” he said. “But I realized later that what I love the most are plants with colorful foliage. These provide color all year round – you don’t have to wait for flowers.
Since his passion for plants at the age of 13, Mr. Rosenbaum, 63, has had a fondness for foliage, which is particularly variegated and patterned. The more contrast, the better. Or as he put it, “Anything colorful and shiny. “
So much so that he admits to having amassed a personal stash of a few hundred varieties of Coleus, which are better suited for the patio than indoors, in addition to the company’s impressive collection of houseplants. Steve’s leaves, indeed.
Take the Syngonium called Marble (Syngonium podophyllum albo-variegatum Marble), one of his favorite houseplants, despite its recalcitrance. Adaptable from shade to partially sunny conditions, it has a bushy habit and will spill over the rim of a pot or fill a hanging basket. The arrowhead-shaped foliage (its common name is arrowhead vine) is generously marked with areas of white.
This distinction is also its drawback, driving up the price.
“It’s hard to propagate, because you have to throw away a lot of material that is not good for cuttings,” Mr. Rosenbaum said of all green or all white growth that won’t give off duck-like offspring. marble. . “Lots of Syngonium are easier, but I like the contrast of this one.”
Choosing begonias from a begonia hybridizer
Begonias, the mainstay of the company, certainly meet the requirement for colored leaves. “There is a begonia for everyone,” Rosenbaum said, while acknowledging that many of these plants crave moisture, especially the Rex and rhizomatous types.
Two days a week, the team is joined by Mr. Rosenbaum’s 40-year friend Don Miller, the company’s resident begonia expert and a leading breeder.
Mr Miller has introduced dozens of begonias from his own hybridization work, and another breeder has even named one in his honor. But when asked to call a special favorite, he didn’t hesitate – and it wasn’t one of his own. He suggested the Australian introduction of the 30-year-old Flamingo Queen, a type of angel wing with cane-shaped stems.
“I love the set,” he said of Flamingo Queen, with its large, light green leaves splashed with big white spots and large clusters of pink flowers.
Give it a spot near a bright window and a not too dry environment, Miller suggested.
He recommends grouping houseplants – especially begonias – on trays filled with pebbles and a little water, to create a happier microclimate. Or use a humidifier, a boon to plants (and plant parents) during the ultra-dry indoor heating season.
Another tactic is to set up a terrarium of particularly hygro-dependent species, such as Begonia pavonina, a Malaysian species sometimes called the peacock begonia. Its leaves take on a strange blue iridescence when illuminated by a camera flash or in certain other lighting conditions. Begonia melanobullata, from Vietnam, is also a type of terrarium, a collector’s plant that always attracts attention. The name of the species refers to its bubbly leaves, referring to their distinctive blistered or stony surface.
As if he couldn’t get enough of begonias, Miller also volunteers weekly at the Fort Worth Botanical Garden, home to the largest collection of begonias in North America.
And at home ? He admits to having about two dozen plants. “I try not to count them,” he said.
Is a Hoya in your future?
A friend who has cultivated hoyas, or wax plants for a long time, tried to convert me to this variable-looking genus with succulent leaves. But maybe Ryan Wilhelm, the director of operations at Steve’s Leaves, finally made it. A representative of this tropical member of the Apocynaceae family (Apocynaceae), the same family as the milkweed, may be intended for a sunny window here.
A caveat, Mr Wilhelm said: be careful with water – as their succulent leaves try to tell you – because “they can crash quickly if overwatered.”
He’s been on a frenzy, building the company’s assortment of the Hoya genre, one of the trending genres during the recent indoor plant craze. For Mr. Wilhelm, the catalyst for the boom is obvious: “These are purchases induced by social networks. People see a photo and go looking for it.
And therefore, he researches, on behalf of clients, not only Hoyas, but also Aroids, members of the Araceae family that includes Syngonium and Monstera, among other social media darlings. Mr. Wilhelm has just returned from the 44th Annual International Company Aroid Show & Sale, at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, looking for the next best thing in this world as well.
Among his beloved hoyas, Mr. Wilhelm is currently fascinated by “the one who looks nothing like a Hoya”: the eccentric H. spartioides, which he recently acquired. It is straight and linear, resembling a giant bunch of succulent pine needles.
As with any new acquisition the team is just starting to propagate, the first plants will go to the Steve’s Leaves auction site until a sufficient supply is built up for regular mail order sales.
So maybe I’ll start with something else like Hoya kerrii with its thick heart shaped leaves. Or Hoya curtisii, a miniature whose stems resemble strings of hearts because they contain marbled, olive-green, heart-shaped leaves.
However, it takes patience.
“The Hoyas are so slow,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “But I enjoy cultivating things that excite my team.”
The possibility of otherworldly Hoya flowers, often clustered in umbels and sometimes even scented, is another thing to be excited about.
Make more indoor plants at home
There is no universal houseplant care manual that can substitute for careful observation of your plants, in your particular conditions.
“I look at the foliage and give them a dose of diluted fertilizer if they seem to need it, if they are a little pale,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “But people abuse fertilizers.”
They think it’s a pick-me-up, he said, to counter poor plant care – like leaving a plant sitting in a saucer of water, rotting. No chance.
“Plants are living luxmeters, if you can read them,” he said. “If he stretches, he doesn’t get enough light. If it’s hot, too.
We have to experiment, find the subjects that correspond to our brightness, our humidity and our level of care commitment.
At home, Mr. Rosenbaum is also experimenting – this time with an automatic sprinkler hack learned from Summer Rayne Oakes, the creator of the popular Plant One on Me YouTube channel. The hack is based on simple cones. Blumat ceramic, inserted into the soil surface and connected to a tube that draws from a nearby water container.
“One of the downsides to self-watering is that I have always advocated letting the soil surface dry out before watering,” he said. “This system keeps it evenly moist instead – which mushroom flies love.” More DIY is needed.
As for me, I continue to sail. Of course, I love my big old Clivias, Sansevieria and fancy leaf begonias. But like many people – especially with the pandemic’s footprint still in mind – more company this winter looks good. Who do I invite?
Based on the name alone, for a low light spot, I think of Peperomia Fuzzy Mystery, a plant whose green, textured leaves have dark ridges and are covered in tiny hairs. And the arrowhead-shaped leaves of Syngonium podophyllum Pink are a vibrant pink – hard to resist.
Also attractive and true to its common name, but for a brighter light: pearl necklace, Senecio rowleyanus, a South African species with succulent waist-sized, pea-shaped leaves that cascade over a pot rim.
Clearly, I need some supervision, or it’s going to be a lot of people here.
Margaret Roach is the creator of the website and podcast A way of gardening, and a book of the same name.
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