Deb Babcock: Cool houseplants
January 11, 2010
Unlike those of us who can reach for a fleece or an extra pair of socks when we're chilly, our houseplants have to suck it up and shiver in the cold and drafty areas in our homes.
Some plants simply do not handle cool temperatures well, even when protected inside our home from the outdoor weather. To experience the best success with indoor plants, match the plant to the indoor environment in which you will place it. You usually can determine whether a plant can handle a cool environment by noting where the plant originated. Those from hot, humid jungle climates probably won't last long in the cool, dry environment that is normal here in Steamboat Springs.
The good news is that a lot of desirable plants grow in environments with hot, sunny days and cool evenings. Although they might not survive outdoors here because of the extreme low temperatures of our winters — particularly this year — many cacti and succulents will do well indoors in a cool, dry area. A few of these plants that do especially well indoors include Adenium obsesum, or desert rose; the tubular form of Espostoa; the rosette-shaped Echeveria; and the glossy Hoya plant, as well as many species of Sedum.
Other plants that can handle cool indoor temperatures — 50 F to 60 F daytime and 45 F to 55 F nighttime — include florist azaleas, jasmine and camellia plants as well as the beautiful Japanese spindletree (Euonymus japonica) and Jerusalem cherry. But beware, the Jerusalem cherry's fruit is poisonous and should be kept out of reach of children and pets.
Often the holidays bring in several plants that love cooler temperatures, including the pretty Kalanchoe, Christmas cactus, begonias and cyclamen.
The cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), so named because of its high tolerance for adverse conditions, is another great plant for a cool location. With its large, pointed, glossy green leaves, it makes a beautiful background plant with smaller, delicate foliage plants in front.
Several palm plants tolerate temperatures as cool as 50 F at night. These include the pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii), with its arching green fronds, as well as the Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis) and the stately Sago palm (Cycas revoluta).
A climbing plant, Rhoicissus rhomboidea, or grape ivy, also tolerates cool temperatures and will grow as long as 10 feet.
For a splash of colored foliage, zonal geranium (Pelorgonium, known as "Mrs. Cox") is a good choice for a cool room. It's a bushy plant with round leaves featuring rings of red, cream and yellow-green. Pale salmon colored flowers appear in spring through fall. Another beautiful flowering plant that can handle cool temperatures is the clivia, or kaffir lily, a member of the amaryllis family.
All of these plants can tolerate cool temperatures and the dry humidity of our area but do occasionally enjoy some added humidity in the form of pebble-filled water trays. Avoid overhead misting or watering since this may cause the leaves of these plants to spot or rot.
If some of the older leaves on these plants turn yellow and droop or flower buds drop, it may be a sign that the room is too chilly. In that case, you can revive the plant by moving it to a warmer location.