This is a tough time of year for plant experts and novices alike as the decisions we have to make about what to bring inside and what to sacrifice to the cold are really tough decisions. Many of us have learned the hard way that no matter how much you love the plant, you can’t love it enough to enable it to survive inside during the winter months. Believe me, we have tried. Stopping barely short of ripping out the carpet in the attic and replacing it with soil, we have tried everything to create a microclimate for plants in the Midwest. And we have often failed.
There are the plant varieties, particularly the tropicals that can gimp their way through the winter with a lot of TLC and monitoring but they will need to be cut back (way back) in the spring before they go back outside and you can pretty much count on an aphid infestation unless you have significant air circulation. But life is full of lessons and in all of these failings, we’ve also learned more than we’ve failed so let’s take a closer look at a couple of indoor plants that require very little maintenance but remain gorgeous all winter long.
Enter ZZ plant. You tell me you kill every plant you own? I give you a ZZ plant (sometimes referred to as the Zanzibar Gem). There are people who think of the ZZ plant as the plant of the shopping mall but it just isn’t so. The leaves are shiny and range from bright green to dark and they sprout like mad, especially just after they are brought inside. We have one partying like a rock star right now and she needs very little light. She is just going to hang out and be shiny all winter long.
Because it is a succulent, the ZZ plant needs less rather than more water. Water the plant only when the soil has dried out. Though really hard to kill, the one sure way you can kill this plant is to over water it. If she starts turning yellow, it means she is getting too much water and its underground rhizomes may be rotting. You can literally forget about watering it most of the winter. Check every so often and know that the ZZ plant will grow faster with just the right amount of water but only when the soil is very, very dry. We feed ours but ZZ plants are also happy without fertilizer. We recommend feeding the ZZ plant in the spring before she goes outside for the summer and only when it has warmed up for good.
The other hardcore, punk rock succulent that does well indoors in any environment is the mother-in-law tongue or sansevieria. This succulent is also known as devil’s tongue, jinn’s tongue, bowstring hemp, snake plant and snake tongue. Because of the variegated leaves, this plant is more than green. Green, yellow, light green, and even white shades run up the sturdy leaves and the snake plant and like the ZZ plant, the snake hardly needs water and remains robust and strong–a nice counter to the fussy ficus tree that loses its leaves every time you look at it sideways.
Snake plant just wants to be admired and wants practically no water. In fact, you should only water it when the soil is totally and completely dry. Even in the summer, this can be as seldom as every three weeks. Like the ZZ and the rest of us, Snake plant likes a good meal now and then so fertilize it. We use some custom mixed soil and have some slow release fertilizers such as Osmocote that we recommend so feel free to give us a call and we can talk you through the right amount for the size of the plant. It’s very important not to give them too much food, they hate that.
So look into these incredibly low maintenance succulents. We find the bigger the plant the better and more impactful design-wise but whatever the size, they are an easy and enjoyable way to keep green in the house all winter long. And because they take virtually no water all winter, you get to make a statement about sustainability as well as design.
Yours in the love of all things green,
The Fat Plant Society