by Carrie Strohl
An Invitation to “Propagate and Donate” Expertise or Plants
The main reason I've never given much notice to houseplants is that I prefer to be outside whenever possible. The Mediterranean climate of the Napa Valley allows me to do so. Well, it used to. This year, fire season and COVID-19 were twin thieves of outside time. Being forced indoors has prompted me to adapt my gardening habits, while two recent events further nurtured my budding interest in houseplants.
The first was the UC MG Library Talk about houseplants. At least two MGs (one former, one platinum badge wearer) have written newspaper articles about houseplant care before (that I know of) and others have delivered workshops including information about houseplants contributing to health and happiness. The Library Talk delivered by Master Gardener Jane Lommasson (recorded on November 5, 2020), however, explicitly paid attention to the health benefits of indoor gardens at a time when I needed that message most.
Around the same time, two of my students at UC Berkeley (future elementary school teachers earning a credential) shared their passion for propagating houseplants during our weekly “Scientists of the Week” segment of class. They called themselves “two crazy plant ladies” (perhaps after the book by Isabel Serna or the children's book of the same title by Michael Powell). They made a slideshow including photos of their collections and touted the many benefits of indoor plants. They echoed the evidence-backed ideas that houseplants can reduce stress, boost overall mood, and provide a sense of accomplishment (all of was mentioned in the talk.)
I was immediately inspired, not only to try my hand at raising an indoor garden, but also to use houseplants as a means for revival of a program I've been unable to offer since March: Dirt Girls! Founded in 2016, Dirt Girls provides a gateway to STEM careers through an after-school garden club approach. Houseplants allow me to take Dirt Girls indoors (i.e., in their own homes) and deliver a virtual education program that addresses the mental health impact of social isolation and disconnection due to COVID-19. Horticulture@Home will provide weekly sessions focused on identifying, caring for, and designing with air plants, succulents, and ferns!
I have a lot to learn, so I've started doing a lot of research. I've purchased some new plants to experiment with, including a Chinese Evergreen (aglaonema) duo (white rain and syngonium roxana). After some transplants shock and leaf dieback due to my stingy watering regime, they are doing quite well. Lesson #1: water sparingly, but thoroughly.
I also ordered a mixed box of air plants from SucculentBox, an online subscription program. Unlike any other plants I've ever grown, these low-maintenance friends prompt me to pay close attention to structure (and design). Finally, I bought a beautiful spider plant from Van Winden's (using those green rewards cards to cover part of the cost of purchase).
I'm reading everything I can get my hands on. Of course, I started with Chapter 11 of the CA MG Handbook (2009 ed.) and all of the articles by fellow Master Gardeners. I'm currently enjoying Leslie Halleck's Plant Parenting, which has a strong focus on propagation. This is where I could use an assist from my MG community.
Do you grow houseplants? If so, what are your secrets to success? I'm interested in learning from you, so I'm inviting you to join me in two ways: 1.) Sign up for a monthly forum to share your houseplant knowledge; and 2.) Participate in my “propagate and donate” campaign. The opportunity to earn MG hours can be discussed, but for now, rest assured that your presence or participation will be appreciated.
Master Gardeners are following recommended social distancing guidelines that keep everyone safe, Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. or phone at 707-253-4143. Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.
Visit our website: napamg.ucanr.edu to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.
A Hobby for All Seasons: 7 Science-Backed Benefits of Indoor Plants (Healthline, 2020)
Aglaonema Care (The Leaflet, 2019)
Gardening Indoors (by Gayle Nelson, 2013)
Houseplant Primer (by Eric Nightengale, March 2018)
Houseplants for Health (2020 Library Talk by Jane Lommassen)
Houseplants for Health and Happiness (2018 Workshop by Jill Pahl, Loretta Radey, & Yvonne Rasmussen)
Indoor Gardening, Chapter 2 (by Gayle Nelson, 2013)
Plant Parenting, by Leslie F. Halleck
Spider Plant Care (Gardening Know How, 2020)
Watering Air Plants 101 (SucculentBox, 2020)