Black Thumb + Cold + Bad Light = Super Easy, Right?
February 22, 2013 4:44 AM   Subscribe

What are some hardy, pretty, or useful houseplants for a small space in the Pittsburgh/Western PA/Northeast region?

I am... not great with keeping plants alive. The survivors I have right now are some rosemary and basil in my kitchen window. It's also cold by my kitchen window. It's south-facing so it gets some sun during the day. Here's a pic.

I prefer keeping them in the kitchen because a: I won't forget to water them as easily, b: the cats don't go up there, and c: if one tips over I can clean up the dirt easily.

I would love to have a more herbaceous kitchen. Residents of or near this area: what has worked well for you? Bonus points if it has a cooking function or is super pretty.

Secondary question: how best to set up that corner for plants? Hanging plants? A shelf?

Third question: Where are great places to buy such plants around the Pittsburgh (preferably East End-city) area?

posted by amicamentis to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone should practice with a philodendron. They are easy to find at home supply shops, not needy at all in terms of sunlight, and VERY forgiving of caregivers who forget to water them. Having one for a year is a great way to get yourself in the habit of having a plant and feeling successful at keeping something alive.

Note: this is a hanging plant so it's better to get a shelf or ceiling hook where it can do its thing and drape down. If you go the route of a ceiling hook, my one piece of advice is to install it a good foot or more from the wall. Too close will cause the wall facing side of the plant to die.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:04 AM on February 22, 2013

Low light is a major obstacle if you want to grow a meaningful amount of edible stuff. Do you have no outdoor space at all? I have a small herb garden in a giant plastic flower pot on my deck (also east-side Pgh).
posted by jon1270 at 5:11 AM on February 22, 2013

2nding a philodendron. Dieffenbachia is also a good choice, but not so good if you have kids or plants that may want to take a bite.

Believe it or not, moth orchids are fairly easy to care for and do best with some indirect light. You see them for sale pretty much everywhere. Check the pot that it comes in - if there's no drain hole, repot it into something else that will drain.

Kitchen herbs need a fair amount of sun.
posted by jquinby at 5:22 AM on February 22, 2013

Parsley, cilantro and mint can tolerate lower light levels; you could also try growing microgreens as greens tend to tolerate partial shade. With any herb, trimming it regularly helps it grow robust and healthy, so don't be shy about cutting it back.

Non-edible options: seconding philodendron and Dieffenbachia. Snake Plant might also work.

Off-topic tip that you can ignore if I'm wrong: from the picture, it looks like some of the plants displayed are in containers without drainage (tins with no saucers underneath them, etc.) It's very important for plants to be able to drain; if their roots stay too soggy they'll rot and that'll kill the whole plant. So if this is relevant, make sure going forward there are a few holes in the bottom of containers for water to drain out. You can line the bottom of the pot with a piece of coffee filter or flexible screening from the hardware store to keep soil from washing out.
posted by hilatron at 5:26 AM on February 22, 2013

That should read "...but not so good if you have kids or pets that may want to take a bite. "

posted by jquinby at 5:32 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pothos are even more forgiving than philodendrons, in my experience.
posted by Specklet at 5:35 AM on February 22, 2013

A pothos (some people call it a philodendron, but philodendrons are another genus entirely) would do great but it might never be a very interesting plant. They can grow long and spindly and look unkempt, especially in a small space. They like to sprawl, given the chance, so be prepared for vigorous pruning.

There are plenty of plants that would like that spot. If you want easy, check the Indestructible Houseplants section of the Logee's catalogue. They are the best, and oldest, indoor plant company in North America and they have great shipping rates and fantastic customer service. Each plant links to a care sheet so you can learn exactly what it takes for it to thrive. Any kind of Tradescantia and most Hoyas would be beautiful and easy.

Always use clay pots with drainage holes and a saucer underneath. You want the roots of pretty much all plants to breathe and dry out (a little or all the way) between waterings, unglazed clay is the best medium for that.

Keep in mind that a south facing window will get some sun in the winter, but no direct sun in the summer. If you're growing herbs that's not going to be a very successful combo. Can you put them outside in the spring?
posted by lydhre at 6:02 AM on February 22, 2013

I am terrible with plants but have a ZZ plant and a Snake Plant that seem to thrive on neglect. I water the ZZ about once every 4-6 weeks. It's hardy as all get out and visually interesting in this weird art deco way. Both have done great in minimal light.
posted by travisf at 6:20 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the spring, you might want to pay a visit to the Friendship Folk & Flower Festival. (I don't see its date announced yet, but I'm sure it'll pop up on the Friendship web page soon.

They always have people selling plants, including a couple of local farms that bring baby herb plants and vegetable starts. It's a really laid-back environment, the people are much more knowledgeable about their plants than your random Lowes Garden Center employee, and they'd love to chat with you about what plants you might want to grow since that's the whole reason they're there.

(Plus, free music, and really cheap used book sale. A good day, all around.)
posted by Stacey at 6:34 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a succulent jade plant that lasted forever...part of the secret: you have to be careful not to OVERwater it (once every 4-6 weeks). Was finally killed by a move from fresher air to an urban, sooty windowsill so that's not going to be a problem for you.
posted by availablelight at 7:50 AM on February 22, 2013

Jade plants are verrrry hardy.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:55 AM on February 22, 2013

I have lavender. I can't kill the damn things. I got mine at home depot at the end of the fall season for $1.50. They are _huge_ now.
posted by bfranklin at 9:39 AM on February 22, 2013

You can get small grow lights that look like gooseneck table lamps and they are very useful for growing small pots of herbs etc under. I keep a mint and a basil going under one. For hard to kill don't need much light plants I'd recommend a mother in laws tounge. They grow pretty well on a window sill, are as dramatic as all get out and you can't kill those suckers with naplam. If your cats are prone to nibbling plants though I'd avoid it.

For the same price as the small grow lamp you can get a 2 foot long grow lamp on Amazon with adjustable stand, I have a large version of it for starting seeds and it's pretty good quality, adding the light would really increase your range of plants available and make herbs a lot easier to grow there.

Anyway just some other ideas you may not have thought of.
posted by wwax at 11:14 AM on February 22, 2013

I came in here to Pothos too. They are pretty hard to kill.
posted by shoesietart at 2:48 PM on February 22, 2013

Non-edible, but can be quite cheerful, and very hardy: spider plants. (If you get clippings (plantlets) from someone, and people with spider plants almost always have plantlets, they can live in water for a ridiculously long time. As in, I clipped some in maybe July and kept them in a Solo cup with water until last week when I planted them in actual potting soil. Some of the plantlets had their own plantlets by then.)
posted by epersonae at 3:52 PM on February 22, 2013

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