Growing Unusual House Plants

OftCordyline - Mike Darcyen times when we think of house plants, we neglect to think of the many outdoor plants that might make enjoyable and unusual house plants, if given the right conditions. Or if we cannot duplicate the right conditions, many will at least last for several weeks or longer and then taken back outdoors. But during this interval, we have been able to enjoy them indoors.

There are many factors involved with growing plants indoors and proper light is probably the most important. As I looked at plants in my garden this past summer, I discovered there were many that could be brought indoors during the winter months and then placed back outside in the spring.


One of my favorite outdoor plants that can be grown inside is Cordyline ‘Festival Grass’. ‘Festival Grass’ can easily be grown as a house plant during the winter in a sunny window. This New Zealand native forms a fountain-like clump and has brilliant narrow burgundy colored leaves. The plant in the photo was taken in my garden in August and this pot was planted with three plants the previous spring as I wanted to make certain it was a very full pot since it would be at the entryway to our house. So, imagine if you had one of these in a sunny window during the winter and the bright color it could bring to what might be a drab space. In the spring, take the plant outdoors and place in a sunny location.

When I lifted the three individual plants of Cordyline from this large pot, I separated and planted them in individual pots using Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. At the time of re-planting I also added some all-purpose fertilizer, which was sufficient to provide enough nourishment to keep the plants healthy during the winter. Once the weather warms, I will take these individual plants outside and plant them all together in another large container.

Misc Succulents - Mike DarcySucculents

Succulents are a huge group of plants and many will thrive indoors in a sunny window. This photo was taken at a local garden center last summer and it shows some of the leaves and colors there are to choose from. You will find foliage colors of green, gray, yellow, shades of red, and some that are almost blue. The way succulents grow is as variable as their colors and there are upright varieties and other varieties that will trail over the side of a container. Succulents want as much light as possible so a sunny window is usually ideal. Succulents also need excellent drainage and I have found that Black Gold Cactus Mix is ideal. Be sure to select a container with a hole in the bottom so water can drain out. Succulents usually do better with less water than many other house plants and I have found that letting the soil get dry to the touch and then giving them a thorough watering works well.

Sedum 'Ogon' - Mike Darcy
For a splash of bright yellow, try Sedum ‘Ogon’. Like many plants with yellow foliage, this one does best if not in full sun, and while it needs light, keep it away from a bright sunny window. If plants tend to get a bit leggy stretching for light, it is easy to pinch the tops and you will create new growth and a more dense plant. Sedum ‘Ogon’ is ideal to plant around the base of other house plants and the bright yellow makes a nice contrast to the dark green of many common house plants. Be sure to use Black Gold Cactus Mix as your potting soil of choice.

Jade in Red Pot - Mike Darcy
Another excellent indoor/outdoor plant is Crassula ovata, commonly called Jade Plant. It is easy to grow outdoors in our Pacific Northwest summers but in a container can sometimes not survive a winter if temperatures drop too much. I think it is better to be safe and bring it indoors in the winter. It is well adapted to growing indoors and can look stunning in a container such as the red one shown in the photograph. Jade plants will often bloom and have clusters of pink star-shaped flowers.

Sometimes one of the most difficult rooms to grow house plants in is the bathroom. For an unusual house plant that will often thrive in a bathroom, try Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss). Other names for this plant are graybeard or old man’s beard and once you see this growing, you will understand how it got the name. Spanish moss is in a group of plants called epiphytes and it absorbs nutrients and water from the air and rainfall. It is common to see it growing on trees in parts of the southern United States such as Louisiana where there is high humidity. Spanish moss needs this high humidity and thus in many homes, the bathroom is ideal because of the humidity created by showers. Mist it with a fine water spray on a regular basis to help keep the humidity high and the plant moist. Find an attractive piece of wood and let Spanish moss cascade down.  It will be a conversation piece.

Spanish Moss - Mike Darcy

Check out your local garden center as many of them carry a bigger assortment of house plants during the winter months than in the spring or summer. Try something new and mix your plants to make interesting color combinations and leaf textures.

Get ready for spring and enjoy the new seed catalogs whether on paper or on the internet. They make ideal reading on a winter evening and can get your mind thinking about what new plants you can add to your garden.

Succulents Squared

Succulent Square by Brian Jacob
Succulent Square. Photo by Brian Jacob

There are many fun things to do with succulents and a recent trend is to use them as pockets in a wall or planted in a wooden ‘picture’ frame and used either vertical or horizontal. In this particular photo, the wooden frame of succulents is part of a fence and notice the variety of colors and leaf shapes that have been used. This same succulent square could be used as a centerpiece on an outdoor table. For projects like this, or any succulent planting, be sure to use Black Gold Cactus Mix.

Create a Seasonal Green Roof

This isn’t a true green roof but it offers a whole new way to plant succulents for your summer garden. You can turn the roof of any garden shed into a new place to grow succulents. Simply apply a edging on top of the fascia, then spread a layer of thick plastic sheeting on top of the roofing material. Poke small drain holes where you want it to drain. On top of this spread shallow layer (4″ min.) of Black Gold Cactus Mix Potting Soil over the area to be planted. Moisten and pack it into place. Then plant your seedling succulents so they mature over the summer. When end of season rolls around, remove it all for winter and pot up the succulents to bring indoors.

Shoe Planters for Low-Cost Holiday Gifts

Shoe Planter

You can plant succulents in any container that holds soil and drains well. Those little shoes the kids grew out of make charming low cost holiday gifts for friends and family. Simply punch a few holes in the sole with a hammer and large nail. Then fill with Black Gold Cactus Mix and plant with lots of very small, inexpensive succulent seedlings. This idea is great for ladies’ high heels too. Shoe planters make for a fun, green family project that recycles shoes, utilizes water-conservative plants that will offer color all winter long.

Pot Up Garden Plants for Winter Joy


Geraniums: Pot your outdoor geraniums like they do in the Alps where plants are brought outdoors to line a sunny window sill.

Autumn brings an end to the summer garden, but you need not say good-bye to everything you planted this year. It’s an age-old practice to pot garden plants of certain varieties to bring indoors where they live on for months, and some may even survive the winter to grow for another year.

Zonal geraniums are favorite garden variety Pelargoniums that grandmother traditionally dug from the soil, potted up into red clay, and set upon the window sill. These will remain evergreen, which is all you need to enjoy the exotic brightly colored foliage of fancy-leaved types. The ability to winter-over geraniums this way makes them a better buy than one season annuals that die with the frost. This is also a great time to take cuttings to make more of your favorite colored leaves and flowers for next year’s garden.

The trendiest group of plants today are succulents. There are some such as sedum that are cold hardy, but the popular ones are frost tender species from southern Africa. The big showy varieties are expensive and too often thrown away after they bolt to flower at the end of the season. Bolting spoils their beautiful shape, but it doesn’t mean the plant will die afterwards. They are in fact long lived if protected from frost.

Flapjacks: Kalanchoe thyrsifolia, aka flapacks bolt to flower, then they can be dug and potted with Black Gold Cactus Soil.

The most outstanding of the tender Kalanchoes are flapjacks with their pancake-sized leaves that make them prized plants. Ditto the larger Echeverias. Now is time to cut off the spent flower spike and repot the base in super-porous Black Gold Cactus Mix. Over the winter months it will produce many offsets that you can pluck and plant come spring to expand your succulent garden next year.
 Recently, spider plants have become very popular outdoors due to their vivid leaf color and long, dangling stems. Gardeners often cut the danglers and plant them into shaded garden soil after the last frost where they root over the summer. In fall, dig these up and plant into pots so they flourish on a warm windowsill until spring returns.

For all ornamentals, use Black Gold All Purpose Potting Soil which contains slow release fertilizer that ensures there is sufficient fertility for winter growth. This is ideal for zonal geraniums and spider plants as well as tropicals and tender perennials.

Mrs Pollock Plant
Mrs. Pollock: The fancy leaved Pelargoniums are geranium varieties that produce vivid foliage for brightening winter days.

Food plants and herbs from your organic garden may be potted in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Because we use only the leaves of herbs, keep them alive over winter to retain their foliage for fresh seasoning. For example, dig a chunk of oregano before the plant is burned back by frost, then pot it up and bring indoors to season your Italian dishes all winter long. The same applies to mints and thyme. Just be sure the plants you bring inside are free of any pests or diseases that may otherwise spread to your healthy plants.

Even though frost may spell the end of your outdoor garden, it is the beginning of your indoor one. Load up on fresh potting soil before garden centers store their supplies. Set a small table against a south facing window where the plants receive the most sunlight. Transplant, repot and start your offsets in this controlled environment. They’ll become a living link to the beauty and fragrance of your summer garden on those dark days when the ground is frozen and the snow flies.

Cultus Succulentata, the Succulent Plant Lovers Club

These teenage barrel cacti prefer to grow in the gravelly ground of a rocky hillside.

Ten years ago I digressed into a netherworld of horticulture that is secretive, dogmatic, painful and unforgiving. Call it Cultus Succulentata, an unofficial group of succulent lovers as unconventional as the plants we cultivate. What binds us are succulent plants able to survive in the most arid climates.  But, I’m hooked on one family of this succulent cult, Cactaceae, which grow nowhere else but in the Americas. As a desert rat mentored by cactus guru Clark Moorten, at his botanical garden in the Palm Springs desert, I have been taught by the best.

Continue reading “Cultus Succulentata, the Succulent Plant Lovers Club”