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October 24, 2012   Email to Friend 

Alabama Gardener: Houseplants
Lois Chaplin

Looking for something to use as a table centerpiece for Thanksgiving? Consider houseplants. They’re fresh, green, alive, and can be used later in another place around the house. Or, offer guests a small plant to take home at the end of the day.

Thanks to modern plant propagation techniques, it’s easy to find an assortment of very affordable small houseplants in little pots, usually 4 to 6 inches in diameter. A group of 4 to 6 plants in a favorite basket or cachepot can cost $30-to-$40, depending on the species of plants and the size of the pots. These are often very young houseplants that have the potential to grow a lot bigger by stepping them up into a larger container and giving them needed light, water and plant food.

These little houseplants can be found on shelves at a local garden center and some grocery stores. The larger the store’s greenhouse, the more likely it is to have a large assortment to choose from. One particular brand called Exotic Angel Plants offers dozens of selections. Local dealers can be found by entering a zip code in the store locator website, exoticangel.com. To make the most of a trip, consider calling the store to ask about the assortment of sizes and prices.

A rule of thumb for creating a grouping of small houseplants is to use “a thriller, a filler and a spiller.” This formula, borrowed from gardening guru P. Allen Smith, generally translates to selecting three plants: a bold, showy plant (thriller), a more finely textured plant (filler) and a trailing plant (spiller). The combination is an easy formula to remember and helps ensure satisfaction.

To assemble an arrangement, first make sure the pot holding the plants is watertight if it will rest on finished furniture. Leaks can be prevented by carefully lining a pot with a couple of layers of black plastic cut from a garbage bag. Then start arranging. If all the purchased plants fit into a container as-is and their foliage hides the pot, simply drop in the plants and pots as they are. However, most of the time gardeners have to make the pieces fit together by taking the plants from small containers. Gently remove the pot from the root ball and slip it into a heavy-duty zipper bag trimmed to size. Handle the roots carefully so as not to injure them. Hold on to the original pots so that guests can use them to carry their plant home.

To water the arrangement, find a small watering can with a long, skinny spout that easily reaches down to the base of the plants for pinpoint accuracy. This will help prevent spills onto furniture. If the plants are in zipper bags, be sure to water inside the bag! Finally, use a little decorative moss to fill gaps between the plants, if needed. Presto, it’s easy, fast, and filled with a promise that baby houseplants will grow into something larger.

Lois Chaplin is an accomplished gardener and author. Her work appears here courtesy of Alabama Farmers Cooperative.

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