Cacti are good house plants to consider because they are very low maintenance. Just because they do not take a lot of water does not mean that they don’t need water.

One type of cactus to consider is Astrophytum capricorne or goat’s horn, which is gray and spineless. They like warm temperatures but need to have good air flow (1). Another type is Cephalocereus, or columnar cactus. There are many species of columnar cactus, and they all require at least four hours of direct sunlight per day. They also need to be watered whenever the soil is dry (1). There are also several other types of cactus to consider.

 Goat’s horn                                        Columnar Cactus                                        


Goat’s horn                                          Columnar Cactus


In general, cacti need to have direct sunlight for at least four full hours per day.

Watering and Fertilizing

Water only when the soil is completely dry and fertilize with house plant fertilizer only once a month (1).

Temperature and Pests

They need temperature at 60 to 85 degrees (1). Cacti are extremely prone to spider mites.


(1) Clark, David E. Ed. How to Grow House Plants.Sunset Books, Menlo Park, CA 1976



                        Green Shamrock          Purple Shamrok

                          Green Shamrock                 Purple Shamrok 


Saint Patrick’s Day is coming soon (March 17th) so a few words about the shamrock seems appropriate. The Irish word for clover is seamaróg, which means “clover.” (3)

 Plants sold as shamrocks in this country are generally those from the Wood Sorrell Family and are not clovers at all, but rather are from the genus Oxalis. (4) They are grown from bulbs. A bulb is the underground part of the stem that is used as storage device for the plant.  The leaves of shamrocks close during the night, folding up into a tepee. They have small white, yellow, purple or rose flowers(1). Most shamrocks come from Africa and South America (2).

                      Green Shamrork at night             Purple Shamrock        

                    Green Shamrork at night             Purple Shamrock at night


Shamrocks require a sunny spot (1), though they will do okay with some shade. 

Watering and Fertilizing

Water heavily in the growing season; then water only as needed (1) the rest of the time.Fertilize the shamrock every two to three weeks with regular house plant food when it is actively growing (2).

  Temperature and Pests

Shamrocks prefer 65 degree to 75 degree  temperatures but can go down to 50 degrees at night (2). They do not have many pest problems.

(1) Clark, David E. Ed. How to Grow House Plants.Sunset Books, Menlo Park, CA 1976.

(2) Swinford, Rachel. Fact Sheet on Shamrock, Four-leaf Clover, Oxalis. Cobb County Extension Service.



A Good House Plant is a Spider Plant

The scientific name for a spider plant or air plane plant is Chlorophytum comosum (1). The reason that it is of some importance to know the scientific name of your plant is that some plants have many common names so it can be confusing to find more information on your plant.

Spider plants are native to the tropics (1). These plants have long slender leaves that tend to hang over the side of the pot. The leaves of this plant can come in either green, green with white edges, or white with green edges. The flowers of spider plants are rather plain because they are small and are white. One of the best features of this plant is that it produces miniature duplicates of itself that can be potted up to give you a new plant (1).

             Spider plant with other house plant                     Green Spider Plant                              

Spider plant with other house plant      Green Spider Plant


         Miniature Duplicates                 Just planted Duplicate

     Miniature Duplicates                 Just Planted Duplicate  


The spider plant prefers to have indirect light because its leaves can sunburn (2). This means that they are quite shade tolerant so this is one plant that can also live happily in your office. Spider plants may be grown out doors as annual or even as a perennial in certain parts of the world (3).

 Watering and Fertilizing 

These plants need watered only when they are dry. Fertilize only when the plant is actively growing, that is, when they are putting out new leaves, flowers or duplicates (2). The fertilizer you choose can be any type that is recommended for house plants. All fertilizers will have numbers on them like 15-20-15. This means that there are 15 parts potassium within the fertilizer mix (the first number). Potassium is a nutrient that plants require in order to flower.  The 20 means that there are 20 parts nitrogen (which helps the plants leaves grow) and the last 15 means that there is phosphorus (which promotes root growth).

 Temperature and Pests  

Spider plants prefer to have the temperature about 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and a little cooler at night (2). They are relatively pest free except when they are over watered but they may prone to spider mites.


(1) Clark, David E. Ed. How to Grow House Plants.Sunset Books, Menlo Park, CA 1976.

(2) Prepared by Russs, Karen and Pertuit, Al “HOME & GARDEN INFORMATION  CENTER” Http://

(3) “Plants of the UNF CampusHttp://

Things to avoid when buying a plant

Bugs and other pesky things

When looking for a plant to buy, avoid any plants that have fuzzy-looking white spots on them. These spots can mean you plant has woolly aphids, scales or mealybugs — all of which are harmful to your plant. Even though they usually do not kill the plant, these pests suck the phloem from your plant and make it weaker. (The Phloem is food-conducting tissue located in the stem of a plant.) (1)

If the plant has aphids you will be able to see honeydew on the plant. Honeydew, the excreted waste of aphids, can be identified as a sticky substance on the leaves or stem of the plant. Most adult aphids are easy to get rid of by simply using a strong stream of water to rinse your plants off. Aphids usually give birth to live young females and these young females are already pregnant with the next generation. Aphids do over wintering as an egg and those are harder to detect and get rid of.



Photographer: Whiney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

 Scales are a lot like aphids but they are much harder to get rid of, because the only time that you can spray them is when they are in what is called the “crawler stage” (2). The crawler stage is the only stage in which scales are mobile. If you have a plant with scales use a horticultural oil. An horticultural oil is a specific type of oil that is used as an insecticide that basically smother the insect. 



Mealybugs also produce honeydew, but unlike aphids and scales they are more mobile. It is extremely hard to get rid of them since, not only are they more mobile, but they cover their body in a waxy substance that protects them from sprays.




You will need to avoid any plant that has small holes in the leaves. These are called shotholes and are caused by flea beetles (1). Flea beetles can eventually totally destroy your plant. They can also carry numerous diseases that are harmful to plants.

One really easy thing that will help you to determine what plant to buy is appearance. If the plant looks wilted and the leaves seem to be limp or if the plant has a lot of brown or yellowing leaves, it might be infested by insects, or have a disease or a virus.


Now that you know what condition your plant is in, where to buy it, and what to look out for when buying your plant, let’s talk about what you will need to do for it right off the bat. Many plants that you buy are root bound, which means that there are more roots than soil in the pot, so you will need to repot it.

This brings up the question of what size of pot should you put it into, and what type of soil should you use?

The size of the pot will depend upon the size of the current pot that your plant is in. As a general rule, you only want to go to a pot that is about an inch and half to two inches bigger than your current pot. The pot that you choose should have a hole in the bottom of it for drainage. You should place about a half inch of rock or tiles in the bottom of the pot to allow for better drainage.

Soil is extremely important and while there are many different soil mixes available price is should not be the deciding factor. Soil not only provides support for the plant but it is also its source for nutrients and water. So what should you look for?

A good soil should have a fairly high amount of organic materials, should be light weight and not be sticky and clay-like. Clay-like soil tends to stick together and will not allow your plants to get sufficient air. Plants like to breathe too! Be careful not to get soil that has high amounts of manure because these tend to be higher in salts and can be harmful to your plant.


Clay soil                   Good soil 

 Clay soil                                         Good soil

Now that you have your pot and soil, take your pot with the rocks or tile in the bottom and fill about two thirds of the pot with your soil. Next, wet down the soil so that it is just damp to the touch. Carefully dig a hole in the soil. Take your plant and gently loosen the root ball, then place your plant into the hole and cover it just above the initial root ball. Don’t bury it.   Water the plant and put it in its new home.

(1) Cranshaw, Whitney. Garden Insects of North America. New Jersey: Princeton University Prees, 2004

(2) Cranshaw, Whitney. Pests of the West Revised. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1998

Where to buy your plant

There are two major choices on where to buy your plant. The first are box stores (Wal-Mart or the like), next is a garden center. 

Box stores can be a good place to purchase a plant if price is your main consideration. You can still find decent quality at a box store you just have to look a bit closer at the plant you are purchasing. The plants that box stores get are of high quality but the workers are usually not trained on how to properly care for the plants that they get. As a result of this the quality of these plants tends to be lower.  

A garden center or a greenhouse usually has higher quality plants but may also have higher prices. Most will offer you better help in selecting your plant as the workers have a greater knowledge of plants, plus the care that goes into the plants at a garden center balances out the higher prices. 

One other way you could get a house plant is by the sharing method. This is free but will take longer to have a nice sized plant. Find someone that has an established plant and obtain a small piece of it. You will need to place it into water. Make sure you remove all the leaves that are under the surface of the water because they will put off ethanol that will stop the plant from rooting. Leave the plant in the water until several roots develop then pot in soil.


One thing that you must consider if you are thinking of purchasing a house plant is where you are going to put your plant. A big factor in deciding where to place your plant is the amount of light the area receives. The amount of available light will greatly affect which plant you should purchase and the health of that plant. Usually the best place for a plant is in a south facing window which gets a high amount of light. If you have a low light area or no light you still can grow a plant indoors. You might need to have additional lighting or you can select a low light plant. If you need to add lighting you should use a grow light. The reason for using a grow light rather than a normal light is that plants need both blue and red light spectrums to grow and regular lights put off high amounts of light only in the red light spectrum. These links have more info on light and the needs of plants:






The temperature at which you keep your living quarters will affect the type of plant that will be happy in your house. If you keep it really cool you will want to stay away from tropical plants. Humidity is another thing that needs to be taken into consideration. Desert type plants will not be happy in very humid areas.


Once you know what type of light, temperature and humidity you have in your chosen area, you are just about ready to go purchase your plant. There are a few other things that you will need to know in order to take proper care of your plant.




How do you know when your plant needs water? There are a few ways you can tell: You can look at the plant and see if it looks droopy (the leaves are hanging down and do not seem to be healthy). If so, then it probably needs water. The droopy leaves method is not the best way to gage whether a plant needs water, because when your plant reaches this stage it is already under stress. This can cause your plant to be more vulnerable to disease and pests.

Droopy-leaf method Health plant

Droopy-leaf method Healthy Plant


The next method is the finger test this entails sticking a finger into the soil about an inch or so to determine if the soil is damp or not. The problem with this method is that it is very subjective and can be a bit dirty besides.


A better way would be to purchase a moisture tester. This device will tell you whether the soil is wet or dry. It has the advantage of giving you a consistent way to know when to water your plants. Since it takes all the guess work out of plant watering, I think this is the best way to determine when to water. Moisture gauges can be purchased online or from many garden centers. Here are a couple of links to sites that sell moisture testers. They range from around five dollars to around twenty dollars. I personally use one of the less expensive models and find it quite satisfactory.






Now you know how to decide when to water your plant, now you need to start thinking what to use to water it with. You could simply use a glass or other container out of your cupboard. This is probably the cheapest way to water but it can present some problems for you and your plant. First of all it is not good to water the foliage of most plants as this promotes disease. You might think, “Well, I can just water it from the bottom” but this can also be bad for your plant. Letting it sit in water takes oxygen away from the roots and can cause your plant to damp off (that is, the roots rot away). I recommend using a watering can that has a spout. This allows you to water the soil and not the foliage. There are several different types of watering cans available for purchase. Which one you choose is a matter of taste and your budget.