Keeping Gift Plants Alive

By: Deb Pavlosky


Are you sentimental, but terrible at keeping gift plants alive?  If your answer is yes, this article series is for you.

Part One

Celebrations at the beginning, end and milestones of life, often beget similar gifts.  Houseplants given in honor or memory of loved one(s) can be very thoughtful and can provide lasting memories from the occasion.  Unfortunately, these plants are usually given without care instructions or even identification information.  How disappointing is it to lose a memorial plant that you try so hard to keep alive?  VERY.  So, over the next few newsletters, I am going to cover some of the most common plants given in remembrance, memorial or celebration and how to care for them.

The first thing you need to know is that gift plants that come from florist shops are grown in very protected environments.  These plants need a little more initial pampering than the same varieties that you might purchase at Maas Nursery or any garden center.  Think of them as delicate babies that need to be gradually introduced to what would normally be their optimal growing conditions. If plants can take full sun, gradually move them to increasing amounts of sun for longer periods of time until they adjust.   If plants can be grown outdoors, it’s probably best to move them outdoors when temperatures are not at extremes.  Plants can be sensitive to moisture, humidity and container type as well as temperature and light.  Therefore, use the information provided as a guide for optimum, long-term care, but don’t necessarily subject plants to conditions that are new to them right away.  Allow them to adjust gradually.  Confusing?  No worries, I will hit the highlights of common pitfalls with specific varieties of gift plants too.

Many times gift plants make great houseplants.  This usually means they can tolerate indirect light and some can even thrive in very low light.  This also usually means that they don’t require a lot of care, watering or thought.  However, this isn’t always the case.  Follow along to find out more…

Aspidistra Cast Iron Plant
Aspidistra Cast Iron Plant

Aspidistra elatior, also known as the Cast Iron plant, is an excellent houseplant, but it can also be grown in the shade outdoors (hardy to temps as low as 23F).  Aspidistra are in the lily family.  These plants like very low light. Their leaves will bleach if they are getting too much sun.  Inside, these plants can be grown feet away from a North-facing window.  So, if you have a window with even minimal light coming in, you can grow an Aspidistra inside.  These plants are very slow-growing and long-lived; people have reported having them from previous generations and over 100 years.  Cast Iron plants don’t like their roots to be disturbed and repotting is not needed very frequently.  Drainage is important because this plant needs to dry out between watering.  So, be sure to check the pot to be sure water drains well, if not, you will have to repot right away.  When you repot, it’s the perfect time to divide clumps and share with friends.  Who knows, maybe a distant generation will talk about the Cast Iron plant they got from the great, great, great grandparent who lived in the Houston area.  Knowing all of this, you can relax when growing this plant – There is a reason they are known as cast iron plants, they can withstand very infrequent watering and neglect.  Flowers are rare for Aspidistra that are kept indoors, but if they do flower, the bud appears at the soil line.

Cast Iron plants are often confused with Peace lilies, another common gift plant.  But these two are actually really easy to distinguish.  Cast Iron plants have leaf veining that runs parallel on the leaf and the midrib is not clearly defined.  Peace lily leaves have a defined, thickened midrib and veining that runs at angle toward the midrib.    To put it a little more simply – Peace Lily leaves are clearly lined with veins that run toward the thicker middle part of the leaf.  Cast Iron plant leaves don’t have clearly defined veins or a thickened midrib.  Also, Peace lilies bloom frequently in the spring and on a tall stalk, Cast Iron plants bloom infrequently if at all and blooms appear at the soil line.

Spathiphyllum Peace Lily

Spathiphyllum spp., or Peace Lillie, are actually not in the lily family at all.  Peace lilies bloom with a spathe that is usually white and at the end of a tall stalk.  Peace lilies like low light to indirect bright light and evenly moist soil.  Care is similar to Cast Iron plants except that they are sensitive to drafts, can’t be grown outdoors in the winter (they are tropical, preferring temps from 60F to 85F) and they need moist, but not wet soil.  As a bonus, Peace Lilies will let you know when they are thirsty – their leaves will droop.  Once you water, the leaves will recover quickly.   How nice is that?

For both Peace Lilies and Cast Iron plants, fertilize with a slow release organic fertilizer in the warmer months.  Cast Iron plants like acidic soil, so you can add a little acidic fertilizer once a year in the spring.  But if you forget to do that, no worries, it’s a Cast Iron plant!

That’s about it for these two common gift plants.  Relax and enjoy.  Read next month for more gift plant help.