Easy Care Plants for an East Window

Continuing our tour around the windows of a house (or, if you happen to have an apartment, condo or co-op that only faces one direction, then this is the series for you!) I am now going to talk about some plants that will fare well in an east window.  Generally, the east and the west windows are the most adaptable, provided, again, that you are getting some natural light from the outside and you’re not just facing a neighbor’s wall and getting no light at all (I know that in cities this can be an issue)

Personally, if I had to choose just one way to face, I would choose east. I may have a natural bias here. My current home and my childhood home both faced east.

But I’m not sure that’s why I would choose east. East windows seem most adaptable. The sun is the most forgiving. It’s the first thing you see in the winter (when you most need it) and, if you have no trees to shade it in the summer, you can always use a  curtain or blind. But it’s usually gone by the hottest part of the day in  the summer–again, very forgiving. Anyway, I like it.

And so do lots of plants. Almost everything will grow in an east window although the really “tropical” plants that want a lot of warmth will prefer a south window (but more on that on Monday).

Here is just a small sample of plants that like the east window:

  1. Angel wing and other begonias. These adaptable plants thrive in my east bay window. In fact, I have one bay window that is almost entirely rex begonias. It seems to bring out their best color without drying them out, burning their leaves or rotting them. (My house is notoriously cold in the winter and begonias hate cold and wet. Yet they thrive in the east bay. Here’s that photo)

Bay full of begonias

African violets and streptocarpus. These plants are actually “plant relatives” and I find that both do very well in the east as well.

Spider plant. This plant is very adaptable about light and a great air cleaner. If you don’t have an east window, just set it back a bit from a south or west window. It will remove formaldehyde, xylene and toluene from your air.

Rubber Plant and Weeping Fig (Ficus elastica and benjamina). Most ficus are great at removing formaldehyde from the air. The problematic weeping fig will also remove xylene and toluene if you can keep it from losing all its leaves! Ficus are also fairly adaptable about light.  My two rubber trees are in east and west windows. They are fussier about drying out than they are about how much light they get. My weeping fig has been in a south window and now it is in a west window. Again, it prefers a bit of a higher light situation. Most folks give up on weeping fig when, after buying it and bringing it home, it loses all its leaves. Just ignore it until it re-foliates itself and then it will be perfectly happy in your house. They just are a little fussy about being re-located.

Orchids. You can see the oncidium orchid in the window with my begonias.

kitchen bay window

Here is the other east bay window that I have full of phalaenopsis or moth orchids (as well as a jade plant and yet another begonia!). It’s my kitchen and since the window is right over the sink, it’s really easy to water those orchids.

Dendrobium orchids  and phalaenopsis, or moth orchids will remove xylene and toluene. Granted, that’s not as helpful as many of the plants, but it’s still useful in our everyday lives since so much of our “tech” like printers contain that sort of thing. I do not ascribe to the “ice cube” theory of watering. I just slip them from their decorative outer pots,  and hold the inner pots over the sink and let the water run over the bark mix (not the leaves) for a minute or so per plant once a week. Once all the water has drained through, I replace the plant back in its decorative pot and its watered. I wouldn’t want ice anywhere on me–I don’t think a plant does either.

Dracena, another incredibly versatile plant, loves east windows (but will also adapt to lower light west windows or even a bright north window!) One of the best things about dracenas is the variety of leaf shapes and colors available.  They are also great at cleaning the air and will remove benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, toluene and trichlorethylene! Water when dry (in my house, once a week)

Chinese Evergreen (aglaonemais another versatile plant, in terms of leaf coloration. Many folks think this plant comes in just plain old green and white. But take a look at the different varieties of the variegation. There are several of them and they can be dramatically different. There’s even a few varieties with red stems and red leaves. This plant excels at taking benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Again, these aren’t too fussy about water. I water once a week–perhaps a little less in the winter when my house is cool and the plants don’t dry quite so fast.

On Monday, we’ll visit the tropical south window!


Wordless Wednesday

wave petunias

This photo was taken last Friday, November 20. The temperature has dropped into the upper 20s a few times in my region, but not too often, obviously.  These are Wave petunias, still going strong right before Thanksgiving. Crazy.

Knockout rose

And here’s a Knockout rose, put in in May, when our drought was just getting started, and the recipient of no supplemental watering all summer long. It clearly survived quite well.


No Fuss Plants for a North Window

Lots of folks think that perhaps all that will grow in a north window is ivy or maybe a fern.  Happily, nothing could be further from the truth!

Of course, if you truly have a deep, dark north window shaded by another building where there is no daylight at all, perhaps your best bet is to supplement the light. After all, nothing grows without light!

But if you have a regular north window where light comes in from the outside, you have plenty of options. Here are some of your choices.

Sansevieria (Snake plant) This is a great plant to clean the air of many common household toxins like formaldehyde, benzene and tolulene. It also comes in many different shapes and colorings–there are at least 30 different varieties. Best of all, in a relatively “dark” exposure like a north window, it will not need a lot of water. It can most likely go without water for 2-3 weeks at a time depending on how cool your home might be.

Dieffenbachia (poisonous!) This plant excels at removing xylene and toluene. These chemicals are common in beauty supplies so if you have no pets or small children you might consider one in your bedroom. And there are so many lovely leaf variations on these plants. Not a particularly fussy plant about water–once every week to 10 days in most homes, depending on temperature and pot size.

Dracenas are another plant that take just about every chemical studied by NASA out of the air (except ammonia). And they too offer lots of choices in leaf coloration and even leaf size–wide leaf or narrow leaf. They can get fairly dry before needing water. Depending on the temperature of most homes, they will need to be watered every 7-10 days.

Spathiphyllum (peace lily, white sails) This plant is the “queen” of the plants tested by NASA and other groups. It will remove formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ammonia and trichloroethylene!  These easy care plants belong in most homes! They do require a decent amount of water though–probably at least once a week in most homes.

Pothosthis is the plant most folks mistakenly call philodendron. It is not. It comes in golden leaf and white leaf variations.  It can tolerate drying out although in my personal experience the golden variety is a little more tolerant than the white splashed one.

Finally there is the ZZ Plant (zamioculcas zamiifolia). You can still occasionally find these around–in fact, I saw them paired, with, of all things, poinsettias, last year at BWI airport! These plants are tough as nails and behave more like succulents than like traditional green house plants.  If they are in a north window I would definitely water sparingly–every 2-3 weeks until you are sure you are not going to rot them. Perfect for someone who travels–or who is a sporadic waterer at best!


“Easy-Care” Plants?

Today is opening day at the ski resort where I will spend 10 days in January (and for the record, I don’t ski. I snowshoe. The Spoiler is the skier in the family).

We leave for that trip in late December or on New Year’s Day and we usually return separately. This year I am returning early because I have a lecture on–what else–house plants–early in the second week of January and I need to be sure I am back in plenty of time for that.

We always get a house sitter for the trip for a number of reasons. Most important is our dog. Rarely will I ask the sitter to do anything with the plants. My plants get tough love as it is. I am transitioning them even now to a 8-9 days between watering schedule so that they can survive the trip without me.  I will water everything well before I leave, move the most “thirsty” to a spot out of their sunny window, and hope for the best.

But what if you are not like me? What if you want plants that are less fussy than that, even? What can you do?

Depending on your “exposure” (north, south, east or west window) and how often you want to tend to things, there are actually a lot of options. I’ll discuss those, based on exposure, over the next two weeks.

And, if any of the plants have any “extras,” like air cleaning benefits, I’ll mention those as well!

Wordless Wednesday–What Do the Squirrels Think?

Squirrels' Nests at dusk

After last winter’s disastrous squirrel prediction, it’s a wonder we have any squirrels left to predict the weather this year!

If you recall, last fall, my squirrels thought it would be a mild winter. Hah! They were certainly mistaken! And while I won’t go so far as to say that any of them froze to death, we certainly have far fewer this year, probably because they do not hibernate and were available to the hawks and owls, while the voles, chipmunks and mice were safely tucked away under the snow (or in my cabinets–but that’s another story).

In any event, the photo of this tree, taken at dusk, shows 3 squirrels’ nests at various heights. Apparently even the squirrels have no clue what this winter will be like.

Or, as the meteorologists would say, we have an “equal chance” of a warmer than normal or colder than normal winter. Great.

The Quiet Season


In the northern hemisphere, for most of us, gardening season is winding down. Days–and daylight–is much shorter. In fact, even when I lecture about house plants I always say no re-potting and fertilizer between December and March because the plants are pretty much dormant this time of year. (Of course, there are always those instances where re-potting is not optional but mandatory–a pot slips from your grasp when watering and now  you must re-pot. Clearly you can’t wait until March to do that or the plant will be dead. Common sense rules apply here).

This is the time of year when my house plants are literally my salvation. They are my “indoor” garden. If it were not for them, I literally do not know how  would get from October or November, when I finish working outside, to March or April, when I can get back outside. That’s why my house is a jungle.

But there are benefits to the “jungle.” While I may occasionally resent the time it takes me to water during the busy holidays, my plants give back so much more than they demand from me! They clean the air, as I talked about last week.

And while last week I spoke specifically about certain plants that I was using to take formaldehyde from new carpet out of the air, all plants perform the basic carbon dioxide to oxygen exchange. When our homes are so tightly closed up for winter (at least up here in the north) plants are giving us fresh oxygen.

Even more, if we are heating (or cooking) with natural gas (as so many do) plants can clean the air of the benzene that natural gas produces.

Plants also produce humidity to offset winter’s natural dryness. Anyone who has ever gone into a greenhouse in the winter knows that. My own home’s humidity averages about 45% (really nice but not enough to be humid) in the winter.

There are so many “easy care” plants these days that don’t require a lot of “fussing.” Bring some into your home this winter and garden year round!

Where Are The Juncos?

No, this isn’t a quiz. Juncos (a type of small bird in the sparrow family) migrate to my area in the winter from more northerly climates where they summer (How’s that for a switch? These birds actually come south for the winter to Connecticut for a “mild” change of pace!)

They are called dark-eyed juncos in my part of the country but apparently out west they have many more colorations. I won’t ask–it gets too confusing. As it is, this is a change from when I was a child and the birds–all of them I believe–went by the name “slate-colored” juncos. In my part of the country they are slate gray above and white below–at least the males are.

I ask the question, “where are the juncos,” because they usually return to my backyard somewhere between the second and fourth week of October. I’m still waiting to see them. And while they’re fairly shy birds, they’re not as secretive as wrens. If you don’t notice them poking around the shrubbery and leaf litter looking for a meal, you’ll certainly see then when they take off on their swooping flight when you startle them from their task.

Because I do keep this 365 day a year garden journal and I am now in year 6 of it, I started noticing mention of the juncos around the time I noticed mention, in prior years, of first frosts and “heat on.” But so far this year, the juncos have been conspicuously absent. I don’t know if it’s the abnormally warm fall we’re having that’s causing them to linger up north or an extraordinarily good supply of something else–a food source, I would guess.

Whatever it is, I really don’t mind. They say that when you see your first junco, you’ll have your first snow 6-8 weeks later. The later the juncos the later the snows. And that’s fine with me!