Somebody needs to tell me why I do the very same thing every year. It’s fall, after all, and most people are enjoying the crackle of dried leaves beneath their feet, and the smell of hickory smoke in the air. Not me. It’s fall, and I have to drag those huge potted house plants right back into my house where they will spend the next five or six months shedding leaves, grumbling about the heat, moaning about the cold, and glowering at me from their topmost branches.
When I dragged them outside the first weekend of May, they were happy to be there. I don’t remember that it nearly took out the back door just getting the ficus tree to the deck. And I don’t have a clue why the Norfolk pine decided to add ten more branches and 18 more inches to its original height. And the rubber plant. I swear it might soon be a foot taller than I am.
But that’s not the really bad part. You see, they multiply.
I started maybe fifteen years ago with one very small ficus tree. I have a huge window that faces west, and gets all the afternoon sun. I placed that ficus in the window the first winter, and by spring it was perhaps eighteen inches tall. I took it outside to enjoy the sunshine. It grew a little by October when I brought it in, and it looked a little straggly, so I trimmed a few wayward branches and sort of pushed them down into the soil in another pot.
They didn’t even blink, no, they took root and became another pot of ficus, which by May, was nearing a height of maybe two feet.
I did the same thing with my rubber plant. So by the third year, I had two pots of ficus, two pots of the rubber plant, and a schefflera. The schefflera was tiny, so it was no problem. The Norfolk pine came later, maybe three or four years ago, and was also very tiny, at most six inches tall, given to me by a student one Christmas. It even had glitter sprinkled on it.
I swear to you, I don’t really like houseplants, but I cannot be the instigator of their demise. When we bought this house in 1973, it was completely empty, well, almost. Nothing was left behind by the original owners, except one scrawny red margined dracena. The house had been empty from August until we bought it in February, so the poor dracena was suffering.
It grabbed my heart and I started feeding it and watering it and telling it how beautiful it was. It grew and grew and grew, until it touched my 9 foot ceiling. The only fronds it displayed were in the top foot of it, it was a scrawny sight. So I started chopping, and chopped until it’s stalks were about a foot tall. I threw the chopped pieces in the trash. The next day I felt a little guilty, so I went out to the trash can and rescued the tops of the three stalks that I had chopped off. I stuck them into the soil in the same pot with the rooted but bare one foot stalks. They all sprouted and grew. And so, I had six plants in that pot. I went pot shopping.
One year, well, it was the year I had the dracena, (all six stalks), five ficus trees, two rubber plants and the schefflera, my husband decided something had to go, either him, or some of the plants. I had to think about that for awhile, but it was nearing Christmas, and I really didn’t have room for a Christmas tree because of the space required by the houseplants. I finally decided I’d give up a couple of the ficus trees, and keep my hubby. I offered the plants to my neighbors and friends repeatedly, telling them of their wonderful virtues, but there were no takers. In a fit of despair, I covered them with Christmas lights, set them out in my front garden, and they became part of my outdoor decor for the season. Those are the only house plants I have ever deliberately destroyed, but they for sure went out in a blaze of glory.
When I bring my houseplants back inside, it takes two days. On the first day, after I push, pull and drag all of them to the back deck, I mix a little vinegar and some Dawn liquid detergent into a couple of buckets full of water. The mixture is sprayed on every leaf and every branch of those houseplants. That little procedure requires a ladder and nimble legs (which are sadly lacking in my case) because I can’t reach up to nine feet, and also because the mixture has to be repeatedly poured into a spray bottle every time it runs out. After they each get a shower, (pots, too) I leave them out on the deck to drip dry and allow the bugs to flee.
The next morning I give them another shower, clear water this time, just to rinse the dead bugs and other summer debris from them, then I allow them to dry again. The pull, push, drag thing begins again in the early afternoon, and generally requires the remaining daylight hours. There have been a few times when I found a birds nest or two within the branches of the ficus. I hadn't even known they were there.
Now I know at this point I should trim them back a little. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I only shape them. Sometimes, though, I do nothing, fearing that whatever I chop off, I’ll put right back into another pot of soil.
Which brings me to this year. I have three ficus trees, but one is only about 3 feet tall, so it doesn’t count. The other two touch the ceiling. I have two rubber trees, both well into four feet tall. The Norfolk pine is nearing four feet, too, and the schefflera is very nearly four feet in diameter. Yet every year, I single handedly push, pull and drag those plants outside in May, and pull, push and drag them back inside in October. This was the year when I very nearly had to enlarge the door to get them inside.
So why can’t I bring myself to cut them back, give them away, leave them out in the cold? I don’t know. I simply can’t do it. Oh I can cut them back, I just can’t throw away the pieces. So they multiply.
It’s fall, after all, and what would I have to do if I didn’t push, pull and drag those houseplants back through that door? Nothing, absolutely nothing, and I'd have to find something else to moan about. The truth is, though, I really don't like houseplants. They just don’t seem to know that.
Welcome to my jungle!
All photos of houseplants are my own.
This article was originally published November 3, 2009. Please note that authors of these previously published articles may not be available for questions or comments.