Cultivating Spiders

spider-plant-home-28mar2006-lah-123rHalloween is just around the corner. Spider decorations are everywhere. I don’t like spiders much (rather, I’m terrified of them), but even arachnophobes like me aren’t afraid of spider plants. There are no chitinous appendages, poison glands, and no skittering noises. Instead, they just grow like crazy and produce lots of offshoots.

It’s easy to see where the name comes from. All those strap-like leaves resemble spider legs (thankfully they aren’t hairy!), and the babies hang from stems in the same way that spiders dangle from silken threads. I wish all spiders could look this cute.

If you think you have a brown thumb, but still want to enjoy a houseplant, give a spider plant a try. They’re almost indestructible. I forget to water mine for weeks at a time, and it not only survives, it grows! The fleshy roots are capable of storing water for times of drought. Of course, my plants would be happier if I watered them a bit more!

The plants will look their best in bright but diffused light. Direct sunshine can bleach or burn the leaves. (The variegated varieties are more delicate than the solid green ones.)

Average household temperatures are just right, but keep them away from cold windows and drafts. Years ago, my daughter took a spider plant to college, then forgot and left it on the sill next to a slightly open window… on a 6° night! She brought home the blackened body and asked me to heal it, but it was clearly DOA. Happily, I have lots of plants to share, so we sent her back to school with a new plant and a new resolve for keeping this one alive.

If you want your plant to get bigger, keep moving it to larger quarters as it grows. But if you want lots of babies, keep it root bound. Then all that energy goes into reproducing. Feed the plants once a month with half-strength liquid houseplant food. I like to give mine a rest during the short days of winter. That also gives me a chance to flush any excess fertilizer salts from the soil. This helps prevent leaf tip burn, a common problem where the end of each leaf turns brown and dries up.

The only pest I’ve battled on my spider plants has been scale. These difficult-to-control insects attach primarily to the stems supporting the little hanging plants. If there are only a few scale insects, just cut off that stem and throw it away. Hopefully, you’ve caught the problem in time. However, if your plant becomes infested, it’s probably best to dispose of it and get another one. It’s not like they’re difficult to come by!

If you notice that your plant’s leaves have been nibbled down to stubs, you probably have a cat. They love to chew on the leaves (and then puke them up in your shoes). This won’t hurt the cat—spider plants are not at all poisonous—but it sure ruins the graceful appearance of the foliage! Providing an alternative might help; I sprout wheat grass for my kitty. In any case, be sure to avoid toxic pesticides.

Houseplants in general help purify indoor air, and spider plants are one of the best for this purpose. Since they multiply enthusiastically, you can soon have an entire house full of greenery. Just remember to leave some room for the people!

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