Greening Your Space: Caring For House Plants with Ann Amato – Episode 008

Ann Amato shares her expert insights on house plants, providing practical tips on care and the benefits they bring to our indoor spaces.
Episode 008 House Plants

Episode Description

In this episode of the Evergreen Thumb, Ann Amato shares her expert insights on house plants, providing practical tips on care and the benefits they bring to our indoor spaces. From choosing the right plants for your home to creating a lush and healthy indoor garden, Ann’s guidance will help you transform your space into a haven of greenery.

Ann lives and gardens in Portland, Oregon. She is the Production Manager at Secret Garden Growers in Canby, Oregon. She enjoys propagation and is known for her work with seed propagation. She has a BA with a double major in art history and English literature. Currently, she is working to complete her AAS in horticulture at Clackamas Community College.

In this episode, we talk about:

  • Watering and Humidity
  • Lighting
  • Pests and Diseases
  • Wellness benefits, including air purification

Ann also busts a huge myth about house plants that has been circulating the internet for several years. Tune in to find out what she has to say.

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beefsteak begonia house plant
Beefsteak Begonia
Begonia x erythrophylla Photo by Ann Amato
Columnea house plants
Ann’s most unusual plant, a Columnea Photo by Ann Amato

Check out these other episodes


Episode 8

[00:00:00] Erin Landon: Welcome to the Evergreen Thumb. I’m your host, Erin Landon, a Washington State University Extension Master Gardener since 2015, and a certified permaculture designer and modern homesteader. I’m here to share up-to-date research-based horticulture and environmental stewardship knowledge to help you grow and manage your garden, and to share what the WSU Extension Master Gardener program is all about.

WSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers are university-trained community educators who have been cultivating plants, people, and communities since 1973. Are you ready to grow? Let’s dig into today’s episode.

Welcome to the Evergreen Thumb, Episode 8. My guest today is Ann Amato. Ann is here today to talk with us about greening our spaces and the power of houseplants. Ann lives and gardens in Portland, Oregon. She is the production manager at Secret Garden Growers in Canby, Oregon. She enjoys propagation and is known for her work with seed propagation.

She has a BA with a double major in art history and English literature. Currently, she is working to complete her AAS degree in horticulture at Clackamas Community College. Ann, thanks for joining us today. Welcome to the show. 

[00:01:23] Ann Amato: Hi. 

[00:01:24] Erin Landon: So, to start off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and the type of gardening that you do and the area you garden in and all that kind of good stuff.

[00:01:33] Ann Amato: Well, I garden in Southeast Portland, and I’ve lived at this location for about 20 years, so I have a pretty established garden. I started gardening with houseplants when I was in my 20s, but I grew up in a family. With many, many gardeners on both sides of my parents’ families. Um, I can’t imagine a life without plants, and I pretty much garden, do everything.

So I even have a community garden plot because my residential garden, it’s small. It’s, it’s a usual lot here in Portland, not abnormally large sized or a double lot. And then I work with ornamental perennials and trees, um, at both of my jobs, although I left one recently. 

[00:02:22] Erin Landon: Okay, so you mentioned you used to got started with houseplants, and that’s mostly what we’re going to talk about today, so, tell me about some of your favorite houseplants. 

[00:02:32] Ann Amato: Well, I have… Easily over 500. 

[00:02:35] Erin Landon: Oh gosh. 

[00:02:36] Ann Amato: And I know it’s, it’s pretty crazy. Um, I’m known for my begonias, and then I have a lot of gesneriads, and those are a group of plants that are related to and include African violets. Um, but I also have a lot of Hoya, and I have a lot of Ripsalis, but I pretty much have a little of everything.

I’m addicted. 

[00:03:03] Erin Landon: I finally got a, my first Hoya about two years ago, a neighbor gave me a start, and I had, it had been a plant on my wishlist for 20 years. 

[00:03:12] Ann Amato: Oh wow. Yeah, it’s, I got a, my first one was from a start from a friend in college years ago. And it was a pretty amazing plant at the time because I hadn’t grown anything like it before.

[00:03:25] Erin Landon: It almost doesn’t look real, you know, the flowers are so, they almost look like wax or something. It’s, but they’re really unique. 

[00:03:33] Ann Amato: They are, they are. 

Benefits of House Plants

[00:03:35] Erin Landon: Okay, so, what are some of the key benefits of having indoor plants, both for our homes and for us? 

[00:03:42] Ann Amato: So much of what I know about that was pretty much from my own personal experience, um, when I was not well with a chronic swelling disease, it’s a primary immune deficiency, and it was funny because then later on I learned from foster kids, and I was a therapeutic foster parent that I could use plants therapeutically. And, um, the benefits that I really value are just the happiness that they bring. And this weird, I mean, it’s almost like a stuffed animal companionship at times, where they become part of your daily life and routine.

And when they’re in different parts of your house, you see them at different times of the day. And my husband and I have different schedules and different routines, and he’s not even a plant person. And he makes up names for different plants if he sits, and he eats next to one for a long time.

I mean, these are kind of the goofy, uh, anthropomorphic benefits, but with foster kids, and then when I was having really hard health problems, the thing that was interesting to me was the therapeutic value medically is to kind of keep you in the present and to have something to take care of every day, and especially with the kids that had a lot of mental health issues and, you know, horribly, you know, tragic childhood experiences that I can’t even imagine having had, it was a way for them to build self-confidence and it was a relationship that they could have and they could watch.

And even though I was a part-time foster parent, the kids would all kind of attach to different plants, and then they’d come back and check them out, and it was a lesson in observation, and sort of feeling like they had this mastery over something when their lives were completely, you know, pretty, you know, devastated and they didn’t have any control over a lot of stuff.

And for me, that was kind of similar because I had swelling episodes and moments where I couldn’t really do anything, and my days were kind of chaotic because the medication that really made my life better wasn’t available until a year ago. So I had a lot of anxiety from waiting to be sick, um, because the episodes are unpredictable.

And so plants overall, I mean this goes for all the plants I have, they basically gave me sort of this calm routine, and they made me happy, and I could share them with friends, and I ended up meeting people through houseplant groups. And obviously shopping. Um, but they’re pretty amazing, the benefits overall.

I mean, it’s like any other gardening activity. I mean, you could be sharing vegetables too, but for somebody who had chronic health problems and couldn’t go outside, it was really hard. So houseplants made that easier. 

House Plants for Beginners

[00:06:29] Erin Landon: So, can you recommend some easy-to-care-for plants for beginners? 

[00:06:34] Ann Amato: Yeah. So it’s one of the questions, you know, people ask, and it’s a hard one to answer. Like any plant, it all depends, to me, on the conditions at your house or your home.

And there are so many easy plants that if you place them in the wrong place, they won’t be so easy. And I’m kind of amazed sometimes when I meet people that say they have the easiest house plant, and they still killed it. There’s just so many factors that go into it. And if you place a plant where you want to look at it, that really goes against quite often where the plant is actually going to do well.

Not always, but when you see magazines, you know, and they have them placed away from a window and not near a lamp, that always terrifies me because it’s setting such a bad example. But I mean, my favorite easy ones, of course, the snake plant, uh, Sansevieria drusenia, whatever we want to call it. I love those.

Um, they can take low light, and they can take some abuse, but they can get overwatered. And that’s the other funny thing is that some easy plants need more water and some need less. Um, all plants need water though. Any of the pothos, and they go by many different names, that’s just the common name. I think those are fairly easy and those are often people’s first houseplants.

I actually have. Um, the same one from when I went to college, I think when I was 17 or 18, my mom gave it to me, and I’ve just, you know, done repotting it, you know, I’ve done cuttings of it for years, but I can’t believe I’ve had that for a long time. It’s probably my first houseplant, and I still have it, um, or a relative of it. I mean, spider plants are my other favorite. And that was a house plant my mother never killed. And we had it for years and years until one day she did kill it. Um, but I think I have maybe 30 different types of spathifolium. So one, or not spathifolium, sorry, that’s chlorophytum.

I have spathifolium too. So, uh, spathifolium would be the peace lilies. And I had no idea that there were so many variegated ones and different cultivars of those, and different sizes, big ones, small ones, so I have a bunch of those too. Um, but the peace lily is the other common name for this spathifolium.

ZZ plants are the other one that people talk about, and I can never say Zamioculcas. Um, Those seem easy, but I’ve, I don’t know, they seem okay. Mine’s been okay. It’s been in a dark corner. It’s not my favorite easy plant, though. I think it needs something else. But when it comes to flowering houseplants, because I tend to really like those and not just orchids, I actually like Streptocarpus a lot.

Um, which are also called Cape Primroses. That’s one of the gizneriads. And the other thing, I actually think they’re easy, but you really have to just get over that initial hump of, of doing it right, are begonias. The biggest thing with begonias, though, is the water, humidity, watering and humidity issues, because overwater them or don’t give them enough light.

And they do really well, this is one of my things, if you can get a cash pot, one of those lovely pottery containers without holes and just stick gravel on the bottom. And you put the plastic container in it so that you have humidity around the plant, your begonias will do much, much better. Those really help, especially in, um, a drier, indoor, Pacific Northwest, kind of, you know, the typical home since we tend to have our heat on during the winter time.

[00:10:15] Erin Landon: So you mentioned… Water and light as two of the key things, key mistakes that come up. Um, is there another common, any other common mistakes that come up when, for people who are new to indoor plants? 

The Importance of Humidity

[00:10:31] Ann Amato: Humidity. The humidity thing is the key, especially with things like ferns and begonias, but if you group plants together or use a humidity tray, they’re fantastic, especially that’s another thing that you can suddenly succeed with ferns, usually, not going to say all the time.

But most of the time. And the humidity trays, I have ones I purchased that hold more water so they can have a higher humidity. It’s kind of like your usual rectangular plant tray, but you can get them in square sizes, and they often sell them for orchids. But if you group plants together on a humidity tray, And the plants are kept damp and there’s water in the tray.

Then you’re creating this lovely humid environment, you know, where the plants need it kind of. And I was surprised at how quickly I started to succeed when I started to better understand humidity indoors. I mean, I understand it outdoors, but, um, And in greenhouses since I work in those, but it’s interesting in the home environment and then learning different humid areas in your home.

I have a bunch of plants above my kitchen sink and dishwasher and one of them is a very fussy fern that dries up really easily and mine’s completely lush because it gets enough humidity and it’s in a nice spot. But that’s kind of the fun thing about learning. It’s, it’s almost like you get to know your house or your apartment or even your rented room in a way that you never expected to know.


And thanks to inexpensive gadgetry, you can get a light meter. I, I highly suggest, you know, using that to help you understand light better and to play with it and have fun. And, um, Also, the humidity monitors, you can get really inexpensive, you know, with temperature and humidity and sit it around your house and get to know the different locations in a way that you can’t really understand until you, you, uh, monitor those spots with gadgetry. 

[00:12:38] Erin Landon: Oh, that’s, yeah, I hadn’t really thought about that as far as, you know, using those kind of tools for, for houseplants. 

[00:12:44] Ann Amato: Oh, yeah, they help a lot. Cause I know I do have a lack of natural light or I don’t get any, hardly any direct sun because our windows are, have real deep porches in front of them.

So that’s a huge issue in the Pacific Northwest, huge. And um, I love lamps, and I have all kinds of different light bulbs, and with a light meter, you can really start to see how close to a window you can be, if it’s worth it, um, and then lamps, I mean, I live in Portland, so I get to go to Ikea, and I’ve had a lot of fun getting inexpensive types of lamps.

And then setting those up around the house. So it’s not just grow lights because a lot of people don’t find those very attractive. And some of them hurt my eyes. Like I don’t really like the colors they give off. And I’m sensitive to them, and it’s a fun indoor activity in the winter if you, you’re not gardening outside, you can play with lights inside.

[00:13:45] Erin Landon: Yeah, I had one, I don’t know what the botanical name, but it’s, I think it’s known as Siberian ginger. 

Oh, interesting. 

It’s also known as like family doctor plant. I got it from a Ukrainian woman. Um. And, but it was just really struggling, and I bought one of those little LED disc lights on a stand, and I stuck it in there, and it took off.

Yes. It just, it made a huge difference. Yes. Especially in the winter. 

[00:14:17] Ann Amato: Yeah, you can, that’s one of the things if your plant’s not doing well, immediately stick it under a lamp just like that. And that’ll tell you a lot about what’s wrong with it if it perks up like that. 

Air Purification

[00:14:29] Erin Landon: Uh, do you know of any particular indoor plants that are especially beneficial for air purification?

[00:14:35] Ann Amato: Oh, that. I was waiting for that question. Um, that’s one of those lovely myths. Oddly enough, there have been recent studies about that, and it all goes back, it was fun reading about this. So, the NASA study that they did years and years and years ago, Was really in a tiny chamber and people kind of have, you know, led others to believe many times on the internet, maybe thousands of times, that it’s completely applicable to your entire house.

And basically, you would need at least 680 plants in a typical house. And another study said that it was basically like 10 plants per square foot of your home. 


To equal the study that was done by NASA, and it was, one of them was, there’s actually a really good article that was done by the American Lung Association about it, and as an asthmatic, that was one of those things that I was kind of like, is that true?

Is this possible? Show me the study. Show me the evidence of this. And, you know, plants do what they can, but the best way to have clean air is air filtration and an open window and fresh air from outside. As a person who works in greenhouses, I can assure you that mold and mildew and the other things that plants kind of can come with in the soil can actually upset your breathing.

Um, and even give you skin rashes that need to be biopsied. Oh my goodness. So, so I love the articles, you know, proclaiming that they do this, but really what they do, plants really just make us happy. Indoors and outdoors, they make us happy. 

Therapeutic Benefits?

[00:16:17] Erin Landon: You were talking about, um, happiness. How can indoor gardening be therapeutic or stress relieving?

I know you were talking about with your foster kids and how it, you know, the observation and did they, did you have them take care of plants sometimes? 

[00:16:33] Ann Amato: Yes, and then they would take cuttings with them if they had homes where it was okay to do that because some of them You know, wouldn’t like that, but most of them, I think all of them actually did.

I, I would say it’s the routine of it and it’s the mastery, almost like, I mean, for me recently, one of the experiences I had, it was really interesting, was to have a show plant.

I have never groomed a plant ever. To that degree to be put into a contest, and you know, it includes like using a paintbrush and cleaning off the leaves and, you know, trimming it just so and making sure it looks good from every angle, just like you would a show dog or a show cat, I guess any pet, but it’s the mastery and it’s the accomplishment of growing something, and I think it’s really different with a houseplant, um, and You know, outdoors, I kind of joke all the time, what’s happened during the pandemic was this increase in certain vocabulary used with plants, especially around houseplants.

And one of the funniest things was specimen plants. And as someone who’s, you know, produced thousands of perennials and trees. We definitely don’t call them all specimen plants. Um, you know, they go out into anywhere land, into anyone’s gardens and you know, they’re, they’re plants and you don’t pay so much attention to them necessarily.

Sometimes you do though, as they grow, they become specimen plants. But during the pandemic, it was really interesting to see Everyone’s houseplants being called specimen plants. And that became a shang. My dad used to talk about how like the word princess used to mean something, but we use it so often now it’s kind of lost its meaning.

Um, specimen plants kind of lost its meaning a little bit. But it just shows you how much people wanted to master it. And this, um, there was a competition with it. These are, I’m leading actually into like the unhealthy things. While houseplants can be very healthy, you can also have the anxiety of too many houseplants.

And then, you know, during the pandemic, people kind of got anxious about that. And the bugs, pests that over, you know, overtook their collections. But we had. this interesting experience during the pandemic of mental health and houseplants. And for the most part, it was fantastic. And I do think a lot of people, especially younger people that I know, who are disconnected from the outdoors because they’ve been so focused also in technology and, and their education, they sort of lost touch.

And I did meet, um, through different activities and online discussions. You know, a lot of people that felt more connected to the outside world. And for me, that’s hard because I never was that disconnected, but that was also part of the thing with the foster kids and also when I, um, worked, I did work with plants also with the elderly when I was a caregiver, and a lot of them felt depressed and.

You know, upset that they couldn’t do the activities that they used to do, but if we could bring those activities indoors, they really did benefit and they got excited. Part of it too, me getting back to the initial question, was being able to propagate and give things away. And that was exciting, um, for both groups of people, the young and the elderly.

And it was fun to see them change to try and lift their moods, because just me alone was not really gonna do that, or cartoons, or watching television. I mean, it’s kind of the go to, um, in that type of caregiving situation for, you know, children and older people. 

Watering House Plants

[00:20:30] Erin Landon: Are there any general guidelines as far as watering or transplanting indoor plants?

[00:20:38] Ann Amato: It all depends upon the plant, and that’s the hard part. I have cacti and succulents mostly in my basement. Pull them out into the garden, you know, sometimes, but I tend to group, I mean, not everyone’s going to have 600 or 500 or whatever plants. So I don’t recommend that everyone do this, but it’s smart to put your like plants with like plants so that you can care for them the same way.

Let’s say you have 20 plants, which is probably a lot to most people. Um, you could separate those into plants with similar, needs, and that makes it easier, but the best way to really learn how to do it is to learn one plant at a time and not overdo it and, you know, go out and get 10 free plants from somebody because, um, not only could those be bugged or diseased, and then that’s a whole other issue, but it’s just too much.

It’s too much all at once, and I would recommend just learning everything you can about one plant. You know, just enjoying it one at a time. The thing I would say that I was thinking about this last night was the difference between watering a plant and humidity and the idea that if you water a plant very heavily if you haven’t watered it for weeks.

You know, that that’ll all be okay in the end. And that’s pretty much how you begin to rot your plants. And I would say that one of the biggest issues it’s, you know, it’s watering. And if you overwater or underwater, and one of the things I tend to do is just water a little bit pretty frequently. And then I.

Obviously, I’m looking at my plants all the time because I do that. Not what everyone wants to do and I don’t, you don’t have to do that necessarily. But I just tend to water things if they wilt a little bit. I underwater. It’s, it’s a lot safer than overwatering. And then the humidity issue, again, if you group plants together, even if they’re not on a humidity tray, you’re still creating little groupings where with that, even the damp soil, if it’s damp enough, often enough, you will actually be creating a little bit of humidity right together.

Of course, I say this as like I’m looking at a grouping of like 20 plants across the room. They’re, they’re all kind of arranged for those needs for light and water and humidity. Um, potting up stuff, I don’t know if you asked that just now, but like, in terms of soil, I don’t, I would never recommend that people use the same soil, bag of soil mix for most plants.

Um, if you buy just a typical potting soil mix, You usually need to add something to it, whether it’s perlite or bark, um, pumice, and it’s nice to have those on the side. I, I’m not a person who uses a lot of charcoal. That’s something that often is in terrariums, but I, I do recommend the, the soil I use the most.

It’s kind of expensive, but it’s the Pro Mix and it’s the high porosity and it does already have a lot of perlite in it. But it’s kind of expensive, and you can replicate it by adding other things to your soil mixes. If the soil mix holds too much water, and your roots don’t grow fast enough, That’s the root rot problem, and it’s better to let the roots remain a little damp instead of wet.

[00:24:20] Erin Landon: I know I, I am terrible at overwatering succulents. I have killed so many succulents, and I’m like, wait a minute, they have so much water in them. They don’t need that much water. 

[00:24:29] Ann Amato: Yes, I think that’s one of the reasons I actually keep them out of my sight. I mean, and then I see them and I’m, and they’re kind of neglected and they look great and they have plenty of light because they’re under a shop lamp, but it’s funny that I feel the same. I would totally overdo it. 

Pests and Diseases of House Plants

[00:24:46] Erin Landon: So you mentioned pests and diseases. So what are some of the more common pests and diseases that come in or affect indoor plants and how do you deal with them? 

[00:24:56] Ann Amato: Yes. So the sad thing is when you bring a plant into your house, typically because I have so many, I’ve Would recommend if you have a lot and you’re collecting them that you quarantine plants, even if they come from a nursery or especially if they’re coming from a friend.

Um, you just don’t know. There’s the root mealies. Those are the total disaster bug. Um, and if you get root mealies, which is kind of become more common with everyone swapping plants and having all these little terrarium things, the root mealies, you kind of have to kill everything. You can kill them with poison or you can just throw your plants away.

That’s kind of just the worst though. But by quarantining them, you can watch and observe and see if the plants have any disease. And I usually I live with gigantic plastic bins and I stick them next to, I have a rack, racks in my basement with shop lights and you can usually find someplace with some sort of light in your house, but the problem with this technique is it’s not really attractive, but it’s, it will save you so many headaches if you quarantine plants and just watch and see if they’re okay and then release them into your collection.

The good news with a bin, a plastic bin, is that it’s basically like a terrarium and as long as the plant is wet you can keep the lid on and even keep it closed and ignore it for like a month and it’s fine.

Um, but those bins and that system, it’s also what you use, or what I use, um, if you get a pest problem and you need to isolate your plant from the other plants, or one plant from its friends, um, but the most common things other than, I mean, the root mealies are not common, but they’re devastating, but would be scale.

And I’ve had to deal in looking up at a plant right now, there’s a plant with some scale and that usually I hand pick off and then use, um, Alcohol, rubbing alcohol on, uh, Q tips, but those are usually fairly easy, but you have to see them and, um, a lot of times they’re on citrus plants and sometimes on spider plants, but luckily they’re pretty easy to see or feel.

Sometimes it’s good to feel the plant and just double-check. What’s the other, uh, Fungus gnats are something I get because I have a lot of seeds, and I start plants from seeds, including gesneriads and begonias and actually house plants. Um, the white fly thing though is a little different. What are the other aphids?

I don’t actually tend to get a lot of aphids, but if I have problems with them, I would use I usually would take it outside, even in the winter, and hose it off first. Try to be as organic as possible, because you don’t want to deal with this in your house. And I use the insecticidal soaps. For begonias, what people always ask me about with those are, I can’t think of it, the fungus.

Powdery mildew. So, powdery mildew is honestly something I’m lucky enough to not have a great problem with. I think I did in the beginning, but I’ve learned to keep the leaves dry. And if I have a begonia with powdery mildew, I do take it outside, even in the winter. I pick off the leaves that are bad, and then I do use the copper spray.

And I do what you said and put the plant under a light. It’s almost like give it instant, you know, love and give it food. And then I watch to see if the plant has any other problems. And, um, usually, I don’t think I’ve ever had any begonias really not make it through that process. They might look ugly for a while, but if it’s a really large plant, maybe even a specimen plant that’s really beautiful, it’s worth giving it that boost.

I know I’m missing the, oh, mealybugs. That’s the one. The white fuzzies. Um, I tend to use also neem, and I don’t like to use it in the house because it can be irritating to the lungs. So I take it outside, again, even in the winter, much, much safer and It’s just better to do it outside. Any type of treatment except, I guess, the soap.

But I also have a basement with a sink that I will clean leaves off if it’s a bug problem. But it’s hard to see sometimes in the winter if it’s dark. So I try to do that outside too in the summer. But one of the things that’s unusual with my collection and the reason I have You know, 500 or more plants is because a lot of them go outside during the summer, and then I bring them back in, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s, it’s one of the ways I’m successful.

I don’t want people to think that all of my house plants are inside all the time. Um, it’d be really hard for me to do that, actually, without a greenhouse or a sunroom. 

Bringing Plants Indoors for the Winter

[00:29:56] Erin Landon: That’s actually a perfect segue. I was going to ask about bringing plants because like I have a Meyer lemon that I know has scale and I’ve been picking them off and but if I bring it inside then I’m going to have the scale in my house and is it going to transfer to my spider plant?

[00:30:12] Ann Amato: Yeah it can except I think it’s different scale. I can’t remember the two types but the my citrus I actually leave outside most of the winter and I only bring it in When it’s really close to freezing. This is one of those things that I definitely learned torturing plants a little bit, you know, living on the edge, trying to push your zone.

That was kind of a thing that we do here in Portland a lot. Um, last year I pushed my Meyer lemon too far and it died, but luckily I have like four other types of citrus. Um, and I usually just stick them in my, it’s a seed studio, but it’s my garage. That’s it’s only like heated to maybe 40 or 50 degrees.

So I only bring it in during the really worst of winter. That’s I had citrus plants in my house and Because of the insect or the bug damage and additional issues, I, I’ve kind of banned them from my, like, being in my house with my other plants. 

[00:31:17] Erin Landon: That’s good to know because this was going to be the first year we were planning to bring it in the house.

In the past, we put it in, we have a small greenhouse, but it’s gotten so big, we can’t get it through the door of the greenhouse anymore. 

Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s another thing. 

Erin Landon: I’m like, well, maybe I’ll just have to park outside for the winter. Yeah. 

[00:31:34] Ann Amato: You wouldn’t be the first. 

I know. 

Ann Amato: Yeah. Yeah, bringing them in is tricky, but I mean, it’s a real risk.

But I have in my house, it’s, I’m so lucky. I have a husband who doesn’t like plants but likes to have them in the house. Um, otherwise he wouldn’t really put up well with this, but I have different areas that are sort of more or less safe. And there’s the, you know, the plants, I absolutely will not want to interact with the outdoor plants.

They’re pretty much in my house and they don’t go outside like ever. The, the main core group of plants. Um, But I’m, I’m flexible, but it’s a lot of time. It takes a lot of time to take them in and out, but it’s worth it, especially for those really big begonias. I love my begonias. 

Ann’s Favorite House Plants

[00:32:25] Erin Landon: That was the next segue is, um, your favorite houseplant. Would that be the begonias? 

[00:32:29] Ann Amato: Yeah, it’s the begonias. And even though it wasn’t my first houseplant, it’s, I do like the beefsteak begonia. And it’s, it’s funny that I, Liked it just because it was one of the plants I had when I was at the absolute sickest kind of point in my life because the disease I have It’s weird.

I have it. It wasn’t described as a disease until I was 30 So it’s kind of like how a plant can exist before it’s described by a botanist. You know, I had this illness that just needed to be described, but luckily I had a doctor who pretty much knew what it was. And at that point, I couldn’t stand up a lot because when I did my legs would swell and I’d bruise and it was, it was stressful.

And I had a beefsteak begonia that hung in my window and it just made me laugh because it has these huge, huge leaves. And I, I mean, it’s just the dumbest name as a common name is to call it a beefsteak, but sometimes in the right light, it really did look like these UFOs of beef floating in the light of you know, the afternoon light, but the other neat thing about that is it’s the begonia x erythrophylla, and some people write it like it’s a, you know, genus and species, and they miss the X in between, but it’s actually the first hybrid Begonia from two species from South America, and it was done during the 19th century in Germany.

And so, as a horticulturist, there’s sort of this, like, nerd value to it being the first ornamental hybrid, begonia, you know, made in… Germany. So, it’s, it’s a fun plant. It’s, I wouldn’t call it necessarily pretty, but I like a lot of the begonias that have huge leaves and that really do well hanging and hanging baskets because they just look, I mean, honestly, kind of ridiculous and funny and they make me laugh and I, I like to laugh.

I, I, if you haven’t figured that out yet, I like silliness. It’s, you know, life is too short not to be laughing. It’s kind of a good thing.

Erin Landon: What’s your most unusual houseplant?

Ann Amato: I’m looking at it right now as I’m speaking. It’s funny as I’m looking at it. It’s one of my pride and joys. It’s a Columnea and, uh, Columnea are a type of gesneriad.

They’re from South America. I’m trying to think. I think I always get them confused. The Aeschynanthus is the, uh. like lipstick plant, and then there’s the goldfish vine, and those are kind of common, but the Columnea are kind of different. Um, they’re mostly known for their large leaves, but they have, there’s so many different types, um, but this one has really huge leaves, and it’s red underneath, and it can get to like nine feet long, but it has a sprawling behavior, and how they grow is in South America, they’ll grow out of, um, rocks, and they hang down, but the reason they have these red leaves underneath is to show the hummingbirds where the flowers are.

So it’s kind of like, hey, come check this out. And as I’m looking at this plant, I’m just thinking, you know, most people, when they see it, they’re sort of surprised by what it is because they’ve never seen anything like it. And they kind of don’t want to like it, but they kind of do. It’s, it’s just not, it’s not your usual house plant.

Um, The leaves can be a little sticky, and so the stickiness is to actually kill. It’s almost like flypaper. So it can kill, you know, insects and they get stuck on it. But, you know, if you look at it from far enough away, you don’t notice that. But it’s one of my more unusual ones. Um, and I’m actually on the seed conservation committee for the Gesneriad Society, and so it’s exciting to grow these from seed once the botanists collect them, and then we kind of pass them around in our society and see how they do in cultivation in people’s houses so it’s kind of fun. 

[00:36:35] Erin Landon: Yeah, it’s different. So do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to add about houseplants? 

[00:36:42] Ann Amato: No, I just try them. Um, I if you don’t have a lot of space and you want something easy I would recommend Uh, very simple setup of just an aquarium with a lid and a light, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it can be, um, not only plant terrarium, but you can also kind of use it as a a lamp or something to look at in the winter.

I actually have a few, I call them tanks, and I don’t plant them because the planting can get really complicated with insects. I actually sort of put gravel in them, and I have containers, plastic containers, that you can sink into them, and you know, you can make it look nice, but you can make it less work.

But having the lights on a timer makes it even easier, and I find that it’s something at my house because I have a glass door, um, a front door, like my mailman, he can see them through the front door and he loves to say how happy they make him when the, when it’s raining and cold, because they’re just sort of, you know, little tropical paradise in my living room.

Um, I think that that’s. Something I would recommend that more people try, and especially too because you can enclose the bugs and you can enclose stuff so it’s more contained, um, if you don’t really want to have plants all over your house like some of us. 

[00:38:08] Erin Landon: Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Um, this was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about houseplants and maybe I won’t kill my succulents anymore.

[00:38:19] Ann Amato: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. And yes, I’m glad to hear that you might not kill your plants now. My work is done. 

[00:38:30] Erin Landon: Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Evergreen Thumb brought to you by the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program volunteers and sponsored by the Master Gardener Foundation of Washington State.

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