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THE INDOOR GARDENER : How to Keep 'Baby's Tears' Plant Healthy

October 09, 1994|JOEL RAPP | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I recently bought a plant that the nursery person told me was called "baby's tears." It was growing in a clump of tiny, round, green leaves it looked almost like a leafy moss--and had delicate little trailing vines all around the pot.

I followed the care instructions--bright light, lots of water, daily misting (it didn't last long enough for the monthly fertilizing!), but the plant just dried up and died within a couple of weeks. Was it really a baby's tears plant, and were the care instructions correct? If so, what do you think went wrong?

ANSWER: There are two types of "baby's tears" commonly available in Southern California nurseries: Helxine soleiroli, which is most likely the type you bought, and Pilea depressa, a similar plant except it's a brighter green color, its leaves are much larger and more succulent and it looks to me like it should be growing in a lawn.

H. soleiroli is very difficult to maintain indoors and unless you keep it in a terrarium where it will get maximum humidity, this baby's tears will have you crying the blues. P. depressa, however, should thrive in your home with medium light, enough water to keep the soil just damp, and frequent mistings.

What Hanging Plants Can Handle Hot Sun?

Q: I have a very hot, sunny breakfast area where I'd love to hang a plant, but everything I've tried there has burned up and died. I've tried pothos, philodendron and Boston fern but one of them made it. Any suggestions?

A: There are numerous hanging cactus and succulent plants that would do very well in those circumstances--donkey's tail (Sedum morganianum) comes to mind. But if you want to stay with a more graceful foliage plant, I'd suggest an asparagus fern (Asparagus sprengerii) . Not really a fern, and not actually an asparagus, this durable houseplant has long, thin, bright green, fern-like stems and feathery, needlelike foliage and thrives in hot, sunny conditions. It gets its name because when new fronds appear, they look exactly like little asparagus spears. Water when the soil dries out and don't be too concerned about occasional falling needles.

What Is Bright Red Plant With Pink Veins?

Q: I was at a friend's house the other day and was very impressed by a bright red plant in her kitchen. It had small, heart-shaped, dark red leaves with pink veins and a pink midrib. I've never seen this plant before at any nursery, and my friend didn't know what it's called. Do you?

A: I'm quite sure you're talking about a bloodleaf plant (Irisine herstii). It's the only bright red foliage plant I can think of. Over the years I've had several, and despite frequent pinching back they've usually gotten straggly. But I've kept some going for months and months, so I'd suggest you get a stem cutting from your friend, root it in water, and then pot it up and get as much pleasure from it as you can.

Will Indoor Banana Tree Produce Fruit?

Q: Could I grow a banana tree indoors? And will it ever produce fruit?

A: Yes to your first question, probably not to your second. Actually, banana trees (Musa spp.) are quite easy to grow indoors, requiring only bright, filtered light, enough water to keep the soil moist, monthly feedings with a good liquid houseplant food, and most importantly, lots of humidity.

With its distinctive tropical look, a banana tree is most rewarding as a decorative addition to a lanai room or an atrium, and if you do manage to provide perfect circumstances, your banana tree will eventually bear fruit.

Rapp is a Los Angeles free-lance writer who, as "Mr. Mother Earth," has written several best-selling books on indoor gardening.

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