Houseplants come in all different shapes, sizes and types. Some rate as exotic, while others fit into the common category. All have their uses.

Some homes, particularly those heated by wood, resemble the Gobi Desert, humidity-wise. These settings are not conducive to such moisture-loving houseplants as bromeliads, orchids, gardenias and African violets, to name only a few. In fact, if the average wintertime humidity in your home sits in the 30 to 40% humidity range, trying to maintain moisture-loving plants rates as an exercise in futility.

Even without instruments to tell you that your inside air is too dry, it’s not easy to deduce it by other means. If your hands feel dry, that’s a good indicator. Or perhaps if when you go to swipe the screen on your cell phone and the device doesn’t respond, then your fingers are too dry to make contact.

None of this means that we cannot keep houseplants going in winter. It just means that we must use discretion when choosing a houseplant.

Tough-As-Nails Varieties

Some houseplants have the ability to survive and even thrive in dry conditions. Most of these enjoy full sun from a south-facing window, but will not complain if kept in diffused light. Some tolerate dim light. All, while requiring some watering on an as-needed basis, can go for amazingly long times without water.

These, then, are the kind of houseplants we here in Maine can use to good effect during our long winters.

While a good number of houseplants fit in this tough-as-nails section, one in particular remains a personal favorite. This is the common geranium.

While most people consider geraniums as outdoor plants, they make remarkably handsome and hardy houseplants. In fact, I have come to view geraniums as “immortal” houseplants because of their tenacity and longevity. I borrow this term from a new species of jellyfish recently discovered in the deepest recesses of our oceans.

This jellyfish can alter itself and change from an adult to a youngster. It’s still the same jellyfish, though, which explains why it was dubbed the, “immortal jellyfish.”

I once kept a geranium that belonged to my mother. It was a decade old when I got it and it remained with me for another decade. It finally became too big to manage, so I simply lopped off some cuttings and rooted them in a glass of water. Thus my geranium was really a clone of itself. It lived and lived and lived.

Last year's garden saw only one geranium among the other annuals. But this was such a nice specimen that I took it in and placed it in a sunny window for the winter.

Since then,it has bloomed three or four different times. All I do with it is pinch off yellowed leaves and water when the soil becomes totally dry. That’s it. No muss or fuss and still, my geranium keeps on giving.

Note that upon potting my geranium up for winter, I pruned it back to an easily manageable shape. This had the effect of causing lots of new growth. Over the five months it has sat on my windowsill, it still retains its shape and has not become leggy. That’s because of the direct sunlight. So simple, yet so effective.

Next spring when buying annuals (geraniums are perennial in their native South Africa, but we treat them as annuals here in Maine), make sure to select a geranium or two for the purpose of bringing inside over winter. One or both of these may eventually become a prized heirloom, to be handed down over the generations.

Finally, I must note that while geraniums are not the most sweetly scented plants out there, something about the odor of a geranium brings me back to springtime, the smell of wet peat and that overall, “greenhouse” smell. In fact if you could bottle geranium scent I would happily purchase a bottle.

Other Choices

Other tough houseplants do well in indoor winter environments. For instance, a pencil cactus, or “milk bush,” needs to go thoroughly dry between waterings, something easily accomplished in the desert-like conditions inside our homes in winter.

Another common houseplant that thrives in dry conditions, rubber tree only needs watering every month or so. Also, rubber trees do well in low-light conditions.

Or we might consider snake plant, or mother-in-law’s tongue. This African succulent tolerates a variety of light conditions and the only way you can hurt them is to overwater.

Weekly Tip

Buy this year’s geraniums early, even if they are tiny. Place on a sunny windowsill and they will grow by leaps and bounds.