It’s 20 degrees outside with a stiff wind blowing, and the realized temperature feels like the low single numbers. The outdoor gardening season has definitely ended.

But, just because winterlike conditions have arrived, doesn’t mean we can’t tend a few plants inside. Potted plants, houseplants, offer us a way to stay connected to growing things, and to get at least our fingertips dirty.

The number of available houseplants is truly dazzling, but despite the wide array of plants to choose from, some old-time favorites still warrant our attention. Let’s examine a few tried-and-true favorites. These are all low-maintenance plants, suitable for the desert-like conditions inside our Maine homes in winter.


Oxalis, also called wood sorrel and shamrock — it isn’t a real shamrock though; shamrocks are a kind of clover — oxalis has signature isosceles triangle-shaped leaves, wider at the ends than at the sides. This is a flowering plant, and the flowers appear shortly before the leaf stems begin to wither.

Oxalis comes in many types, with leaves and flowers of many colors. It pays to shop around, because there are so many wonderful varieties to choose from. Don’t be tempted to jump at the first choice.

Oxalis care couldn’t be easier. This friendly houseplant likes bright, indirect light. When light is insufficient, the stems will become spindly, not always a problem if you use little plant stakes to hold them up. Or, you might do as I do and allow them to simply sprawl toward the light. When that occurs, the stems become entwined, like vines, and the effect seems quite pleasing.

Keep oxalis cool at night (50-65 degrees) and around 70 during the day. That should be easy enough, since these are the average wintertime temperatures inside an average Maine home.

Soil should stay on the moist side. Be careful, though, of overwatering, because soggy soil can kill the bulbs.

I like to add liquid houseplant fertilizer once each month. You could double that and it probably won’t harm the plant.

A type of flowering bulb, oxalis plants will eventually go dormant and the leaves will wilt and die. When that happens, place the plant in a dark closet and stop watering and fertilizing until new growth appears. Or, as soon as the leaves begin dying, take a pair of shears and trim the stems as close to the soil surface as possible. Keep the soil watered and before long, the plant will come back to life. You might want to de-pot the plant during its dormant period, and either move the bulbs around so they are evenly distributed, or plant excess bulbs in a new container.


Sansevieria, mother-in-law’s tongue, or snake plant, stands as the easiest of all low-maintenance plants to grow. The plant easily withstands extreme neglect with batting an eye, or a leaf.

A friend gave me a plant about one year ago and knowing of its durable, hardy nature, placed it on a small table in a dark corner of my living room. I didn’t need to work too hard to find a dark place, either, since my house stands in a dark location, and indoor sunlight is at a premium.

“Okay, tough guy,” I thought. “Let’s see how you do here.”

To my amazement, this African succulent didn’t just endure, it thrived. Being in a dark place, I only supplied minimal watering. But minimal watering was sufficient for me to notice obvious growth.

When I say “minimal watering,” I mean not watering for a month or more, to the point that the pot weighed next to nothing because the soil in it had become so dry.

In addition to growing denser and taller, my plant has produced an entirely new plant; a youngster. Just imagine, little water, extra-dry humidity, no plant food and marginal light, and this bulletproof plant has done better than some of the other plants that I carefully tend.

If conditions in your house are less-than-ideal and you want a houseplant that will prosper, definitely go for sansevieria.

Oh, here’s one other thing about this easy-peasy houseplant. It comes in a variety of forms. Some — as per the mother-in-law’s tongue — have long, slender leaves. Others have cylindrical-shaped leaves and others, such as the plant in my living room, have wide leaves that are roundly pointed at the end. The choice is yours.

These are only two old-time favorite houseplants. Either, or both, belong inside every Maine home.


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