The Perfect Houseplant

Peace lily blends handsome leaves with nearly nonstop blooms.
Steve Bender

My wife, Judy, and I have a peace lily in the living room, a peace lily in the TV room, and a peace lily in the bedroom. Heck, we even have one in our bathroom.

They were gifts from her former boyfriend, and to show the world just how compassionate and generous I am, they're all still living and blooming. Caring for them doesn't tax my brain, as they're among the easiest of houseplants to grow. So, even if you're one of those people who seem to kill everything green indoors, to paraphrase John Lennon, give peace lily a chance.

Just the Facts
Native mainly to tropical America, peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) is a perennial with leaves and stems rising directly from the soil. It is named for its flamboyant white blooms, which resemble flags of peace (or flags of surrender, depending on how you look at it). Happy peace lilies surrender constantly, producing bloom after bloom.

In reality, the showy part of the flower is a white, hoodlike sheath (called a spathe) attached to a spike of tiny true flowers. The spathe fades to green as it ages, at which point, you cut it off and wait for more.

 

Versatile to the Max
Why, besides being an exceptionally kind person, do I have a peace lily in almost every room? One big reason is the number of sizes and kinds available. For example, more compact types such as 'Power Petite' and 'Sweet Chico' are suitable for tabletops and plant stands. Depending on the pot size (they grow larger in bigger pots), they may reach anywhere from 10 to 20 inches tall and wide. Steven Hotchkiss of Oglesby Plants International in Altha, Florida, says the dark green foliage of 'Power Petite' is amazingly glossy. "I've had customers ask me what we polished the leaves with," he says.

Most peace lilies serve as floor plants, however, growing about 3 feet tall and wide with big, bold leaves about 10 inches long. Place these in corners, beside end tables, or on either side of the fireplace (when there's no fire, of course). 'Mauna Loa Supreme' (also sold as 'Supreme') is the standard midsize type. It grows up to 4 feet tall and wide with broad, shiny leaves and an abundance of large, cupped spathes.

Have a large room that needs a really big plant? Try 'Sensation,' the largest peace lily by far. Featuring thick, deeply ribbed, paddle-shaped leaves up to 20 inches long, it grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. Even when not blooming, it dominates the space.

 

Care Is Easy, Easy, Easy
Unlike many houseplants that we inevitably end up killing, peace lilies like growing indoors. They don't need direct sun, preferring bright, indirect light from a nearby window. They'll grow just fine across the room from a window but won't bloom well in such low light and may also become leggy. Give them evenly moist, well-drained soil and temperatures of at least 55 degrees. If peace lilies wilt every two to three days, repot them in larger containers, which don't need watering as often. Fertilize plants growing in bright light about every six weeks with a liquid 20-20-20 product. Feed plants growing in low light half as often. About every six months, take them outside, and flush them with water to remove salt buildup from fertilizer.

I'll end with a few more housekeeping hints. First, peace lily foliage tends to accumulate dust, so periodically wipe the leaves with a damp sponge or cloth to keep them looking nice. Second, cut off at the base all spent flowers and dead or yellowing leaves. Third, if you don't like white pollen showered all over the leaves, cut off the spikes several days after they appear, and allow the beautiful spathes to remain on display. Finally, don't send your old married boyfriend or girlfriend a peace lily. Not everyone is as charitable as I.

PEACE LILY PROBLEM SOLVER

Problem: Peace lily doesn't bloom.
Cause: The plant has insufficient light.
Solution: Move it into a brighter location.

Problem: Pale green foliage has burned leaf tips.
Cause: Hot direct sun damages foliage.
Solution: Move plant out of direct sun.

Problem: Deep green leaves develop brown tips and edges.
Cause: You've let the soil get too dry.
Solution: Maintain evenly moist soil.

Problem: The plant suddenly collapses when the soil is moist.
Cause: Overwatering and poor drainage are to blame.
Solution: Empty the saucer beneath the pot, and let the soil drain.

Problem: Plant collapses when soil is dry.
Cause: Wilt is due to lack of water.
Solution: Water plant thoroughly, and beg it for forgiveness

"The Perfect Houseplant" is from the February 2006 issue of Southern Living.