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Originally published January 16, 2014 at 5:30 AM | Page modified January 16, 2014 at 2:57 PM

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Houseplant tips; ground cover that attracts hummingbirds

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris on houseplants that can thrive even in the low-light conditions of the Pacific Northwest, and on the showy, small-scale ground cover Lithodora diffusa, which attracts hummingbirds.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Tacoma Home and Garden Show: Jan. 23-26, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Ciscoe Morris will speak Saturday and Sunday. Tacoma Dome, 2727 E. D St., Tacoma; $12 General Admission, age 16 and under free (

“Influence of Asian Garden Styles on Pacific Northwest Gardens”: Association of Professional Landscape Designers Washington Chapter’s Annual Design Symposium, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Jan. 23. Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle; $185 includes lunch, registration required (

“Hellebores — Winter Garden Gems”: 11 a.m.-noon Jan. 25. Molbak’s, 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville; free (

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In the Garden

Houseplants are a must for every home. They provide a link with nature, add beauty and, most important, play a key role in purifying and adding oxygen to the air inside the home. The problem is to find attractive houseplants that will thrive in our low-light conditions in the Pacific Northwest, especially if your abode lacks big west or south windows.

Fortunately, provided a room has enough light to read a newspaper, there are some incredible houseplants that will perform admirably. Pothos (Scindapsus aureus) is a vining plant with glossy green leaves splashed with yellow that glows. Dracaena is another great choice for low-light conditions. There are plenty of varieties to choose from, but a favorite of mine is D. “Lime Lite,” with bright, golden foliage that glows in a dark corner.

An old-time favorite often used in Victorian mansions is the cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior). Every bit as adaptable to dark conditions is the mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria). This attractive, sword-leaved variegated plant is indestructible, but it’s definitely not a good plant to have around pets, children and, evidently, mothers-in-law. Its common name comes from its capacity to paralyze the tongue of anyone who tries to eat it.

Finally, if you want an attractive choice that not only does well in low light but is also famous for cleaning the air, peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is your plant. Studies have found that Spaths purify air better than any other houseplant. They’re also one of the few houseplants that will actually bloom in low light, featuring white calla lily-like blossoms that turn green with age.

The key to keeping houseplants flourishing in dimly lit rooms is to water very sparingly. Give them a drink only when the leaves begin to droop or the pot feels light. Your variegated plant may fade if left in dark conditions for a long time. If that happens, send the plant off for a little R&R by placing it near a bright window, out of direct sunlight. Before you know it, your plant will be restored and ready to go back to add beauty and cheer in the darker rooms in your home.

Give Rufous hummingbirds the blues

If you’re looking for a showy, small-scale ground cover for a sunny location, Lithodora diffusa is an excellent choice. The vines of this dark-green evergreen will cover from 4 to 6 feet, and beginning in early spring they are covered with brilliant blue flowers that often continue blooming until midsummer.

Lithodora looks fantastic in a rockery, planted in gaps between stones, or spilling over a wall. Best of all, hummingbirds love the flowers, which begin blooming right when the Rufous hummingbirds return from their winter migration to Mexico. Don’t be worried if the Lithodora in your garden turns pitch black before winter ends this year. This often happens after the plant suffers a hard freeze, such as the one we experienced earlier. The vines may have been killed, but the roots are hardy to around zero degrees. In early March, simply cut the blackened vines back to about an inch above the root mass. Your Lithodora will grow back strong and attractive, and may even produce a smattering of blooms on the new growth this summer.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on 5.


About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.

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