Chinese evergreens (Aglaonema) have been a staple of my interior landscape for more than 25 years and I continue to appreciate these wonderfully versatile plants. They are one of the easiest plants to grow indoors, yet pack a punch in terms of the impact they create in any indoor environment.
Because I have had these plants in my collection for so long, I often take them for granted and really do not think much about how valuable they are.
My interest and appreciation was newly aroused, however, in a recent visit to a Brandon garden centre that has brought in a wide selection of indoor plants and has them displayed in their main greenhouse, which will be open all winter.
Among the newly arrived plants were quite a number of Chinese evergreens — but like no Chinese evergreens I had ever seen before. All of mine have been green with various variegations of green, gray and silver on their leaves, with names like ‘Silver Queen’.
The garden-centre visit shows that plant breeders have obviously been hard at work on Aglaonema; there were narrow-leafed ones, specimens whose leaves had red and burgundy marbling, and just an array of various leaf shapes and colours. I was amazed to say the least.
I have never had a huge gardening budget so I will have to figure out how I can incorporate the purchase a couple of these newer varieties of Aglaonema into my gardening spending because now that I have seen them I have to have at least some of them — isn’t that typical of us gardeners!
Chinese evergreens are not inexpensive plants; I started out with one plant and over the years, I have started new plants to the point where I now have about half a dozen sitting around the house.
Aglaonema are easy to slip — 30 centimetre lengths of stems (the tops) will readily root in water, although it might take a couple of months.
One of the great attributes of Chinese evergreens is that they are incredibly slow growing so you do not have to be constantly re-potting, dividing and slipping. Eventually, however, the plants do get leggy and the time comes to cut them back — I do this about every two years.
I cut the stalks back to about 10 centimetres; new stems will emerge from around these cut-off stalks to establish bushy new plants. In the meantime, I cut the tops of the stems off to a length of about 30 centimetres and put these stems into a large vase of water.
I keep the vase in bright light and the water in the vase topped up. I usually undertake this job in early summer right after the rush of the outdoor planting season is over.
I think the slips root better at that time of year and the cut-off plants develop new growth more quickly during the summer than they would during the winter. When the slips have developed their thick, fleshy white roots, I plant about eight of them into a 10 inch or larger pot.
Chinese evergreens are big plants that are best displayed as floor plants so I use large pots that will fit the large jardinières that I keep around just for them. The leaves get dusty over time so I give them a wipe periodically with a soft damp cloth.
Aglaonema like a well-drained soil and moderate moisture — don’t keep them wet. On the other hand, don’t let the soil completely dry out or the tips of the leaves may turn brown. I have never had insects on my Chinese evergreens and no disease problems either.
Because they are slow growing plants, they require little fertilizer — maybe a couple of applications of a weak 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer in the summer.
Chinese evergreens tolerate a range of temperatures and light levels.
The plants will get leggy a little more quickly if they are located in very low light levels but I have a couple of plants that continue to look attractive and they are on the far side of the living room from a north-facing window.
As the common name Chinese evergreen implies, the plant originates in tropical and semi-tropical Asia. It is also a member of the group of plants that is known to clean the air of impurities, so we often see Chinese evergreens used in office buildings and apartment lobbies.
I am excited about the new varieties of Chinese evergreen that I discovered at the garden centre. I just hope I get there to select a specimen or two to enhance my interior landscape while there are some left!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.