Here’s what you need to know about growing healthy indoor house plants

I recently spent a night in a motel whose décor included lots and lots of plants – in the reception area, the lobby, the hallways, and the rooms. The plants were without blemish – but they were artificial. There is definitely a trend in this direction and I suppose it’s just a matter of time until outdoor décor will include artificial plants as well.

However, the reason to surround yourself with living plants is not only to maintain a connection with the natural world but for the beneficial effects of caring for them.

Lauren Camilleri and Sophia Kaplan, the authors of “Indoor Jungle” (Smith Street Books, 2019), put it this way:  “Bringing plants into our homes and workspaces can be the perfect antidote to stress and anxiety, allowing us to nurture these living things and, in turn, ourselves.”

It has slowly dawned on me that, when it comes to growing indoor plants, ironically enough, you would be better off living high up in an urban apartment tower than in a suburban house surrounded by trees.  The reason, of course, is the difference in the amount of light streaming through your windows. In a tall tower, there are no obstructions to the sun other than blinds or curtains, which you can open or close, and to varying degrees, regulating the amount of light streaming through. If you want unobstructed sunlight or something less, it’s your choice to make. In a house, however, particularly in a neighborhood with mature trees and tall hedges, where the light that enters through windows is often scarce, it may be a real challenge to grow plants indoors unless they are positioned within a foot or two of windows basking in bright light.

Camilleri and Kaplan emphasize that light is the most important variable where growing indoor plants is concerned.  They offer two easy ways to measure it.

“We recommend trying a light meter app which you can download straight to your smartphone and will suffice for most indoor gardeners.” I checked and found several light meter apps that you can download at no charge and several others that cost $0.99. Another way to measure light availability is “the shadow test, which requires nothing more than a piece of paper. On a sunny day place the piece of paper in the spot you would like to position your plant. Hold your hand around twelve inches above the paper to reveal a shadow. A dark, clearly defined shadow with clean edges suggests bright light. . . a fuzzier shadow where you can still make out the shape of your hand . . . would be medium light. If the shape of the hand is very poorly defined, you’re looking at a low light situation.”

In “Indoor Jungle,” plant selections and combinations are suggested for every room of the house and for protected outdoor spaces, too. Each design concept is richly illustrated with photographs. The book helps you identify your “plant style” and guides you in the selection of containers for your jungle specimens, as well as providing basic information on indoor plant care.

The most intriguing feature of “Indoor Jungles” comes at the end of the book where the challenges of indoor plant growers are candidly confessed, with photos to accompany their narratives.

Janneke Luursema cautions against taking on too many plants at once:

“I think being surrounded by houseplants is a healthy thing but only if you can manage to give them the care they need. You don’t want it to become a chore.”

Nick Simonyi has a healthy attitude towards his horticultural failures:

“I’ve killed more than my fair share of indoor plants; it’s all about learning and adapting . . . to find what makes each individual plant happy.”

The testimony of Jane Rose Lloyd, and how her preoccupation with plants has become part of her life story, is particularly illuminating.

“I would be so happy to be the poster woman for the positive relationship between plants and mental health,” she revealed. “I’ve experienced a life-long journey with mental health issues and I know I will never be completely free of them, but discovering plants truly saved my life. They helped me to understand my purpose and have given me something I will happily spend the rest of my life doing. Of all the various methods of therapy and counseling I’ve tried over five years, plants have been the most consistently beneficial form of therapy. For me, plants are magical!”

I was fascinated by two tropical cacti profiled by the authors. Although botanically related to desert-dwelling cacti, tropical cacti prefer humid surroundings and are well suited to steamy bathrooms and kitchens that enjoy bright, but indirect, light. One of these is known as mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) on account of its tree canopy habitat.  The difference is that true mistletoe – the kind you see locally on sycamore, birch, ash, poplar, and oak trees – is a parasite, rooting into tree branches, while mistletoe cactus is an epiphyte, rooting in debris that settles in the crotches of tropical tree limbs. Mistletoe cactus consists of nothing but skinny, pendulous stems that, in the tropics, may reach thirty feet in length. Rhipsalis is the only cactus genus with species found outside the Western hemisphere, in Africa and Sri Lanka. Tree fern cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium) is an epiphyte that will remind you of sword fern or Boston fern except the lobes of tree fern cactus leaves are considerably larger with wider gaps between them.

Tip of the Week: Purple shamrock (Oxalis triangularis/regnellii) is extolled by the authors of “Indoor Jungle.” I have long advocated use of this plant as a selection that no shade garden should be without. Outdoors, its large, triangular, deep violet foliage is nearly always visible, except for a brief annual dormancy period. Indoors, it experiences dormancy once every 2-7 years. Flowers are pale mauve. Once you plant purple shamrock, you will have it forever, since it propagates itself continuously from bulbs.  It should be noted that this plant is toxic to cats and dogs.

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How California avocados have a global influence

Holy guacamole, it’s peak avocado season in California. Americans are eating more avocados than ever, especially the Hass variety, which was created in California.

California’s own

There are more than 1,000 varieties of avocados listed in the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources database. Here are some of the most common varieties grown commercially in California:


  • Pebbly skin that turns from green to purplish when ripe
  • Oval shape
  • Small seed, 5-12 ounces

Hass is the king of California’s commercial avocado crop, as it makes up 95% of the avocados grown in the state and 80% of those grown worldwide. It was developed in La Habra Heights by Rudolph Hass. Patented in the 1930s, the Hass variety overtook Fuerte avocados as the leading commercial crop in the 1970s. The original tree stood for 76 years before root rot ruined it in 2002. Hass has one of the longest harvest seasons, usually beginning in February. Hass fruit has excellent flavor and shipping qualities. A single tree can produce up to 200 pounds annually (about 500 pieces), but most average around 60 pounds and 150 pieces.

Fruit maturation times are highly dependent on climate and environment, so a Hass avocado is not ready to eat at the same time of year in the Central Valley as it is in a cool coastal climate.


  • Green skin, oval shape
  • Medium/large seed, 6-12 ounces

A bacon-flavored avocado sounds tasty, but this avocado was named for the person that bred it, James Bacon. It originated in Buena Park and was introduced in 1951. Its flesh has an unusually pale yellow/green color and has a high oil content. It matures from November-January in Orange County and December-March in Ventura County. The trees have a good frost tolerance.


  • Smooth skin, pear shape
  • Medium seed, 5-14 ounces

Trees introduced as budwood in 1911 from Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. It is a hybrid Mexican variety that is ready to pick in November and is good through March. Fuerte has been a longtime California commercial variety valued for its winter season. Its skin thickness is medium thin and the seed size is medium large.


  • Slight pebbling, round shape
  • Medium seed, 8-18 ounces

Originated in Carlsbad by James Reed. Introduced in 1960 from a chance seedling planted in 1948.


  • Shiny skin, pear shape
  • Medium seed, 6-14 ounces

Originated in Fallbrook by W.L. Ruitt. Introduced in 1941 from a selection made in 1926.


  • Black skin, pear shap
  • Medium seed, 7-11 ounces

Patented in 2003, GEMs might be seen in California stores for the first time this season.

Fruitful facts

Avocados turn brown the longer they are exposed to oxygen. Covering with a plastic wrap can block oxygen. Adding lemon or lime juice, or chilling the avocado, can delay the browning as well.


According to Guinness World Records, the heaviest avocado was grown in Hawaii in 2018 and weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Does size matter?

According to the Scoop Blog by Dzung Duong on, the size of an avocado does not indicate the fruit quality or stage of ripeness. An avocado’s seed actually grows with the fruit, so the seed-to-fruit ratio will always be close to the same. Pinkerton avocados are known to yield the most fruit per tree.

Cooking it up

Avocado oil is used as a high heat cooking oil with a smoking point of about 520 degrees.Its oil is also used in cosmetics or as a skin cream.

To learn more about planting, caring and the history of avocados go to the UC Riverside avocado site:

U.S. availability of avocados

The U.S. imports about seven times as many avocados as it grows domestically.

Sources: USDA Economic Research Service, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Photos by staff, The Associated Press and David Stottlemyer for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources


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A look at our local raptors for backyard bird count weekend


The 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count is underway and continues through Monday. To celebrate, we take a look at a few of the more prestigious raptors of California that have come dangerously close to extinction that you might find in your own backyard.


Bald eagle

The bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for Native Americans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the bald eagle was close to extinction in the lower 48 states with fewer than 30 nesting pairs in California, largely due to the use of pesticides. It has made a remarkable comeback with surveys showing that the state’s winter population exceeds 1,000.

eagle map


golden eagle face

Golden eagles are found throughout North America, but are more common in western North America. Little is known about the eagle abundance, but it is thought that numbers may be declining in some, if not all, parts of their range. Golden eagle abundance in California is unknown.

golden eagle map


falcon face

The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird in the world, capable of reaching 150 to 200 mph in their dives when chasing prey. They were virtually eradicated from eastern North America by pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century but have made an incredible recovery and are regularly seen in large cities and coastal areas.


white tailed kite

The white-tailed kite earns its name for the way it resembles a kite in flight. With its body turned toward the wind and wings gently flapping, it hovers above the ground like a kite. The white-tailed kite was rendered almost extinct in California in the 1930s and 1940s due to shooting and egg-collecting, but they are now common again. Although their distribution is patchy, they can be found in the Central Valley and southern coastal areas.

kite map


Barn owl face

While great stretches of the United States, from New York to Iowa, have seen a decline in barn owls since the 1950s, California maintains surprisingly robust populations due to the abundance of open space of natural grasslands and agricultural fields, where rodent populations increase significantly.

barn owl face


Great Backyard Bird Count participants are asked to count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes on one or more days this weekend and report sightings online at

You can see what birds are regularly in your area with eBird species maps.


Read more about A look at our local raptors for backyard bird count weekend This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed. Orange County Shredding Service

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Do It Yourself or Not: Replace a tub with a shower

Do you have a bathroom with a tub that’s rarely used? With more people preferring a shower to a tub soak, consider replacing the tub with a standalone shower. It’s a retrofit that makes it easier and safer to use than having to step over a tub wall. A popular retrofit for a bathroom makeover is replacing a bathtub with a standalone shower.

The new unit has a shower receptor as a base that fits into the space of a standard 5-foot bath alcove, and it’s available in both left and right drain configurations. The receptor measures 60 inches by 30 inches, and installs directly into a wall stud pocket at the subfloor. To prevent pooling water, it is molded with a slight draft toward the drain. To complete the project, install tile or a solid surface on the three surrounding walls to create a comfortable walk-in shower and a new fixture. You’ll find the receptor and wall systems sold at bath and home centers.

To remove the old tub and fixtures and install a new receptor and surrounding walls you’ll pay a plumber $2,800, which includes labor and material. If you have experience with carpentry and plumbing projects, you can do the job of dismantling and removing the old bathtub, buying the receptor and wall surround kit for $1,300, and installing it. You will save 54 percent by doing the job yourself.

Hassle Alert: Removing the old tub may be the most challenging part of the job, especially if it’s an old iron tub you have to demolish and remove from the second floor.

To find more DIY and contractor project costs, videos and calculators, visit on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Pro cost: $2,800

DIY cost: $1,300

Pro time: 24.3 hours

DIY time: 40 hours

DIY savings: $1,500 (54 percent)

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5 garden tips for this week, Feb. 10-16

1 Timely suggestion

This week has Valentine’s Day, so here’s a friendly reminder to share your love, not only with chocolates but with produce from your garden. And, just for the fun of it, look around your yard for the annual weed that I always call the “I-Love-You Plant.” It has low, feather-like leaves close to the ground and wiry, upright, 20-inch flower spikes sporting lots of seed capsules that look like little hearts.

To me, it’s amazing that this plant only grows around Valentine’s Day. The real name is shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), and it is a member of the mustard family — with edible leaves when young, good raw in salads or cooked as greens. But all those little seed capsules are truly heart-warming.

2 Feeding time

Feed camellias, azaleas, gardenias, roses and other shrubbery. All plants require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for growth — listed on the plant food label as a three-number formula showing the percentage of each element by weight.

In general, nitrogen promotes leaf development, while phosphorus develops roots, flowers, fruits and seeds, and potassium permits plants to make optimal use of these nutrients and other minerals. Flowering and fruiting plants need a fertilizer blend with a higher percentage of phosphorus, while green shrubbery needs less phosphorus but a higher amount of nitrogen.

3 Juicy fruit

Strawberry season is here at last. Picking the ripest ones every day or two will prolong the harvest season. Don’t let them spoil on the plant, or your plants will stop producing early.

Remember to feed periodically with balanced plant food to encourage growth, flowers and fruit. Oh, and maybe you can create your own chocolate-dipped strawberries for an extra fun and happy Valentine’s Day.

4 Citrus nutrition

In Inland areas — and elsewhere if not done already — apply the first of four annual feedings for mature citrus trees this week. Subsequent feedings should be done about six weeks later — in late March, mid-May, and late June. Each feeding should contain about a half pound of actual nitrogen.

Here’s the formula to figure out how much to use, based on the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer (I use 16-16-16 fertilizer, which has 16 percent nitrogen plus other ingredients): actual nitrogen needed (1/2 pound) divided by percent of nitrogen in plant food (16/100) x 2 cups per pound. So that’s [(0.5/.16) x 2], which equals 6 1/4 cups of 16-16-16 fertilizer per mature tree each time I feed. For other types of fertilizer, just enter the percentage of nitrogen into the formula to find how many cups of plant food you should apply, and use this number each time you feed your trees.

5 Clean sweep

Hate the messy fruits dropped by olive trees, or those stickery seed balls on liquidambar or sycamore? Ethephon (Florel Fruit Eliminator), a natural plant hormone, prevents the formation of unwanted fruit on just about any leafy ornamental tree.

Sprayed at blossom time, it works on carob, carrotwood, elm, maple, oak, pine, podocarpus and more. Purchase from many garden centers and home improvement stores.

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No place like Lido

  • The open-air kitchen and dining area transformed the once walled-in space into an inviting family-friendly room.

    The open-air kitchen and dining area transformed the once walled-in space into an inviting family-friendly room.

  • Designer Keely Kay remodeled this Lido Isle home with an inviting "California costal" look.

    Designer Keely Kay remodeled this Lido Isle home with an inviting “California costal” look.

  • Jeff and Kirsten Ingham pose with the "queen" of the household, Lola the Australian Labradoodle.

    Jeff and Kirsten Ingham pose with the “queen” of the household, Lola the Australian Labradoodle.

  • Fun, innovative sleeping quarters offer space for friends to stay over.

    Fun, innovative sleeping quarters offer space for friends to stay over.

  • The Inghams' daughter helped select much of her bedroom's decor.

    The Inghams’ daughter helped select much of her bedroom’s decor.

  • Custom built-ins and furniture ensure that the Ingham children enjoy spending their time at home.

    Custom built-ins and furniture ensure that the Ingham children enjoy spending their time at home.



Kirsten and Jeff Ingham came to Lido Isle on a whim. Little did they know that three houses later they would be living in what Jeff calls “the place we want to be for a long time.”

The couple – who have been together for almost 30 years since meeting in high school in the San Gabriel Valley – were planning to buy a home in Pasadena in 2004. Kirsten especially felt an affinity to that venerable California city.

“Growing up in the Midwest, I wanted to live in Pasadena because it reminded me of the Midwest. And I thought, ‘I will never live in Orange County; there’s no culture, there’s no this, there’s no that,’” she says with a laugh.

“Then we came down to Newport Beach for a weekend,” Jeff recalls, “and we ended up buying a house here instead, on the peninsula.”

That’s the place the couple started their family, which consists of “one dog, a gecko, a guinea pig and then three children. Not necessarily in that order! We have a 14-year-old boy, an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl,” Kirsten chuckles, then bends down to pet Lola, the dog, who avidly accompanies this home tour.

Their first home on Lido came after the birth of their elder son. Says Kirsten: “On the peninsula, the neighborhood we lived in wasn’t as family-friendly. We wanted a place that had other kids and room for them to play, and we found Lido. At the time, we moved into what was perfect for us. It was a small house; we had one child. It was an original Lido house built in 1931, the same year the bridge was built.”

That house was where they began working with interior designer Keely Kay, a Balboa Peninsula resident herself. Kay worked on that first Lido home as the Ingham family grew to two boys.

“Keely came in, and she’s an organizational expert, and she would say, ‘OK, you can max out this space by buying a piece of furniture that will fit in perfectly.’ So she helped us max out our space in that house, we were all good to go … and then came baby No. 3,” she says. “We were busting out at the seams. We loved that house; it was a cozy, warm home. But we grew out of it. So we rented a house then, because we couldn’t find the right thing to buy.”

But the Ingham family never considered leaving Lido once they became a part of that special island community. “There’s a saying among our friends and neighbors here: ‘You don’t move off Lido, you move around Lido.’ So we’ve done a few little house-hops, but this one is here to stay. I think we’re going to be in this one for a long time,” Kirsten says.

They found and bought their 3,960-square-foot house, a street-to-street home that sits on a 45-by-90-foot lot, in 2012 and immediately “ripped it up,” as Jeff remembers.

“The house was originally built in 1940, and then it was added onto, I think maybe three times, or even four,” he continues. “What often ends up happening here is that rather than tearing a house down, people just keep adding something on. So this one was pretty well built-out, and we realized we’d have to remodel it to make it the kind of place we wanted it to be.”

Back came designer Keely Kay, who consulted with the couple even before they chose the house. “Keely even started with us a step earlier,” Kirsten explains. “Keely was coming with us to see other houses, since most of the other houses we saw needed extensive remodels as well. She knows our family so well, and she could help us see through what it was to what it could be.”

Once the home was purchased, the collaboration began. “Keely used to call it ‘The House of Many Doors,’ because originally there were so many doors and so many passageways,” she continues. “We knew we wanted an open kitchen and a big dining room for extended family gatherings, and so we opened up the whole front of the house.”

That meant tearing out the galley kitchen, getting rid of walls, changing the orientation of closets and commodes, putting in a kids study area next to the kitchen (for easy monitoring of homework while dinner is cooking) and even replacing the façade siding and front door.

“We put in a Dutch door in the front, mostly because we always had one and we like it, and with no air conditioning, we always have it open,” Kirsten says.

Kay designed and then kept watch on every element of the renovation, from major wall removals to many of the decorative accessories used in the built-in shelves scattered throughout the house, which she describes as “California coastal with a traditional flair and a timeless influence.”

Being intimate with the family for so long was a distinct advantage for the designer. “I knew what Kirsten was after, I knew what Jeff was after, and I knew what the budget was – which we exceeded by about 15 percent in the end,” Kay says. “What I do is once we agree on the design, I have a lot of subcontractors and I act as construction manager on a project. So I oversaw the project for them as well. That way all my design details get implemented exactly as I want them. Nothing goes wrong, in other words.”

Actually, everything is right in this warm Lido home that incorporates the Inghams’ items of personal and sentimental value with Kay’s “functional but pretty” design elements, particularly evident in the upstairs sun deck. That’s where Kay created a space that had everything Kristen Ingham’s heart desired.

“It reminds me of being in Europe,” she says. “She designed the built-in seating area for it and still kept room for the ping-pong table. That was a must for me.”

And remember Kirsten Ingham’s doubts long ago about moving to Orange County? Forget she ever thought one bad thing about the county. “Now we’re so happy that this is home. I think we’re going to be in this house for a long time.”

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