Book Review: Growing Healthy Houseplants, by Ellen Zachos, in Storey Basics Self-Reliance Series

by DerdriuMarriner

Growing Healthy Houseplants by Ellen Zachos helps readers to choose the right plant, control pests, and water wisely as part of Storey Basics Series of Books for Self-Reliance.

Houseplants expect proper light, moisture, nutrients, sanitation, temperature

Growing Healthy Houseplants by Ellen Zachos appears as a 2014-released publication for readers of the Storey Basics Series of Books for Self-Reliance.
Imagery and information bring indoor gardeners means, motives, and opportunities to:
• choose the right plant;
• control pests; and
• water wisely.

The attractive, portable book configures convenient organization through:
• one-page table of contents;
• three-page preface on phytoremediating needs for decorative, environment-balancing, homey, humidity-absorbing, oxygen-releasing houseplants;
• four-page introduction on scientific classification of subtropical and tropical plants into genus by hybrid or by species and cultivar;
• 27-page part on fertilizers, light, potting mixes, and watering;
• 47-page part on controlling diseases and pests, propagating, pruning, and repotting;
• 40-page part on flowering, foliage, succulent, and woody decision-making; and
• three-page index.




In Growing Healthy Houseplants, Ellen Zachos points out that many common houseplants are tropical plants, so-called because of nativity to tropics:

Maple Leaf Begonia (Begonia dregei): popular houseplant native to Tropic of Capricorn's South Africa but welcome outside homelands
Biological Sciences Dept. greenhouse, Florida International University, Miami, southeastern Florida
Biological Sciences Dept. greenhouse, Florida International University, Miami, southeastern Florida

Houseplants find over-/under-cleaning, feeding, heating, lighting, watering counter-productive


Houseplants typically demand no three-month winter dormancies of:

  • uninterrupted darkness; and
  • temperatures below 32°F (0°C).

Low-maintenance life cycles and natural histories express houseplant origins at:

  • Tropic of Cancer, 23°27’, northward to 38°0’N and Tropic of Capricorn, 23°27’, southward to 38°0’S; and
  • Tropic of Cancer southward to Tropic of Capricorn and vice versa.

They function as prompts to:

  • high (6 to 8 southern-exposed hours), low (12 northern-exposed hours), or medium (3 to 4 eastern-/western-exposed hours) lighting every 24 hours; and
  • temperatures of 70°F (21°C) daily and 60 to 65°F (16 to 18°C) nightly; and
  • watering when the top inch (2.54 centimeters) and 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) are dry in containers respectively above and below 12 inches (30.48 centimeters). 


Spider plants, native to subtropical and tropical Africa, Asia, and Australia, have found new homelands worldwide, thanks to their graceful versatility:

spider plants showcase in elevated spots or in hanging baskets.
Chlorophytum capense: native to moist coastal South Africa
Chlorophytum capense: native to moist coastal South Africa

Houseplants generate anti-pest, propagation, pruning, and re-potting schedules


Re-potting every three years go smoothest with:

  • 1:1:1 perlite, sand, sterilized soil mixes being cactus-friendly;
  • 2:0.5:2 peat moss, perlite, sterilized soil being moisture-retentive;
  • 2:2:0.5:2 bark, peat moss, horticultural charcoal, perlite being epiphytic (soil-less); and
  • 3:1:1 bark, peat moss, perlite being all-purpose.

Pruning has non-overlapping yearly schedules of:

  • 1- to 2-inch (2.54- to 5.08-centimeter) reduction of roots in containers respectively above and below 12-inch (30.48-centimeter) diameters; and
  • 10% top-growth reduction overall.

Propagation involves:

  • cutting leaves, roots, stems;
  • dividing multiple clumps/crowns; and
  • separating offshoots.

Pest management juggles sanitation with control of:

  • ants, aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and whiteflies with 1:1:8 dishwashing liquid, mineral, water sprays;
  • bacterial, viral diseases;
  • fungal diseases with cinnamon;
  • slugs; and
  • sooty mold. 


A fun aspect of houseplants is selection of pots: clay pots provide congruity while decorative pots may contribute colorfulness or styling.

USDA Zone 5: houseplants moved from greenhouse to home in Clinton, Michigan
USDA Zone 5: houseplants moved from greenhouse to home in Clinton, Michigan

Houseplants have features to showcase, vessels to fill


Houseplants live longest when baskets, planters, pots, or terraria respect airy, anchored, solid, or tiny structures. Different vessels likewise maximize different features of:

  • African violets, begonias, crown-of-thorns, flamingo-flowers, moth-orchids;
  • climbing-onions, crotons, ferns, mosaics, philodendrons, prayer-plants, ribbon-bushes;
  • ficus, lady-palms, umbrella-trees; and
  • golden-barrel, holiday, mistletoe, orchid, pincushion, sea-urchin cacti.

So Growing Healthy Houseplants offers culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, and horticulturally enthralling insights into how to choose the right plant, control pests, and water wisely, thanks to:

  • Beverly Duncan, interior illustrator;
  • Sarah Guare and Carleen Madigan, editors;
  • Meg Hunt, cover illustrator;
  • Christine R. Lindemer, Boston Road Communications indexer;
  • Alethea Morrison, designer;
  • McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., printer;
  • Jeff Stiefel, art director;
  • Storey Publishing;
  • Theresa Wiscovitch, text producer; and
  • Ellen Zachos, writer. 


Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely, and Control Pests by Ellen Zachos ~ A Storey BASICS® Title ~ available via Amazon ~

Concise guide by gardening expert Ellen Zachos shows novice houseplant owners exactly how to keep indoor plants alive and healthy.



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Self-watering pots may be effective containers for plants: congenial philodendrons thrive in self-watering containers.

self-watering pots
self-watering pots

Sources Consulted


Zachos, Ellen. 2014. Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely, and Control Pests. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing. 


Light is a critical variable in growing healthy houseplants: some plants need placement near windows in full light; others are less demanding.

plant stand in living room
plant stand in living room
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

painted beauty of healthy houseplants: A Corner of the Apartment ~ giclée print ~ available via AllPosters

1875 oil on canvas by Claude Monet (November 14, 1840 - December 5, 1926): original at Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France: Claude's eldest son Jean and wife Camille in house at Argenteuil, near Paris.
A Corner of the Apartment

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 11/13/2021, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
DerdriuMarriner on 06/16/2015

Mira, it generally is a case of wintertime dormancy.
But sometimes it may involve getting used to an environment whose conditions are not quite right since all plants respond to certain ranges in heat, light, moisture, and ventilation.
Or it may relate to houseplant-lovers who do not realize that the symptoms of over-watering can be the same as those of under-watering in terms of indoor cultivation.
Or even sometimes it may result from not being talked to enough by the plant's caregivers! ;-] !

Mira on 06/11/2015

Yes, I have heard stories of plants that seem to die down, only to find strength after a few months. I didn't realize it was this phenomenon of wintertime dormancy.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/11/2015

Mira, Yes, the self-watering pots indeed look good, and they work just as well!
There appear to be any number of common names for Chlorophytum comosum even though houseplant-lovers in the U.S.A. almost entirely settle upon spider plant! The plantlets with adventitiously rooted new growths look to some like spiders hanging by web threads and to others like airplanes or a hen with chickens.
The need for a winter-time is something that some houseplant-lovers do not know or understand. For example, the Christmas poinsettia needs winter-time and therefore seems to die down after the showy December colors of its bracts. But the beautiful perennial in question does not have to be discarded -- as so many holiday celebrants do -- since keeping it in a cool, dark place for a couple of months leads to new growth, re-flowering, and re-showing of its prominent bracts (which surround its inconspicuously light-colored, tiny-sized blooms).

Mira on 06/11/2015

I didn't know those were called spider plants. I've seen them in many places.
I never stopped to think that some plants may need wintertime.
Those self-watering pots look really good, by the way.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/04/2015

HappyNutritionist, Everywhere I look I like to see plants, indoors and outdoors, in light and in shade.
Sometimes, shade garden plants do well indoors and sometimes they don't. It helps to maximize any reflected light possibilities by having light-colored blinds, drapes, and walls.
What houseplants are the ones that are struggling along enough to be kept?

happynutritionist on 06/03/2015

Sadly, we have a lot growing outside, and a lot of shade and there is not enough sun for houseplants here. I have a few, but they struggle along.

You might also like

Jan Moninckx and Ivy-Leafed Geranium: Capturing South African ...

South Africa's ivy-leafed geranium (Pelargonium peltatum): illustrated by Dut...

Maria Moninckx and South Africa's Gasteria nigricans and Pelar...

Two botanical illustrations, Gasteria nigricans and Pelargonium oblatum, reve...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...