If you want something easy to grow that doesn’t need a lot of light, we have the plant for you. Cast iron plants are some of the hardest houseplants to kill and they are also very resilient when growing in your outdoor garden.
Cast iron plants can survive neglect, low light conditions and drought, in addition to resisting pests and diseases.
When it comes to choosing the right houseplant, do you prefer something nice and easy? Is it dark enough where you live? Do you travel a lot and need something low maintenance? You will love cast iron plants.
What are Cast Iron Plants?
Cast Iron Plants (Aspidistra elatiorlisten)) is native to Taiwan and the southern islands of Japan where it is commonly found in forested areas. When it comes to the Aspidistra genus, there are 100 species, but most people grow the A.Elatior species, but you will also see varieties like attenuated, basal, carnosisand daibuensis.
Aspidistras have long, shiny green leaves that sometimes have stripes or spots.
Cast iron plants produce purple flowers when growing in the wild, but when planted indoors they do not bloom. If you are lucky enough to find cast iron plants in the wild and are patiently waiting for the flowering season, look at the soil.
This is where the flowers are formed. They look like little purple mushrooms growing on the ground and they attract pollinators like fungus gnats. Isn’t nature wild?
If you want to keep your cast iron plant outdoors year-round, you must be in USDA growing zones 7-11. Otherwise, grow it indoors or in a container that you can bring in cold weather.
In the past, ironworks were seen as a symbol of successful middle-class living and were found in many Edwardian and Victorian homes. Due to the resilient nature of this plant, it was a popular choice for many homeowners and families.
As with all things, it eventually fell out of favor and was considered unfashionable for a while. Luckily, these tough little wonders are making a real comeback.
There are many outstanding cultivars, some with strong leaves, some with stripes, and some with both. There are always new ones popping up on the market, so keep an eye out.
‘Big Spotty’ has slightly crinkled leaves and distinct large white spots all over the foliage. It’s almost as if the leaves sparkle in the light.
One of the most popular options, the beautiful “Milky Way” has white spots on the dark green leaves that will remind you to look up at the beautiful night sky. Grab a four-inch live plant from Amazon.
It’s a tough little cultivar that can survive into zone 6 if you give it some winter protection. It has beautiful, slightly striped leaves.
stars and stripes
As you’d expect, this cultivar has both distinct stripes and spots on the dark green leaves.
‘Rigid Ribbons’, as you’d expect, has long, thin leaves that maintain fairly rigid growth. It is a more tender cultivar that only survives to zone 9.
plant cast iron plants
You cannot plant aspidistras from seed unless you have flowering plants with lots of pollinators on your property. Most of us don’t. So you either have to part with an existing plant or buy a transplant.
The first step in planting is finding the right soil. Fortunately, these plants can tolerate a variety of soils, but they must have good drainage. The ideal soil is rich, loamy and slightly acidic. Outdoors, they can grow in sandy or clay soils, but to give them the ideal conditions, work in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost.
If you plan to grow cast iron plants in containers, a general potting mix will do. Always use a container with drainage. These plants do not tolerate wet feet.
Wherever you grow them, they should be out of direct sunlight. Anywhere from deep shade to dappled shade will do.
To take a division, dig up a clump from an existing plant using a shovel. Take at least two leaves with many roots attached for successful propagation.
Once you have taken the leaves, you can plant them in a cool container with potting soil or directly in the ground.
You need to be careful with young plants as they need more constant water, but you want to avoid providing too much water as this will lead to root rot. Try to keep the floor like a well-wrung sponge.
How to Take Care of Your Cast Iron Plant
Now for the easy part. Caring for these plants is pretty much foolproof.
Despite the fact that cast iron plants can survive in drought conditions, that doesn’t mean they have to live without moisture.
Ideally, you want to keep the soil moderately moist at all times.
After the plant has established itself for about a year, wait until the top inch of soil is dry before watering again. The easiest way to tell the soil is dry is to place your finger in the soil and check for moisture. If it’s dry to your first knuckle, add water.
Houseplants or potted plants need more water than those in the ground. During winter and fall, you do not need to fertilize this plant. It is only needed during the spring and summer growing season. When you fertilize, you must water it first to avoid burning the roots during the process.
Use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer and dilute it by half.
Outdoors, fertilize once a year in the spring with a foliage-targeting fertilizer.
Exposure to light
As long as they aren’t hit by direct sunlight, they should be happy. Although they may grow slower if you place them in a dark corner of the basement, they will still survive.
Ideally, place them in full, indirect sunlight. Outdoors, under trees or on the north side of your house, it’s perfect. Wherever a hosta will grow, a cast iron plant will grow.
The exception is if you live in a mild climate like the Pacific Northwest coast. They can handle direct light in areas like this. If the leaves are exposed to intense light, they will turn white and burn.
Here is a brief summary:
- If you are growing cast iron plants outdoors, place them in a shady area with indirect or dappled light.
- Indoors, place them in bright, indirect light. That said, they can survive even if they are in the shade. They just might not get as big and bushy.
Temperature and humidity
Next on the list of increasing requirements for cast iron plants are temperature and humidity. The best temperature for these plants is between 60 and 75°F, and they sleep below 50°F. If the temperature drops below 35℉, your plant will likely die.
If you live below zone 7 and want to have your aspidistra outdoors, grow it in a container and bring it indoors over the winter.
In terms of humidity levels, the humidity in your home is probably okay. In extremely dry areas, you can add a little humidity if desired by using humidity trays or humidifiers. Don’t stress him out too much, though. These plants are extremely tolerant of dry conditions.
How do you know if your plant needs to be repotted? The most obvious sign is when the roots start coming out of the drainage hole or around the surface of the soil. With cast iron plants, this might not happen for several years.
At this point, you’ll need to split them or put them in a larger container.
The best time to repot or divide your plant is in the spring when the plant is just emerging from dormancy.
To divide, remove the plant from its container, cut it in half, and place one half in a new pot and one half in the old one. To repot, remove from the old pot, brush off loose dirt and place in a new container one size larger.
Common pests and diseases
Even though cast iron plants aren’t known to be vulnerable to pests and diseases, it’s good to know in advance what might happen so you can be prepared.
Overall, the only pests you should worry about are common houseplant pests such as spider mites and scale insects.
You should also keep an eye out for aphids. You can spot aphids by the appearance of small brown, white and yellow spots on the leaves. Also look for ants or the sticky substance that aphids leave behind, known as honeydew.
If you catch a small group in time, you can clean the area and remove the infected leaves. Rinse the foliage once a week for about a month to remove insects and eliminate minor infestations.
Insecticidal soap can help with larger infestations.
Scale insects can also infect this plant. These pests are white and are found on the stems. It is important to catch these insects early because the longer they infect your plant, the harder it is to get rid of them.
The best way to avoid problems is to be vigilant and check your plants regularly.
Browning or yellowing of leaves
Now that you know the common pests that infect cast iron plants, there are other issues to watch out for when growing this plant in your home. The two main issues that can occur are browning tips and entire leaves turning brown.
The reason for both of these problems is often that you have over-watered or been exposed to too much sun.
Do you feel the ground? Is it soggy? Stop watering until the top thumb dries out. Then, be very careful not to overwater. If the soil doesn’t seem too wet, try moving your plant to a more shady area.
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