if you can’t have a pet, try one of these substitutes from the plant world | THE COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER

"Plants are easily house trained by slipping a saucer under the pot."

The third week of January is time to adopt some new members of the family.

Visiting home centers, nurseries and home shows this week means you’ll be meeting some living plants that can be taken home and nurtured either inside or outdoors. Adding more plants to your life has many of the same benefits as adding an animal – indoor plants have been proven to lower your heart rate, blood pressure and clean the air. Trying something new and educating yourself about a new plant variety is good for the brain.

Some plants even have soft hair on their foliage so they can be stroked or petted – no word yet on new plants that will come when they are called – but plants are easily house trained by slipping a saucer under the pot.

Plants to sub for a pet:

If you’ve always wanted a poodle: adopt an orchid plant.

Poodles look classy and are intelligent dogs. Orchids in bloom will add class to any interior and an orchid plant is smart enough to lie low, go dormant and rest up until a new blooming cycle begins.

You can find orchid plants for sale at grocery stores and the easiest to grow for beginners are the Phalaenopsis or butterfly orchids. And just like poodles, orchid come in standard, mini and now tiny teacup sizes.

Tip: Choose an orchid plant full of buds with just one or two open flowers. This way you will enjoy months of flowers. Bonus: A young orchid in the puppy stage will never chew your slippers.

If you’ve always wanted Labordor: adopt a hellebore.

Sturdy, friendly and willing to please, the hellebore is a winter flowering perennial that you can find for sale now at local nurseries and home center stores. Labs and hellebores both enjoy our wet weather and respond enthusiastically to any amount of attention they are given.

New hellebore varieties make this slug, deer and drought-resistant plant the antidote to spring fever and you can even enjoy your blooming hellebore indoors for a few weeks before setting it outside where it enjoys the cooler weather. Labs may like to dig, but hellebores like you to dig. Loosen the soil thoroughly making a planting hole at least three times as wide as the rootball of the potted hellebore. This encourages the thick roots to spread out.

Buying tip: Invest in a litter of hellebores so you can enjoy drifts of winter blooms under trees and rhododendrons. You can also use potted hellebores to fill empty containers now to decorate your porch or patio then transplant them into the garden in May when annuals are available.

If you’ve always wanted a kitten: Invest in an African violet

These darling plants have those furry leaves I mentioned plus their small size and pastel blooms up the cute factor. An African violet flowering in the pale winter light of a windowsill is as comforting and cozy as grandma’s quilt and a dozing calico cat.

You won’t have to clean a litter box but you do need to make sure your African violet does not suffer from lack of water. This is one houseplant that benefits from bottom watering. Place the potted plant in a bowl of water for a few hours when the soil feels dry. Remove when the top of the soil turns dark in color from moisture.

Meet Marianne Binetti at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show, Jan. 28 – 31 at the Tacoma Dome. Binetti is scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. every day of the show.

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