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Cast Iron Plant For Low Maintenance

An important criteria to consider when choosing plants is maintenance. Because of the size of my garden and because of limited available time for yard work, I am always looking for low maintenance plants. Cast iron plant has been on my wish list for several years. Cast iron? The name suggested it would be perfect for me, and this year I finally added one to my woodland garden:

Cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior, has the reputation of being nearly indestructible. It will survive neglect and is often used as a house plant in low light situations. However, it grows outdoors in U.S. hardiness zones 7-10 and may live with protection in parts of zone 6.

For optimum health, plant Aspidistra in well-drained garden soil with lots of added humus. It is a great plant for shady areas, even deep shade where other plants struggle. There is a variegated form that really lights up dark corners of a garden. Filtered sunlight is OK, but avoid direct sun, which can scorch the leaves and cause brown spots.

Cast iron plant will also tolerate both heat and cold, and it's evergreen leaves can take temperatures down to 28 degrees without damage. Severe cold may fray the leaves and cause them to develop brown streaks, but the damaged leaves can be trimmed away before new spring growth begins. Cast iron plant, once established, will survive drought as well as wet soil. Generally, it has few pest problems, except for deer and rabbits and some rodents who may browse on the leaves. (So far my resident woodland rabbit hasn't done any munching.)

The plant has tough, rizomatous roots and can be easily propagated by division. It is a well behaved plant, growing slowly to form clumps up to three feet wide. It makes a great ground cover under large trees. The long-lived, lance shaped leaves rise up directly from the ground and reach to about two feet tall. It has inconspicuous brown flowers that grow at soil level and are usually hidden by the foliage. Some may consider this a boring background plant, and perhaps it is. But the bold, deep green leaves contrast nicely with finer textured plants, and I believe it can be an excellent design feature when well-sited.

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Reader Comments (17)

The Aspidistra, what an unexpected yet great choice for your woodland. It wouldn't survive outdoors here. I do have one in a pot which I keep in the unheated greenhouse over Winter. It usually looks a state at this time of year but is fine by Summer.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

What a great plant for your woodland...too bad it is not hardy here.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Very interesting - and amazing because I've just come from the nursery where I looked at this plant and liked the leaves. I was tempted to buy it but decided to research it first. Came home to your post in my inbox ... I think I need to go back tomorrow and get one. I have plenty deep shade spots that still need interesting foliage plants.

I grew one of these once, in my living room, and they are very tough (but I have brown thumbs with indoor houseplants...I think they suffer from neglect). I never thought about planting them outside though. They have an almost tropical look, so I expected they'd need warmer temperatures outdoors. I really didn't expect they'd tolerate light freeze. I do love the look of the leaves though, and yours looks very happy!

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

I've never considered these for my garden, but you make a convincing argument. I just may pick one up next time I see one offered for sale! Low maintenance, evergreen, and interesting foliage is hard to beat!

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

Mine began in a pot. Now split into two clumps beneath the ash trees. Hoping to stretch it a little further this autumn.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElephant's Eye

This plant is a mainstay here, and as you say, it is planted in difficult spots, often surround the base of trees and the like. They can get really full and lush, and quite lovely.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Thank you, Deb! I love tough plants. Sold!

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

This brings memories of my grandmother's house when I was a child. Little embroidered tableclothes on all the side tables with an Aspidistra encroaching out into the dark room. I suppose the situation is just the conditions you find in a woodland, but without the embroidery!

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

It's unusual to find a perennial that is both hardy and well-behaved.
Your aspidistra reminds me of banana leaves, it will look really striking when it forms a clump.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

I am looking for big leaved plants for a garden design and did not think of this one, thank you. The lady wants banana and that does not winter over, but at zone 6, Cast Iron plant just might.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Your Aspidistra should be very happy in your gorgeous woodland. When my Mum moved in with us I planted hers ( had been in a pot for years) in my little woodland and it promptly died, but I think you are warmer than we are!! I believe they are pollinated by slugs!

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

It seems like a character actor rather than a diva, but that's ok. It's the character actors, like background plants, that round out a film or garden. I will definitely keep this plant in mind the next time I need something to fill in my dry shade. Thanks for this info! :o)

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

I adore Aspidistras! There are so many types and varieties out there, all shade loving and undemanding in their growth requirements. I could easily start collecting them!

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

When I lived in San Antonio they were quite common in shade. Almost too common, as they became overused. But I still loved their tropical feel. The Alamo garden used to be full of them under the Live Oaks.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreggo

I've heard great things about this plant and that it's tough to kill. It's too tropical looking for my garden I think, but those leaves are very pretty!

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

It looks great for foliage. Plus, who can ever argue with a "low maintenance"?

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBom
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