Cast iron plants outdoors

Will Cast Iron Plants Grow Outside: Learn About Outdoor Cast Iron Planting

If you’re a gardener, the words “cast iron” do not draw up a mental image of a skillet but rather a plant with superhero status, one that meets challenges many other plants would ordinarily succumb to – such as low light, heat and drought. I’m talking about the cast iron plant (Aspidistra eliator), Mother Nature’s solution for the unwitting plant killers amongst us.

Got a brown thumb or not as attentive to your plants as you should be? If so, then this resilient plant is for you. Cast iron makes a great easy-to-care for houseplant, but will cast iron plants grow outside? Read on to learn more.

Will Cast Iron Plants Grow Outside?

Yes! You can grow cast iron plants in gardens – in the right setting. If you’re looking to grow cast iron plant as a perennial, keep in mind that while a cast iron plant can withstand a lot of adverse conditions lobbied at it, winter could be the kryptonite to this superhero plant.

With this in mind, those living in USDA zones 7-11 will be able to grow cast iron outside as a perennial year round with relative assurance. The rest of us will be enjoying cast iron plant outdoors as an annual or as a container plant that splits its time alternatively indoors and outdoors, depending on the season.

Now, let’s find out what is required for an outdoor cast iron planting and how to grow a cast iron plant in the garden.

Care of Cast Iron Plants Outdoors

Cast iron plants in gardens will prove to be steady performers with just a modicum of care and a basic understanding of their minimum requirements. This is a foliage plant that features long 4-inch-wide (10 cm.) glossy green or variegated leaves that are described as “corn-like” in appearance. The plant does produce tiny purple flowers but they really to not contribute to the plant’s aesthetic beauty, as they grow close the ground and are obscured by the foliage. Cast iron plant is a slow but steady grower that reaches a height of 2 feet (.60 m.) tall and a span 2-3 feet (.60-.91 m.) wide.

Cast iron plants can be sourced from your local nursery or, if you have the right connections, you can obtain some rhizome divisions from a friend, family or neighbor. An outdoor cast iron planting should maintain a spacing of 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45.7 cm.) apart between plants for creating an effective groundcover or border.

Cast iron plant is a shade plant that needs to be in a location that receives filtered to deep shade. While soil quality is not a concern for this plant, it does prefer soil that is characteristically rich, fertile, and well draining.

What is required for the care of cast iron plants? There really are no hard-core requirements for their care, simply recommendations, as this is a plant that can withstand a fair amount of neglect. For optimal growth, consider feeding it once a year, either in the spring or summer, with an all-purpose fertilizer.

Water it initially during the first growing season to help the plant’s rhizomatous roots get established. The plant is drought tolerant once established, but you may opt for periodic watering afterwards to facilitate better growth.

An occasional pruning may be necessary by cutting any unsightly leaves down to the ground. Propagation of this plant is done by root division. Simply section pieces of the rhizome that include at least a few leaves and transplant.

Cast Iron Plant

Shade Tolerant and Reliable

Why Cast Iron Plants?

Shade tolerant and totally adaptable, the Cast Iron Plant offers abundant groundcover and grows well when planted under trees that cast shade. Basically, this plant is your solution to adding color back to your shaded areas. And its thick, deep green foliage provides depth when added to flower gardens or grown indoors.

While it’s a relatively slow grower, it will be a colorful addition to your landscape from the start. Consider planting it in a shady corner in your yard, where you need a little something to brighten up space.

Even better? It’s the perfect house plant. This is the ideal indoor plant for those who travel, or simply don’t have a green thumb. It doesn’t require a lot of attention, and unlike most plants, it doesn’t need much light. Closely related to the lily, it’s equally as tough and attractive – 12 to 24-inch leaves grow in an upright fashion, adding a trendy touch to your interior.

Plus, because it’s an evergreen variety, it will be with you for years and years. If planted in the ground, its dark green leaves belie a pretty feature: right above the soil’s surface, you’ll find small purple flowers that spread underneath the thick, glossy foliage. Due to its robust nature, growers have reported their plants surviving freezing temperatures with no damage.

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Nicknamed the “Ballroom Plant” because hotels, malls, and airports adorn their interior spaces and landscapes with it, the Cast Iron Plant is low-maintenance and strong, making its name particularly apt.

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Easy to own. Long-lived. Well-suited to any area. Order your Cast Iron Plant now!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: The best place for your plant is near an East-facing window that is free from drafts. When you’re ready to plant, select a pot that is approximately 12 to 14 inches in diameter and use well-drained soil. Also, make sure your pot has proper drainage holes.

Tip: You can place your pot on top of a base with stones to prevent spills and allow for proper moisture containment.

2. Watering: Allow the top layer of the soil to dry out completely, and then water deeply until water begins to drain. Repeat this process as needed.

3. Fertilization: Feed with a water-soluble fertilizer once in the spring.

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Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra Elatior)

WHAT TO DO?

  • Every plant has different type of light, feed and water requirements.
  • Most of the plants like moderate watering, let the couple of inch at surface dry before watering again.
  • Some plants require frequent feeding but most, once in a year, feed the plant at beginning of spring.
  • Repot the plant every couple of years in slightly bigger container.

WHAT NOT TO DO?

  • Avoid frequent watering in winters, it will kill the plant.
  • Avoid temperature shocks like taking it suddenly indoors or outdoors.
  • Avoid partial watering and use water sprayers to water equally in all directions.
  • Avoid repotting plants in large containers, most of the plants likes to be in groups.
  • Avoid over fertilizing, quantity depends on NPK ingredients but plants do need not more than a spoon.

COMMON UNDERSTANDING

Plants are living creatures require a little sensitivity towards them, following common instructions are helpful for keeping them happy:

  • Dig around the root zone with your fingers to a depth of 2-3′ for small plants and water generously when the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Use a balanced fertilizer i.e., 10-10-10, 14-14-14 (Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K)) food with micro-nutrients.
  • Be observant of the changes in plant vigor and growth, plants are more susceptible to disease and pests if they are weakened through poor maintenance.
  • It is good to make it a practice to inspect plants progress so you can spot systems of disease or insect infestations well in advance of any serious problem.
  • Pruning is required at times for plant health and aesthetics, as a general note remove the damaged leaves and branches as soon as those are noticed to avoid infections.

If you’re looking for a hardy and forgiving houseplant, then look no further. Meet the cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior!

Also called the bar room plant, this plant has a long and storied history.

This plant has been in cultivation since the early Victorian era as a houseplant. In Japan, it is a prime training plant for ikebana, the Japanese art of floral arrangement.

But it’s not limited by its pot size. Cast iron plant makes for a wonderful border plant. Its broad, long leaves create an excellent ground cover in shaded areas.

Whether you choose to grow yours indoors or outside, there is a cast iron plant for you. We’ll go over a few of the most popular cultivars today. Once we’re through, you’ll know exactly how best to grow its wonderful, leafy greenery.

Let’s get started!​

Great Products For Growing Cast Iron Plants:

  • Garden Safe Neem Oil Extract
  • Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap
  • MycoStop Biofungicide
  • Monterey Liqui-Cop Fungicide

Cast Iron Plant Overview

The cast iron plant can be a great bedding plant as well as a houseplant! Source: intheburg

Common Name Cast iron plant, bar room plant, barroom plant
Scientific Name Aspidistra elatior
Family Asparagaceae
Light Shade to partial shade
Water Keep soil consistently moist
Temperature 45-85 degrees, optimal 60-70
Humidity Likes humidity but does not require it
Soil Well-draining soil
Fertilizer Balanced houseplant fertilizer, either liquid or slow-release granular, do not over-fertilize
Pests Spider mites, mealybugs
Diseases Fusarium blight, fusarium rot, sclerotium stem rot

Origins of the Cast Iron Plant

Many people mistakenly believe that cast iron plants originate in China. In reality, they come from other Asiatic regions.

Taiwan and the Japanese islands are where these plants call home. Throughout the Osumi islands, Uji islands, Kuroshima, and Suwanosejima, these plants thrive.

These temperate rainforest regions are perfect for this moisture-loving species. In its native environment, it grows as an understory plant beneath evergreens. Spreading through rhizomes just beneath the soil’s surface, its leafy greenery is distinctive.

Cast iron plant has earned its name, though! It grew to popularity as a houseplant during the Victorian era. Just like cast iron, it’s hard to destroy and is remarkably tolerant to neglect. Low-light situations aren’t a problem.

A relative of the lily, its vivid green leaves can reach 2 feet tall and spread up to 3 feet wide. But it’s a slow grower, which makes it another great candidate as an easy-care houseplant.

While cast iron plants do flower, it’s infrequent at best. Their blooms tend to be hidden among the leaves close to the soil surface. When they do appear, they’re often brownish-purple in color.

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Types of Cast Iron Plants

There are a few different cultivars that you may be interested in when deciding to grow the cast iron plant:

Asahi

The leaf tips of the Asahi cultivar develop a dramatic white streak of color, as if kissed by the morning sun. As Asahi translates to “morning sun”, this is appropriate! The leaves can reach up to 30″ in length, and tend to be about 5″ wide.

Be careful to have the right size of container for Asahi, though. The upper third of the leaves won’t develop their white tinge if it’s too small, and will remain green instead.

Hoshi-zora

Do you like nights filled with stars? You may appreciate Hoshi-zora, a cast iron plant which has leaves decked in yellow to white “stars”. It’s name means starry sky, and the leaves certainly deliver that impression!

Its leaves can reach an impressive 6″ in width, and the leaves have a mid-to-dark green coloration. The lighter speckling just enhances that green hue. Some call this aspidistra Milky Way, as there’s a specific branded variation sold by that name.

Lennon’s Song

The center of each leaf of “Lennon’s Song” is a long golden or white flame-like shape. This central streak of color provides contrast to the dark, semi-glossy leaf around it.

Interestingly, the name doesn’t reference the legendary singer associated with the Beatles. Instead, it references the man whose Florida field produced this variation, Robin Lennon.

Okame

Where the leaves of most cast iron plants tend to be green, this one is anything but. These dramatic white-streaked leaves may be a nod to its name’s dramatic origins. Okame is a character in Japanese Kyogen theatre, but is also the name of this cultivar!

Looking as though someone swept a paintbrush along the leaves, Okame is a difficult to find plant. It’s worth searching for this cast iron plant cultivar, though… and like its namesake, finding it is good fortune indeed.

Planting Aspidistra Elatior

Aspidistra elatior dislikes having its roots disturbed very often. To prevent this, it’s important to select your planting location carefully.

If you’re going to be growing cast iron plant indoors, select a pot that’s a couple inches wider than the root system. Cast iron plant has a rhizomatic root system that slowly spreads. It’ll need the extra space.

Outdoors, aim towards spacing them at least a foot apart. Over time, they’ll fill in the space between plants, but it may take a while. Cast iron plants are slow growers.

If you’re looking for a large showpiece type plant, you may want to buy it full-grown. As they grow at least 24 inches tall and often as much as 30 inches or more, it’ll take a while for a seedling to reach full size.

When planting, plant at the same level it is in the pot. Its rhizomes will gradually spread out under the soil surface.

Caring For and Cultivating

Like I said earlier, your cast iron plant will be tolerant of neglect. That may be music to your ears!

But like any plant, there are some general guidelines to follow for the best possible growth. This plant will do well in many different environments, but it can thrive if it’s got the right needs met.

Sunlight & Temperature

This shade-loving ‘Milky Way’ aspidistra has naturally speckled leaves.Source: wallygrom

Almost any mid-range lighting is good for cast iron plants. It’s best to avoid total darkness or direct bright sun, but anything else is fair game.

Shadier or partial-shady areas of the yard work well. Grown indoors, your cast iron plant will handle low-light environments well. Fluorescent lighting works as well, making them great for office environments.

Temperature-wise, your aspidistra elatior will take a surprisingly-wide range. Avoid frost conditions whenever possible, as frost can damage those broad leaves.

Temperature ranges from 45-85 degrees are good. The 60-70 degree range is about perfect, making it perfect indoors.

In colder environments, the plant is a little more at risk. Offer protection when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Place your plants where they aren’t getting direct wind chill or lots of moisture on their leaves.

If the temperature gets close to freezing, bring them indoors. Most cast iron plants can survive temps down to 14 degrees, but suffer major damage. Don’t risk older plants in the chill.

This plant thrives in growing zones 7-11.

Water & Humidity

In low-light areas and cool climates, your cast iron plant may only need water every couple weeks. The same is true for indoor plants. If your soil remains moist, don’t overwater!

Aim towards watering when the top inch or two of soil has dried out. Provide good drainage in your soil so the plant’s roots aren’t sitting in mud. Avoid leaving potted aspidistras in saucers of water, as that can make the soil too wet.

Too much water is the enemy here, as with so many other plants. If the roots are sitting in soggy soil, they are susceptible to root rot.

As for humidity, the cast iron plant isn’t picky. Its natural environment is a rainforest floor, so it does well in moist air. They’re also quite tolerant of drier air, especially indoors. As long as the soil’s moist, that’s what’s important!

Soil

Cast iron plant flowers hide right at the soil level. Source: mutolisp

Soil for the cast iron plant just needs to drain well. While you want it to remain moist, you never want it to become oversaturated.

Most good potting mixes will provide the drainage you need. If you’re uncertain, fill a pot with your mix and give it a thorough watering, then wait a few hours before checking. If it feels damp to the touch, but not gooey, it’ll work well.

If you want to plant your aspidistra in an outdoor bed, run the above moisture test. To fix muddy soils, work in some composted manure and peat moss to absorb water. Break up clay-like soils when blending them.

Sandy soils are fine but usually need a little peat just to stay moist.

Mulch around the base of your plants to help keep the soil’s moisture consistent. Mulching also prevents weeds from popping up around your plants, which is a great benefit!

Soil pH isn’t a huge concern for these plants. They’ll tolerate slightly acidic or slightly alkaline soil. Avoid going too extreme in either direction, aiming for a balanced range.

Fertilizer

A closeup of a cast iron plant leaf. Source: nc.hort

Depending on the type of fertilizer you use, the frequency will vary.

High quality liquid fertilizers, especially those intended for houseplants, should have monthly applications. If you prefer slow-release granular fertilizers, it can be much less frequent. 2-3 month slow release types should be replenished about as often. Avoid fertilizing in the winter.

Be careful not to over feed. Too much fertilizer will literally cause your plant to lose its variegation! The leaves will all stay dark green.

Transplanting

Avoid transplanting too frequently. Your cast iron plant will tolerate being a bit rootbound, but it doesn’t like its roots disturbed. At most, transplanting should happen every 2-3 years.

There’s two reasons to transplant: to propagate new plants or to provide more room for larger ones. I’ll cover propagation in a moment. Let’s go over the latter issue now.

If your plant’s starting to look crowded in its pot, gently slide it out and examine the root mass. If it looks like it’s spiraling around the pot, it’s likely time to transplant.

Select a pot which is an inch or two larger than your existing pot and prepare it with your preferred potting soil. Then remove the plant from its old pot. With your fingertips, loosen the roots to untangle them, and then set it in the new pot.

Fill in the potting soil around the plant, keeping it at the same planting level as it’d been before. Water it in to moisten the soil, and top dress with mulch if desired.

Propagation

Be sure to have a few stems on each clump when propagating. Source: nc.hort

Root division is the most common way to propagate your plants. It’s a very simple process, and you can easily multiply your aspidistra collection! Try to do this in the spring or summer months if possible to allow new plants to establish well.

Remove the plant from its pot. If it’s in a bed, loosen the soil around the plant, then lift it up from underneath the root mass. Be careful not to cut the roots with your shovel.

Once you’ve gotten the plant out of its soil, you can dust off any excess loose soil and use your hands to tease it apart. Be sure you get clumps which have at least 2-3 stems.

Place each clump into its own pot, planting at the same height it was originally planted. You should have new growth within a month or two.

Pruning

Any pruning for cast iron plant is either cosmetic or removes pests. Of the foliage plants we grow, this one is very self-maintaining. Since it’s slow to grow, you don’t have a constant need to fuss over it.

Older dead leaves tend to hide under the newer green growth. These are easy to remove if you want to, but it’s nonessential. You can also trim off leaves with severe insect damage, although that’s rare. If you do, use a pair of sterilized pruning shears.

Most of the time, pruning just isn’t needed!

Companion Planting

Many gardeners grow the cast iron plant as an indoor houseplant. However, it can be paired with other plants as well! Some of these include:

  • ​Fuschia
  • Columbine
  • Foam Flower
  • Flax Lily
  • Sarcococca

It also makes an excellent layering plant. You can place aspidistra elatior against a fenceline and plant shorter plants in front of it easily.

Pests and Diseases

Browning of leaves on cast iron plant can be a sign of watering problems. Source: Javierahr

The hardiness of the cast iron plant extends to its pest and disease tolerance. It’s not affected by too many of either!

Even so, there’s a few pesky pests or diseases that can still cause damage if you aren’t watchful. Let’s discuss what could happen.

Pests

Spider mites on plants are one of the most annoying pest types for indoor gardeners. They can decimate any plant they infest in a short period of time. Another common problem is certain types of scale insects. While not all will strike at your cast iron plants, you’ll want to get rid of mealy bugs quickly. Thankfully, there’s easy solutions for both. Spraying all leaf surfaces with neem oil can prevent these pests from moving in. And when you discover them, use a good insecticidal soap to get rid of them!

Diseases

Aspidistra elatior is susceptible to a number of leaf spot diseases. It’s also susceptible to root rot problems.

Both are common problems caused by fusarium, a fungal growth.

In the soil, fusarium can wreak major havoc on the rhizomatic roots. Soft rots are common problems.

On the leaves, it can create water-soaked spotting that will turn brownish-red in time. Those brownish-red splotches produce fungal spores that can spread. This fusarium blight can be a real pain!

I highly recommend using MycoStop in your soil to build up root resistance against fungi. This biofungicide is organic and will suppress or prevent many types of root rot issues.

If you notice leaf-spotting, prune off diseased leaves before they form spores. Keep the foliage dry to prevent reoccurance. Avoid over-watering to slow the development of soil-based fusarium.

One other problem is common. Sclerotia rolfsii, sometimes called Southern blight, causes brownish lesions on the stems. It’s also referred to as sclerotium stem rot.

As it progresses, the leaves may yellow and wilt, and whitish mycelium can form. Most often, this fungal disease spreads in overly-wet soil. Avoid overwatering, and use a copper-based fungicide spray to treat the issue.

Frequently Asked Questions

Growing cast iron plant indoors is easy! Source: rrei320

Q. My cast iron plant leaves are turning yellow one at a time. What’s happening?

​A: If you’ve recently re-potted your plant, it could simply be adjusting to its new environment. Another issue could be a lack of (or too much) water, so make sure your soil’s moist but not soggy. Finally, it can be a sign of Sclerotium stem rot.

Q. How often should I cut back my Aspidistra to keep it under control?

​A: It’s a slow-growing plant, so keeping it controlled is fairly easy. If you want to promote all new foliage each year, you can prune it back in the early spring before new growth begins. It’ll leaf back out!

Q: My cast iron plant leaves have brown tips. Help?

A: This is usually a sign of watering issues. Too much water will cause the plant to release water from its leaf tips, and they’ll turn brown as a result. Too little can also spawn the problem. Try to keep the soil evenly moist but not wet!

Just like cast iron itself, the cast iron plant is nearly indestructible. These hint should ensure yours lasts for decades! What’s your favorite cultivar? Tell me down in the comment section!

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SERIES 26 Episode 02

Jane introduces a plant that’s practically indestructible

“If you’re looking for a plant that does well in a shady spot, this is the one for you. This is called The Cast Iron Plant and it lives up to its name because it is tough. It’s the Aspidistra (Aspidistra elatior) and most people will know it because in the Victorian era, they would plonk one of these plants in a brass bowl or a pot and they’d stick it in the darkest part of the parlour behind the piano and it would thrive on neglect.”

“In the garden it does really well. It clumps up. It has a flower that’s very insignificant, but quite interesting because it’s down at ground level – right on top of the soil – and that is because a slug pollinates these plants! They’re wonderful plants and when you get a clump, they’re usually pretty easy to divide up.”

“Once you’ve dug up a clump, give it a bang on a hard surface to get some of the soil loosened. You can pull it apart with your hands or saw it through with a sharp knife. It has a rhizome (swollen underground stem) at the base which you can cut through.”

“All the separate sections will grow very easily when potted up. Take a section, make sure the root are covered, tap the potting mix down so it settles in nicely, give it a good drink of water and that plant will survive for weeks and weeks with no attention at all – on top of my piano.”

If you want a truly indestructible houseplant, there are few that will survive quite such a high level of neglect as an aspidistra. It will tolerate more shade than pretty much any other, not to mention months of drought, the coldest of drafts and almost any pest going. Hence the Victorian common name for the species: “cast iron plant”.

But just how indestructible is indestructible? Well, when I was testing out plants for one of the tropical gardens I designed at Chelsea Flower Show, I had a specimen that the postman placed in a bin cupboard by my front door. When I eventually discovered this a month later, still in its sealed cardboard box, it emerged as if nothing had happened. No other plant I know of would not look like wet mush or a shrivelled skeleton after this treatment.

What few people realise about aspidistras is that their tough constitution can be as valuable outside as it is inside for, despite looking so tropical, they come with a surprising level of cold hardiness. While estimates of the actual temperatures they can tolerate vary widely, I have seen aspidistras sail through winters that have lain waste to even species thought to be reliably hardy, such as fatsia, cordylines and phormiums. This means that if you live in a milder location with a sheltered garden that is plagued by the bane of all gardeners, dry shade, they are the perfect choice. Pretty much every tiny urban plot I have seen has at least one spot that falls into this category (because despite surrounding walls creating a comparatively sheltered microclimate, they also act as a rain/sun shadow to create the spot that is both sun-starved and super dry). So it is surprising how underused this genus really is. Many people also don’t realise how beautiful and diverse they can be, a world away from the generic, dark-green paddles of the traditional Aspidistra elatior of times gone by.

Tough constitution: an Aspidistra elatior potted plant. Photograph: Matthew Ward/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

I love the wonderfully speckled foliage of A sichuanensis ‘Ginga’, which is dotted with constellations of brilliant lemon yellow spots across its dark green leaves. Forming neat clumps of narrow, bladelike leaves, it looks like something straight out of the Amazon, but in my experience will take prolonged lows of at least -10C without any visible damage. If you are a fan of speckles, ‘Milky Way’ is very similar, but with creamy white patterning instead of bright yellow. Most spectacular of all the dotted types, for me at least, is A sichuanensis ‘Chromatographic’ whose yellow dots are each surrounded by a halo of pale olive green, before they blend into the dark green, like a stellar glow.

A elatior has tips that look as though they have been dipped into white paint, that bleed down through the leaf like tie-die and stop even a usual hater of variegated plants (like me) in their tracks. I also love A elatior ‘Okame’, which is struck through with ice-white stripes, to bounce light around in even the darkest, driest spaces. Miss the flowers? A attenuata ‘Dungpu Dazzler’comes with drifts of pale yellow stars right at ground level, from which narrow, almost grass-like leaves spike through.

Email James at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Botanygeek

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