As much as our houseplants seem part of the house, it's an unnatural life for them. They're used to the tropics, island paradises.

We can't recreate their ancestral homes but we can imitate the climates. The plants' main requirements, of course, are light and water. They like the company of other plants; as a community, they work together to hold humidity. Group plants with similar light needs: southern windows give the most light, but other exposure will do for plants like ferns which normally grow in the filtered light of the forest.

Plants need fresh air, the great outdoors, and daily if possible -- though none likes to stand in direct draft. Open a window across the room from them. Turning a small fan on the plants for a while each day will circulate the air and help to keep them free of scale and other pests, which can be a problem in the dry, still air of a house in winter.

As February moves into spring, and the plants begin to make new growth, look at their diets. The market is full of plant foods and since you won't eat many of your houseplants, you can choose synthetic food for them; or natural -- I use fish emulsion and the plants get very green. For a spring tonic for your plants, when you sit down to drink tea, whether herbal or black, save the leftovers and water the houseplants. Use the herbs or the tea as mulch.

If insects plague them, try spraying them with a strong mixture of garlic and water; puree it in a blender, then let it sit 24 hours to build up strength. It may make your house smell like an Italian restaurant, but it will rid your plants of pests.