|Multi-level plant stands are perfect for showcasing a collection
Understanding indoor plants
Most avid gardeners don't check their love of plants at
the front door. We keep ferns in the bathroom, begonias in the study,
a dwarf citrus in the bedroom, pots of rosemary in the kitchen,
and seedlings in the basement. Today there are so many interesting
plants that can be grown indoors that there's simply no reason for
a gardener not to be surrounded by plants all year-round.
Indoor gardening had its first heyday during Victorian times. As
plants such as abutilons, palms, and hibiscus were discovered by
botanists in remote parts of the world, those who could afford to
do so, filled their parlors and conservatories with these exotic
There was another indoor plant revival during the 1970s, though
it was largely confined to foliage plants such as spider plants,
Swedish ivy, and ferns. Today, commercial greenhouses offer an eye-popping
selection of houseplants to choose from, including orchids, bougainvillea,
scented geraniums, exotic begonias, pentas, and gardenias. These
tropical beauties will bring both color and fragrance to your home.
The trick is learning how to keep them happy indoors.
The more you know about your indoor plants and where they come
from, the better you will be able to please them. Understanding
a plant's native habitat can help you decide which potting soil
to use, how often to water, what window the plant should be in,
and whether or not it needs extra humidity. But even if you don't
have specific cultural information about each and every one of your
houseplants, you can feel your way to success with some general
A Few Words of Comfort
Plants have a lifespan, just as people do. If you have a struggling
houseplant that has been around for a few years, it may simply be
tired, and all the TLC in the world may not be able to revive it.
Consider starting over with a new plant. Remember that unhealthy
plants attract insects like a magnet, and when the infestation spreads
to your other plants, you may regret your earlier large-heartedness.
Gift plants, such as cinerarias, poinsettias, chrysanthemums, azaleas
and cyclamen, make wonderful indoor decorations, but in most cases
they should be discarded after they have finished flowering. Some
of these plants can be nursed along to flower again, but it is usually
difficult to provide the growing conditions they need for another
lush display of blooms.
The right soil
If possible, your potting soil should be tailored to the particular
type of plant you are growing. Cactus, succulents and rosemary,
for example, prefer a coarse, well-drained soil that is about one-third
sand. Seedlings should be grown in a light, moisture-retentive,
soilless mix. African violets and ferns prefer soil with a high
humus content, which can be achieved by adding leaf mold or shredded
bark. Many kinds of orchids are happiest growing in nothing but
fir bark or sphagnum moss.
A good indoor potting soil is usually composed of peat moss, vermiculite
and perlite. These soilless mixes absorb moisture very well and
resist compaction, but they tend to dry out very quickly. Since
they do not contain any nutrients, you must provide your plants
with a consistent supply of fertilizer. One advantage to a soilless
mix is that it is sterile, so there is no chance of introducing
pest or disease problems.
Many gardeners combine a soilless mix with some organic components
such as leaf mold, finished compost, composted peat, or rich garden
soil. A growing medium that contains some organic matter will usually
not dry out as fast as a soilless mix. You will also be introducing
beneficial microorganisms and nutrients.
The most critical consideration when you're purchasing or blending
your own potting soil is to ensure that the mix is light enough
to provide adequate pore space for air, water and healthy root growth.
Month after month of overhead watering, without the benefit of earthworms
and weather to aerate the soil, usually results in an unhealthy,
compacted root ball. To ensure that your plants have the oxygen
they need for healthy root growth, your potting soil should contain
plenty of perlite, vermiculite, or sharp sand. This will allow water
to drain freely, and ensure that the soil is at least 10 to 20 percent
Climate, water and nutrients
In their natural habitat, most plants experience a day-to-night
temperature fluctuation of at least 10 degrees F. In your home,
they will benefit from having this same temperature differential.
Most plants also expect a resting period each year; in fact, some
flowering plants actually require a period of dormancy before they
will set bud and flower.
To simulate this resting period, you should cut back on water and
fertilizer during the late fall and early winter, when the intensity
and duration of natural light is lowest. Once the day length begins
to increase, you can declare it to be spring, and step up the water
and fertilizer. Your plants will respond with healthy new growth.
Most plants are happiest when the relative humidity is 50 percent
or higher, though they can usually survive at 30 to 40 percent.
If the air is much drier than that, they are unable to absorb enough
water through their roots to keep up with the water lost through
their leaves. Unfortunately, indoor air, especially in the winter,
often has a humidity as low as 10 to 20 percent.
Misting your plants helps, but only for an hour or so. A better
solution is to use a cool vapor humidifier (which you will benefit
from as well). You can also cluster your plants together so that,
as they release moisture into the air, they'll humidify their neighbors.
Or try arranging your plants on a gravel-filled tray that contains
about 1/4 inch of water. As the water evaporates, it will humidify
the air around your plants. Just be careful that the pots don't
sit directly in the water.
More houseplants die from overwatering than from anything else.
The best advice is to resist the temptation to water on a regular
schedule. Your plants will require frequent watering if the weather
has been sunny and warm, and they may not need a drop if the weather
has been cool and cloudy. Make a habit of checking the soil of at
least a few indicator plants, and water only if it feels dry to
a depth of 1/2 to 1 inch.
When you do water, drench the root ball until you can see some
water seep out the bottom of the pot. This will ensure that the
entire root ball gets moistened. Small pots will benefit from being
soaked in water for about an hour, once a month. Whenever possible,
try to water your plants with room temperature water to avoid shocking
Never use water that has been chemically softened. It contains
salts that are harmful to plants. If your water is very hard, consider
installing a demineralizing attachment to filter out impurities,
such as lime and chlorine.
|Plant Health Care is especially formulated for houseplants
Indoor plants are usually not too fussy about fertilizers.
The most important thing is to not overdo it. Follow the instructions
on the package, and err on the weak side. Always water your plants
thoroughly before applying any sort of fertilizer. A standard 10-10-10
formulation is fine for most indoor plants.
Supplementing with an organic amendment such as liquid seaweed
or fish emulsion, or a biostimulant, will provide some of the trace
nutrients lacking in an inorganic plant fertilizer. A top dressing
of compost or worm castings is another effective way to add organic
nutrients. Be aware that some plants are particularly sensitive
to pH level, and that this sensitivity can be either exacerbated,
or corrected, ith the right fertilizer. To avoid the buildup of
fertilizer salts, it's a good idea to periodically drench the soil
with clean water, then water again with clean water. This will help
flush any salts out of the soil.
Providing adequate light
Plants differ greatly in their need for light. Some will be happy
with the diffused light from a north window. Others will languish
if they don't receive 12 hours of bright light all year-round. Knowing
the light requirements for each of your plants will allow you to
determine where they will be happiest. Here are some general guidelines
for matching plants to various locations in your home. Most flowering
plants, and some sun-loving foliage plants, need to be within 3
feet of a sunny, south-facing indow.
Plants that prefer bright, indirect light can be located 3 to 5
feet away from a south-facing window, or within 3 feet of an east-
or west-facing window.
Plants that thrive in diffused light can be placed 6 to 8 feet away
from a south-facing window, or within a foot of a north-facing window.
In that location they'll receive about 25 percent of the light they
would get if they were in front of the sunny, south-facing window.
During the winter months, you may need to move all of your plants
closer to the window in order to compensate for the decrease in
Most plants perform best when they receive 12 to 16 hours of light
per day. If you want to keep your plants blooming during the short
days of winter, you may need to provide supplemental lighting.
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