Basic Houseplant Care
As part of the indoor landscape, house plants and tropical's beautify and cheer up our indoor spaces, making the rooms more welcome and livable and improving the room’s air quality as well. Studies by NASA showed that between 10-15 plants, in an 1800 square foot house, will filter toxins from the air and generate enough oxygen for four people.
From the house plant beginner and seasoned plant owner, to one who cares for indoor office plants professionally, learning to care for house plants is a lifelong journey. When selecting your indoor house plants be aware of the conditions in which they will be growing. Suitable lighting, temperature and humidity must be present for your plants to thrive. Choose a plant that will be comfortable in the selected location.
The most common question home gardeners ask is, “How often should I water my plants?” Unfortunately there is no simple answer. Some plants like drier conditions than others do. Differences in potting medium and environment influence water needs. The two main causes a house plant death are drought and drowning. As a rule, it is better to water deeply and less frequently rather than frequently but shallowly. Houseplant roots are usually in the bottom 2/3s of the pot, so do not water until the bottom two-thirds starts to dry out slightly. Water the pot until water runs freely out of the bottom. This technique washes out all the excess salts (fertilizers residue) and it guarantees that the bottom two-thirds of the pot, which contain most of the roots, receives sufficient water. Never let the bottom of the pot sit in water. For indoor plants that are very sensitive to hard water, be sure to use filtered not distilled water.
Light is probably the most essential factor for house plant growth and house plants vary considerably in their light requirement. Be sure to choose a plant based on the amount of light it requires to stay healthy.
• Low Light- North facing window or at least 8-10 feet from any window. A shadowless light. Good for corners, hallways, shelves. A few good plants for low light conditions are Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra), Snake Plant (Sansevieria), Corn Plant, Pothos, and Heart-leaf Philodendron.
• Moderate Light- East facing windows or 5-8 feet from a window that receives some direct sun during the day. A few good plants for moderate light include Boston Fern, Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia), several Dracaena varieties, Philodendrons, Kentia, Majesty and Lady Palms, Spider Plants and Swedish Ivy.
• Bright Indirect Light- East, West or South facing windows or within 3-5 feet from a window receiving 4-5 hours of direct sunlight. A few good plants for bright indirect light are African Violets, Areca Palms, Begonia, Boston Fern, Bromeliads, Cacti & Succulents, Chinese Fan Palms, Christmas Cactus, Weeping Fig (Ficus Benjamina), Goldfish Plants, several Dracaena varieties, Lipstick Plants, Maidenhair Ferns, Neanthe Bella Palms, Norfold Island Pines, Orchids, Peace Lily, Sago Palms, Snake Plants (Mother-In-Laws Tongue), Wandering Jews, and ZZ Plants.
• Bright Direct Light- South facing window or within 2-3 feet of a south facing window. These house plants must receive at least 4 hours of direct sunlight in order to remain healthy. Aloe Vera, Amaryllis (out of bloom), Asparagus, Ferns, Bird of Paradise, Cacti & Succulents, Coffee, Croton, Euphorbia, English Ivy, Geraniums, Jade Plants, Kalanchoe, Ponytail Palms, Schefflera and Wax Plant.
Most house plants can tolerate normal temperature fluctuations but be sure to keep plants away from hot or cold drafts. In general, foliage house plants grow best between 70º and 80º F during the day and from 60º to 68º F at night. Most flowering house plants prefer even cooler nighttime temperatures. The lower night temperature induces physiological recovery from moisture loss, intensifies flower color, and prolongs flower life. A good rule of thumb is to keep the night temperature 10-15 degrees lower than the day temperature.
The potting soil or medium in which a plant grows should be porous enough for root aeration and drainage but also capable of water and nutrient retention. Most quality prepared mixes actually contain no soil at all. Some plants such as African Violets, Cacti, Succulents and Orchids require a special mix. Metro Mix 702, Black Gold and Foxfarm are all recommended.
Houseplants, like most other plants, need fertilizers containing three major plant food elements: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). Fertilizers used for house plants are sold in granular, crystalline, liquid or tablet forms. Each should be used according to instructions on the package label. As a rule, fertilize once a month from March to September. During the winter months, fertilizing in not recommended because reduced light and temperature result in reduced growth. Maxsea, Earth Juice, Cactus Juice and Osmocote are all recommended.
There are many types of containers from which to choose. Containers may be fabricated of ceramics, plastic, fiberglass, wood, aluminum, copper, and many other materials. Clay and ceramic pots absorb and lose moisture through their walls. Frequently the greatest accumulation of roots is next to the walls of the clay pot, because moisture and nutrients accumulate in the clay pores. Although easily broken, clay pots provide excellent aeration for plant roots and are widely considered the healthiest type of container for a plant. Plastic and fiberglass containers are usually quite light and easy to handle. They have become the standard in recent years because they are relatively inexpensive and quite attractive in shape and color. Because they are not as porous as clay pots are, they need less frequent watering and tend to accumulate fewer slats. Any container without drainage is unsuitable for house plants.
Pest Prevention and Detection
Prevention is the first line of defense. Always use sterile potting soil; garden soil may harbor insect and disease pests. Potting soil must also drain readily. When roots sit in waterlogged soil, they’re like to rot and serve as a food source for soil scavengers that live off decaying organic matter. Choose plants that will thrive in the amount of light you can provide. A house plant that’s stressed from inadequate light is a more likely candidate for insect problems than one that’s growing well. Check plants very carefully each fall, regardless of whether they were outdoors for the summer. Wash smooth-leafed house plants regularly to prevent a build-up of dust and grime. Dust filters light before it reaches the leaf surface and can also attract and harbor insects and spider mites. (It looks bad too). Check your house plants for evidence of insects whenever you water them. You’ll stand a better chance of controlling pests before they’re too numerous. Inspect both tops and undersides of leaves, particularly, any that appear speckled or mottled. This may be evidence of a pest problem. Watch for honeydew, a shiny, sticky substance secreted by aphids and scale insects. You’ll find it on the upper surface of leaves, as well as under the plant.
Enjoy the beauty of house plants as you learn more about their care, feeding and the many benefits they provide for you and your home.