You don’t have to have a green thumb to beautify your house with greenery. Houseplants thrive on very little TLC. Understand the needs of individual species, and your plants can make you the envy of the neighborhood.
Houseplants are not tricky to keep healthy, but it is easy to love them too much. Three basic practices will keep your plants happy and healthy. First, establish a flexible pattern for watering and feeding them. Second, apply smart potting and repotting techniques. Third, make sure they have appropriate light and warmth fluctuation.
Watering and Feeding
Use plant-specific fertilizer to feed your plants regularly, according to the directions on the container. Feeding your plants is a regimented and necessary part of successful plant rearing. Fortunately, you generally only need to apply plant food once every four to eight weeks. Most houseplants respond well to an all-purpose nutrient mix, like Miracle Grow or plant food spikes. African violets, orchids and other specialty plants require a different balance of these nutrients, so it’s a good idea to buy them their own vittles.
Watering is something all houseplants require. Establish a flexible pattern of watering when the plants need it. You can’t schedule in fill-ups at the gas station for your car. Likewise, be attentive to when your plants actually need watering. Telltale signs that plants are thirsty include leaves drooping or discolored and crumbling, dry soil. Plants don’t like their feet wet and can develop mold if they aren’t aloud to thoroughly drain.
Here’s the green rule of thumb for watering: When the top inch or two of the plant is dry, it needs a drink. Give it as much water as it the soil can soak up. Even for tropical plants that need more humidity, don’t over-water them. Instead, put an inch of gravel or pebbles in a cake pan-like container. Cover the rocks with water, and set the whole potted plant in the pan. This will ensure that humidity-loving plants get enough.
Potting or Repotting
How well a plant utilizes the water it receives is determined, in large part, by how it is potted. Choose a container that is big enough to hold all the roots plus one season’s growth. (One exception is orchids, which must feel squished and be allowed to creep their roots out of the pots.) Cover the hole in the bottom of the pot with broken pieces of pottery or large pieces of mulch. This is key to proper drainage.
Invest in a quality potting soil mix. Not only will it retain the proper amount of moisture, but better potting soil will be free of pests, molds and disease. While most plants thrive in similar soil, specialty plants require different potting medium.
Orchid types may need fine or coarse orchid mix. African violets, aloe and other cacti like specific aeration and drainage. In fact, some commercial soils don’t have any real dirt in them anyway. Hydroponics grow gel is also used in some instances. Just remember: potting soil is not one-size-fits-all.
Likewise, not all plants require the same amount of light. Indirect light sources are fine for most plants. Bright window light can become too strong for some plants and actually burn the leaves. Too little light will stunt plant growth or cause them to become spindly as they reach toward a light source.
If you’ve noticed a plant is struggling, and you’ve ruled out watering, feeding and potting issues, try changing the intensity of light that it receives. Research the plant as species have different requirements. Some species, such as orchids and ti trees, develop deep, dark green leaves when they don’t receive enough light. Their leaves can turn yellow or brown if scorched in direct window light. Other plants, such as philodendron, will exhibit opposite reactions. Their leaves will yellow or blanch out in shade, and turn a beautiful forest green in the perfect light.
Dusting your plants gently a couple of times each season. They will appear more beautiful and be able to photosynthesize more efficiently. Also beware where you place plants. Resist the urge to increase small plants’ visibility if it sacrifices their ability to get sufficient light. Large plants can create a sort of canopy that steals light and air from smaller specimens.
No matter what size your plants are, they cannot get too cold or too hot. Keeping houseplants warm, between 65 and 85 degrees, is paramount. Plants that are too hot can become dehydrated, whereas plants that are too cold will not develop.
Houseplants like the same warmth humans do. Of course, there are specialty varieties with specific requirements. Seedlings prefer warmer soil as well. In general, though, houseplants will appreciate the same temperature their keepers do.
Plants are natural creatures, and all houseplants have some cousin growing naturally somewhere. In nature, temperatures fluctuate from day to night. Consequently, many houseplants will not rebloom unless they experience similar temperature changes. A difference of about 15 degrees is standard. When growing in the wild, the air cools off at night. Fortunately, houseplants don’t have to be in lower degrees at a certain time of day. Rather, they simply need one large block of time cooler than the other. For practicality, set your thermostat at around 15 to 20 degrees cooler when you leave for work in the mornings. Even though light from your windows will heat the house some, plants will respond to this cooling off period.
Caring for houseplants is fairly uncomplicated – although it may seem otherwise. Water them enough but never too much. Give them soil and light appropriate to their needs. Feed them once in a while, and simulate a natural atmosphere with humidity and temperature control. Once your pattern is set, your plants will require very little attention from you. Too much fussing over them will be counterproductive. After all, did you acquire the houseplants because you have too much time on your hands? No way. Enjoy the tranquil beauty plants add to your home by loving them from afar.