Success With Houseplants

The key to growing gorgeous houseplants is giving them what they need. For plants from tropical climes, moist soil and high humidity yield best growth. Arid conditions may coax growth from other plants, while some thrive in shadowy corners. But no matter what kind of houseplant you have, you’ll succeed when you cover the basics of care and follow these tips for healthy houseplants.

Light

Different houseplants need varying levels of light.

  • Brightest light occurs near south- and west-facing windows; lower light, near north- or east-facing windows or in interior rooms away from windows.
  • Many houseplant labels specify “bright indirect light.” This describes a spot located in a room that receives sun for several hours per day, but where the plant itself doesn’t receive direct sunlight.
  • Artificial grow-lights mimic natural light and can supplement low light.

Soil

When you purchase a houseplant, it’s most likely growing in a potting soil mix, which contains various materials, such as peat moss, perlite, bark, vermiculite or sand.

  • This planting mix pampers roots by retaining nutrients and water, allowing water to drain away, and creating air pockets.
  • If you need to replace or add soil, choose a packaged potting soil mix labeled for houseplants.
  • Don’t add garden soil to houseplants.

Pots

A houseplant container is more than just a decoration. Make sure you consider the plant’s needs when making your selection.

  • Houseplant pots need drainage holes – water must be able to drain away from soil and roots. If a decorative pot lacks drainage holes, use it as a cachepot.
  • Pot material affects water needs. Porous containers, such as unglazed terra-cotta, lose water through the pot, which means you’ll need to water plants more frequently. Plants in glazed or plastic pots require less frequent watering.

Water

Determining how much to water is probably the trickiest part of growing houseplants. Water needs depend on many factors, including the plant, soil, air temperature, humidity and light levels. Foliage also influences water use. Thick, waxy leaves don’t lose water as quickly as soft, lush ones do.

  • Before watering, check soil moisture using a soil meter or finger. If soil is dry to about 1.5 inches deep, water.
  • Apply water slowly so it soaks into soil.
  • Empty catch trays if water remains in them for more than an hour or two. Never leave pots sitting in water.

Humidity

Tropical foliage plants need humid air, which can be challenging in winter, when household relative humidity hovers around five to 10 percent.

  • Raise humidity around plants with a room humidifier.
  • Or place plants on a pebble-lined tray filled with water. Keep the water level just below pebbles. As the water evaporates, it raises humidity around plants.
  • You can also mist plants with room-temperature water. Avoid misting walls or furniture.

Temperature

Research specific temperature requirements for your plants.

  • Some plants, like cyclamen or calceolaria, prefer lower temperatures.
  • Others, such as the weeping fig (ficus tree), can’t tolerate cold drafts.
  • Locate all plants away from heating vents.

Fertilizer

Feed indoor plants using a balanced fertilizer labeled for houseplants.

  • Always follow label instructions.
  • Over time, fertilizer salts build up in soil. Every four to six months, remove or leach these salts by slowly pouring water through soil. Use an amount of water roughly equal to twice the pot volume. Pour slowly, allowing water to drain away from the pot. If white fertilizer salts appear on soil, remove them, along with approximately one-fourth inch of soil, before leaching.

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