Posted: January 6, 2012
This time of year, as the weather freezes and gardening outside stops, we begin to look inside to satisfy our need for growing plants. Poinsettias, cyclamen, and Christmas cactus are often the plants chosen for indoor color, but have you considered other options?
Growing houseplants can be an easy proposition if all, or most, requirements are met. Knowing what kind of environment you can offer your plant is a good first step. Before entering a greenhouse, study the areas you wish to grow plants. What kind of sunlight is the area getting? Is it near a window and what direction does that window face – north, south, east or west? Are there any air vents where heat or air conditioning will be blowing? What kind of heat do you have? Is it wood stove, electric, or gas? You need to know the answers to all these questions before selecting your plants.
When visiting a greenhouse or florist, look around at all that is available. You will quickly see that there are many colors, textures and sizes. Be sure the plant variety that you are selecting is going to grow well in the conditions you are providing. Light, temperature and humidity are very important when selecting a plant.
Select plants that are free of insects. Always inspect the underside of the foliage as well as at the leaf axils. Choose plants with healthy foliage. If the leaves look yellow, or chlorotic, don’t buy them. Look out for brown leaf margins or weak growth. Plants that have young, new growth and healthy buds are usually of superior quality.
Note the environment that the plants are now growing. Be aware of the kind of care the plant is getting before you purchase it. For instance, if it is a plant that requires high light conditions, such as a croton, and is living in a low light situation in a store, when you get it home it will probably drop many leaves. You will be nursing it back to health for quite a long while. Likewise, if you take a low-light plant, growing in a florescent light situation, take it home, and put it in a window that is getting all day sun, it will likely get leaf burn and lose those leaves.
Take notice as to the watering conditions of the plant. Too dry too frequently can cause much stress to the plant, allowing insect and disease problems to take over, as well as leaf drop. Too wet can cause rotting of the roots.
After you have taken much care in selecting the healthy plant that is appropriate for your growing conditions, be sure you protect it when leaving the greenhouse or store. Wrap the plant in paper or plastic bags, and be sure to transport it in the front of the car that is heated, not the trunk. Don’t make lots of stops after purchasing your plants. Just short distances in low temperatures can cause severe damage or death to a houseplant.
In my experience, watering has often been the object of blame when it comes to plant fatality. Too much water or too little water can cause stress or even death. It’s best to grow the plant in a container that has good drainage. Place a saucer underneath the container so the water runs through. After 15 minutes, dump the excess water out of the saucer. If the soil medium continues to be wet for a long period of time, the roots of the plants will rot.
Just as important is not allowing the plant to dry out. If the soil medium is dry to the touch, it’s time to water. A good rule of thumb is to check the plants twice a week. If it is dry, water it, if it isn’t, let it alone until next time. It is good to get your watering on a schedule like every Wednesday and Saturday. That way the plant is not forgotten. Plant care then becomes habit.
Humidity is important to a plant’s survival. Dry heat from a wood stove can be deadly to a houseplant. To create more humidity for a houseplant, group plants together or put a humidity tray under them. Misting plants has very little effect. Locate your houseplant in a room that has good ventilation, but not drafty.
If you are transplanting your houseplant, use a potting mix that is formulated for houseplants. When transplanting your plants, loosen up the roots before planting it in new soil. Transplant the plant in a container that is slightly larger than the one it is now growing in. Water it well and your plant is ready for another year or so of healthy living!