Houseplants 101, how to make them thrive
Indoor plants have been chosen for their toughness and ability to grow in low light conditions. Over the centuries they have found their way into our homes as houseplants.
They are most often killed with kindness with too much water and fertilizer. Almost all houseplants prefer dry conditions, the reason they were picked to grow in our houses is that they must survive our neglect.
There are two ways to determine if the plants needs water. Picking up the pot is one way, if it’s heavy wait a week to add water. The best way though is to stick a finger down in the soil, if it’s dry a couple inches down, give the plant some moisture.
They should not be fertilized over the winter, there’s not enough light for the plants to use the nutrients. When the days get longer in March they can be fed once a month at the most with a liquid organic fertilizer.
Sometimes pests like aphids, spider mites or mealybugs can find their way onto the plants. Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil are organic treatments that will stop an infestation, but keep homes safe. Be sure the cover the insect itself with a spray of the liquid to suffocate them. It usually takes two of three applications over as many weeks.
Over the years houseplants have come in and out of favor, finding popularity in Victorian homes, then again in the 1970’s and are all the rage again.
One thing no one knew back then was that most houseplants clean the air. Besides converting carbon dioxide into oxygen they also remove nitrogen and sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide fine particulate matter, ozone, and various volatile organic compounds (called VOC’s).
One annual job to assure the plants can do their good work is to clean the leaves. They can be wiped down with a moist paper towel. Another way to not only clean leaves but flush salts out of the soil is to put the plants in the shower. Let them dry out for a couple weeks and then put them in the shower and run it for a few minutes until the water streams out of the bottom of the container.
One favorite has been sansevieria, sometimes called snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue as the leaves have a sharp point at the end. Sansevieria cylindrica is often braided. It’s a cool looking, different plant that will live forever if kept on the dry side.
African violets have a reputation as being fussy. Water them from below in a dish and let the plant soak up what it needs and they will be happy. Never leave water sitting in the dish. They can bloom for months when happy.
Succulents come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. They need nothing from the gardener, have become extremely popular and are indestructible.
Amaryllis and paperwhites provide colorful flowers through the winter.
There are thousands of interesting houseplants which will thrive on the windowsill bringing both happiness and clean air to the home.
Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.