How-To Ideas

Houseplant How-To

Houseplants in living spaces

Houseplants have a special place in my heart. To come in on a cold, grey day and see plants healthy and happy is one of my measures that all is well. But houseplants require informed care and attention to keep them looking good.

Plant Selection
Today we have many more houseplants to choose from than ever before. That is why it is important to select the right plant for the right indoor location. Tropical houseplants originate in a warm climate with lots of sun and rain. This is where they will be the happiest in your home, in a spot with sun and humidity. However, even with tropical houseplants, there are some varieties that do better than others indoors. For tough indoor tropicals try cast iron (Aspidistra elatior), philodendron, peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii) and snake plant (Sansevieria trifascitata).

Indoor plants have the same basic needs as plants in our gardens—water, light, and temperature range. But do you know the number one reason our indoor plants die? Water—either too much or not enough. There are a number of ways to tell if your plant needs water but the easiest is to feel the soil.

Sufficient light may be difficult to achieve during grey, winter days; however, placing them near a bright window should be fine. Artificial light is also a good option. The right level of humidity is tough to achieve especially with heat used to warm our homes. I don’t provide any special humidity sources other than keeping my houseplants away from heat vents. Temperature is not an issue if you keep your home in the range of 65-70 degrees.

Like all life forms, plants like to be pampered. Simple tasks such as wiping dust from the leaves, cutting off dead leaves and trimming leggy stems not only make your plants better looking, it can improve their health. Use a clean cloth or damp sponge to wipe the leaves. A few dead leaves are inevitable during the winter months.  It doesn’t mean your plants are dying, just aging gracefully. Clip off those dead leaves. Plants get leggy (long stems) as they age or if they are stretching for light. By cutting off these long stems, you will force the plant to produce new growth, but be sure to seek a brighter location for these struggling plants.

The potted environment of plants means that the soil will eventually become depleted of vital nutrients. The growing season from February through May is a good time to fertilize the plants. Your plants will need these nutrients to maintain good health. A granular, time-release fertilizer is easy and convenient to use.

Move Outdoors
I always place my plants that I can pick up and easily move outdoors after there is no chance of frost. Initially place them on a shaded porch or north side where the light level will already represent a dramatic increase. Direct sun can burn those sensitive leaves. You will be surprised how a few months outside in our warm, humid climate will rejuvenate your plants, sometimes into glorious showpieces. And the rain will be good for them, too.  Come fall you will be ready to start the cycle all over again to help your houseplants through the winter.

Houseplants have a place in my life almost like a member of the family, and I cherish them to brighten my winter days.

Barbara Kennedy has been nurturing houseplants for over 35 years.  Growing up in a northern climate, she came to appreciate the benefits of indoor plants.  Barbara is Volunteer Coordinator at the JC Raulston Arboretum and has an associate degree in landscape technology from NC State University.

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