Gardening Articles: Health :: Houseplants

Houseplants 101 (page 2 of 3)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Water

Each houseplant has its own requirements for water but, again, a few basics apply across the board:

When you water, do so thoroughly until water drains out of the bottom of the pot. If the water doesn't drain all the way through, you haven't watered enough.

Always test the soil before watering: More houseplants die from overwatering than any other reason. Press your finger into the soil to the depth of an inch or so. If the soil is damp at that level, there's no need to water. Check the plant again in another few days. It's okay for a houseplant to dry out slightly between waterings, particularly during winter when growth has slowed. If the foliage of any houseplants begins to droop even slightly, water immediately and completely.

Oddly enough, using a lightweight soil mix (as mentioned below) will do more to correct watering problems than any other measure. A soil mix specially prepared for houseplants permits good drainage while at the same time encouraging water retention. The combination of a heavy, dense soil and regular watering spell death for almost any houseplant.

Humidity

Houses are built to give their human inhabitants a more comfortable climate. More often than not, the indoor climate is characterized by low humidity and a fairly even 72° F, not exactly the ideal conditions for growing jungle plants. That said, there are a number of ways you can boost the humidity for indoor plants short of converting your living room into a greenhouse.

Group houseplants together in a large planter and place moist sphagnum moss around them, or set individual pots on the surface of pebbles in a shallow plastic or metal tray. Keep water in the tray so the bases of the pots touch the water.

Spraying leaves often with tepid water helps increase humidity and keep the foliage clean and healthy.

Kitchens and bathrooms are natural places for higher humidity because of running water and escaping steam.

A relatively inexpensive humidifier can be added to your central heating system, creating a more desirable climate for both houseplants and people.

Soil

Virtually all houseplants crave a loose, lightweight, fairly rich soil mix, one that allows for plenty of air circulation and good water retention. Experimenting with the proper proportions of sand, leafmold, vermiculite and other ingredients to come up with your own potting soil "recipe" is fine if you have the time and don't mind a few failures (and a lot of messes) along the way. The sure-fire method is to use a pre-packaged, sterilized soil mix. They are clean, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive. Just make sure to buy packaged soil labeled for use with houseplants; if you're not sure, ask the clerk at your nursery or garden center.

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