Bringing a bit of the
Whether your house or
apartment is large or small, traditional or modern, you can make it more
pleasant and attractive with house plants. Notice how magazines always
picture rooms with more plants than most of us think to use. Where
winter rages growing plants give a sense of summer and continuity, an
escape from cabin fever. Where winters are warm, people want the indoors
as well as outside to be lush, green, and living rather than sterile,
bare, and artificial.
Caring for indoor plants is a calming, soothing therapy that eases other
problems. But all plants will not grow in all places. Finding the ones
that will adapt to your lifestyle and your cycle of care as well as to
your home's temperature, light conditions, and humidity is the secret of
Most of us find some plants short lived for us. Enjoy these while you
can and don't expect more than they can give. There are plants for every
place. Try new ones until you find the ones that thrive for you. Here
are a few suggestions you may find useful whether you consider yourself
a casual plant fancier or a green-thumb gardener.
Selecting Your Plants Top
You'll want to consider available space, your purpose in adding plants,
and the climate of your plant setting: light, humidity, and the degree
of care you wish to provide. One rule that always follows, is to buy
strong, healthy plants; never bargains that may be difficult to
Plants need wrapping in transit only if the temperature is below
freezing. But whatever the season, take them directly home. Don't let
them sit in a hot or cold car while you shop or visit. Sometimes there
is a period of adjustment: slow growth, sometimes even a few dropped
leaves or buds, while they adapt to their new conditions.
Top of Page
Cacti are some of the few plants that take direct sunlight well.
If a plant receives too much light, the leaves may bleach out to
shades of yellow. Too little light is a common reason for
spindly stems, or for small leaves that are widely separated on
the stem. While plant tags usually carry specific information
about the light requirements of each plant, the plants
themselves also give clues. Deep green foliage is rich in
chlorophyll, enabling the plant to survive on relatively little
light. Plants with dappled leaves also do well with broken
light, as these varieties often trace their origin to the forest
floor. African violets and many other plants do well under
fluorescent lights for 12 to 16 hours a day.
As a rule, south windows
give brightest light, east next, then west. North windows offer only low
light. Blooming plants need more light than foliage plants. Move new
plants until you find the spot that suits them best.
Avoid drafts of both warm and cool air. Most plants like night
temperatures 10 degrees or more cooler than day temperatures. Some
plants, like cyclamen, prefer only 60 degrees in the daytime. The ones
that can will adapt and live like you do. Enjoy the others briefly and
understand why they can't stay longer.
Top of Page
While soaking plants from below every few days is usually preferred, you
may avoid lime buildup on the soil surface by letting water run through
the pot from the top. As mentioned, you will have to water less
frequently if containers are larger. You will keep moisture conditions
more constant if you can group plants tightly in larger waterproof
containers within beds of peat moss.
Plants need much less water
during short days of winter than during spring and summer. Flowering
plants need more water during budset and bloom, less otherwise. Most
plants prefer to be kept evenly moist, but some do best if allowed to go
long enough between waterings for the top surface of the soil to feel
dry to the touch.
Grouping for Appearance and Environment
For displaying plants, you may not want to rely on your coffee table,
end tables or window sills exclusively. Readymade or specially-built
plant stands give you much more freedom of design, and tightly grouped,
the plants will tend to create their own beneficial microclimate of
better humidity which they can share. Humidity of between 60% to 70% is
usually best. A bay window is ideal for your plant family, as they can
enjoy the abundant natural light plus a cooler environment in winter
months, when rooms are heated.
The low humidity in a heated house is one of the biggest problems for
plants. Beside grouping, you can raise humidity by setting pots on trays
of damp pebbles, misting the foliage (of all but fuzzy-leaved plants)
with a fine spray of water often or daily, or using a humidifier. The
longer and colder the winter, the more stress on plants.
In warm climates, on the other hand, misting is not necessary and could
lead to fungus.
Plants for Special
Plants that are pampered indoors in most of the country can grow outside
in places like Florida and California. But you'll still want some
inside. Keep some of your favorites in containers. Enjoy the luxury of
rotating plants from a Rest and Restoration area outside to the
spotlight inside when they are blooming, loaded with fruit or berries,
or otherwise in prime condition. Adjust watering as needed to avoid rot.
Pots and ContainersTop
Always use clean pots of the right size. If you reuse a pot, be sure to
thoroughly clean it, especially on the inside. Plants do best in pots
where roots fit snugly. As the plant grows, repot to progressively
larger containers. Foliage mass is a fair indication of the mass of root
growth. Containers should be big enough so that there is room for
watering every three days or so. Pierced pots enable you to water plants
from the bottom by soaking. Good drainage is also provided by these
bottom holes which will require use of an outer bowl or saucer. With
closed pots, a layer of broken pot fragments or coarse gravel at the
bottom should keep roots from standing in water.
Soils and Fertilizers
Top of Page
Soils become compacted with normal watering. Any white mineral crust
that forms should be removed, and the soil carefully loosened with a
kitchen fork or icepick. Then it's important to add humus in the form of
peatmoss, sphagnum or leaf mold to keep soil moist and aerated. Sterile
expanded mica or volcanic perlite will serve well to improve the root
environment. These should also be added to most commercial potting soils
for better plant growth. If sand is used in your mixture, it should be
coarse, not the fine grade that will pass through a screen sieve.
Fertilizing is most important when plants are actively growing, as in
spring and summer. Liquid fertilizers are easy to handle as most may be
simply added to water.
Always feed according to label directions or less, never more.
Top of Page
Be sure to remove dead leaves and twigs from your plants and
from the surface of the potting soil. This waste can be a
breeding site for pests or infections. Keep leaf surfaces free
from dust, and don't forget that most plants benefit from a
shower once in a while at your kitchen sink, laundry or bath
Summer Vacation Outdoors
A happy plant, like a sleeping baby, should not be disturbed. In
any case, you'll want some plants indoors year round. But any
that are sulking, at
Care and Feeding of Popular Plants
The end of a long winter,
or any that have insect problems will benefit greatly from spending
summer outdoors. After danger of frost is past, pick a place in moderate
shade and where you will remember to water them as needed. Move them
outdoors for just a few hours at first, then back inside, and extend the
hours out every day for a week or so until plants adapt. Or move them
first to the porch, then to a sheltered spot and finally to their summer
home. A very few, like pineapple, citrus, and geraniums, can take full
You can sink pots in soil or group them together so they'll dry out less
often. Insect problems usually disappear as plants thrive and natural
enemies help. Lift occasionally to break off roots growing through the
bottom and trim topgrowth as needed. Bring plants back indoors,
reversing the adjusting process, before freeze or furnace time.
Some plants are easily started from cuttings, as Philodendra, that can
be placed in vases of clean water. Others, like Sanseviera leaves can be
started directly in sandy soil that is kept moist. Slice leaves with a
clean razor blade, and dust their cut ends with rooting hormone.
Dividing root masses, especially where a plant is sending up new
offspring, will also provide additions for your enjoyment.
Top of Page
Lack of flowers and small, pale leaves on excessively long stems are
often the result of insufficient light. Yellowing leaves often indicate
insufficient nitrogen fertilizer, and spotty leaves might be traced to
the impact of direct sunlight hitting the plant.
A crusty salt buildup on the top of the soil is a common result of
overwatering. If extreme, it may also result in the entire plant taking
on a yellow cast.
White mealy bugs attacking gardenias and camellias may be removed with
cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. If found on the plant roots, the plant
should be discarded.
If you have a problem you can't diagnose, -talking to your plant' won't
help nearly as much as talking to your florist or garden center
representative. It's best then to take a leaf or stem along to help with
The best way to combat houseplant pests is to prevent them. Closely
examine all new plant you bring into your home, as well as those brought
in from your own garden. Affected plants should be isolated immediately
to discourage transfer of pests or disease.
Your garden supplier stocks many excellent products for control of pests
affecting potted plants. Read the labels carefully for information on
what they are intended for, how to use them safely, and how to dispose
of empty containers.
White mealy bugs attacking gardenias, camellias, or alcohol. If the
fuzzy, scale-like insects are found on the plant roots, the plant should
be discarded. Some advise against use of alcohol on cactus.
Aphids can often be controlled with a solution of soap and water.
Brown scale required scrubbing with soap and water plus an insecticide
your garden center can recommend.
Red Spiders can be removed by forceful spraying, and controlled by
application of rotenone or pyrethrum compounds.
Earthworms that may have come in with soil from the garden may plug the
drainhole in the bottom of your flower pots, but they do not harm
plants. Lime or limewater will usually destroy them.
Gardenias (Gardenia jasminoides) also called the Capejasmine,
this plant ranks at the top for sweet-smelling blossoms. It
requires high humidity, an acid soil. They are difficult to keep
in the normal home environment. Yellowing leaves usually
indicate an iron deficiency. One of the commonest, and worst
pests to attack gardenias are white mealy bugs, mentioned above
Some people have kept gardenias for years sitting in a saucer of
water. It is one of the few plants that can do this. If you buy
one in bud, remove all but a very few buds. These thrive
outdoors in warm climates and benefit from summers outside
Cacti, like succulents, are
the most forgiving of plants. They like the high temperatures and low
humidity of most houses. Many have beautiful blooms. Holiday cacti tend
to set more buds if they are outside long enough for a few cool nights
(50 degrees). The holiday cacti need long nights to bloom, so keep them
in a room where lights go off early in the evening. For all cacti and
succulents, be sure soil is somewhat sandy and drainage is excellent.
Most like bright light and low humidity.
These are most often the star of planters outdoors or inside. Planted
solo or part of arrangements with other plants, geraniums contribute
interest with a variety of colors and foliage. They tolerate full sun,
and can be started easily from cuttings placed in damp sand. If you give
them too much water, they drop leaves; if too little water, they look
stunted. Soil should be slightly acid.
In the fall, bring in healthy cuttings from outdoors and pot directly
with rooting hormone. Plenty of light is recommended, but not direct
sunlight. If you bring in potted geraniums, cut off the top 1/3.
Geraniums can be carried over through winter in newspapers or paper bags
if soil is shaken from the roots, and they are soaked for a time once a
month. They should be cut down before replanting.
(Saintpaulia) is another favorite for both its blooms and its styles of
foliage. Potting soil should include 1/4 sand. They require only low
light. If you choose to grow new plants from leaf cuttings, keep the
leaf from touching the sand/peat mixture by propping it up with pebbles.
received in pots from your florist can be planted outdoors whenever
there is no danger of frost. Different varieties bloom at different
times as the days grow shorter in the fall. Some will not bloom again
before frost returns, but they can be taken back indoors. Mums
transplant easily even in full bloom. Always pinch back plants until
August to create an attractive, rounded shape.
diffused sunlight and temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees. They can
be moved to the garden outdoors if cut back a bit to encourage
branching. Azalea prefer acid soil and plenty of moisture but not on the
leaves. As roots characteristically stay near the surface, the plant
doesn't need soil of great depth.
do well in warm, sufficiently moist soil,
out of direct sunlight. Overlong runners can be cut and grown in
water, to which charcoal may be added to maintain clarity.
Philodendron are highly resistant to disease, infection and
evergreen) make their contribution with the effect of variegated leaves.
Durable plants, they prefer warm settings with low light. They also can
be propagated from stem cuttings in peat and sand.
plant) generally grow tall, and can grow large enough to
establish their presence in big living rooms or lobbies. Some
varieties have spotted or striped leaves. They like moisture and
warmth and do best out of direct sunlight. Dracaena prefer a
mixture of leaf mold, sand and peat moss. Three stalks, growing
at different heights, gives the most dramatic presentation.
Sansevieria are those familiar variegated speartips, hardy
enough to survive most home growing conditions or commercial
settings. Direct sunlight, however, is one condition to avoid.
They require little care but prefer good drainage and
temperatures above 55 degrees. Cleaning the leaves as needed
improves the appearance of these long-lived plants.
Surprisingly, some varieties will put forth blooms.
Succulents are not a
plant species but a type of plant that can be found among many plant
families. They include cactus, aloe, sedum, kalanchoe and crassula, or
jade plants. These do require sunlight, a porous soil of up to 1/2 sand
and good air circulation. Some cactus can be grown from seed.
Did You Know?
A NASA study concluded that indoor plants can dramatically reduce toxic
chemical levels in buildings with poor ventilation. NASA recommends
placing 15 to 18 plants in an 1,800 square foot home to purify the air.
Maximize effectiveness by placing plants where air circulates and by
keeping plants healthy.
- Pick location
- Selecting your plants
- Pot or container
- Proper soil or sand
- Fertilizer and
- Container for watering
- Stand for displaying
- Tools for pruning or
_pruning shears or scissors
Some facts may
vary by region. Please check with your local lawn and garden dealer
if concerned about possible variations.