Houseplant Basics

    • Tree collards make a delicious winter vegetable. Set plants out now to give them time to grow before the winter chill that makes the leaves so sweet.
    • Japanese maples may be pruned now in order to shape them.
    • Sow lettuce seeds now for a fall crop. Set out broccoli and cabbage plants too.
    • Trim grapevines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and sweeten the grapes, if they are being shaded heavily by the foliage.
    • Feed fuchsias, begonias, summer annuals and container plants to keep them green and blooming right up until frost.

Houseplant Care

Houseplants offer beautiful foliage, with an almost infinite variety of leaves and exotic flowers which delight the eye. Growing houseplants can be anything from a serious hobby to a casual pastime. Once you start collecting houseplants, you enter a new realm of gardening that is very pleasant and rewarding.

Houseplants are, for the most part, tropical plants which are accustomed to the low light of the floor of a tropical forest. For this reason, they do well in the low light conditions of our homes. These plants are also accustomed to rather warm night temperatures, which our homes offer as well. Plants which have become popular as houseplants, are generally very adaptable and will sometimes survive in spite of poor care.

The main requirements for healthy houseplants are proper light, watering and fertilizing.

When selecting a plant, be sure its light requirements match your proposed location. Light intensity drops off rapidly as you move away from a window. Plants that aren’t receiving enough light often become elongated and pale, or they may drop their lower leaves and fail to grow. A plant which has just come from a greenhouse may also drop some leaves at first as it adjusts to the lower light in your home.

For low light situations, look for Chinese evergreens, creeping fig, any of the many Dracaenas, Dieffenbachias, palms, Philodendrons, Pothos or Peace lilies. They will do well with a northern exposure. For an eastern exposure that receives morning sun, add to these African violets, coleus, creeping Charlie, and spider plants.

Too much light, on the other hand, may burn the leaves of some plants. In a southern exposure you can grow spider plants, angel-wing begonia, citrus and many kinds of succulents and cacti. In a western exposure you can also grow wax plant, sago palm, lipstick vine and goldfish plant.

Watering is a touchy subject: you have to feel the soil to see if the plant needs water. Some plants need water only when the soil surface has dried out, while others need to be kept constantly moist. Learn each plant’s preference, and check each pot before you water. Avoid overwatering: more plants are killed by overwatering than any other cause. Empty the saucers after the water drains out of the pot.

If the soil becomes very dry, it may shrink away from the sides of the pot allowing water to run through rapidly without being absorbed. If this happens, add water slowly until the soil is saturated, or set the pot in a tub of water for a few minutes.

Plants growing in containers need fertilizer, especially in the spring and summer when they are actively growing. There are a wide variety of products available. Choose one and use according to the directions. Fertilize less during the winter.

Given proper care, your houseplants will prosper and give you many years of enjoyment.

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