By Ellen Barredo
(This article was first published in a shortened form in The Gateway Gardener March 2012 issue)
Houseplants, our Green Heroes, work tirelessly purifying our home and office environments removing common pollutants and continuously releasing oxygen and moisture into our homes and offices. Houseplants improve our lives, naturally cleansing the very air we breathe. A recent news report noted that people in general spend 90 percent of their lives inside their home or office. YOU NEED A HERO, a houseplant in your life and yet you have resisted the purchase of one. WHY? The number one reason that customers tell me is: I don’t want to kill it. This month I want to review some general guidelines about houseplants in an effort to encourage those of you who have failed to try again! Tip! You learn from your mistakes!
All houseplants require light to manufacture food and to grow. Window coverings and trees outside your windows, and the type of houseplant will play a factor when deciding where to place your houseplants. Most houseplants like 8 – 10 hours of light per day.
Many houseplants grow well with bright indirect sunlight. It helps to KNOW what your plant needs in terms of light. When placing plants near windows, pay attention to the direction the windows are facing. South and West windows generally provide the most sunlight. Remember that South and West facing windows, especially during the summer months, produce the most heat and light which is not suitable for all houseplants. Many customers struggle with a North window and what plant to place there. Never fear, there are plants which will survive in this lower light exposure! East windows are very accommodating. Many plants grow in this location happily! TIP! Purchase plants from an independent garden center where an educated sales associate can assist you!
More plants are killed by improper watering than any other problem. The amount of water and the frequency of watering will depend on its how much light the plants receives, the temperature and humidity in the home, and how close the plant it to heating and cooling vents. The type of plant and size of container also determine how quickly water is used. Generally, when watering, you should water so that some of the water makes its way into the saucer. Do not leave water in the saucer. Water standing in the saucer should be removed within a few hours after watering. The best way to tell if your plant needs water is to feel the soil! Stick your finger about an inch down in the soil and if it feels dry, it is time to water. If the plant is still very moist, wait a couple of days and check it again. TIP! During winter, houseplants will not require as much water as they do in the summer.
Temperature & Humidity:
Houseplants are generally tropical plants and do not like extreme changes in temperatures. If you are comfortable most likely the plant will be comfortable. Most houseplants do not like temperatures below 50 degrees and temperatures above 80 degrees. Note: just like you, houseplants will not want to be sitting by a drafty window. Cold drafts can damage foliage. Because most houseplants are tropical, they prefer some humidity during the winter months. To increase the humidity in your home for your houseplants try the following suggestions: 1. Group your houseplants together. 2. Place your houseplants on a tray of pebbles covered with water (The water should not be above the top of the pebbles.). 3. Lightly mist the leaves with a spray bottle. 4. Get a whole house Humidifier. I have one called April Air. TIP! I hang small misters on the side of pots which require more misting than others.
Houseplants enjoy regular fertilizing for best performance. There are many organic and synthetic fertilizers readily available from your local independent garden center to choose from. Houseplants require less fertilizer during the winter months when the plants are not actively growing. During the growing season (spring-fall) it is recommended to fertilize every 4 – 6 weeks. Some plants such as orchid have a feeding schedule to follow. TIP! More is not better!
Many houseplants enjoy being pot bound and seldom need repotting. Some, on the other hand, will benefit from repotting to keep the plant looking its best. Often I find customers wish to repot their houseplant into a more decorative container. When potting into a decorative container, make sure there is adequate drainage. If there are no drainage holes in your pot, you should repot your houseplant into a regular plastic container that would fit inside your decorative container. When bringing a new plant into your home, it is often a good idea to let it acclimate before repotting. When repotting, be sure to use high quality potting soil. Some of the newer potting soils have beneficial bacteria and fungi which aid the root systems of houseplants. TIP! Try to avoid repotting in the fall. Plants should rest, days are short, and light is not at its best. Wait for spring!
There are several common problems that can occur with your houseplants. Most problems can be resolved by adjusting the amount of light or the amount of water. Sometimes insects like mites, mealy bugs, scale, or aphids can cause plants to suffer. This is a top customer call during the month January. When determining what might be the cause of the problem, take into consideration if the plant has been recently moved or repotted. Some plants will drop leaves when placed in a new location. Also, yellowing leaves may be caused by overwatering, under watering, lack of nutrients, or by insect damage. Check with a professional on the topic of over or under watering or insects. Another common problem is tip burn (the tips of the leaves turn brown). This is usually caused by lack of humidity, salt build up from the water and fertilizer, chlorine and fluorine in the water, or inconsistent watering. Spotting on the leaves or burning or bleaching of the leaves can be caused from too much direct sun. Simply remove the plant to a shadier location or use sheer curtains to filter light. Plants that are spindly and have large gaps between the leaves may be suffering from not enough light. Move plants that are suffering from this problem into an area that receives more light. Remember, if you ever have any questions or concerns about your houseplants; Call your local independent garden center or visit and bring in a leaf of the plant that is having the problem.
TIP! Don’t wait to ask for help, Call or visit with a professional about your problems with a houseplant! We are here to help!
Bring a Houseplant Hero to work and put it to work cleaning the air!
Put a plant on your desk and feel happier, enjoy better health and be more productive. The NASA, Clean Air Plant Study recommends office workers should have at least one plant in their “personal breathing space” effectively remove indoor pollutants.
Ellen Barredo may be reached at Bowood Farms 314-454-6868 if you have specific houseplant questions. She is also co-hosting monthly on AM 550 KTRS, the Inside Out Show with Host John Shea, Callier and Shea Construction and Design. Saturdays from 12-3 p.m. This a call in radio show for help around the house inside and out! Listen and Call with your Home or Garden Questions.