Indoor plants are fabulous!
They add color, greenery, life & a bit of the tropics to any home. Yet, questions abound about the failure of indoor plants. Although we at Botanicus only take care of Commercial accounts now, we started in 1971as the Plant Parlour WNY's first plants-only retail store! We were well known for providing great plant care tips & advice! Here is a portion of our expert advice from over 30 years of taking care of plants:
It is a place where anyone can come and learn to prune & trim their house plants, office plants, tropical plants, outdoor trees and shrubs, regardless of their level of expertise. We create quick educational videos for you to learn many things you want to learn about plants. Look for helpful care instructions at the end of the videos.
How plants grow!
Plants produce sugar for growing in a process called photosynthesis. To photosynthesize plants need water as well as light on their leaves (where a molecule called chlorophyll caries out the process). ll plants require different amounts of light to actually photosynthesize -- survive and grow, some plants will thrive in a certain area where other types of plants will die. Just like you,plants can be sunburned by direct sun outdoors when they are not use to it.
The stems are the vascular system for the plant, and can be compared to the veins and arteries of the human body.Within the stem are two different vascular bundles.The xylem carries water and nutrients up from the roots (arteries) to the leaves, the phloem carries sugars, starches, and hormones produced in the leaves back to the roots (veins). The pulse up and down the stem is critical to healthy plant growth. The pulse working properly is dependent upon strong healthy roots, proper lighting levels and good air movement. The “pulse rate” of a plant is regulated by the water used by the leaves (transpiration). This rate is increased by more sunlight, more air movement, warmer temperatures, and low humidity and is slowed by lower lighting, stale air, cooler temperatures and high humidity (terrariums). Just as with the human body “the pulse rate” should be regulated properly by environmental conditions to ensure health.
The roots are the lifeline for the plant. They supply needed moisture and nutrients for the leaves to produce food during photosynthesis. They also store energy and food for the plant. They provide stability. Plants grow in a balanced way, as they make new roots, new leaves form. If roots are not encouraged to grow, no new foliage will occur. In 90 percent of cases, plant failure can be attributed to lack of healthy roots or to root damage. Roots can be damaged in many ways: roots suffocate in soggy compacted soil, roots die if the soil is too dry for too long, disease, etc.
The secret to healthy plants is a light, soilless potting mix to encourage actively growing roots! Indoor plants are tropical plants and require a different soil than in the ground here in WNY. Commercial "potting soil" is ordinarily unsuitable for indoor plants. It is not reliably sterile (causing diseases and even sometimes weeds) and is too dense. The dense nature of most commercial potting soils keep roots too wet for long periods and do not encourage good root growth. Studies have shown much more rigorous root growth in a light, soilless medium. This extra-porous formula has excellent moisture-holding capacity to provide the perfect environment for vigorous rooting. It is ideal for all kinds of potted plants – perfect for spouting seeds and for rooting cuttings. In it plants grow sturdy and strong. You can even grow containers of annual flowers outdoors in this soil (although with this light mix you may need to add gravel or rocks in the pot to prevent the wind from blowing the pot over!) You can make “Cornell Mix” at home with easily available materials: 2/3 peat moss and 1/3 perlite. If the potting medium is difficult to wet at first, fill a plastic grocery bag and add one cup of hot water and seal for 24 hours.
All plants require different amounts of light to photosynthesize (manufacture food) and grow.Quantity and quality of light available indoors is significantly less than light in nature. Window size, distance from the window (to the side or under), the presence of curtains or shades, partial obstructions (awnings, overhangs, trees, etc.) influence the amount of light your plant receives. Our light code is a guide for your plants, and should be adjusted to seasonal variations and individual locations. In Buffalo, it’s virtually impossible to give any plant indoors too much light, so plants in the lower light categories will grow in the higher light areas (although they may need more watering and fertilizer).
FULL SUN - Unobstructed south, southeast, or southwest window that receives direct sunlight for at least half the day. No curtains or shades. Plant should be directly in window (if plant is greater than 2 feet back, this is not Full Sun even if sunbeams are striking the plant) (1200-5000 footcandles). Plants that like this:
- Floor plants: Most Palms, Orange Trees
- Hanging Plants: asparagus fern, begonias, variegated english ivy
- Table plants: Orchids, all cacti, jerusalem cherry
PARTIAL SUN - Unobstructed east or west window that receives sunlight for 2-4 hours. Plant should be only 2 feet directly back from window (600-2000 footcandles).
- Floor plants: Rubber Trees, Ficus Benjamina (weeping Fig), Areca Palms, Crotons, Aralias, Norfolk Island Pines
- Hanging Plants: Spider plants, swedish ivy, Ferns
- Table plants: Succulents
VERY BRIGHT LIGHT – Directly in an unobstructed north window, full sun window with sheers, 2-4 feet back from S, E, W window, or fluorescent gardening light (300-800 fc).
- Floor plants: Schefflera (umbrella tree), Philodendron, Ponytail Palm, Dracenenas (Corn Plants)
- Hanging Plants: Boston Fern, Lipstick vine, Grape Ivy, Piggybacks, Gesneriads
- Table plants: African Violets, Babies Tears, Bromeliads, Ferns
MEDIUM LIGHT - North window with sheers, or to side of sunny window, or 3-6 feet back of sunny window (150-500 footcandles).
- Floor plants: Pleomele, Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Rhapis (Lady Palm), Arboricola (mini umbrella tree), Dracenena Marginata (Dragon Tree - green and white variety not “rainbow” this is Partial Sun)
- Hanging Plants: English Ivy
- Table plants: Mini Spathiphyllum (peace lily)
LOW LIGHT - Directly below interior office fixture, or more than 6 feet back from window, or more than 2 feet to side of window. Plant species must be carefully chosen for this light level (75-150 footcandles).
- Floor plants: Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant),
several Dracenenas: Janet Craig, Warneckei, and Massangeana (Corn Plant), Sanserveria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue), Neanthebella Palm (Parlor Palm)
- Hanging Plants: Pothos
- Table plants: Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), Sanserveria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue), Pothos
****Below 75 footcandles, even low-light plants have trouble thriving.
Incorrect watering is a common factor in plant failure. Roots suffocate in soggy compacted soil. Plants die if they do not get enough water. When a plant needs water, water it thoroughly until water comes out the bottom of the pot (if in a drained container). Make sure the soil is saturated and the excess is drained away. Do not allow a plant to sit in water for a long period of time. Check your plants often. Water only those that show the need for water with room temperature water. Do not use water that has been chemically softened, as it is toxic to plants.
1. Plants that need to stay moist should be watered as soon as the surface of the soil is dry to the touch.
- Plants in small pots (<4” diameter) especially in sunny windows
- Hanging Plants: Boston Fern, Piggybacks, Gesneriads, asparagus fern, variegated english ivy, English Ivy, swedish ivy, Ferns
- Table plants: Babies Tears, Ferns, Orchids
2. Plants that need to dry moderately should be watered when the soil is dry about
1/4 of the way through the pot.
- Floor plants: Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), Aspidistra (cast iron Plant),
several Dracenenas: Janet Craig, Warneckei, and Massangeana (Corn Plant), Sansevieria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue), Neanthebella Palm (Parlor Palm) Most Palms, Orange Trees, Rubber Trees, Ficus Benjamina (weeping Fig), Areca Palms, Crotons, Aralias, Norfolk Island Pines, Schefflera (umbrella tree), Philodendron, Ponytail Palm, Dracenenas (Corn Plants) Pleomele, Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Rhapis (Lady Palm), Arboricola (mini umbrella tree), Dracenena Marginata (Dragon Tree - green and white variety not “rainbow” this is Partial Sun)
- Hanging Plants: Boston Fern, Lipstick vine, Grape Ivy, Piggybacks, Gesneriads asparagus fern, begonias, variegated english ivy Pothos, English Ivy Spider plants, swedish ivy, Ferns
- Table plants: Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), Sansevieria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue), Mini Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Pothos, African Violets, Babies Tears, Bromeliads, Ferns, Orchids, all cacti, jerusalem cherry, Succulents
3. Plants that need to dry completely should be watered when the soil is dry 3/4
of the way through the pot.
Plant growth is dependent upon a steady supply of nutrients! The nutrients in any soil are soon depleted.
Plants need soluble fertilizers at one-half the recommended dose, fertilize every 3rd to 4th watering during the summer months. During Fall and Winter, fertilize every 2-3 months. Time-release fertilizer may be mixed into the potting medium when repotting. Never water a very dry plant with fertilizer!
A common mistake of most beginners is to repot plants long before it is necessary. Roots growing out of the bottom of the pot do not necessarily mean that the plant needs repotting. If the plant is lifting out of the pot, or if inspection of the root system show that there is no room for root growth, then the plant should be repotted. Spring is the best time to repot indoor plants. Repotting then will ensure more new growth and less frequent watering during the hot, sunny summer.
To see if a plant needs repotting: Carefully knock them out of them out of their containers. If they retain a pot shape and no soil falls away, pot in a container 1-3 inches bigger (diameter).
Be sure to use a light, soilless mix for repotting. Commercial "potting soil" is ordinarily unsuitable for indoor plants. It is not reliably sterile and is too dense. A potting medium for indoor plants should be moisture retentive, well drained, and sterile. A mixture of two-thirds sphagnum peat moss and one-third perlite is an ideal medium for growing indoor plants.
Carefully knock the plant out of its old pot (do not pull on the plant). Remove any loose soil especially if it is a heavy mix. If you are repotting into a undrained container, put a layer of perlite (1-2 inches in small containers and more in larger) at the bottom as a drainage layer (to prevent roots from sitting in water). Place enough soil in the bottom of the pot to have the top of the root ball near the top of the container (~1 inch below in small containers ~3” below in large). Set the plant in the pot and gently pack soil around the root ball with your fingers. Thoroughly water the plant until all of the soil is moist and water drains out the bottom. (In an undrained container fill with water, wait a few minutes and them carefully tip on its side to completely drain the excess water out.)
Insects can come from outdoors or other plants. Flying stages, airborne eggs or brushing an infected plant exposes other plants. The best defense against insects is to keep your plants healthy. Check your plants often to find insects early; pay particular attention to the backs of leaves, and internodes. If an insect population is found, wash thoroughly with warm water and a mild dish washing liquid and rinse foliage thoroughly, twice a week for 2-3 weeks. If insecticide is necessary, call your local garden center for recommendations. Make sure that plants are moist before application. Always read the instructions before applying any chemical. You may wish to take a pro-active approach and thoroughly wash your plants regularly as well as washing any new plants.
Remove the dust from plant leaves periodically; otherwise plants can’t breath or grow properly. You can clean many plants quickly by putting them under your bathroom shower. Use only lukewarm unsoftened water. To avoid washing the soil out of the pot, wrap a plastic sheet around the base of the plant and over the pot. After their shower, let plants drip-dry before taking them back to their accustomed locations. If chemical residue in the water leaves white spots, remove them with a clean soft cloth.
Large-leaved plants can be easily cleaned by wiping the leaves with a damp cloth. Support the underside of the leaf with one hand while gently wiping the upper side with the cloth. To remove dust from hairy-leaved plants such as African violets and gloxinia, rub gently with a dry cotton swab or a pipe cleaner. A watercolor brush works well for this job, too.
Shaping plants - Pinching & Pruning
A little judicious trimming will keep your plants the size you want. Without pruning and pinching, a plant can become a tall and leggy eyesore. For slow growing plants the best time to shape in spring (May or June when it just starts to grow) or just after flowering.
Pinching. Pinching off the tip growth of a branch encourages side branches to develop, which results in a thicker, bushier plant. No tools are necessary for this simple operation; just use your thumb and index finger. New branches generally arise from buds at the bases of the remaining leaves. Pinching improves the shapes of many plants, such as wax begonias, gardenias, and aucuba, which branch out normally. Single-leader plants(plant has one stem - does not branch) such as dieffenbachia, rubber tree, and dracena, shouldn’t be pinched (but can be air-layored).
Pruning. Often a major branch must be removed, either to keep the plant the size you want or to improve its shape. Study the plant carefully before cutting off all or part of a major branch. Use clippers to get a smooth cut, and make the cut just above a growth bud. The best times to prune a plant are when it is in active growth (usually in the spring) or soon after it has bloomed. Some plants such as true Palms have only one growth point and trimming the top will kill the plant.
Which is better a clay pot, a plastic pot, a ceramic pot, an undrained container, or a pot with drainage holes and a saucer? Many indoor gardens attribute the success of failure of their plants to the type of container used for growing! Instead, look to the type of potting mixture being used and your watering habits. 90% of plants having problems are due to the nature of the growing medium. Most commercial potting soils are too dense, tend to compact and inhibit new root growth. Instead of being concerned that a pot “breathes” look for a loose porous potting mix that allows roots oxygen. (See above for more info)
Plants grown in clay will need watering much more frequently. In winter you must be careful for clay pots conduct the cold and can chill the roots. Clay pots will also need regular cleaning to keep free of algae and salt residue. Much more maintenance will be necessary in clay pots.
Plastic pots and ceramic pots will hold more moisture freeing you from watering. They are especially good for plants that like to stay moist – eg ferns, ivies, and babies tears. They also do not need such frequent cleaning as clay. Ceramic pots often are not glazed on the bottom and can leave moisture-marks on furniture and carpets.
The only problem with an undrained pot is that excess water is not removed automatically. Even with good drainage material like perlite at the bottom, excess water should be removed after watering by holding the plant at an angle with a hand over the soil so none falls out.
Remember, any pot can grow a gorgeous plant, the secret is the soil – and your care holds the key to success!
Moving Plants Cold weather (<50°F)
Tropical plants brighten the indoors and add to our homes. However, one should be aware that these plants do not like the cold and will suffer damage from even brief exposure to air near freezing. When transporting them in winter (or any day when the temperature is below 50°!), it is important that plants be carefully wrapped. Wrap small plants in newspaper (roll pot to make a tube and fold over the excess paper at the top). Place larger plants (or several news papered small plants) in a large plastic garbage bag. Blow into the bag to create a bubble of warm air and seal the bag tightly. Warm your car up and move your plants directly from the heated house to the heated car. Drive straight to your plant’s new home. Plants cannot be left in an unheated vehicle. Remember that plants left in plastic bags in the sun may overheat!
At your new location, make sure to place plants in enough light and adjust your watering as needed.
The key when moving plants in warm weather is to protect them from direct sun or excess heat. Plants left in the sun (even for a few minutes) will sunburn from the sun’s ultra-violet rays that window glass screens out. If necessary, plants can be left outside for a while in deep shade under a large tree.
Just as your car heats up on sunny summer days, enclosed trucks can also get very hot inside. Plants will be damaged in heat above 100° (easily reached in closed vehicles in the sun even in spring ) and any part of the plant that is touching glass or metal will be burned at much lower temperatures. Remember that plants left in plastic bags in the sun may overheat!
To prevent soil messes: wrap small plants in newspaper (roll pot to make a tube and fold over the excess paper at the top).
Your best bet is to load your plants last into an enclosed vehicle (indoor plants will not survive highway speeds in an open truck!), drive directly to your destination, and unload the plants first and take directly inside. At your new location, make sure to place plants in enough light and adjust your watering as needed.
Suggestions for maintaining your plants while you’re gone… The first four methods are recommended for plants being left alone for not more than ten days, for longer trips consider 5&6.
- Larger Plants that would not dry out more than once during your absence should be watered thoroughly just before you leave.
- Plants which normally require watering every few days can be moved away from sunny windows and into bright but indirect light. This will slow down the plant’s use of water. Try this method before you leave to get an indication of just how far it will stretch the plant’s drying-out time.
- Those plants which need to be watered frequently can be enclosed (pot and all) in clear plastic bags. Punch a few holes in the bag to provide a small amount of circulation. It is essential to move these plants away from sunny locations and into bright INDIRECT light. This will avoid heating up the inside of the plastic bags and “frying” the plants.
- If your bathroom is fairly bright, you can use the “bathtub method.” Place your plants on bricks in the tub, fill the tub with an inch or two of water (not enough to reach the top of the bricks), set your plants on the bricks, and cover the bathtub with clear plastic.
- Consider asking a friend to plant-sit. But: Do not ask a friend who doesn’t have plants of his/her own; the lack of experience could prove fatal to your plants. Choose only one person to look after your plants, and leave complete instructions with that person. If possible, move inaccessible plants into easy to reach locations, and if you have plants scattered throughout the house, make carefully complied list of every plant and its location. Special collections (bonsai, orchids…) should be given to the care of a fellow collector, if at all possible.
- As a last resort (in summer only!), larger house plants can be placed outside (pot and all) in the ground on the north side of your house, and left in the care of Mother Nature.
Longer, sunny days bring accelerated growth and an increasing need for moisture to indoor plants. By May, all of your plants should be actively growing. Any that are not should be knocked out of their pots for a thorough inspection of the roots. A tangled mass of white or light brown roots signals the need for a slightly larger pot. We strongly recommend the use of “Cornell Mix” soilless potting medium for all indoor plants. Begin fertilizing a week or so after the plant is repotted or use timed-release fertilizer (according to the directions) in the potting mix. Regular application of plant food results in stronger, healthier, and fuller plants. This is the best time of year to trim plants that have grown out of shape. Trim of pinch tips of branches liberally to encourage dense, compact growth. Usually this repotting, trimming, and fertilizing will totally revitalize a fading specimen.
June is an important month for all your indoor plants. Before you get busy with outdoor work, try to be sure to do the following so your indoor plants can have the benefits of highly active summer growth.
Fertilizing – Plants really need a steady supply of nutrients through the active growing season. Your plants depend on you for these nutrients. Use any good fertilizer one/half the recommended strength every two weeks. Be careful to never fertilize plants that are dry – better to water thoroughly, wait 24-48 hours, then apply fertilizer. With regular feeding your plants will grow 100% better!
Watering – With summer’s warm temperatures, good air movement (open windows and doors) and increased sunlight, plants will use water at a much faster rate. Plants outdoors or in open windows should be checked very often (even daily) for watering. Be sure to really soak your plants thoroughly, be sure to repot is necessary and use plastic pots (instead of clay pots) for plants that like to stay moist.
Repotting – now’s the time to check all your plants for repotting. Carefully knock them out of them out of their containers. If they retain a pot shape and no soil falls away, pot in a container 1-3 inches bigger (diameter). Be sure to use a light, soilless mix for repotting, changing soil if it is not. Repotting now will ensure more new growth and less frequent watering.
Consider summering your houseplants outside! This is a nice addition to porches and other garden areas and can help some plants increase in size. A few words of warning: Some houseplants are more cold-sensitive that others (as often noticed by Buffaloians in cold winters). These plants may die or exhibit leaf damage should the nighttime temperatures drop below 50°F. Until temperatures are reliably above 50°F (after June 1 in Buffalo) the following should not be left outdoors overnight: Dracena, Schefflera, many types of Aralia, and Gesneriads.
Plants outdoors are exposed to the sun’s ultra-violet rays. Window glass screens out these rays. Since our indoor plants are not accustomed to UV rays, they will sunburn if put directly out into the sun. Acclimate your plants to UV rays by placing them in heavy shade for one to two weeks before moving into the direct sunlight. Some particular types of plants prefer to be left in the shade outdoors: they tend to shed sun-grown leaves when brought back inside in the fall. Included in this category are Ficus species (eg Weeping Fig, Rubber Tree) and Schefflera.
Increased sunlight and air movement results in faster rates of water use. Check plants outside at least once every day. Plants which have very thin leaves, such as ferns, will usually do better if left indoors or in shade outdoors.
It’s time to think about bringing in the plants you have summered outdoors. The more temperature-sensitive plants should be brought in to stay. This would include Gesneriads, Dracaena, Schefflera, Ficus, and Aralia species. Others can be kept outdoors during the day and brought in when temperatures are expected to drop below 45-50 degrees.
There is an appreciable difference between the quantity and quality of light your plants have been receiving all summer outdoors, and that which they will receive indoors in the fall and winter. Just as we recommended acclimating your plants to outdoor direct sun over a two-week period in the spring, it is important to re-acclimate them to indoor conditions in the fall. Gradually toning down the amount of light a plant is exposed to will result in minimal loss of foliage during adjustment. Put plants in heavy shade outdoors for one week, then in your sunniest window indoors for at least two weeks, and gradually move them into their permanent locations.
Just before they are ready to make the move from outdoors to indoors, give each plant a thorough inspection and a clean bill of health. Check the foliage carefully for pests. Pay special attention to the undersides of the leaves, new growth, and junctions of leaf and stem (these areas can harbor mites, aphids, and mealy bugs, respectively).
Even is you seen no sign of insects, the next step should be a thorough washing with soapy water (mild dishwashing liquid is fine), followed by a rinsing with clear water from the garden hose. If there is a definite insect problem and insecticide may be used after washing.
This is also a good time to rid the soil of excess mineral salts which have accumulated from fertilizing. To do this, run clear water through the pot, using approximately ten times as much water as it normally requires to wet the soil ball. This will dissolve any mineral salts in the soil and flush them away.
After you have brought your plants indoors do not expect them to carry on as it nothing has happened. You should be prepared for some loss of foliage has happened. You should be prepared for some loss of foliage during the first few weeks. Your plants’ metabolism will probably slow down or even come to a complete stand-still(!); they may use up water slowly or not at all. Let each plant take its time to adjust, and do not water it unless sufficient dryness of the soil indicates that it is necessary.
After the plant adjusts, the lower light intensity, reduced air movement, and cooler temperatures will continue to influence its metabolism, and in general you should not expect it to require watering as often as before.
Just remember to give your plants sufficient light, individual attention with regard to watering (no once-per-week watering schedule, please!), and occasional washing to discourage insects and dust, and you’ll be rewarded with healthy greenery to enjoy the year-round!
Autumn, a season of changes. The days are becoming shorter. There is a “nip” in the air, telling us of colder weather in the offing. The oaks, maples, and other deciduous trees provide a show of fall colors as they prepare for winter dormancy.
How do our indoor plants react to these changes? The metabolism, or growth processes of plants is regulated by the environment. In the summer the warmth, long daylight hours, high light intensity, and plenty of air circulation influence the metabolism in a positive way. The faster metabolism is evident to us in an abundance of rapid growth and corresponding frequent demand for watering and fertilizing.
Autumn brings cooler temperatures, shorter days, lower light intensity, and limited circulation of air, resulting in a slower plant metabolism. Since house plants are not growing a rapidly as before, they will use their water at a markedly slower rate. Many plants will stay wet for weeks. (The drying effect of forced-air heat in some homes may cause the soil to dry quickly, however.)
This is the time when careless watering habits should be corrected; over watering can not be tolerated. There are a number of pre-cautionary steps we can take to keep our houseplants healthy.
- Many plants will probably suggest this fall and winter at the hands of the once-a-week waterer. When you keep your plants wet too long, you have filled in all of the air spaces with water and drown the roots. Eventually the plant fails. The best way to prevent this from happening to your plants is to check each plant individually for watering; let the feel or appearance of the soil tell you that it is the time to water the plant.
- Most plants (excluding water-lovers like ferns and plants in very small pots) would like to become drier that usual between waterings. As a general rule, the following genera of houseplants should dry halfway to three-quarters of the way through their pots during the fall and winter: Dracaenas, Aglaonemas (Chinese Evergreen), Cissus (especially grape ivy), and Philodrendron species, and Cacti and other Succulents. This rule should be modified according to how much light the plants is in, size of container, and other variables. Although many plants need to dry out between waterings in the fall and winter, no plant should become bone dry through the entire pot and then stay done dry (not even Cacti!).
- At this time of year in particular, a moisture meter can be a very wise investment for the health and longevity of your plants. A reliable moisture meter is calibrated to show the percentage of moisture in the soil. This enables you to determine accurately whether a plant is dry enough to require watering, or whether you should wait and check again in a few days. It is especially handy for use on large plants and plants which need to dry out between waterings.
- An ounce of prevention … Fungus attacks plants which have been made susceptible by over watering, insufficient light, or because of poor air circulation, as is the case in most homes during the colder portions of the year. A good preventive is the use of a systemic fungicide (check the label), some can be mixed with the plants’ water and used with each watering.
- Fertilizing once every three or four weeks will be sufficient for most house plants at this time of year.
- Even is you are careful in your watering, a fuzzy mold may appear on top of the soil on some plants. This is due in part to limited air circulation. It is a normal occurrence and the mold can just be scraped off.
- Oftentimes in the fall and winter the amount of light that some of your plants receive will be insufficient for survival, even though lighting was adequate in the summer months. This may prove to be the case with plants that are in decorative locations away from windows. That split-leaf Philodendron may have done quite well in your not-so-well-lit corner this summer, but it could develop problems as the amount of light, intensity of light, and number of sunny days decrease in fall. The answer is to problems of limited natural light is artificial lighting. Artificial lighting provides a consistent, dependable source of quality light. Flowering plants such as African Violets and other Gesneriads will bloom happily throughout the year with artificial lighting, and you have the advantage of being able to select a spot for your plants without worrying about the availability of natural light from windows. There are florescent fixtures and incandescent grow-light spot fixtures available (normal house lamps will not work!). Additionally, the plant must be directly under the light fixture (not even a foot or two to the side) and the light must be on for 8-12 hours every day. With artificial lighting and a little bit of imagination, that basement or dark living room corner can become an interesting, attractive, and very much a “live” part of the house.
Plants need special care in the winter months! Here’s some helpful Do’s and Don’ts!
- Do try to move plants to the windows so they get more light
- Do use artificial lights (specially designed for plants) to help them through dark dreary days.
- Do still fertilize your plants, but only every 4-6 weeks.
- Do wash your plants to keep free of dust. (Any mild dish soap with a warm water rinse.)
- Do use a plant fungicide in your water to ward off disease.
- Do water your plants only when they need it.
- Don’t have your plants near doors where cold drafts can damage tender leaves. Don’t let any leaves of your plants touch the window panes during the cold months.
- Don’t use cold water on plants, the roots like at least room temperature water.
- Don’t have plants in clay pots right next to windows, the pot will conduct cold to the soil, chilling the plant roots.
Botanical Biographies Hedera Helix - English Ivies
Many of our customers have stated that they “have no luck” with ivies. There can be many reasons for a plant failure – incorrect lighting, incorrect watering, poor soil or uncontrolled insects. Unfortunately, the “luck of the Irish” won’t make a difference if a plant’s environment isn’t right.
The English ivies can offer us “energy efficient” plants for any home. They are evergreen woody vines of the Aralia family that grow as ground cover throughout the temperate and subtropical zones. The temperate range of winter-hardy varieties is 45-75° and the subtropical 60-80°. Most will do well in any window exposure, with glacier or Chicago (white and green variegated leaves) preferring at least some partial sun.
Because of their fine root system and dense thin leaves they cannot store much water and will not tolerate being allowed to dry out. With a porous potting mix, allowing just the surface to dry is sufficient.
All ivies respond to “haircuts” and easily root from cuttings. Any insect attack can be easily controlled by washing the plant regularly – (once to twice a month) and careful inspection of the plant.
The Indispensable Aroid Family
This family has given us more good “long life and low light” plants than any other plant family.
One of the most interesting features of this group are the flowers. They are unusual in appearance having a center the spadix surrounded by a leaf-like bract or funnel shaped spathe. Many varieties will produce a berry or pods which will turn bright red (ex: Chinese Evergreen).
Family members include: Aglaonema “Chinese Evergreen”, Philodendron, Pothos “Devils Ivy”, Nephthytis “arrowhead vine”, Spathiphyllum “Peace Lily”, and Dieffenbachia “Dumbcane”. For a plant requiring little care, most times little light, and offering beauty and variety one would be wise to choose an Ariod Family member.
Spathiphyllum - The Peace Lily
The “peace lilies” are easy growing tropical American herbs, with lush green foliage, and a succession of “Flowers” (resembling Anthuriums) that have showy with spaths. They will grow nicely in almost any lighting level and make a perfect addition to anyone’s plant collection.
Areca Palms (Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens)
A member of the Palm family, the Areca is a durable indoor plant, originally from Madagascar. It enjoys warmth but will live in temperatures down to 50° F. The Areca Palm has creamy stems with dark brown flecking and very graceful fronds. It enjoys sunlight but will also grow in a north window which has bright light throughout the day. With proper care and maintenance the Areca Palm will add elegance to your home year-round.
Cacti Misunderstood Beauties
With over 2000 recorded species, the cactus family is native to the Americas from Canada to Chili. They have adapted themselves to semi-arid or near-desert regios and provide us with excellent plants for our dry homes. One characteristic distinct to all cacti and no other plant is the spine cushion or areole. Most species have spines from areoles although some varieties are spineless. The areoles are like internodes (where a leaf joins the stem on other plants) and are growing points for branches, flowers or spines. The spines, always thought to be an armor against predators, now are known to be a shading and water-collecting device for the plant.
Cactus can offer some of the most beautiful flowers found in nature. Flowers appear late spring or summer only after a cool (45-65°) dry (water when dry 3/4 of the way down the pot) winter period.
Cacti will be best in a soilless mix and prefer full or partial sun windows. They will offer great variety in shape, size, flowers and are one of the easiest plants to grow!
Ficus - the Fig Tree for Indoors
For ornamental use, Ficus offers is an array of lush foliage plants, many growing to nice sized indoor trees. They are not temperamental and provide needed greenery for home. Ficus varieties will enjoy any window exposure, preferring a sunny location, and care nothing about humidity. They provide almost indestructible if provided ample lighting and enjoy a light, soilless mix.
Ficus come in all shapes and sizes, best known probably the Rubber Plant (Ficus Decora) and the weeping Fig (Ficus Benjamina). Some oddities among the Ficus are Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus Lyrata), the Varigated Rubber Tree (Ficus Doescheri) and Creeping fig (Ficus Pumila), a small leaf vine not resembling any other Ficus variety.
Try one or try them all, the many Ficus varieties will truly give you a taste of the tropics for your home.