House plants bring color and life inside the house. Many have colorful leaves and flowers in interesting shapes. They especially add life and interest when the days are dark and dreary outside. Here are some tips to help house plants grow better.
Put plants in places where they will get the right amount of light. Light is the most important factor in making plants grow well. House plants are listed in the following chart according to the amount of light they need. No plants will tolerate dim light for long periods of time. Low light plants will tolerate low reading level light. Moderate light plants will tolerate good reading level light. Bright light plants do best in a north window or near a sunny window but out of direct sunlight. Filtered sun plants do best in a sunny window that is filtered by curtains or trees outside. Sun plants need at least four hours of direct sunshine each day. Some plants will tolerate a large range of light levels.
A light meter can be used to get an accurate measure of the amount of light in different parts of the house. They usually come with a list of plants and the amount of light each plant needs.
East, south and west windows are all sunny, but each will get different amounts of light according to the season and trees that might shade them. It may be necessary to move a plant to different windows to find the right amount of light. A few plants need more or less light when they are flowering.
Light can also be provided artificially with lights. Fluorescent lights give a good amount of green and blue light for growing but some plants need more red light for flowers. Mixing incandescent lamps with fluorescent will provide a full spectrum of light. Even better, full spectrum fluorescent grow lights are available.
Water plants according to their individual needs. Some plants need to have soil that is consistently moist. Other plants will die from root rot unless the soil dries out between watering. Also, African Violets do not like to have the crown get wet. The following list of house plants indicates how much watering each prefers. Here are tips that work for all plants.
When you water, give plants enough water each time so some drains out of the pot. This insures that all of the soil is wet. However, some soil will shrink as it dries and pull away from the pot so the water drains out of the pot immediately without wetting the soil. If this happens, give the plant several small waterings until the soil swells and is thoroughly wet.
Do not let plants sit in a saucer of water. Watering will flush excess salt out of the soil, but the salt will be pulled back into the soil unless the saucer is emptied. Excess salt causes salt burn which is a browning of the tips and edges of the leaves. Also, the soil may stay wet too long if the pot is sitting in water. For plants which need high humidity, such as gardenia, fill the saucer with rocks to keep the pot above the water level.
Let the plant tell you when to water again. Frequency of watering will change according to changing growth rates, light, temperatures and air movement. A few plants like to be consistently moist so they do not mind being watered every day or two, but most plants do best if the soil is allowed to dry out between waterings. If the soil is wet all of the time, many plants, especially figs, loose lots of their leaves and may develop root rot. Also, fungus gnats are kept under control by letting the soil dry out. If a house plant takes more than two weeks to dry out, try planting some additional plants in the pot.
Here are four ways to tell when the soil is dry enough to water. Lift the pot to see how heavy it is. Look at the drainage hole to see if the soil is dry. Push a finger into the soil to check for moisture. Push a water meter into the soil to check the moisture level. The water meter is the best method. It should come with a list of plants and how dry each likes to be before watering. Be sure to push the tip of the water meter to a point halfway between the top and bottom of the soil to get an accurate measurement.
Watering is made much simpler if a moisture holding material is added to the soil. It soaks up the excess water, then releases it again as the soil dries out. The moisture holding material should be mixed into the bottom half of the pot so it does not migrate to the top of the soil as a slimy mess.
Use a good quality potting soil suitable to the type of plant. Soil in pots does not drain as well as in the garden because the pot interferes with drainage. Potting soils provide extra drainage by adding sand, perlite or pumice. Cactus and succulents need excellent drainage so they need a special soil. Orchids need perfect drainage so they are grown in Orchid Bark. A tall container will drain better than a short container. Drainage is also improved by putting a string out the drain hole into the saucer.
Move plants to the next size larger pot only when the roots fill the present pot. Roots will come out of the drainage hole when the pot is filled with roots. Repot into the next size larger pot or, perhaps, two sizes larger if a plant is fast growing. Too large of a pot will cause the soil to stay wet for a long time which promotes root rot. When repotting, make one or two cuts down the side of the root ball to cut circling roots. To limit the size of the plant and to keep it in the same pot, cut off the outer inch of soil and roots and replace it with fresh potting soil. Begonia and Saxifraga stop blooming if they are root bound, but Saintpaulia, aglaonema, hoya, impatiens, stephanotis and strelitzia bloom better if slightly root bound. Most plants prefer to be repotted in the winter or early spring when not actively growing.
Fertilize regularly with a water soluble or a slow release fertilizer. Several companies make water soluble fertilizers that work well. Osmocote makes several slow release formulas. Foliage plants need mainly nitrogen. Flowering plants need about equal amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. I do not recommend fertilizer sticks because they put too much fertilizer at one spot.
Check plants every week for insects and diseases. The most common disease is root rot from the soil being wet all of the time. The only effective treatment is to let the soil dry out between waterings. Leaf spots, molds and mildews are less likely if the leaves are kept dry or dry quickly. Spider mites are a problem on many plants, especially palms. Watch for off-color leaves and fine webbing. Scale and mealybugs are also common. A fine oil spray gives good control without poisonous fumes.
Keep house plants out of cold drafts. A patio door may look like a great place for house plants but cold drafts when the door is open is hard on most plants. Also, hot dry air from heating vents can cause many leaves to quickly wilt. Heating vents might be closed or covered with a baffle to direct hot air away from plants.House Plants listed by light requirements
Scientific name Moisture Description Common name Light Low light Aglaonema modestum Moist Colorful leaves. Tolerates low Chinese Evergreen Low-Bright light and dry air. Aspidistra elatior Soak & dry Very tough plant survives heat and Cast Iron Plant Low-Bright low light. Asplenium nidus Soak & dry Large, arching fronds from a dark Bird's Nest Fern Low-Bright crown. Cordyline terminalis Soak & dry Pink striped leaves. Tolerates low Hawaiian Ti Plant Low-Bright light. Needs high humidity. Draceana spp. Soak & dry Strap-like leaves, often striped. Dracaena Low-Bright Can grow tall. Dieffenbachia spp. Soak & dry Large, green and white leaves. Can Dumbcane Low-Filt grow to ceiling. Poisonous sap. Spathiphyllum spp. Moist Large green leaves with white Peace Lily Low-Filt flower in fall. Moderate light Araucaria heterophylla Moist Formal, tree-like growth habit. Norfolk Island Pine Mod-Filt Davalia spp. Moist Fuzzy rhizomes creep over and down Rabbit's Foot Fern Mod-Filt pot. Needs high humidity. Gynura aurantiaca Moist Fuzzy purple leaves look like Velvet Plant Mod-Bright velvet. Monstera deliciosa Soak & dry Large leaves are split. Stem needs Split Leaf Philodendron Mod-Filt support. Nephrolepis exaltata Soak & dry Arching fronds make a great hanging Boston Fern, Dallas Fern Mod-Part basket. Palms Soak & dry Many sizes and frond shapes. Some Palms Mod-Bright grow tall. Philodendron caudatum Moist Heart shaped leaves. Vigorous Heart Leaf Philodendron Mod-Bright climber. Pteris cretica Moist Long, narrow leaflets. Some varie- Table Fern Moderate gated or frilled. Rhapis excelsa Soak & dry Eady to grow palm with fan shaped Lady Palm Mod-Bright leaves. Rounded shape plant. Rhoeo spathacea Soak & dry Leaves are green on top, purple on Moses in the Cradle Mod-Bright bottom. Flowers are boat shaped. Schefflera actinophylla Moist Leaves have eight leaflets. Mist Octopus Plant Mod-Bright daily to provide humidity. Bright light Alocasia spp. Soak & dry Large dark leaves with light green Alocasia Bright veins. Aloe vera Soak & dry Leaves are thick curving spikes. Burn Plant Bright-Sun Sap used for healing. Anthurium scherzeranum Moist Colorful red or orange flower. Flamingo Flower Bright Aphelandra squarrosa Moist White striped leaves. Yellow Zebra Plant Bright flowers in fall. Asparagus spp. Soak & dry Fine foliage. Asparagus Fern Bright-Filt Chlorophytum comosum Soak & dry Baby plants at ends of curved stems. Airplane Plant, Spider Plant Bright Best in hanging basket. Coffea arabica Soak & dry Shiny leaves with wavy edges. Needs Coffee tree Bright-Filt high humidity. Cyclamen persicum Moist Heart shaped leaves. Butterfly Cyclamen Bright flowers in winter. Dizygotheca balfourianna Soak & dry Fine textured leaves. Can be trained Fernleaf Aralia Bright-Filt as Bonsai. Dizygotheca elegantissima Moist Leaves are whorls of nine fingers. False Aralia Bright Can be trained as Bonsai. Gynura aurantiaca Soak & dry Purple velvety covering on stems Purple Velvet Plant Bright-Filt and leaves. Hippeastrum spp. Moist Large red, pink or white flowers. Amaryllis Bright Allow to go dormant in summer. Homalomena wallisii Soak & dry Green and yellow leaves. Homalomena Bright Hoya carnosa Moist Vining plants with very fragrant, Wax Plant Bright waxy flowers. Hypoestes phyllostachya Soak & Dry Unusual pink spots on leaves. Pink Polka Dot Bright-Filt Impatiens wallerana Moist Pink, red, orange, purple and white Busy-lizzy Bright-Filt flowers available. Impatiens x hawkeri Moist Large pink, red, orange, lavender New Guinea Impatiens Bright or purple flowers. Mandevilla sanderi Moist Vining. Large pink to rose flowers Mandevilla Bright with yellow throat Spring-Fall. Maranta leuconeura Soak & dry Colorful, curved stripes on leaves. Prayer Plant Bright-Filt Great hanging basket. Mimosa pudica Moist Finely divided leaflets immediately Sensitive plant Bright fold up if touched. Oxalis triangularis Soak & dry Three or four leaflets. Pink flower Shamrock Bright in summer or winter. Peperomia spp. Soak & dry Many leaf shapes. Some upright, Radiator Plant Bright-Filt some trailing. Pilea cadierei Moist Leaves have silvery splotches. Aluminum Plant Bright-Filt Platycerium bifurcatum Moist Forms large, branched fronds on a Staghorn Fern Bright wall. Soak once a week. Rhoeo spathacea Soak & dry Striped leaves with purple underside. Moses-in-the-Cradle Bright-Filt Boat shaped bracts with a white flower. Saintpaulia ionatha Moist Rosette of leaves with white or African Violet Bright-Filt pink flowers. 14 hours of light. Sansevieria trifasciata Soak & dry Lance shaped leaves with yellow Snake Plant Bright margins and silver bands. Saxifraga stolonifera Soak & dry Leaves are shaped like a geranium Strawberry Begonia Bright-Filt and colored like a begonia. Schefflera arboricola Soak & dry Eight leaflets on the leaf stalk Octopus Plant Bright-Filt spread like an umbrella. Schlumbergera buckleyi Moist-dry Needs long nights or exposure to Christmas Cactus Bright cold to form flowers. Strobilanthes dyeranus Soak & dry Leaves marbled with purple and blue Persian Shield Bright with wine red underneath. Tolmiea menziesii Moist Plantlets sprout from leaves. Piggyback Plant Bright Zebrina pendula Soak & dry Silver stripes and purple. Great Wandering Jew Bright-Filt for hanging baskets. Filtered Sun Abutilon spp. Very moist Rapid growing. Red, orange, yellow, Flowering Maple Filt-Full purple or white flowers. Acalypha hispida Moist Has long plumes of tiny red flowers Chenille Plant Filt sun Needs regular pruning. Ananas comosus Soak & dry Cut top off, dry one week and root Pineapple Filt-Full in sand & peat moss. Above 68 deg Anthurium scherzeranum Moist Colorful red or orange flower. Flamingo Flower Filt sun Begonia spp. Moist Many sizes and colors of leaves. Begonia Filt sun Red, pink or white flowers. Billbergia species Soak & dry Unusual flowers in many colors. Billbergia Filt Sun Mist leaves. Cattleya Cymbidium Phalaenopsis Barely wet Easy to grow if given right light, Orchids Filt Sun moisture and temperature. Clivia miniata Soak & dry Strap-like leaves. Large orange and Kaffir Lily Filt sun yellow flowers in spring. Crassula argentea Soak & dry Thick leaves and branches. Some Jade Plant Filt sun with striped leaves. Cycas revoluta Soak & dry Stiff fern-like leaves. Very slow Sago Palm Filt Sun growing. Cyperus alternifolius Very moist Long green stems topped by a whorl Umbrella Plant Filt sun of leaves. Grows in shallow water Davallia trichomanoides Moist Very finely divided fronds with Squirrel's Foot Fern Filt Sun reddish fuzzy rhizomes. Euphorbia pulcherrima Moist Red, pink, white or marbled flowers Poinsettia Filt sun at Christmas time. Fatshedera lizei Moist Hybrid of Japanese aralia and Tree Ivy Filt sun English ivy. Needs staking. Ficus benjamina Soak & dry Small leaves and weeping twigs. Very Weeping Fig Filt sun sensitive to overwatering and drafts. Ficus elastica Soak & dry Large oval leaves, some green and Rubber Plant Filt sun some variegated. Gardenia jasminoides Very moist Very fragrant white flowers. Needs Gardenia Filt-Full high humidity and cool nights. Full sun Cactus Moist-dry Many sizes and colors. Moist when Cactus Full Sun growing/flowering, then dry. Capsicum annuum Moist Bright red peppers are edible, but Ornamental Pepper Full Sun very hot. Carissa macrocarpa Moist Fragrant white flowers produce Natal Plum Full Sun edible red fruit. Citrus spp. Soak & dry Fragrant white flowers and colorful Citrus Full Sun fruit. Codiaeum variegatum Moist Large oval leaves of various colors Croton Full Sun on same plant. Needs humidity. Cuphea ignea Moist Tiny, tube-like red flowers. Cigar Plant Full Sun Cycas revoluta Soak & dry Stiff fern-like leaves. Very slow Sago Palm Full Sun growing. Echeveria spp. Soak & dry Rosette of thick leaves. Plantlets Hen and Chicks Full Sun sprout all around. Gardenia jasminoides Very moist Very fragrant white flowers. Needs Gardenia Sun high humidity and cool nights. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana Soak & dry Scarlet, orange or yellow flowers. Kalanchoe Full Sun Lantana spp. Never wet Fragrant red, yellow or white Lantana Full Sun flowers in summer. Pelargonium peltata Soak & dry Red, salmon, orange, pink and white Geranium Full Sun flowers. Pelargonium spp. Soak & dry Fragrant leaves in many fragrances. Scented Geraniums Full Sun Flowers in spring to summer. Solanum pseudocapsicum Moist Flowers and red fruit in the fall. Christmas Cherry Full Sun Needs abundant light to flower. Stephanotis floribunda Moist Vining plant with very fragrant Stephanotis Full Sun white flowers in June. Strelitzia reginae Moist Exotic flowers of orange, blue and Bird of Paradise Full Sun white all year.
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