Friday, July 29, 2011

The Basic Needs Of Houseplants

The further we move away from nature - those of us living in urban areas surrounded by steel and concrete - the more we seem to be yearning for living green. It’s not surprising. Plants help soften some of the harsh and listless elements in everyday routines with their attractive foliage and mesmerizing flowers. The earthy smell and the feel of the greenery provide us with a much needed connection with nature; it may be minimal but it’s necessary.

Even if you are living in an apartment, indoor plants allow you to interact with nature. Stress is eased, blood pressure is lowered, harmony is felt and happiness is found just by handling and working with plants for as little as a few minutes a day. There is a magical calming effect brought on by plants that is welcome after a long and taxing day. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of it. Perhaps it’s the nurturing involved that is important to us. Perhaps it’s the eye candy that brightens our day. No matter what it is, it’s yours for the taking.

To many people a home without at least a couple of houseplants is not as warm and welcoming. Beautiful specimens, attractive flower pots and even eye-catching furniture to display their prized purchases on are added to their interior living space. And it’s all quite satisfying. But in order to increase or sustain that level of enjoyment – including extending blooming periods of flowering plants – houseplants need proper care.

If plants could speak, they would tell you that they have five basic needs:

Light
Water
Food
Temperature
Humidity

When each of these elements is provided accordingly, your plants will reward you with healthy and regular growth. Without effort on your part, your houseplants will decline over time. It’s hard to imagine when you first bring your plants home because they look so incredibly healthy (and some – the hardier types - will continue to look that way for an impressively lengthy period). But you have to bear in mind that the potted plant you brought home was grown in a greenhouse under ideal conditions. Now that it’s been placed in your home environment with all its surroundings altered (light, temperature, humidity), it will need adequate care to be able to adjust to its new environment. If you continually neglect your plants they will inevitably deteriorate.


Light

Light is the most crucial element in determining which plants to add to your home. Plants need proper light for photosynthesis, which produces the food and energy needed to keep them alive. It also allows for hormone production that induces flowering. Even if every other requirement is met, if your plant is in too much or too little light, its chance at optimal growth (and health) will be compromised. Your plant will be stressed and a stressed plant is an invitation to other problems.

When choosing a houseplant, learn about its light requirements and make sure you have the necessary spot in your home. Improper, insufficient, inadequate – these words should not be part of the equation when choosing plants for your home.


Water

Improper watering ranks right up there with improper light - a frequent cause for failure with houseplants. Most houseplants are killed by kindness than neglect and the kindness in question always involves water.

Did you know that most houseplants are killed from too much water than not enough? That’s right; indoor plants are more often killed by over watering than any other reason. They die because they drown. They drown because their roots rot. They drown because they can no longer draw in oxygen from rotted roots. Their roots rot because every single pore is filled with water leaving them with no ability to breathe. The roots need to breathe or they will die. With the hydroculture system you no longer have to worry about over or under watering. It’s about as infallible as you can get and you no longer have to be anxious about drowning your plants with kindness.


Food

Newly purchased plants have usually been well fed in the greenhouse therefore it’s not necessary to feed them immediately when bringing them home. Flowering plants that you intend to discard after they are finished blooming will not need to be fertilized but plants that you intend to keep permanently will.

Each plant has its own feeding requirements so there’s really no point generalizing. Another factor that determines feeding is location. If your plant is in an area that is not supplying adequate light, it will grow much slower. In that case feeding the plant and forcing it to grow can be quite detrimental.

For arguments sake about once a month during the growing season seems fairly reasonable. Some plants are very heavy feeders and require more feeding. Others are slow growers and require less. During the winter months most plants slow down in growth and are fairly dormant. Fertilizer should be withheld during this period.


Temperature

It is sometimes difficult to provide the preferred temperature from plant to plant and therefore another factor to consider before purchasing houseplants. A hot, dry atmosphere will shorten the life of flowers from plants such as Azalea and Gardenia, but will provide the ideal conditions for many cacti & succulents that will welcome that type of climate.

Although plants will tolerate temperatures that are slightly higher or lower than ideal, it does affect growth and quality. Temperature is important for successful indoor growth.

Temperatures are categorized as following:

Cool: 40 - 50 ° F / 4 - 10 ° C
Intermediate: 60 - 75 ° F / 15 - 23 ° C
Warm: greater than 75 ° F / greater than 23 ° C

The temperature in your home all year round – from room to room - is another important factor in determining which plants to purchase and which plants to leave behind at the greenhouse.


Humidity

Air in most homes is extremely dry. During the winter humidity levels plummet while the heating is on, and in the summer they also dive when the air conditioner is running. Humidity can easily drop to levels that are drier than the Sahara desert.

Humidity is extremely important to plants. The lower the humidity levels, the faster the moisture loss. If humidity levels are too low, houseplants will absorb water and release it through transpiration just as quickly, sometimes even faster. This rapid and severe loss of moisture is very harmful to indoor plants causing them stress. With the plant stressed and the air too dry, it is an invitation to unwelcome guests: insects.

Diminished humidity levels also explain why the leaves of some of your plants have brown tips, are wilted, curled under and even crispy. It would further explain why the flower buds dried up before they even bloomed or why you rarely see flowers at all during the winter months.

If your home is too dry, raise the humidity levels or choose to grow plants that cope easily with dry air such as cacti and succulents.

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