Friday, September 16, 2011

Put The Brakes On Impulsive Plant Purchases

“Impulsive plant purchases can be short-lived splendor”

If you sincerely love the houseplant hobby as much as I do, you are always tempted to take something home with you whenever you find yourself in a greenhouse - especially when the stock consists of recent arrivals. It’s very difficult to refrain from filling up your shopping cart when you walk through rows of colorful blooms, striking foliage and captivating varieties of greenery. Many times, you succumb to the temptation and end up with more plants than you bargained for. The urge to take home as many plants as possible overrides the question of whether you can keep them healthy or even alive under your care. Chances are that most of the houseplants you impulsively buy don’t come with clear cut instructions attached to them and you probably don’t have an iota of an idea what kind of care you need to provide. Sometimes you don’t even know what type of plant it is because some labels simply state ‘succulent’ or ‘tropical’. How’s that for enlightening?

So you buy an impressive-looking – but unfamiliar – plant that looks easy to care for. The two of you stumble along happily, the plant maintaining its healthy glow that won your heart in the greenhouse – for awhile. After a month or so, you notice that the plant is beginning to lose its gleam. Some leaves start to turn yellow and drop, others develop brown edges. Occasionally the foliage looks limp and you assume the plant’s thirsty, so you water it liberally. Other times you forget to water and the plant dries out completely. You’re not sure how many days have passed since you paid a visit to this poor plant with the watering can because you don’t remember when you last watered it. So for a couple of weeks you water regularly to keep the soil constantly moist because the leaves are once again droopy. But the plant keeps deteriorating. Since the water experimentation hasn’t helped, you figure it might be a ‘light’ issue instead. You move the plant from a shady corner to a sunny window and things get even worse. You move it back into the shade and the plant loses more leaves.

Might it be a humidity problem? Too much? You stop misting. Too little? You mist. You add a pebble tray filled with water under your sickly plant and then take it away when the leaves start to look moldy. Sometimes the plant perks up but most of the time it looks as though it’s on its last legs. You try everything until you’re at your wits end. By now, picking leaves up off the floor and removing dead ones from the plant is a daily routine. The plant is no longer the visual beauty from the greenhouse. It’s a sick mutation of it. Eventually the plant is no longer with you because after a season or two of your erratic pampering: a) it dies, b) you let it die (unintentionally, of course), c) you toss it to the curb or d) you give it away.

There will always be times you will pick up a plant at the spur of the moment, unable to resist the shape of the leaves or the scented flowers. An impulsive houseplant purchase is a good investment when you have a perfect spot for it waiting at home, you understand the requirements needed for healthy growth and you are able to supply them. Being considerate of light, humidity and temperature preferences are three fundamental needs of a plant that should be taken into consideration before any new greenery is added into a home. It is the deciding factor between raising plants that are thriving instead of just surviving.

Knowing your home environment and plants that are suitable for it are step one. With proper care you and some of your leafy choices could be roomies for many years to come. Ideally, you should put some thought into houseplants before purchasing them. I should too. Yet I don’t always. But today, in this article, we’ll learn about a few things that are important to know and consider before going houseplant shopping. And we’ll (pretend to) promise to follow those guidelines the next time we find ourselves with a potted plant in hand. Okay? Okay


What’s Your Growing Style?

Selecting houseplants with your growing style in mind is more important than you think. A compatible plant is one that matches your personal approach to them. Do you have time (and patience) to fuss over plants or would you rather own the ones that you can ignore for long periods? Do you enjoy the challenge of high-maintenance beauties or prefer the easygoing varieties that require no-brainer care? Are you heavy-handed with the watering can or forgetful? If you already have houseplants, what is your success rate with them? If you don’t, what do you know about them?

The amount of attention you are prepared to bestow upon your plants will generate a list of living green that will thrive under your particular care. There’s no point buying plants that you will love or neglect to death. If you love watering plants regularly, for the simple pleasure of pampering them and the feeling of being involved in their development, buying an Aloe Vera is not a good choice. You’ll nurture it to death. You’re better off picking up a houseplant that will welcome your chronic watering style.


Houseplant Matchmaking. What’s In A Name?

After you have determined whether you’re the smothering or inattentive type, it’s time to prepare a list of plants that fit your profile. If you are reading this, then you have internet access. What better place to start than the World Wide Web to do some research? Type in ‘easy care houseplants’, ‘high maintenance houseplants’, ‘houseplants for chronic over watering’, ‘houseplants that survive neglect’ or any similar combination into a search engine to get you started. You will end up with pages and pages of information to search through but will find that most of the plants listed on one website will be repetitions of the last site you visited.

Surf through websites that include individual photographs of each plant instead of only one to represent a whole group. For example: There are a multitude of Dracaenas to choose from and every single one is unique. A website that displays a picture for each member of this group will help you determine which one of these plants – if any – appeal to you visually. Write down the names of the plants that you ‘ooh and ahh’ over. That list of choices will require further research into their care to determine if they are compatible with you.

Books are another excellent mode of information gathering. Visit your local library, borrow reading material from friends or family or treat yourself to a new book at your local shop. There is a lot of valuable literature on houseplants waiting to be discovered. Most books will include detailed care as well as photographs accompanying each plant.

When you start preparing a list of compatible plants, it is very important to make note of the botanical name along with the common or popular one. Common names can vary from country to country but botanical names – referring to one particular plant and no others - are used worldwide, established by the ICBN (International Code of Botanical Nomenclature). With the proper name under you belt, you will be able to retrieve accurate information about a specific plant from your sources – books, the internet, your local garden center.

(Note: A retail shop selling plants – especially your local greenhouse – will (should) know the correct names of houseplants being sold. If not, consider going somewhere else.)


Making Your Houseplants Feel At Home

You’ve created a list of plants that are compatible with your personal growing style and are now eager to go shopping. Put on the brakes! You’re not completely ready to head out to the greenhouse and stock up. There is still one more very important factor – perhaps the most important - in the equation that you must take into consideration: plants that you choose must be compatible with your home environment. Before you let a houseplant follow you home, you must determine whether your indoor atmosphere will be the plant’s haven or its demise.

Can you provide adequate light for a preferred plant? If not, put it down and move onto another one that will be happy with the light levels offered in your home. Bringing home a plant that needs x amount of hours of sunlight per day and placing it near a northern window is not a good idea. Different plants need different levels of light that must be available for optimum growth. No matter how green your thumb is, no matter how much effort you put into meeting all the other requirements, your new plant will decline over time if you cannot provide adequate light. Determine the amount of light available in the areas of your home you want to add living green and limit your purchases to houseplants that fit into that bright – or shady - range.

(Note: Artificial light sources can supplement poor window lighting, allowing you to select houseplants that require brighter light.)


Once you’ve compiled a list of plants that will grow happily in your home under your personal care, you’re ready for that shopping spree. By doing your homework before you load up that cart and the cashier rings up those sales, you will select suitable plants that will blossom under your care and add beauty to your home for many years to come.

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