Why not start the new year by bringing a new houseplant into your home, or perhaps even starting an indoor garden to enjoy during the colder months?
Understanding the four basic needs of all houseplants can not only provide you with the knowledge you need to care for these plants, but can also help you choose an environment in your home where the right plant can survive and thrive. Can also Houseplants have four basic needs:
- the sunlight
- air flow/humidity
- Supplemental Nutrients (Fertilizers)
the sunlightNever underestimate the importance of sunlight! If a plant is not getting enough, it will become leggy and thin. If excessive, its leaves can burn. An east or south facing window is usually the ideal choice for houseplants. Try to avoid placing a houseplant where direct sun will shine on the plant from a window, as this will result in leaf burn from the strong reflected light. Instead, give the plant as much indirect bright light as possible.
Water: Our home environment is typically up to 50% drier than most plants, so indoor plants can be surprisingly difficult to water. When a houseplant’s soil lacks enough moisture, soil particles will shrink and pull away from the sides of the pot, causing water to flow down and out of the drainage hole without actually being absorbed. To avoid this, water around the base of the plant until the pot is heavy enough and the water runs out of the drainage hole directly from the soil surface. Frequent watering will result in the accumulation of salt in the soil of the plants and leaf tip and marginal leaf scorch if the soil is not leaked periodically. Prevent this by draining the salt out of the pot by allowing the water to flow through and out of the soil. Empty the saucer after filling it with water.
Air flowOften overlooked, this is an important requirement for the overall health of the plant and the prevention of indoor pests. It’s important to place an indoor plant somewhere that will receive regular air circulation, but often won’t get cold winter air or a burst of summer heat from an open door. Plants require both carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis and oxygen for respiration, which is the basis of all growth processes. If they are placed in a dusty, forgotten, water-deficient location, they will struggle to thrive and become an attractive target for spidermites.
The air coming out of a central heating/air conditioning vent is particularly dry and can interfere with leaf and flower development if there is no additional moisture, so avoid locating a plant directly in a vent’s airflow . Humans prefer an indoor humidity of 20–30%, but plants, especially tropical ones that are suitable for indoors, typically prefer 75–85% humidity.
Placing the plant on a tray of pebbles with about an inch of water should provide the proper amount of moisture around the plant, even when overall home humidity remains low.
nutritional supplementsFertilizer: An application of fertilizer — even just a few times a year or more frequently at a lower dose — can greatly improve the vitality of your houseplants. Fertilizer replaces nutrients that a plant uses throughout its lifecycle and cannot obtain naturally when confined to a pot. The type and composition of fertilizer needed depends on the type and size of the plant. Always follow fertilizer directions closely and do not use more than the recommended amount. Do not fertilize a sick, weak, or wilted plant, as this can cause over-stress and death of the plant.
tried and true
The following are tried and true houseplants.
Tough, easy-to-care houseplants for beginners: snake plant, also called mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria spp.); cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior); ZZ Plant, also known as Aroid Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia); Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron cordatum); and pothos, also known as devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum).
Reliable plants for indoor flowers: moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.); African Violet (Saintpaulia spp.); Flamingo Flower (Anthurium spp.); and the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergeraspp.).
Unique Foliage Houseplants: Rhizomatous Begonias (Begonia spp.); Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla); Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina); and Swiss Cheeseplant (Monstera deliciosa).
Many of these plants will be discussed in more detail in the next The Real Dirt column.
Butte County’s UC Master Gardeners are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension System, serving our community in a variety of ways, including 4-H, agricultural advisory, and nutrition and physical activity programs.