Choosing and Caring for Houseplants

Choosing and Caring for Houseplants

There are many factors which will determine how you go about choosing and caring for houseplants, the most important of which if the plants are to thrive is the environment which you are able to provide. As discussed in the previous , light, temperature and humidity are all important. In addition you will have to decide how much attention you are prepared to devote to the plants, and select accordingly those which need a lot of tender loving care and those hardier specimens which can tolerate occasional periods of neglect.

choosing and caring for houseplants Choosing Houseplants

The pleasure lies in choosing plants because you like the look of them whether you are drawn to classically shaped green foliage plants, or find the luscious blooms of the flowering varieties more appealing. In the latter event, you will be able to choose plants to suit every season of the year, so that it will truly seem as if you have brought a flourishing garden indoors.

When buying houseplants, don’t be tempted to save a few pence by taking a tired-looking specimen in the hope that you will magically be able to revive it. The chances are that it had a bad start in life that will permanently affect its health and therefore its appearance; far better to go for the sturdy good-looking plant that, wit wise care, will beautify your home for many months and possibly provide more plants from cuttings.

When you buy a plant, make sure that it isn’t wilting, that its leaves are not damaged, turning yellow, or brown, or about to fall off, and that its roots are not coming out of the bottom of the pot. Choose a flowering plant that is mostly in bud, with only a few flowers out, and have a particularly good look to make sure there are no pests like greenfly, scale or mealy-bug on the leaves or stems. Plants are not cheap nowadays, and you would not buy a damaged product, so why buy an ailing plant?

Caring for Houseplants

When you are bringing it home, the nursery or shop should have wrapped it up well but, if not, try to provide some cover for the whole plant to protect it against cold and draughts. The changes in environment since it left its home nursery will have been considerable, and it is important to minimize these as much as possible, and to fuss over it a bit for the first few days while it settles down. It may need watering at once; if the pot feels light and the compost is dry on the surface, try immersing the whole container in tepid water.

If air bubbles come up through the water, the plant has been allowed to get very dry, and it is best left in the water until no more air bubbles appear. Then it can be taken out, the surplus water allowed to drain through the drainage holes, and put in its permanent position, on an ordinary saucer or pot saucer to prevent the damp damaging your furniture. Outlined below are the most important aspects of care which will keep plants looking good for as long as possible.

polished leaves Cleaning and Polishing Leaves

Plants grown indoors do not have their leaves washed regularly by the rain like their outdoor counterparts, and as the leaves play such an important role in maintaining health, it is necessary to see that their pores are kept free from dust and smoke grime, and that a film does not form on their surfaces which will reduce the amount of light reaching them. Although perhaps nowadays, with centrally heated rooms and electric fires, this is not such a major problem, it is still necessary to keep the foliage clean and, of course, it improves the plant’s appearance.

Both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves should be sponged with tepid water and if they are very dirty, soapy water can be used, but it must be thoroughly rinsed off afterwards.

Plants with finely cut and delicate foliage must be cleansed by thorough spraying. Some people like to give them a good shine, but olive oil, which does achieve this end quite effectively, tends to attract dust, especially in the pores where it is easily lodged. There are, however, proprietary leaf cleaners that appear to be quite safe and give a shine lasting for months.

feeding houseplant Feeding

There are no differences in the nutritional requirements of houseplants from those of the multitude that grow in the open. When plants are first purchased the compost usually contains enough fertilizer to last for some months, but thereafter they benefit from small regular feeds (there are several proprietary solutions especially blended for houseplants) given at the time of watering. Foliage and summer-flowering house plants should be fed during the summer and the winter-flowering ones in the winter. No plants should be fed during their resting time, otherwise they will be undesirably forced.

re-potting Repotting

This is an operation to be postponed as long as possible because most houseplants flourish best in what appears to be too small a pot. The day does come, however, when they are pot-bound.

This is normally indicated by the slowing up of growth, rapid drying out of the soil, and roots growing through the drainage hole. It can be confirmed by knocking out the root-ball. If it consists mainly of a matted mass of visible roots and little soil, then the plant needs repotting.

The pot chosen for this purpose should be the next size larger, perhaps two sizes larger in the case of a vigorous grower. If it is a clay pot, a layer of crocks should cover the drainage hole. This should be followed by a thin layer of peat, followed by potting compost. The plant is removed from its old pot, the old crocks removed from the base of its root-ball and a few of the matted outside roots loosened without disturbing the main roots.

It is placed on top of the compost in the new pot and the space round it gradually filled with slightly moist compost until the level of the base of the stem is reached, firming gently. The final level of the compost should be about 2·5 cm (1 in) below the rim of the pot. Finally, tap the pot down several times, then water and place in a shady place for a week, spraying daily. After this, the plant can be put back in its usual quarters.

A good compost for this purpose is a mixture of two parts commercial potting compost and one part peat. In addition, there are nowadays several proprietary loamless composts that are very good for many plants.

In the case of very large houseplants repotting is difficult to do safely. The difficulty can be overcome by topdressing, which is usually done in the spring. The top 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in) of soil is carefully removed from the pot, and replaced with fresh compost.

Shaping and Resting

The smaller, softer, quickly growing plants such as Busy Lizzie and the Aluminium Plant (Pilea cadierei) can be made more bushy by ‘pinching’.

This means nipping out the tip of a shoot when the plant is growing well, removing the stem with the first pair, and sometimes the second pair, of leaves from the tip, and making the cut or break just above the next lowest pair, so that no stub is left on the plant. New shoots will then grow lower down from between the stem and the point where a leaf joins the stem, but the tip of the shoot will not grow any more. ‘Pinching’ can be done two or three times at about monthly intervals in spring and early summer.

‘Resting’ plants is very important; it is usually needed after flowering, though some plants have a slightly different life cycle and go on growing after this for a while. To rest a plant, gradually give it less water, and put it in a lower temperature than when it is growing. Sometimes the shoots need to be cut right back. The plant becomes almost dormant and may remain like that for several months; its rest period may be in summer or winter, depending on the flowering time which will vary‘ according to which part of the world it comes from.

Holiday Care

Houseplants, like pets, must be considered at holiday time. Most people do not really want to bother their neighbours at such times, and if the plants are thoroughly watered beforehand, they can usually be left in a cool place quite satisfactorily for the duration of a short holiday.

If the holiday is rather more prolonged, the pots can be surrounded with moist peat, or stood on a water-filled pebble tray. For such periods automatic watering equipment is useful.

If the weather is warm, after watering each plant can be placed, pot first, into a polythene bag of suitable size and the top open edges closed by twisting together and binding them with tape. This will conserve moisture. But be sure the bag is not touching any leaves.

When Things go Wrong

You may find that, in spite of all your efforts in choosing and caring for houseplants, they are not thriving as they should. Usually this means that either what is your idea of a little water is the plant’s idea of too much, or your views on the amount of warmth required do not coincide. In practically every case of poor plant growth, the remedy is to alter your care and management of it, to give less or more water, less or more humidity, change the temperature or the light, re-pot, and so on. Weak plants, or plants which are having to contend with the wrong environment, are the ones which will be infected by insect pests. Healthy plants are usually not attacked.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.