Concise Guide to Flowering houseplants

Quality plants are always the first to sell in the florist’s shop, and quality plants will always give the best results, so do not necessarily think that you are getting the best of bargains when you acquire the cheapest of plants. And, if you are a beginner with plants, then it is wise to make your initial experiments with the easier subjects, and to leave the more difficult until a reasonable amount of knowledge concerning the needs of indoor plants has been accumulated.

A requirement that is as important as the plant selection is the environment in which the plant will be expected to live. And, quite frankly, if your living room is dingy, dark and airless then it could well be a complete waste of time for you to contemplate the prospect of growing any sort of living plant. Only the very toughest of plants, such as the cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior, will survive for any length of time in very poor light. Ideally, rooms should be light and airy so that a buoyant, rather than stuffy atmosphere prevails.

Given reasonably good light and adequate ventilation on warmer days the next most important need that the householder can have some measure of control over is the temperature at which the room is maintained. And maintained is an important word in this instance, as it is not only important that plants should enjoy adequate temperature, it is also essential that it is maintained constantly during the day. Temperatures that go up and down like a yo-yo can only be harmful in the end. It will lead to much greater success if a temperature range of 15-20°C/60-68°F can be maintained rather than having rooms baking hot in the evening and as cold as the grave at other times of the day.

Few plants thrive in very high temperature, as the atmosphere dries out more and more as the warmth of the room gets higher and higher, and in very dry conditions there is a tendency for plants to become dehydrated. There is also much more risk of them being attacked by pests such as red spider mite which relish very dry surroundings. Also in relation to heating, it is wise to keep more delicate plants well away from radiators, and particularly important that plants should not be placed immediately above heating appliances in the stream of ascending hot air.

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink – in the case of most houseplants there is far too much water and far too much to drink. So when dealing with plants great care must be exercised in ensuring that they have sufficient water for their needs, but are not permanently waterlogged. It is not easy to give precise directions concerning the needs of plants that are so varied in themselves in their requirements. But, unless instructions are given to the contrary, then it is best to water plants and to allow them to dry out a little before watering again. Treated in this way roots will remain much more active and the plants generally will be very much crisper in their appearance than if watered in small amounts at irregular intervals.

Good drainage is an essential need whether you are planting corn in a ploughed field or potting an African violet in a pot. It is not only important that plants should be properly watered, it is equally important that the water when poured into the container should drain sharply through the soil. If water remains on the surface of the soil for any length of time it will be wise to remove the plant from its pot to see if there is anything impeding the drainage – it could, for example, be a worm cast blocking the holes in the bottom of the pot. Tepid water is preferred to cold, and rainwater should be used wherever possible because it is purer.

Feeding is also important and if done properly there should not be so much need for potting plants on into larger pots. Young and established plants should be fed with a balanced fertilizer used as directed when plants are in active growth, usually during the spring and summer. Plants in larger pots of 25cm/10in size and upwards can be maintained for many years in perfect condition simply by feeding them regularly. Some of the smaller plants, however, may have to be potted into slightly larger containers almost as soon as they are purchased-chlorophytum, Begonia rex and many of the flowering plants like cinerarias which come in particularly small pots are good examples.

Whatever the time of year or whatever the plant it is important that the existing pot should be well filled with roots before any potting on operation is considered. And, when potting on, the new container must not be too much larger than the one the plant is being transferred from. If the new pot is made of clay then a few pieces of broken flower pot will have to be placed in the bottom of the pot to aid drainage before introducing any soil; plastic pots have sufficient holes in the base to offset the need for ‘crocks’. When potting, a properly prepared and sterilized mixture must be used, and for houseplants that are expected to remain in the same pot for some time a soil mix with a reasonable amount of loam in its preparation is essential. Most plants will get along very well on a mix of two parts loam-based mixture and one part peat-soil from the garden is very seldom suitable.

Most plants indoors will benefit if they can be grouped together rather than dotted about the room. One method of grouping is to place them on a bed of moist gravel in a waterproof tray. A second method, providing humidity, is to plunge the pots to their rims in a bed of moist peat or moss.

The familiar name, where applicable, minimum winter night temperatures, place of origin, are given for each plant described.

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