General care of House Plants

General care of House Plants

The general care of house plants is largely a matter of common sense and cleanliness is essential. The air is full of grime and dust, even in the country, and in built up areas it is even more important to give plants a regular clean, otherwise, if these deposits accumulate, their breathing will become clogged and this can prove fatal. A healthy plant bought from a reliable nursery should be self supporting and not pot bound, so it will not need supplementary feeding for two to three months.

The sudden transition from a humid greenhouse to the aridity of a heated living-room isa major change in growing conditions. To help overcome this, plants should be purchased, if possible, during the spring and summer months. This will give plants a chance to adapt themselves to their new environment without the added discomfort of the dry air which usually accompanies artificial heat. Leaves may start to turn yellow and fall off a few days after plants are received but this is usually only a passing phase that will be soon overcome providing the plants are not over watered, are given plenty of fresh air but not draughts, and good light but not direct sunlight. Due attention must also be given to pest fighting, pruning and training.

photosynthesis Light requirements

All green plants respond to light since it regulates their growth. Up to a certain point, the more light a plant receives in intensity and duration, the greater the need for water, warmth and nutrients. Too much, especially direct sunlight, overtaxes the plant and is apt to lead to wilting and scorching, too little forces weak pallid growth, encouraging vegetative growth at the expense of flowers. All green plants grown indoors turn their leaves to the source of light, to present the maximum surface area to the light rays. The richer and deeper the green, the more able is the plant to absorb light and the more adaptable it is to shade. The tendency of plants to grow one-sidedly towards the light can be corrected by turning the plant around, not abruptly, but regularly and gradually. The higher the temperature, within reason, the more light a plant will need and it is the low light intensity of winter, rather than the low temperature, that limits the growth of plants during the winter months. Under central heating conditions the tendency is to maintain temperatures above the ideal for plants in the winter light available.

Much experimenting has been taking place for many years with the use of artificial light to supplement natural light for plant culture, and nowadays the use of high pressure mercury vapour lamps for growing plants is quite widespread commercially, although unsuitable for homes. The best lamp for this purpose is a fluorescent tube and reflector, which arranged suitably, produces a good effect while improving the quality and vigour of the plants. These lamps should be installed by an electrician, and all metal parts efficiently earthed.

The ordinary 4 feet by 40 watt, warm white or daylight tubes are most suitable. The tube must be only 10 to 12 inches above the foliage and although they do not appear to dissipate much heat, the loss of humidity from the plants beneath must be replaced. There are a number of manufactured cabinets that will hold plants but existing troughs can be adapted.

Supports for climbing plants

The type of support used for climbing plants grown in the house is extremely importtant. It should be well chosen, because much depends on it. It can give a suitable natural support that will make a climber look attractive or it can appear incongruous and awkward. Moss sticks are simple to make using either 2 ½ or 3 feet wide, ¼ inch square plastic mesh, of which a 10 inch wide strip will be needed. This should be rolled into a cylinder, overlapping the edges about ¾ inch and fastening it with strands of wire at about 4 inch intervals. About 2 inches of gravel should be put into a tub, or large pot, for drainage and two small flat sticks pushed through the bottom of the cylinder, at right angles, to brace it. The mesh can be cut slightly, if necessary, to enable the sticks to be slipped in, and standard potting mixtures used to fill the tub. The cylinder can be filled with a mixture of half peat or shredded moss and half vermiculite or perlite. If peat or moss is used it should be soaked overnight to dampen it properly. The cylinder is most easily filled with the aid of a paper funnel, stopping at intervals during filling to press the mixture down firmly with the aid of a short broom handle, until the cylinder is full.

The plants chosen to grow against the moss stick could be Philodendron, Hedera canariensis, Scindapsus, or any other attractive climber, and should be firmly placed in the tub, using three to five plants for an arrangement of this size.

Only one or two plants should be used for a smaller stick in a smaller pot. The roots must be covered to within an inch of the rim to allow for watering. The climbers can be trained to grow in a spiral around the moss stick _by pinning their branches to the stick with hairpins inserted at a sharp angle. The stick should be watered daily to keep it damp, and when the tub is watered it can be filled to the brim and allowed to settle. This should be continued until it drains out at the bottom, but the surface must have dried out before it is re watered. Morning Glories and other similar plants that climb by twining, can be given three light pieces of bamboo to twine around. These can be put in the pot itself at regular intervals round the edge. About half way up the length of the stakes a hoop can be installed. An embroidery hoop of sufficient size will do and it should be fastened to each stake. The tops of the stakes should then be brought together and tied firmly. There are many variations of this theme of support. Pliable canes can be bent over a pot to give one or more looped supports, or tied to give a trellis or ladder effect. This latter form of support is commonly seen in arrangements of members of the ivy family but is suitable for all climbers. In many places, ready made plastic supports can be bought from gardening centres. Plastic-covered wire can also often be used and is frequently bent into many attractive shapes. Care should be taken to see that ordinary wire, if used, does not rust.

Sometimes a simple wood trellis is used, together with climbers, as a room divider. They are usually constructed with a wooden base of about 1 ½ inch thick material of whatever length is required. The trellis is attached to this by means of wooden uprights reinforced by angle irons.

On these bases, troughs or pots containing the climbers can be stood. The plants can be unobtrusively attached with fine string to the trellis background here and there and then left to find their own way with a minimum of attention. In Denmark much use is made of string and drawing pins which are fixed directly to the walls, but this is really not to be recommended. The plants are apt to get out of control and much of their distinction is lost in a tangle of jungle.

Containers for house plants

The battle between clay and glazed pots has raged for many years and will probably continue to do so. Clay pots have an unbeatable porous quality and a reasonable price, the glazed pots retain moisture better and can be had in all shapes, colours, and sizes. Sometimes the colour and designs compete with the plant for attention, which is unfortunate.

Providing the pot has a drainage hole the choice is a personal matter. There are pot holders in great variety into which a clay pot can be slipped and, if so wished, clay pots can be painted with flat oil, or emulsion paint in white, pale green, grey or any other colour to tone with the surroundings. It must be remembered, however, that pots treated in this way become less porous and plants will require more attention from the watering can.

Soup tureens and copper or brass troughs make excellent outer containers for pots of house plants that like extra humidity. They can be packed around with damp peat or moss and stood on saucers of wet pebbles, although the bottom of the pot should not be allowed to touch the water. Table trolleys on wheels are useful too. They can be moved away from the window on a cold night, or out of range of the midday

summer sun. Jardinieres, especially the white-painted, curly Victorian ones are always attractive, especially for pelargoniums. Four, five or six tier saucepan stands, suitably painted, make good holders for a small number of pots. Drip catchers must always be considered and, for these, painted tins of an suitable size with low sides, or the odd saucer are always useful.

Pedestals, wooden or wrought iron, are useful for mixtures of plants, including some of the trailing ones. There are many osier and cane shapes available and small pieces of furniture such as log boxes, wine coolers, tea pots or tantalus cases can be used, but careful selection of plants will have to be made before they are filled. In some cases the house plants will need lifting within the container, probably by nothing more complicated than an upturned flower pot.

Although many household items can be converted into suitable containers for house plants and there are also many articles on the market that can be used, some people prefer to make their own containers. Cane baskets of any required size can be made to suit any particular situation. Wooden bases and various thicknesses of cane can be bought from a handicraft store. The container can \ then be made into a variety of shapes, to stand or hang. Troughs, or other wooden containers, can be made to fit alcoves, shelves, or windowsills.

When house plants are stood in wooden or metal containers without a drip tray or saucer beneath them, care should be taken when watering. The plant should be removed and only returned after it has been given a thorough watering and the pot base is dry. Otherwise wood will rot and ¢ metal will rust. When climb ing plants are grown in basketwork it is impossible to remove them once they have established themselves and some form of protective drip tray should be incorporated if watering is to be carried out satisfactorily.

It is always helpful to put plant pots inside another container, often decorative, because this will cut down evaporation from the pot surface. If the space between the two can be filled with some water-absorbing material, the roots will be able to obtain much of the moisture they need through the porous sides or the base hole. There is much room for thought as to the means of displaying plants and a constant search for unusual containers will often yield some very attractive results. If plants are kept in their pots inside their containers, it will be possible to give them individual attention and watering. Group effects can easily be camouflaged with moss.

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