House Plants For Beginners In Easy Steps

There is a wide range of house plants available today. Some were originally collected from the wild on plant-hunting expeditions, while others were bred or developed for indoor growth by commercial growers.

Whatever their origins, house plants must meet certain requirements. They must be attractive — in flower, foliage or both — and they must be tolerant of the unnatural growing conditions found in a house. Relatively low light levels, dry atmosphere and central heating, rapid fluctuations in temperature, fumes and draughts and erratic water supply are some of the problems.

House plants vary enormously in their ability to tolerate these conditions. When buying a house plant or deciding where to put it, try to match the requirements of the particular plant with the environment you have to offer.

There are three basic categories of house plants, according to their temperature requirements. Those requiring cool conditions are grown between 4°C (39°F) minimum and 16°C (60°F) maximum; normal, or intermediate, temperature, 7°C (45°F) minimum and 19°C (66°F) maximum; and warm conditions 10°C (50°F) minimum and 21°C (70°F) maximum.

Foliage plants generally tolerate shade better than flowering subjects, which also need protection from intense sun when flowering. Most house plants grow well in positions where there • is plenty of natural light, but out of direct sunlight, particularly in summer.


You need a healthy plant to start with, as plants which are sold in poor condition rarely recover. Also necessary are suitable containers, troughs and composts, canes and ties for tall plants, a sharp knife, liquid feed, insecticide and fungicide, a small sprayer and a room thermometer.

Optional extras include a watering can with a narrow spout or a fine rose, and a small propagator, but a small jug and a polythene bag make admirable substitutes.


Containers for growing plants should look nice, be of a suitable size and depth, be well drained and easy to clean. Clay and plastic pots are most often used, but timber and glazed-ware containers are popular for display purposes. Clay containers are heavier than plastic ones and so provide stability, particularly important if you are using a light, soil-less compost. Plastic pots are easier to clean and dry out more slowly.

Pot size is measured by the diameter across the top. Those in common use are 6.5 cm (21/4 in.), 9 cm (3 ½ in.), 10 cm (4 in.), 12.5 cm (5 in.), 15 cm (6 in.) and 17.5 cm (7 in.).


Soil-based mixtures are easier to manage than soilless composts if the plant is likely to remain in its pot for a year or more.

Some plants, such as dumb cane (Dieffenbachia), are offered for sale in hydro-culture packs, consisting of a plant, a container and a granular material around the roots. These specially treated granules are soil or compost substitutes and are moistened with a very weak, balanced fertilizer solution.


Once a healthy plant has been positioned to give it the optimum heat and light to suit its needs, then watering, feeding and general maintenance become important.

Watering is the most difficult process to get right. There are moisture meters available which indicate by lights or numbers the moisture content of the soil when a metal probe is inserted into the compost. These are no substitute for experience and judgement. The type of plant, the season, its position, the amount of heat and light available all affect the amount of water needed. Plants resting in winter need little water compared to their spring and summer requirements. Always use tepid water, to avoid shocking the plant’s roots.

One watering method is to fill the top of the container until water runs out the bottom. If the compost is very dry and has shrunk away from the pot, water will simply run down the inner sides of the pot. Submerge the entire pot, up to the level of the soil surface, in a large container of water. Leave until all the air bubbles have stopped rising to the surface; this indicates the compost is saturated. Remove and drain.

If, on the other hand, water sits on the top of the compost surface in a pool, it means the compost is so compact that water cannot percolate through. You can try gently pricking over the surface with a fork and standing the pot in a container of water, as above. It is usually better, though, to repot the plant into fresh compost.

Never allow plants to stand permanently in water. Empty out any surplus from the saucers or plant holders 30 minutes after watering. Small seedlings and plants with hairy leaves, like African violets, are best watered by submerging the container, so as to avoid water settling on the leaves and causing rot. Cyclamen corms are also best watered from below, as water settling on the corm can lead to rot.

Always water thoroughly rather than wetting the surface of the compost alone. Although there are exceptions, the compost should be allowed to nearly dry out between waterings.

During winter, many plants suffer from dryness of the air when radiators are on. Regular sponging of the leaves Or misting of all except hairy-leaved plants will help remedy the situation. Small pot plants can be stood on gravel-lined trays filled with water. The water evaporating creates a humid atmosphere immediately around the plants.


Plants which are growing rapidly need feeding; for most plants, this is during spring and summer. Those which are producing flower buds or are very large in size also need feeding. In winter, or when plants are resting, the amount and frequency of feeding should be reduced or stopped altogether.

Plant fertilizers consist of balanced amounts of nitrogen, phosphates and potash, together with other chemical elements. These materials can be absorbed only when dissolved in water, so liquid feeding is the quickest way of supplying essential nutrients to growing plants.

Never apply liquid fertilizer to plants when their roots or compost are dry, or when the plants are in a wilted condition. If the compost is dry, water thoroughly at least half an hour before applying liquid feed.

Never give stronger solutions than the makers recommend, or the roots of the plant may be burned.

Proprietary feeds are obtainable in different formulations. Standard feeds are useful for average needs. High-nitrogen feeds are beneficial if growth is poor and an extra boost is needed in late spring or summer. High-potash feeds are usually reserved for winter use, if growth is soft and sappy. They are also used to improve the quality and colour of blooms and foliage.


If you propagate house plants yourself, or buy small specimens, potting becomes a necessary routine. It involves a sequence of moves for seedlings, cuttings and small plants into increasingly larger pots.

All pots should be clean, both for appearance’s sake and to lessen the risk of pests or diseases spreading. Avoid putting slow-growing plants from small pots into excessively large containers in a single operation, or the compost becomes sour before the roots can fill the space.

Drain pots by crocking; place a few clean, small stones or pot shards over the bottom for drainage. Follow this with a thin layer of peat and then fill with the chosen compost. Always water plants thoroughly before moving them.

Gently spread out any curled roots when setting plants in their new containers. Work compost into the space between the rootball and the edges of the container, leaving room at the top for watering.

Repotting is necessary when mature plants reach their final size, their growth slows down and potting into larger containers becomes undesirable or unnecessary. It is best carried out while the plant is resting. Remove it from its container, carefully scrape away the old compost, trim off dead roots and leaves, and repot it into the same sized container. Work fresh compost in and around the roots to replace the compost removed while repotting.

When potting, do not firm soil-less mixtures more than is sufficient to keep plants in position. With soil-based composts, the firmness of potting follows the degree of hardness of the plant’s stems. Woody stems require firm potting but soft stems require only light potting.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.