House Plant Care
These basic care tips will help you be successful at keeping healthy house plants: Conditioning, watering, soil, potting and proper temperature and humidity.
Conditioning a plant to the home environment is the first step in adapting store bought greenery to life in your house or apartment. Our homes usually have less light and humidity than the plant had before we bought it. Houseplants might lose their leaves within a week or two of purchase if our home environment provides too drastic a change for them. Conditioning plants to our home extends their life and it's possible to buy preconditioned plants. Buy from a garden center and ask them if the plant is pre-conditioned.
To condition new plants expose them to the maximum amount of light available. Over a period of a few weeks, gradually reduce the available light to approximate the desired final location for the plant. You can remove excess fertilizer and salts from the soil by allowing water to filter down through the soil and escape through the drainage hole. The greenhouse where your plant lived before was more humid than your living area. Using a humidifier is good for your plants.
Choose plants that need medium to low light unless you plan on providing some extra artificial light. When plants are located in low light areas they thrive better in cooler temperatures, so try to maintain the minimum recommended temperature in your home. Usually, the brightest location is near a south-facing window, and the darkest is at a north window. Plants at the western window are exposed to a much higher temperature. Putting them outside in the summer often revitalizes plants. Be careful of too much direct sunlight by starting in the shade and gradually exposing the plant to more sunlight. Rotate the plant daily because it will grow towards the light. This will help it to grow straight. If you have a problem getting enough natural light, your plants will thrive with extra fluorescent lamps.
Most houseplants do well in daytime temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit lower at night. As a rule, as temperatures increase the need for light increases. Don't put your plant where they are subject to hot or cold air drafts. Plants on window ledges may freeze in winter.
Plants need moisture in the air; most foliage plants require humidity of at least 15 to 20 percent. Heating the home during the winter reduces the humidity to desert levels. The best way to compensate is to use a room humidifier. Spraying plants with clean water removes dirt from the leaves and helps a little with humidity. Spray them early in the day to allow the surfaces to dry.
Use pots and containers with drainage holes. Soil in clay pots dries out faster than in plastic pots, so less watering is necessary. Pots can be sterilized by soaking them in a 10:1 solution of chlorine bleach and water. There are some general guidelines to watering plants: Plants get water and nutrients from the soil and it is important that the soil drains well so that excess water can run out of the pot. Thoroughly wet the soil at each watering. Don't water more often than needed; over watering can lead to root rot and blocks the oxygen necessary for root growth.
Fertilizing depends on the type of plant, available sunlight, soil, frequency of watering, and type of fertilizer. Fertilize growing plants every two months but don't fertilize dormant plants. Plants need less fertilizer under low-light conditions. Burned or dried leaf edges and wilted plants are a sign of excess fertilizer application.
Carefully inspect leaves, stems, and soil of new plants for insects, mites, and other pests. Repotting plants in a store bought pasteurized potting soil eliminates soil insects. Gently wiping the leaves and stems with cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol is a good way of controlling aphids or mealybugs. You can also wash plants with soapy water if you rinse them after.
Pests such as fungus gnats, caterpillars, ants, millipedes and slugs don't usually cause damage. Always isolate new plants or plants that have been kept outside for a week or two and watch them for signs of pest infestations.
Remove dead leaves and debris from plants and pots to eliminate hiding places used by many pests. When handling infested plants, be careful not to accidentally infect other plants. When plants have extremely heavy pest infestations, it's probably best to throw them out. Pesticide sprays offer the most practical way to control pests on houseplants. Check the pesticide label to see which plants and pests it is recommended for.
Diseases in houseplants can be frustrating to overcome. Even with proper care, houseplants are subject to plant diseases. The four main groups of causes of plant diseases are fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes. A dry home environment is usually not favorable to many diseases that plague plants grown in a humid greenhouse environment. Many houseplants already are infected when they are purchased. Over-watering, excessive misting and insect damage can provide the conditions for disease to develop.
Most diseases of houseplants can be prevented or minimized by following a few simple precautions: Be aware of and observe the proper growing conditions for each plant. Over-watering or over-fertilizing stimulates root rot diseases. Do not over-mist to prevent mildew and leaf spots. Grow houseplants in clean containers and in drained and sterilized commercial soil. Buy healthy looking plants and beware of bargain plants.