Simple tips to help your houseplants thrive

July 27, 2015

Indoor plants are a great way to brighten your home. Here are a few tips that will help your houseplants thrive.

Simple tips to help your houseplants thrive

Indoor light basics

Proper lighting is one of the biggest challenges of indoor gardening. Too little, and you'll end up with yellowing, spindly plants plagued by disease. You can make sure your indoor plants are getting proper light by reading the plant label carefully or checking a good houseplant reference book.

  • Some plants require more light and must be placed in the brightest spot you have: a south-facing window.
  • If you're unsure of what your plant needs, experiment by placing it in several different places for two or three weeks at a time.
  • If you have more plants than light, consider an artificial source like an architect's extension-arm lamp beaming down on a single large plant, or a shop light equipped with two fluorescent tubes, one warm-spectrum and one cool.
  • High-intensity plant lights are bright enough to grow lettuces, herbs and other sun-loving plants.

Watering basics

It's easy to kill a plant by overwatering. Most houseplants are happy with soil that is kept just barely moist.

  • Water your plants with tepid (not cold) water whenever the soil feels dry; to test, stick your finger into the soil about 2.5 centimetres (an inch).
  • If your plant wilts or its leaves lose their sheen between waterings, you know you're not giving enough water each time.
  • Water leaking out of the bottom of the pot is usually a sign that you've watered enough.
  • If the soil smells dank or the soil isn't dry, wait a few days and check again.
  • Always water with an absorbent cloth on hand to mop up spills.
  • Take your plants to the kitchen sink for an occasional deep soaking and a spray of water to rinse off dust and insects.
  • All houseplant pots should rest in moisture-proof drainage trays.
  • Unglazed clay wicks moisture, so if you're using a clay drainage tray, place a coaster underneath the tray and drain any collected water immediately.

Repotting basics

You'll know that it's time to repot a houseplant when its roots have begun growing through the drainage hole or when it wilts between waterings.

  1. To repot, knock the plant gently from its pot.
  2. Choose a pot no more than five centimetres (two inches) wider than the original and put a shard from a clay pot or a piece of fine wire over the drainage hole to prevent soil from washing out.
  3. Add one centimetre (1/2 inch) of pebbles or gravel in the bottom of the pot, topped with a little commercial potting soil, not soil from the yard.
  4. Place the plant in the new pot and gently tamp potting soil around the sides.
  5. Fill it 2.5 centimetres (one inch) short of the pot edge to allow for water to pool. Water well.

Indoor trees

Whether you choose a weeping fig or a palm, a statuesque rubber tree or dramatic dracaena, indoor trees are usually easy to grow. They have the same requirements as their smaller houseplant cousins: adequate light and regular watering. Their soil and fertilization requirements are no different, either.

  • Unlike outdoor trees, indoor trees need no pruning except for the occasional trimming of a dead or dying limb.
  • All indoor trees should be in sturdy, moisture-proof drainage trays. Ideally, each should also be in a tray or platform on coasters to make moving them — especially to check for spilled water — easy.
  • Never set a clay pot directly on the floor as unglazed clay wicks moisture and will ruin a wood floor or carpet.

By adding these simple tips to your routine, you're sure to host a thriving, green home that will impress you guests and add a welcoming breath of fresh air.

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