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A Breath of Spring: Indoor Plants

Posted Feb 03 2009 12:07am

Thyme for the Garden Header

"And tis my faith, that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." William Wordsworth

One of my favorite ways of enjoying gardening even with snow falling outside is to have a collection of indoor plants. I have a couple of palm trees and banana trees I'm trying to keep going until warmer weather. I am storing them in our new addition which we affectionately call our "stay-cation" room. It has a beach theme and the palms were bought to help with the ambiance of the room. I also have several Boston ferns I'm nursing until spring. I judge my success with them by how many leaves I need to sweep up each week. I'm not very good at managing the care of needy plants like the palms, so I've been researching good indoor plant management.

Caring for Indoor Plants

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My successes with indoor plants are limited to succulents and cacti, which need little interference from me to grow, and pothos, one of the best plants to grow in the low light/low humidity conditions in a winter home. Pothos/philodendron ( Epipremnun aureum or Scindapsus aureus) is recommended for small closed environments because it is great at exchanging "bad air" for "good air." Actually, all plants do this to some extent, as all plants exchange the carbon dioxide we exhale for oxygen they exhale. The plants at left are in an arrangement I saw in a grocery store's floral shop. The pothos is the emerald green plant at the bottom; its partner is a Chinese Evergreen ( Aglaonema ). These plants were used in a NASA study published in the early 1980s. The study showed that along with spider plant and chrysanthemums, pothos removes significant pollutants from the air.

Everything I have read recently points to five important areas to consider when growing plants indoors:

  1. Temperature
  2. Humidity
  3. Air
  4. Water
  5. Light

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1. Temperature

House plants are most comfortable at temperatures similar to their native growing areas. Temperatures between 60 o -70 o F are ideal for most plants. But, because temperatures above 67 o F cause a drop in humidity, most plants do fine at lower temperatures-especially if your home has forced air or fire for heat. Even homes with steam or hot water radiant heat have less than optimal humidity for most house plants. It is best if the room where your plants are kept is a lower temperature than you might be most comfortable with, but never lower than 50 o F.

2. Humidity

Humidity is the moisture in the air. This is a most important factor in growing plants indoors. If you have ever been to an arboretum, you probably noticed how wet the air felt- and how lovely the plants looked. In our homes, there are several ways we can help the humidity levels. A daily misting with room temperature water is a treat most tropical plants enjoy. Placing the pots in a shallow tray filled with small pebbles and water will raise the humidity without giving your plants wet feet (roots that soak in water are likely to drown and eventually the plant will die).  Another way of raising humidity is to place jars or bowls of water around the room. As the water evaporates, the plants can soak up the humid air.

Photobucket3. Air

Air that circulates is good for your plants. A small fan or a ceiling fan set on low will move the air around your plants. This does two things: 1) it keeps stale indoor air (as from gas heat) from settling around the plants, and 2) it helps the plants stems to be sturdy and not spindly.

4. Water

Proper watering of plants is one of the most critical skills to learn when growing indoors. Too much water and the plants drown, turning yellow as they fade. Too little and they dry up and turn yellow then brown. If your plant is one that blooms, it needs more water during its blooming and growth period. When it is no longer blooming, it is OK to cut back on the watering and let the plant rest. A good rule of thumb is to let the soil in the pot dry to an inch beneath the surface (roughly the space from the tip of your index finger to the first joint). Also, to prevent your plant from absorbing unwanted chemicals from your tap (chlorine and fluoride), allow the water to sit at room temperature in an open container for at least 24 hours before you water your plants.

Photobucket5. Light

Light is the most important part of plant health. In my case, I grow plants that can endure lower light conditions because I have trouble keeping up with the other four steps. I need plants that are durable. I also have a sun room that faces mostly south and south west. But, even with large windows facing the majority of the light, winter is difficult on plants. I have a four-foot fluorescent fixture that I use when growing plants to put out into the garden. This is also good to use with plants that bloom and need a little more light during their best growing times.

I find it helpful to research a plant if it appeals to me so I can provide it with the best possible environment in which to grow. I have found some great information at PlantCare.com. And for my new project below: The African Violet Society of America is an invaluable source, as is the article here at GardenGuides.com.

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I just rescued the last two little African violets ( SaintpauliaPhotobucketionantha) from our local Lowe's Home Improvement Store. I will be repotting them and trying to help them regain their blooms. These will be the subject of an ongoing update section at the end of each post. I will also journal their recovery on our resource blog: Thyme for the Garden over at Christian Women Take Root.

Patricia's Sig

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