How to Grow Healthy Houseplants

Houseplants bring the beauty of nature indoors – a touch of green that softens hard lines and strong light in our homes or offices. Their simple presence makes us feel better and can even improve air quality indoors. Truth is, growing houseplants can make you healthier and happier.

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Houseplants differ in their specific cultural requirements, but here are some general tips to help keep yours healthy and looking their best.

Put the right plant in the right light. Houseplants differ in their light requirements. Some need the strong light found next to a south-facing window. Others find that too bright and will only thrive in the soft morning light of an east-facing window. Also know that distance from the window will affect light intensity and quality. Simply moving a plant a few feet away from, or closer to a bright window may be just enough to make things perfect. To make matters more complicated, light intensity and patterns vary dramatically with the seasons. Light that was just right in winter may be too strong for the same plant in summer.  One thing for sure, all houseplants need some light from outdoors; none will grow in a closet or in a room with no windows. Some can grow well with much less than others, but the better you match the plants with the light conditions where they will grow, the happier you and your plants will be.

Your plants will let you know if they are getting too much or too little light. Foliage usually turn dull green to yellowish when plants are getting too much light. The leaves may also wilt even when the soil is moist. If plants are getting leggy, less compact or seeming to be reaching for the window, there’s a good chance they are not receiving enough light.

Select the right container. It is important to consider not only the eventual size of the plant, but also the material and color of the pot, and how that matches the style of your home and the appearance of the plant. Be creative!

Use quality potting soil. Good potting soil promotes healthy roots by providing a balance of proper aeration, nutrition and moisture-holding capability. Never use regular garden soil in containers. Your plants will not thrive.  Nurseries and garden centers offer an excellent choice of packaged potting soils, some which include slow release fertilizers.

Water correctly. Like all potted plants, houseplants need frequent, thorough watering. Wet the entire root ball, applying enough water so the excess runs out the bottom of the container. Don't leave standing water in the catch-tray for more than a day or two; it can promote root diseases. Let the soil to partially dry before watering again.  Some houseplants, such as cactus and succulents, can take drier conditions than others, but few will thrive if allowed to go bone dry for very long. If the foliage starts to lose its luster or the leaves wilt, it’s definitely time to water.  You can also check soil moisture by sticking your finger into the top 2 inches of soil. If it is dry, you should probably water. Or try lifting the pot.  It will be lighter as it dries out. If you want to take a more technological approach to watering, try one of the many moisture meters sold in nurseries and garden centers.

To prevent toxic salts from building up in the soil (excess salts usually cause burning along the edges of the leaves), water especially heavily (refilling the container four or five times) once every month or two. This is easily done by placing the plant in a sink, bathtub or shower, or taking it outdoors.

Fertilize. The frequent watering needed to keep houseplants healthy, leaches nutrients out of the soil. You’ll need to replace them with regular fertilization. Nurseries and garden centers carry a variety of fertilizers designed for houseplants. Follow label instructions. Most experienced indoor gardeners feed their houseplants at least once a month.

Increase humidity and avoid drafts. The conditions inside your home can be dry and drafty, especially in winter. Keep your houseplants away from heater vents, doorways and drafty windows.  Even better do what every you can to increase humidity. You could set plants on trays layered with small pebbles and filled with water or place them in naturally humid areas like kitchens or bathrooms (as long as there is adequate light).  Many people like to mist their houseplants to increase humidity. Just keep in mind, misting only temporarily increases humidity and can promote foliage diseases in some species of houseplants.

Keep plants clean. Dust and dirt that accumulates on the leaves of houseplants will block light and can harbor insects. Clean leaves by wiping them with a moist towel or, if the weathers warm enough, take plants outdoors and hose them off. For more information on keeping your houseplants clean, see Cleaning Your Houseplants.

Give plants a summer vacation. Moving your plants to a shady location outdoors for the summer can rejuvenate them and restore their health. For more information, see Give Houseplants a Summer Tune-up.

 

Control pests. Insects, such as Aphids, Scale and Whiteflies, can be problematic indoors. Regularly inspect your houseplants for signs of insect pests and, when necessary, treat them with the Natria products shown below. Always read and follow label instructions. 

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