Are your houseplants sad, droopy, or dare we say it, dead? Have they unwillingly become the hot spot for a spider mite house party? Don’t worry, it probably wasn’t your fault. One day the houseplants seemed fine and the next, well, they were sad plants.
You can make your houseplants happy again. It is time to shed the “brown thumb” moniker and embrace your green potential.
Hosting healthy houseplants is all just a matter of knowing their basic needs and then meeting them on a consistent basis. This includes protecting them from pests and over enthusiastic owners.
Get to Know Your Houseplants
Just as in any relationship, the first step in making a houseplant happy is to really get to know it. While all plants have similar needs (light, water and food), different types of plants require different amounts of each of these things to help them survive and thrive.
Have any of your houseplants been the victim of mistaken identity? Similar-looking houseplants may have different needs. Find out the specific names and varieties of your houseplants, so you can research their ideal conditions. Every relationship requires some effort, but if you are willing to make the investment, your plants can be with you for a long time.
Eventually, you will learn what works for your particular greenies; giving them proper care will then be easy and routine.
When it comes to houseplants, it is a “which comes first” decision. Do you choose houseplants based on your home conditions or adapt your home conditions to suit the houseplants that you love? Both can be done, but if you are starting from scratch, is easiest to choose houseplants that will thrive on the amount of light and humidity that is normal for your home. That is not to say that some temperamental, but beautiful, houseplants might not be worth the compromise.
Seeing the Light
While houseplants love their natural light, many will also thrive in artificial light as well. First, determine how much natural light is present in your home, and use this knowledge to help make your houseplants happy. You may need a compass to discover window direction. Most smart phones contain a built in compass that can help you discover your home’s orientation, and the sun exposure for each window.
Houseplants that are spindly and thin, and flowering plants that don’t bud or bloom may be unhappy with the amount of light they are receiving.You will need to get them more light. Conversely, if your plants look faded and ghost-like, they are trying to tell you, “enough with the light.” Move plants away from the direct light source to reduce the exposure and make them happy. (Secondary fading can also be caused by too little water or not enough fertilizer.)
Natural light is sunlight. Your houseplants should come with details about the amount of natural light they need to thrive. Conduct Internet research or ask a garden center, if you aren’t sure of your plant's sunlight requirements.
Meanwhile, here is a general guide to natural light exposure.
In addition to window orientation, there are other factors in and around your home that may contribute to the amount of natural light available to your houseplants. Trees, bushes and awnings can block natural light and reduce the amount that actually reaches houseplants.
Natural sunlight may increase when it is reflected off snow or light colored buildings near your home. How close a houseplant is near a window will also determine how much natural sunlight it receives, even if the entire room appears to be equally bright to human eyes.
If you are unsure of how much natural light your houseplants may be receiving, conduct the shadow test.
Place an object near your houseplant, or in any location of your home where houseplants live. Next, check the shadow. The darker and more intense the shadow, the more light that is reaching that spot. This is an easy check that can be conducted at any time of year, as long as the sun is up; it will allow you to check for varying light conditions.
If you are sadly lacking in natural light, you can still keep your houseplants happy. Just employ the use of artificial light, as a supplement, or as a full light source for your plant, if needed.
Many houseplants are perfectly happy with artificial light. Grow lights are the most effective artificial light sources for houseplants. Generally composed of fluorescent tubes, grow lights for plants may need to be lit for up to 16 hours a day, depending on how light challenged your location happens to be.
Some houseplants are natural light “snobs” and do poorly with artificial light. Flowering plants in particular may protest a lack of natural light by refusing to bud or bloom for you.
You may need to experiment with different brands of grow lights to find the ones that make your particular plants happiest.
Do you wonder if plants sit around telling horror stories of the plant that was forced to go weeks without water until it was a dried up husk? It would be a common household story. Improper watering can have devastating consequences to houseplants, and this includes over watering, inconsistent watering, and over watering.
One of the most common mistakes homeowners make is to respond to a droopy or wilted plant by watering more often. Often the root of the problem is a sickness causes by the roots being too wet. The roots begin to decay (root rot). Sometimes just allowing the soil to dry out and then watering carefully will give the plant time to recover. Sometimes the plant is too far gone to survive. Either way, giving the houseplant more water will only seal its fate.
Outside of providing your plants with the right lighting conditions, learning how to water your plants may be the single most important thing you can do to foster healthy greenery. Here are some general tips on watering plants.
Oh, creepy crawlies on houseplants are enough for some homeowners to ditch the plants entirely, but remember, you now have a solid relationship with your houseplants; friends don’t toss friends because of a few bugs.
The biggest problem with plant pests is that they can quickly spread. Regularly inspect leaves and wash them every few weeks. Dust and grime not only attracts pests, but it can also clog pores on leaves, making it difficult for the plant to “breathe.” Insecticidal soap for plants is available in spray form.
Here is some helpful information to prevent and treat for plant pests.
Homeowners who regularly fertilize their lawns and gardens often don’t recognize the need to feed indoor plants. Is this you? All plants need certain nutrients to thrive. In an outdoor environment, plants fend for themselves, sending out long roots to gather the food they need. Isolated indoors in pots, they are at your mercy for their food.
Regular feedings of these plant nutrients will make your plants happy:
Fertilizer packaging lists the amounts of these three nutrients, as percentages, in the order of N, P, K. A listing of 10-10-10 means there is 10 percent of each of these chemicals, with the remaining 70 percent of material being inert additives.
Fertilizer is available in both organic or synthetic form, and both appear to be equally effective for your plants, although organic fertilizer works by breaking down slowly, and it will take longer to act. Synthetic fertilizer is available as powder or in time release capsules.
There are specialty fertilizers for specific plants. For example, azaleas prefer an acid fertilizer with a low pH. Read the labels carefully, so you know exactly what you are getting.
There are at least four different ways to apply fertilizer to your houseplants.
Research the needs of your specific houseplants to know which form of delivery will make your plants happiest.
Tips for using fertilizer:
You did it! Now that you know everything you need to be a real houseplant expert, go on and show off your green thumb. Your houseplants will reward you with beautiful green foliage for years to come.