Indoor gardening: Houseplants brighten up interiors (Google / The Advertiser)

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http://www.theadvertiser.com/article/20081122/LIFESTYLE/811220318

Indoor gardening: Houseplants brighten up interiors but need extra care

Judy Bastien • jbastien@theadvertiser.com • November 22, 2008

You buy a new plant for your home. You transplant it into a nice pot with the best potting soil. You lovingly water it a couple of times a week.  And within a month, it’s dead. “Watering is the main culprit in most plant deaths, whether it’s too much or too little,” said Rob Trawick, county agent for the LSU AgCenter’s Lafayette Cooperative Extension Service. “More often than not, people will over-water. “People will go around two or three times a week, when they only need to water once a week.” Over-watering actually deprives the roots of oxygen and encourages root rot. The irony is that the symptoms of over-watering are often the same as the symptoms of under-watering. The leaves wilt and turn yellow, sometimes prompting plant owners to add more water.

Trawick recommends letting the soil of most houseplants dry out before watering. The weight of the pot is also a telltale sign that watering is indicated. The lighter the pot, the drier the soil.

Indoor plants do need a little more water during the winter months, however, because the humidity tends to be lower when the heat is on.

Watering is just one aspect of the proper care of houseplants.

The two other main components of plant care are adequate sunlight and fertilizer.

While it’s convenient to sprinkle fertilizer granules over the soil of a houseplant, it may not be an effective way to feed indoor plants.

Timed-release granules are temperature-sensitive. They often don’t release the fertilizer into the soil if the temperature dips below 80 F. An indoor environment seldom reaches the optimum temperature.

Trawick recommends using a water-soluble fertilizer, such as Thompson’s or Miracle Gro.

The right amount of the right kind of light is just as important for growing healthy indoor plants.

How much sunlight is needed varies from one plant to another.

“Most indoor plants don’t require a great deal of light,” Trawick said. “They have acclimated to being able to grow with the light we get indoors.”

Trawick recommends doing a little research to find out how much light your plants need.

“Some require almost no light, while others require a little more.”

Plants that need more light will tend to get spindly and “leggy” with sparse foliage. Those with intense color, such as purple ivy, will tend to go more toward a green color if deprived of light.

Plants placed near windows should be turned often to counteract the effects of a phenomenon known as phototropism – the tendency of a plant to be drawn toward a light source.

Turning will keep the plant growing vertically – if that’s its natural tendency.

Some people like to put their indoor plants outside to let them get a little extra sunlight. Trawick urges caution.

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Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.