Indoor Gardening – Caring for Houseplants
Since the term houseplant was coined in 1947 there has been an increasing interest in indoor gardening: no longer is it sufficient to have a lone cyclamen or tradescantia on the kitchen windowsill. We now find that the odd plant or two has become a collection of plants, and the collection has taken on a new dimension as plant rooms, a sort of indoor greenhouse, become more fashionable.
Whatever else one may learn, a good start with indoor gardening is possibly the most important requirement, as initial disappointment can very easily snuff out the flame of interest. Therefore, it is of vital importance to buy sensibly and to buy from a reliable supplier, someone who understands plants and their needs, someone who would never dream of selling a plant knowing that it was an inferior one.
The beginner should bear in mind that the most colourful plants are invariably the most difficult to care for it is very much better to start with tolerant plants such as tradescantias, grape ivy (Rhoicissus rhomboidea), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), and the less demanding of the philodendrons, such as the sweetheart vine (P. scandens). As skills improve, and possibly the environment with better heating, one can progress to the prayer plants (Maranta), dracaenas, and more colourful crotons (Codiaeum variegatum), but the warning should be given here that almost all of these more difficult plants will present something of a challenge regardless of how skilful the grower of houseplants may become.
Caring for Houseplants
Houseplants naturally respond to care, and it is worth taking a lithe time to understand the basic requirements of the particular plants you buy. At critical times of the year, the same amount of water can be right for one plant but possible death to another; a bright sunny window is fine for a, but not for a ; an ivy will probably tolerate a cool hall, while the wax flower (Hoya carnosa) will demand draught-free warmth if it is to thrive.
If you master a plant’s requirements for light, warmth and watering, you are most of the way to good plant.
While green foliaged plants such as the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), philodendrons and rhoicissus will tolerate a less well lit location than variegated plants such as canariensis and dracaenas, it will be found that all plants will require a reasonable amount of light if they are to succeed. However, this does not mean that they should be subjected to direct sunlight streaming through a window pane. The glass will magnify the heat of the sun, and leaves of tough old plants such as the rubber plant’Robusta’lastica ‘Robusta’ ) will suffer scorch marks and irreparable damage. While the light windowsill location is ideal when it is not too sunny, it may well be harmful to the plants in colder weather. In cold weather plants should be taken into the room, where they will be warmer and free from draughts.
The African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha) is an excellent example of a plant that does infinitely better when grown in a high-light situation. It will grow better and, perhaps more importantly, adequate light will induce the plant to flower much more freely. More light could well be the answer for a reluctant plant that grows well but is disinclined to produce flowers.
Providing supplementary light is well worth considering. It may only mean placing smaller plants under a table lamp in the evening or, where one is more ambitious, it could well entail fitting specialized lighting that will improve both the appearance of the plant and its performance.
Trying to grow any form of indoor plant in cold, draughty and inhospitable conditions would be a complete waste of time. Temperatures in the region of 13°C (55°F) are essential, even for the easiest of plants to manage. Where low temperatures prevail it is extremely important to ensure that thein the pot is barely moist. Temperatures of 15- 21°C (60- 70°F) will give best results; although a higher temperature is suitable for some plants, such as crotons, others will become spindly and there will be a higher incidence of red spider mite.
Radical fluctuation in temperature is also something that one should take particular care to guard against.
Feeding and Watering Houseplants
Established plants should be fed with a balanced houseplant fertilizer, and the most important requirement when feeding is to ensure that the maker’s direc- tions are followed. If you have a large collection of plants it will be much more economical to buy larger containers of fertilizer and to dilute accordingly.
Frequently the houseplant grower becomes too enthusiastic when it comes to potting plants on into larger pots or containers plants growing in containers that are disproportionately large seldom do well. Both plant and pot should look right for one another. Correct and frequent feeding is usually much better for the plant than continually disturbing the roots in order to pot it on.
Although plants grown using hydroponic methods have some of their roots permanently in water, only a very few plants will tolerate constantly moist roots if grown in. In fact it is over-watering rather than under-watering that kills the most houseplants. An important requirement of all pot-grown plants is that they must have adequate air around their roots so that they have oxygen to be able to breathe and grow. The healthiest plants are, without question, those that have a vigorous and undamaged root system.
There are, however, some plants, such as the colourful florist’s azalea (A. indica) that do much better when the roots are kept wet all the time; but this is an exception. The majority prefer to be watered and allowed to dry out a little -some, such as mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), quite appreciably before being watered again. Prolonged saturation of the soil ensures that all the air is excluded and an anaerobic condition prevails, which in turn results in rotting of the root system and eventual browning and loss of leaves.
Totally saturated conditions can be alleviated by removing the plant from its pot and standing the root-ball on the inverted pot so that air can get at it and set up a much more rapid drying-out process.