Indoor Gardening – Houseplants and Hydroponics
In recent years the technique of growing houseplants in water supplied with balanced nutrients has taken tremendous strides, and we find that an incredible range of plants, many quite delicate, can be grown by this method. Members of the Araceae family, such as philodendrons, scindapsus, nephthytis and aglaonemas, do especially well.
Plants are encouraged to grow on their more succulent water roots and are ‘potted’ into baked clay granules, which absorb about one-third of their own Weight of water. The principal function of the granules is to hold the plant erect in the growing pot, to provide the plant roots with water by capillary action and, most important of all, to ensure that the roots are well aerated.
The ‘mechanics’ for growing plants in this way may vary, but the principles are similar, and the most successful are those that use an ion exchange fertilizer. This nutrient is bonded to polystyrene granules, and as the pH of the water changes so the nutrient is released to nourish the plant. Only the required amount is released, so there is no danger of overfeeding.
Plant roots are not completely submerged in water, only the bottom 7.5 10cm (3- 4in). The level of water in the container is shown on a water level indicator, which makes watering very much simpler than when plants are being reared more conventionally in . The water reservoir is filled to the maximum mark on the indicator and allowed to fall to the minimum, and is left at the minimum mark for one week before refilling. Topping up with small amounts of water to maintain the reservoir at maximum prevents aeration of the root system and can be very harmful.
It is of particular importance at any time, but more especially during the winter months, to use tepid water.
Most of the hydroponic units will have cultural instructions provided with the plant, and whatever the type of unit or system it may be geared to, the important requirement is that directions should be followed. Indoors, hydroponic plants will require similar temperature, location andas plants of the same type that may be growing in a more conventional potting mixture.
Perhaps surprisingly, more succulent types of plants such as Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’ do surprisingly well provided the water level in the container is allowed to remain on minimum for at least one week before topping up. In fact, although it is seldom recommended, the more succulent plants will go for several weeks in a dry condition without suffering any harm.
Mention has been made of the tremendous strides taken in respect of indoor plants from homes with a few, often weedy, plants to rooms in some modern homes that almost resemble tropical rain forests. An amazing number of plants can be fitted into the average home -and occasionally what would one time have been considered an essential piece of furniture is dispensed with in preference for a rubber plant or a Swiss cheese plant. Some plants seem to become part of the family and are even given names and referred to as if they were human beings.
There is little doubt that the more plants there are in a particular room the better they are likely to be in respect of growth. The proximity of other plants seems to create a microclimate in the home and they fare better than isolated specimens. It is not surprising, therefore, that there has been greater interest in recent years in the concept of a plant room somewhere in the house, or in the extension to a house, where one’s plants can be concentrated and given the attention they are most likely to enjoy -almost a greenhouse within the walls of the home.
Suitably fitted out, a spare bedroom could well become a much more fascinating place: one that is warm, congenial and a home for the plants and all the other odds and ends that one may accumulate as a result of developing an interest in the care of indoor plants.
Making a Houseplant Room
The most important consideration should be adequate light, and this will almost certainly mean installing lights, in time if not at the outset. Special growing tubes must be used, as these have been designed with plant health as a primary factor. Lights of this kind are constantly being improved, and it is worth enquiring from manufacturers before deciding to purchase. Don’t be tempted to depend on ordinary domestic lights -although they are bright, the type of light emitted is not right for plant growth.
It is important when lights are being installed to ensure that the maker’s directions are followed, so that plants have sufficient light yet are not so close to the tubes that they are likely to be scorched.
To improve light intensity in the room it is wise to paint walls and ceilings white so that there is as much light reflection as possible.
Adequate heating is also an important need, and one should aim for a constant temperature in the region of 18°C (65°F). Water-filled radiators provide the best form of heating for plants. Open fires and electric fires tend to dry out the atmosphere much too rapidly.
To help maintain a moist atmosphere it is beneficial to place a bowl filled with water on top of the radiator; this will create a slightly damp atmosphere and give the room the right growing feeling. It is a magical quality one cannot go into a shop and purchase: it has to be created.
The prime object of a plant room is to grow as many plants as possible in conditions that are as agreeable as possible. And to achieve one of these ends one can considerably increase the potential of any room by erecting tiered shelving with lighting tubes fitted to the underside of the upper shelves; this ensures that plants at lower levels have their full requirement of ten to twelve hours of light each day.
A growing room will be costly to fit up and run, but in the long term it will be less expensive than a greenhouse in the garden; and on cold winter days it will certainly be much more congenial. Many greenhouse fittings and items of equipment can very easily be used to set up and maintain a plant room.