Houseplants Care and Maintenance
The best houseplants are those that thrive well in the conditions of your
indoor environment. That environment is significantly different than that
of your outdoor garden plants. Despite being significantly different, the
most popular of houseplants are those whose needs match a cooler, drier and
darker (far less light) conditions of your home or office.
Due to conditions in your home, many indoor plants grow very slowly or even
go dormant during the long months from late fall thru the long winter months.
Indoor plant care is different, from how you would grow plants outdoors.
In general, those needs are far less demanding, as a slow growing plant requires
less care than you would normally provide to your outdoor plants.
There is a saying in the gardening world that you can "kill your plant with
kindness". This saying is even more true indoors, as the plants need less
rather than more.
Indoor plants generally prefer a controlled temperature range. The ideal
range is usually 65 to 75 degree in the daytime and 60 to 65 degrees at night.
This range may vary by type of plant, but is the most common range. Many
indoor plants do not like to be placed in a drafty area. In addition, while
you may think you are helping your plants by placing them in a sunny window,
they can experience wide temperature extremes as the sun heats them in the
day, and the cold comes through the window at night.
Not convinced? Place a thermometer next to your plant on a frigid
evening. Check the temperature just before you go to bed.
In general, houseplants need less sunlight than outdoor plants. This is largely
because the selection of indoor plant varieties is geared toward plants which
thrive in shady or indirect sunlight.
But, this does not mean that your plant does not need any sunlight at all,
or will not benefit from sunlight during some portion of the day. Some varieties
require more sunlight than others. A lot of us will chase the sunlight as
it moves from window to window on a sunny winter's day. Read up about the
type of plant you have. And, if your plant shows signs of light deficiency,
join the rest of us, and chase that sunlight!
You can also buy artificial grow-lights. These will help those plants that
require more sunlight than you can provide. You can use the grow-lights when
you sow your garden seedlings in the spring.
Tip: Rotate the container every few days so all sides of the plant
get a chance to "see the light!"
During the winter, your home or office is normally much drier than other
times of the year. Sometimes this gets a bit beyond the tolerance range of
your plants. Low humidity can offer a unique challenge, in the care of your
indoor plants. Your plants will benefit by an occasional "sponge bath". Take
a damp cloth or sponge and wipe the leaves once a week or two. This has the
added advantage of removing dust buildup on the leaves.
You can also use misters to add humidity to your plants during the driest
of winter days.
Important: A few plants, like African Violets, do not like to get
their leaves wet and water on them will cause damage.
Most houseplants like a balanced soil with a slightly acid pH level. Use
sterile potting soil from your garden supply store. It will contain a good
mix of nutrients to get your plants started in their indoor environment.
It will also be properly blended to provide good drainage, yet retain moisture.
Even if your plant does not grow much, it should be repotted every couple
of years with fresh potting soil. The old soil loses important minerals over
Over time, the top layer of soil can become encrusted. Loosen it with a spoon
or fork. Remove the top layer and add some fresh, sterile potting soil. You
can also top off the soil, with a layer of decorative stones.
Here is where you can really "kill your plant with kindness". Because your
plant is growing much slower than in an outdoor environment, it needs less
fertilizer. It is using far less nutrients. So, those nutrients can build
up to harmful levels, if your fertilize too frequently.
We recommend you buy a balanced, slow release indoor fertilizer. If you use
liquid fertilizers, use it once a month...or less. Fertilizer spikes work
best, as they slowly dissolve to feed your plants for weeks.
More on fertilizing houseplants
While many plants needs vary, in general, you should keep your soil moist,
but not wet. Here is where learning about your specific plant will really
Many houseplants like to get a good soaking of their soil. Apply water to
the point that it drains through the pot and out the openings in the bottom
of the pot. This helps to remove excess fertilizer and salt that can build
up in the soil. Outdoors, nature performs this task during a spring or summer
downpour. After giving the soil a good drenching, allow the soil to almost
completely dry out before the next watering.
Did you know? Your tap water likely has chemicals that your plant
does not like. Those chemicals are sodium (salt) and chlorine. Try using distilled
water, capture rainwater, or melt snow.
Tip: If you leave the a container of water out for a day or two, the
chlorine will dissipate.