With cold weather arriving on our doorsteps, beautifying our indoor spaces with houseplants is good for both the body and soul. Growing living greenery indoors not only cleans the air, increases relative humidity, and helps to maintain the ambient temperature in our homes, it also offers itself as wonderful home décor, a connection to the living world around us, and a fun pastime.
So why, then, do so few of us partake in greening up our homes? It seems that everyone appreciates a gorgeous lime tree grown indoors, or enjoys a trip to Devonian Gardens with their sweetheart. We want to house a few neat specimens in our living space but can’t bring ourselves to deal with the ugly workload that appears to rear its head every time we bring a plant home from a nursery. Complaints about “crummy” plant growth, mysterious bugs either flying about or sticking to plant leaves, brown spots/ tips on leaves, or indeed no leaves at all are common from indoor gardeners. Many of us just give up. But take heart, the secrets to success with indoor plants are not only easy, they are affordable and attractive too! In the next 4 articles, we will examine the wonderful world of houseplants, exploring plant varieties, selection and design, household considerations, and troubleshooting.
Where do houseplants come from and how do I care for them?
One of the neatest things about growing houseplants is the knowledge that you are inviting visitors from foreign countries to live with you. Where tropical plants tend to herald primarily from the rainforests of South America and the West Indies, succulents and cactus plants can come from continents as far away as Africa and Asia. Most houseplants are not hybridized, and as a result, share the same genetic code as the their counterparts growing in the wild. On a trip to Hawaii last year, I was thrilled to see native philodendron growing up a towering banyan tree in the forest depths; I had the identical plant growing on top of a cupboard in my home. Every time I look at the philodendron in my home now, I am reminded of how majestic the plant was in Hawaii, and accordingly how gorgeous it is in my kitchen.
International travelers, houseplants come with their own set of expectations about how they would like to be treated. Plants from tropical regions prefer rich soil, even soil moisture and temperature, and high relative air humidity. (Relative humidity is a measure of the amount of moisture in the air; cool air that we bring in from outdoors and heat in our furnaces is very low in relative humidity.) Plants from arid regions prefer gritty soil, low soil moisture alternated with occasional water, and low relative air humidity.
Having an idea of where your plant comes from (i.e. is it a tropical or a succulent/cactus) is the first step to learning to care for it properly. Tropicals should be watered once to twice a week in the spring and summer, and once every week or two in the fall and winter. Succulents and cacti should be watered once every two weeks in spring and summer, and once every three to four weeks in fall and winter. Where succulents and cacti enjoy the low relative humidity in our homes, tropicals require more moisture in the air; simply placing a saucer filled with water and stones underneath your potted tropical plant will often do the trick. Another option to increase relative humidity around your tropical plant is to set your potted plant into a larger pot, with wet peat or sphagnum moss in between the pots. All houseplants, whether tropical or succulent in nature, appreciate a monthly feeding with well-balanced fertilizer.