Plants need light, water, and essential nutrients–most of which come from the soil–to grow and survive. The amount of light and water that each plant requires can vary widely depending on its natural habitat. Thus, it is important to choose the right location for each type of plant and provide it with the right amount of water and the right potting soil.
If you want your houseplants to thrive, it is important to learn a little bit about them. Once you know the basics, it will be easier to address their specific needs and obtain successful results!
Start with the basics:
♣ Where is it from?
♣ What’s the weather like there? Is it bright and sunny, or is it dark and cool? Is it humid, or dry?
For instance, the snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) and the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas), which are native to tropical areas of Eastern and Western Africa, can thrive in low-light areas. Succulents, on the other hand, grow naturally in steppes, semi-desserts and deserts, and most varieties require brightly lit locations to survive.
Knowing the name of the plant will make it easier to find more information about its basic requirements (light, water, soil, etc). If you don’t know the name of your plant, you can use Google image to find out or take a picture of it and show it to a specialist at your local nursery.
Besides light, water is another important factor and, surprisingly, watering your plants appropriately can be a challenging job. Over-watering can cause rot, yellowing leaves, and/or edema and can expose your plant to pests. Over-watering is actually the number one reason why indoor plants fail.
Some plants are sold with tags that include the plant’s name, light and watering needs. If there is no tag, ask any employee or plant specialist in the store about the plant’s name, needs and care, and if necessary, ask for advice before you purchase your new plant!
The energy that a plant utilizes to grow is produced during photosynthesis, a process in which plants use the energy from light to transform carbon dioxide and water into-high energy carbohydrates. The energy that the plant’s roots need to grow comes from those carbohydrates–produced by the foliage during the photosynthesis and stored in the leaves–and it is transported to the roots through specialized tissues in the stems.
It is important to choose the right plant for each lighting situation. While some plants can adapt to different light conditions (high, moderate or low), others have more specific needs and might stop growing or become unhealthy if they are not getting the right amount of light.
For instance, an indicator that a plant is adapting or has adapted to a low light location is the continuous growth of very small leaves, this is common with the arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum), golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum), or the heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens oxycardium). Other plants, however, require a specific light intensity to survive and/or thrive and they will not be able to adapt. Pay attention to the signs your plants give you, troubleshoot, find the problem, and fix it!
• Signs that your plant is not getting enough light: yellowing leaves or leaf drop, leggy growth, no growth, and/or failure to bloom.
• Signs that your plant is getting too much light (and/or heat): yellowing leaves, leaf tips or leaf margins turning brown, and/or wilting.
Some ideal houseplants for areas with high light intensity, such as in front of a bright window, are the tree philodendron (Philodendron selloum), weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), fiddle leaf fig tree (Ficus lyrata), or succulents, e.g., Aloe vera. For areas with moderate or medium light intensity, the peace lily (Spathiphyllum), arrowhead plant, heart-leaf philodendron and spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) are great choices. In addition, the Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) is one of the hardiest and most elegant looking plants you can buy (they can be a little pricy, but they are worth it), and is also a good choice for a moderate light location. Finally, some of the best choices for low light intensity areas are the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), Dracaneas and Homalomenas.
Watering your plants may seem like a simple task, but over-watering is the number one reason why indoor plants fail. Unfortunately, extra water doesn’t always mean faster and healthier growth. Plant roots need oxygen to grow. Over-watering and constantly wet soil reduces the amount of oxygen available to the roots and can invite pests and/or cause root and stem rot, yellowing leaves, and/or edema. On the other hand, if you neglect your plants or completely forget to water them, you will also have a problem. Plants wilt when the rate at which their roots absorb water is lower than the rate of transpiration from their leaves. If we forget to water our houseplants, the soil will get dry and will eventually reach its wilting point (insufficient water for the plant to replace the water that is being lost to transpiration). If you water your plant on time, the plant will probably recover, but if you don’t, your plant will die.
♣The secret is to keep the soil moist and be consistent with the watering.
The following is a list of things that you can try in order to avoid over or under watering your plants:
- Make sure that your pot has proper drainage. To prevent the pot’s hole from getting clogged and to encourage air circulation, place some rocks at the bottom of the pot when re-potting.
- In order to be consistent, schedule your watering in your calendar (once or twice a week or every 10 days, depending on the type of plant, type of pot and weather).
- Stick your finger a few inches down and feel the soil. If the soil is still moist, abstain from watering. You can also leave a disposable wooden chopstick staked in the dirt and pull it out before watering the plant. If the chopstick is dry, water your plant, but if it looks humid and moist, abstain from watering.
- Pick up the pot and feel the weight, if it is too light it is because is dry, if it feels heavy, it is because it’s still wet (this method works for small to medium pots).
- Do not let plant stand in water. Always remove any excess water from the decorative pot or plate to prevent roots from asphyxiating.
- Finally, if these methods seem like too much work and you need something more reliable than yourself, you can buy a moist thermometer and stick it in the dirt, it will indicate when it’s time to water!
Signs of over-watering or poor drainage can be: soft steam bases, soggy soil, wilting, leaf drop, and brown or yellow spots on leaf edges and surface.
Sings of under-watering can be: brown and brittle leaves, wilting, and leaf drop.
Occasional Soak: It is also recommended to deep water and bathe your plants once in a while (every other month or every three months). Place the plant with its pot in your kitchen sink or shower and let the water run abundantly until all the soil in the pot gets soaked. This will remove most of the dust from the leaves, refresh your plant and deep water all the dirt in the container. Once your plant has enjoyed a good shower, let it drain completely for a few minutes and put it back in its place. If necessary, wipe leaves down with a soft damp cloth to remove any stuck dust and dirt.
The potting soil or potting mix used when potting a plant provides nutrients and support to the plant. It should help to maintain the right level of moisture by providing good drainage and adequate aeration for the roots. Therefore, it is important to buy good quality potting soil or potting mix. A premium organic potting soil will cost a few more bucks than your average potting soil, but it will be richer in nutrients and will help to keep your plants healthy and thriving.
While most plants are better off in soil that is consistently moist, others, such as succulents and cacti, can benefit from a fast drying soil which can completely dry out in between waterings. Research your plant’s type and name to find out what kind of soil is best for it.
♣Compost is a great soil amendment. To replenish the nutrients in your potted plant’s soil, mix in some compost once or twice a year or when re-potting. To learn more about compost, visit GSU’s Compost It! page.
Trying to read the signs your plants are giving you can be a little deceiving and may vary from species to species. For example, yellowing leaves can mean too little or too much light, as well as too little or too much water. However, it is important to study your plant carefully and try to diagnose and treat the problem as soon as possible (remember that knowing your plant’s botanical name can help you find and address its specific needs and requirements). Sometimes, the solution is as simple as moving your plant to a brighter spot or setting up a consistent watering schedule!
Ask yourself: What type of plant is this? Is the plant getting enough light in its current location? How often is it getting watered? Does the potting soil look rich and nutritious? Is the pot too small or too large for the plant? Is it time to re-pot it? Does the drainage allow the roots to breathe? Read the symptoms, troubleshoot the problems and try out different possible solutions, and then you will most likely enjoy healthy and beautiful houseplants!
♣Consider that plants can suffer from transplant shock when moved from one pot to another or even from one location to another. A small change in a plant’s environment conditions can affect its growth and overall health, causing, for example, leaf drop or yellowing foliage. Plants are capable of adapting but try to be as smooth as possible with changes.
Besides providing your plants with adequate light, the right amount of water, and a good quality potting soil, plants also need air circulation. Make sure your house or workplace gets enough air flow by opening the windows or doors once in a while.
Finally, a sporadic ‘beauty service’ will also help to maintain your plants beautiful, strong and thriving and it will give them a clean and neat look:
- Trim brown tips
- Remove dead or dying leaves
- Wipe the dust off of the leaves
- Give you plant an occasional shower
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