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|Indoor Plants Made Easy
– Randy's Guide
This article has been a long-time-in-coming. I promised I would do it a couple of months ago, but so many other issues took precedence. Nevertheless, here is a great compilation of all the tips that I think make indoor tropicals easy.
If you could ever look in my virtual garage (that would be my brain), not only do I have lots of gardening materials up there, but also I have way too many SOAPBOXES. There are so gardening issues that I can get all lathered up with, and rant and rave about all day. That list of soapbox issues includes the pathetic job supposed landscapers do on new construction homes. Another example of a "hot-button" issue for me is why anyone still consistently bags grass clippings vs. mulch mowing. But my biggest Soap Box Issue has got to be this trend toward plastic indoor plants.
First, don't even try to tell me that you have a Brown Thumb, or that you'll never have a Green Thumb. That's the worst excuse for not growing live tropical plants inside the house. I'm a firm believer that if I can grow indoor plants successfully, anyone can. Although I will have to admit that it was touch-and-go there for a while though after the birth of our son nearly two years ago. With his curiosity, and willingness to put anything and everything into his mouth, most of my indoor plants were banished to the back porch and their care suffered. But I can proudly admit that those that survived the past winter are now making their way back indoors.
And you too can grow indoor plants if they follow a few basic rules, turning brown thumbs green in a matter of weeks. And as my British friend Martin would say - they're "right proper."
1. Proper Soil
2. Proper Drainage & Moisture Retention
3. Proper Lighting Requirements
4. Occasional Feedings (Not very proper, I admit)
5. Proper Plant Selections.
First, no matter whether buy an indoor plant yourself, are willed it by someone moving overseas or if you get one as a gift, immediately change the potting soil. That's because the soil that the plant comes in is usually to light and fluffy. It needs to be that way for the floral shop or nursery, because they usually water the plant every single day. You won't. So, logically you can't buy that fluffy potting soil either (unless you do want to water every day… didn't think you would). That means stop buying the fluffiest potting soil you find on shelves of mass-merchandisers. While this is good if you own a nursery or floral shop, it's too light and drains too fast, thus forcing you to water it every day. The best potting soil is definitely fluffier than outdoor bedding soil, but actually they do have some soil in it. They also have some sand or perlite. That way, these soils will help it hold on to the moisture for longer than a day. There are marketed bags of Organic Potting Soil, Humus Soil and others that I think work fine. My favorites are Jungle Growth and ……
Once you have the right kind of potting soil, as mentioned previously, then you're already heading in the right direction for moisture retention. Improper watering and/or improper drainage is the single biggest reason the average houseplant owner destroys his/her plants. Over-watering and under-watering are the two biggest culprits. However, unless you totally ignore your plants and they dry and die, it's the over-watering that ends up being the most common death sentence. This is because the excess water combines with improper drainage and forces the roots of the plant to rest in water, essentially drowning the roots, and they die of root rot.
So, how much water should you give your plants. It would be simple to say, once a week. But it's not that simple. Light factors, temperature, humidity, the container and indeed the type of plant in question all combine to alter the water requirements of each plant. Still, there's not need to become a gadget-collector to help you read soil moisture, because it simply comes down to using your eyes and your fingers.
Assuming your using the right soil and have the proper drainage, if your plant is drooping or wilting, chances are it needs a drink of water. But the sight-method alone doesn't always work. Thus, the most tried and true method of judging a plants water needs is the finger test. You simply poke you index finger an inch or so into the soil and if it feels dry, add some water. If the soil is still moist, it doesn't need water. And here's the tough part, you have to test them once every week to two weeks. Yes, I realize that is so arduous.
If you're like me, you'll water some plants once every two weeks and some plants once a week because some dry out quicker than others. But it's really easy to establish a routine. It's also important to remember that when watering, give your plants a thorough soaking. If you only water the top couple of inches, the roots will never receive an adequate amount of water.
That leads us back to the drainage issue. Assuming you have the proper planting mix/soil, you must also create a drainage pattern at the bottom of water planter/container you use. Horticulturists on television, as well as authors of gardening books sing the praises of broke pieces of terra cotta clay pots at the bottom to create good drainage. It's an excellent idea. But what if you don't have any? In lieu of that, you can use broken pieces of brick. I've successfully used pea gravel and river rock. And still others I've seen use broken twigs and large pieces of pine bark nuggets. Andy of these items placed at the bottom of every houseplant container allows for the proper drainage required. Also, don't forget the drainage holes. Most containers have them, but if by chance they don't, you'll need to create two to three drainage holes on the bottom of the container.
PROPER LIGHT REQUIREMENTS
This is simple… most house plants grow in areas of lots of indirect light. That means, they need lots of light but not direct sunlight. Think about the atriums of many office buildings you've been in. They usually have opaque roofs that let plenty of light in, but no direct sunshine. I will tell you that if you get early morning sun from east-facing windows, that's usually okay for tropicals/houseplants. However, west-entering sun is usually deadly to such plants. If you can't provide that kind of consistent, indirect light, then lots of fluorescent lighting will often work.
Again this is fairly simple. The key word is OCCASIONAL. For most houseplants, all it takes is a twice-a-year feeding. I'm not kidding. They make slow-release granules, houseplant spikes and, of course, the ever-popular water-soluble fertilizers. And as long as you stay away from Bloom Booster types of fertilizers, it seems that almost anything will work. My personal choice is Medina Hasta Gro, a 6-12-6 organically derived all-purpose fertilizer. Another great feeding tip for greening up some yellowing indoor plants is fish emulsion. If you can handle the smell, feed the plants once a year outdoors with fish emulsion, and you'll see an intense greening up.
PROPER PLANT SELECTION
I'll just give you my list. I've found that if you follow the rules already discusses and pick any of these plants, you will succeed.
Asparagus Fern (Sprenger Fern)
Chinese Evergreens (Aglaonema)
Diffenbachia (Dumb Cane)
Dracaena (Corn Plants)
Ficus Tree (Ficus Benjamina)
Parlor Palm (Kentia Palm)
Rubber Tree Plant (Ficus Elastic)
Snake Plant (Mother In Law Tongue)
Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)
Spider Plant (Airplane Plant)
Tolmiea (Mother of Thousands)
Until next issue, here's to
Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard
exclusively weekend mornings from 8 to noon
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