We all love to bring a little of the outside in, especially coming on to winter when we ache for the greenery. However, we all end up with struggling, browning, leaf-dropping sicklings somehow. What are we doing wrong? Well, here are a few common errors people make in caring for our indoor green friends.
Watering regime are you watering your plants according to a schedule that is convenient for you? Or are you doing what the plant requires? A good way to quickly monitor the hydroperiod of your houseplant is to learn to recognize the color of the potting material when it is wet, drying out and dry. If the top inch of soil has turned from dark brown to tan, it is probably time for some water. Over-watering is equally as bad as under-watering, check 1/4 to 1 inch deep in your pots at least every other day, especially in the beginning, to see if your plant needs water. Additionally, if you tap on the side of the pot and hear a hollow sound, that may be an indication of excessively dry soil. When adding water, lift up your plant, water until it drips from the drainage hole, wait until it stops and repeat the process once more. Discard drained water, do not allow plants to sit in standing water. Water should only be visible on the surface of the soil for a couple of seconds then infiltrate quickly.
Plant placement as nice as it would be to just have plants throughout our homes, wherever they may be aesthetically pleasing, unfortunately many places in your home may not be suitable for a plant’s growth. Plants require light, although the intensity or directness may vary dependent on the species. But, placing a plant behind curtains or on the floor not in the vicinity of a window or even in an eastern facing window, would be less than ideal. If you are depending entirely on natural light, plants must be on windowsills, and those with high light requirements will need a western exposure. If sill space is limited, consider hanging plants from hooks on the ceiling, building glass shelves in window spaces or adding a bay window greenhouse.
Soil or potting mix choose a good potting mix to plant with, they are not all the same and generally houseplants do well with a high percentage of peat moss in their substrate. A good mix is: 2 parts peat moss, 1 part perlite, 1 part silt or clay loam garden soil, 1 part organic matter (could be more peat moss), and one part coarse sand. Commercial potting soil can also be used, just check the ingredients carefully, if pine bark is used as the organic component make sure the percentage is low. If you are constructing your own potting mix from wild collected materials, sterilizing it first may aid in maintaining the health of your houseplant: place mixture in the oven at 180 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes to remove weed, insect and disease organisms.
Re-potting problems the potting mix will break down over a couple of years and as it decomposes it retains too much moisture and too little oxygen. This may cause roots to rot or suffocate. Soil decomposition also creates a highly acidic environment decreasing the availability of nutrients for uptake and eventually stunting plants’ growth. Additionally, plants continue to grow root mass and could become root bound if not re-potted into a larger container. In the spring, when new growth generally begins, pick up each of your potted plants, turn them upside down, tap on the bottom until the plant comes out. If the roots are in a solid mass, re-pot this plant. Choose a container that is 1 or 2 inches in diameter larger, with a drainage hole. Faster growing plants may require an even larger pot.
Fertilization all actively growing, healthy plants require nutrients. In fact, many houseplants, are pretty hearty eaters. In general, if your plant requires twice weekly watering, that fourth watering could easily include some fertilizer. Water your plants with a dilute fertilizer solution, especially in the summer. This can be prepared by using 1 tablespoon of soluble fertilizer per gallon of water (then water appropriately as discussed above). Fertilizers with nutrient ratios of 20-20-20, 5-10-5, 4-12-4 or 7-7-7 may be used.