Every room can accommodate at least one plant. House plants need not be restricted to windowsills; they can be put on shelves, the floor, kitchen worktops, desks or side tables, hung from the ceiling or staircases or fixed to the walls.
Each room in the house will have its own micro climate, and that can be exploited to grow a wide range of plants within a single home. However, what does micro climate mean? These plants are often those that would not generally suit being grown in that region; for example, in a city house in Edinburgh, it is possible to produce exotic tropical plants that would have no hope of surviving the cold Scottish winters.
What is a Micro Climate?
While the climate describes the general attributes of the long-term weather patterns within a country, region or city, a micro climate describes the conditions within a much smaller area, such as a room or even a single corner of that room. Different micro climates in a house can be created by variations in light and shade, humidity and warmth. For example, a steamy bathroom with south-facing, double-glazed windows and an extractor fan that doesn’t work very well would have a humid, warm atmosphere. A spare bedroom with north-facing single-glazed windows and a small radiator that is set to low would have a generally cool, if not cold, shady atmosphere; unless guests were staying, in which case the micro climate would change to being much warmer.
A Plant for Every Situation
It is always better to avoid wasting money, time and love on an unsuitable plant. Assess the various micro climates within each room and use this information to display suitable plants; lush exotic jungles in humid places, cacti and desert plants for sunny windowsills, ferns for shady spots. Avoid buying a plant first and putting it in a spot that simply has the wrong conditions for it. Use the plant files on this website for inspiration on useful plants for different situations.
Things to Watch Out For
Every home will have varying temperatures through the seasons, and by and large, these are things that will not affect the growth and health of houseplants. Sudden and severe changes and extreme conditions, however, are what to avoid and be aware of.
Although a plant may appear to be in a warm spot, if it is exposed to chilling and drying draughts, it will suffer. Obviously, doors and windows are the main culprits, but air bricks can also create a cold breeze. Don’t forget that a draught can carry a long way down a hallway.
Overall, central heating can have a drying effect. In warm rooms, some plants may need to be sprayed with a light mist to retain sufficient humidity around their leaves. Avoid placing leafy plants near or above radiators as they may dry out excessively in the hot air around them, causing brown, crispy foliage.
On the face of it, the ideal spot for a houseplant is a windowsill, but be aware, again, of extreme temperatures. Plants can be scorched easily on a sunny day, especially on leaves that are very close to, or touching, the glass. Temperature changes can also be more dramatic on a windowsill – it can get sweltering when the sun is out but dramatically colder at night (especially with single glazing).
Further problems can be caused by draughty windows and frequent opening and closing of blinds or curtains, which can easily knock and damage a plant. Pets who enjoy looking out the window can also injure houseplants as they seek their own space on the windowsill.
This is the name given to the phenomenon whereby a plant will lean towards the most reliable light source. Over time, it can lead to all the leaf growth protruding from one side of the plant, creating an uneven appearance. Rotating plants regularly will ensure even, upright growth.
Dampness and Humidity
Provided suitable plants are used, damp rooms should not cause too many problems, but ensure that dead foliage and other detritus are removed promptly to avoid grey mould (Botrytis cinerea) and other fungal diseases.
Plants will suffer when kept in a room that is generally kept cool but is suddenly heated, such as a guest bedroom. Similarly, plants can become damaged when left in an unheated house while the owner is on holiday (see more about this here). Mitigate these problems by temporarily moving plants to another location that is closer in temperature to their usual spot.
Standard Cotinus Royal Purple: Smoke Bush Tree
As a change to this discussion on micro climates when growing indoors, I thought I would introduce you to one of my favourite small trees.
The beautiful Royal Purple Smoke Bush is now available as a Patio Standard tree! Perfect for keeping shaped as a centrepiece to any planter or even in the garden border, this tree comes with an approx 70cms clear stem, topped off with branches and foliage which will fill out year-on-year. Simply give excessive growth an occasional trim to maintain and develop a rounded head of foliage of magnificent, dark red-purple leaves. In Autumn, these will turn vivid scarlet-red, but before this in summer, fluffy, smoke-like plumes of purplish-pink flowers are produced, hence the name Purple Smoke Tree!
This purple-leaved smoke tree will make an eye-catching specimen plant in a sunny mixed border, or when used in a large planter. The clear stem means it can be under planted with other contrasting plants to provide a foil for the rich purple foliage. Perhaps some silver foliage such as Calocephalus would suit?
Click here for your very own Smoke Bush Tree!
Cultivation is best in dry, infertile soils, which keeps the growth habit more compact and also improves the autumn colour; when planted in fertile soil, they become large, coarse and also tend to be short-lived, succumbing to verticillium wilt disease.
Supplied as an established young tree in approx three-litre containers at around a metre tall total height.
Enjoy your Smoke Tree!
Feeding Plants in Your Micro Climate
A plant given sufficient light, water and carbon dioxide will survive, but for it to thrive it also needs nutrients; much like humans need a range of vitamins and minerals, which ensure the various and complex physiological processes work effectively. For house plants, the gardener must provide these nutrients, but fortunately, this is a relatively simple task. Follow this guide to feeding small indoor plants.
The Big Three
The significant three nutrients a plant needs are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, represented on a bottle of fertiliser by the letters N, P and K, respectively (the Latin, scientific name for potassium is kalium).
Nitrogen is needed for the production of cells and for the growth of leaves and shoots (yellowing leaves are a classic sign of nitrogen deficiency).
Phosphorus is needed for healthy root growth.
Potassium ensures good flower and fruit production.
On top of these, there are a range of necessary micronutrients, such as magnesium, boron and iron, which are needed in tiny quantities but play essential roles in cell production and photosynthesis.
When to Fertilise
Plants bought from a garden centre or nursery will have been potted into compost that has all the necessary fertiliser mixed into it. Still, the plant will exhaust this supply after around six months. After that, it will be required to apply fertiliser to maintain adequate nutrient levels. The myriad options available can be confusing, but the deciding factor is how long the fertiliser takes to release its nutrients.
The fastest-acting are the liquid fertilisers because the nutrients can most easily be taken up by the plant. These can be applied as a spray over the foliage or, more commonly and efficiently, as a concentrate that is then diluted and watered on. Liquid fertilisers need to be applied regularly throughout the growing season, according to the instructions on the packet.
Slower or (more accurately) controlled-release fertilisers come as granules or small composite plugs of beads that are mixed with the soil surface or pushed into the pot, respectively. They are designed to break down over weeks or months (again, check the packet for dosing instructions and longevity), releasing the nutrients inside as they go. However, the plugs do not always break down effectively, especially in soils that are kept on the dry side (such as with arid plants).
In general, fertilising is only necessary in the growing season, but specifics are listed with each plant in my Plant Files section.
Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
If you want an easy to care for indoor plant, but something unusual which is sure to be a talking point, why not consider a Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree? This is actually one of the rarest house plants in the world, and is stunning to look at!
Buy your own Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree here!
You can actually play a part in conserving this plant for the future and have the pleasure of owning something very few people have seen. There is apparently only one of these plants still growing in the wild, with others being destroyed by hurricanes.