Having a basic understanding of photosynthesis will lead to an appreciation of what plants need to grow and thrive. Having healthy indoor plants leads to a healthy living lifestyle.
In case school biology classes seem an awfully long time ago, these are the essential facts. Plants make their own food through a process called photosynthesis. To do this, they need light, water and carbon dioxide.
Limiting any one of these factors can lead to the plant struggling or even dying.
Plants photosynthesise using a chemical called chlorophyll, which is what makes plants look green, absorbs sunlight and turns the carbon dioxide and water into glucose (sugar) and oxygen. Some of the glucose is stored as starch, while the rest gets used up as energy for the plant to grow. A plant requires a range of nutrients to create chlorophyll for photosynthesis and other processes within it for healthy growth. Outside, there is plenty of sunlight, carbon dioxide and (with adequate rainfall) water, and the soil can provide the necessary nutrients. Indoors, gardeners need to provide water and nutrients and to position the plant for sufficient light.
Applying the Science
Rule one when caring for any house plant is to put it in the environment in which it has evolved and to which it has adapted. In other words, a cactus that has grown in the arid, sunny climate of a desert will not do well if it is kept in a shady, humid bathroom. Likewise, a Swiss cheese plant adapted to the lower levels of the tropical rainforest will not do well on a bright, and drafty window sill.
Rule two is to try and make sure that the plant is never stressed by lack of water, light or nutrients, as this will weaken it and make it more susceptible to disease and pest infestation. Checking plants daily will take just a few moments, but is far better for the plant than having to take remedial measures every now and then.
Keeping Plants Tidy
When a house plant becomes a little too happy in its situation, some action may be required to keep it from taking over the house. To an extent, not being in its ideal outdoor environment (for example, a dry, cold living room rather than a tropical jungle) will keep a house plant’s size under control. Restricting the roots in a pot and not over-feeding will also help. However, to further control a plant’s size, it can be pruned, either above or below ground.
Root pruning is simple and best done in spring when the plant is growing well. Remove the plant from the pot. Use a sharp kitchen knife to shave off a couple of centimetres of roots and compost all the way around the root ball, then put it back into the pot with some fresh compost to fill the gaps.
Promoting Flowers and a Better Shape
Pruning is also done to make plants more attractive; to encourage a better shape or more flowering. Plants that would naturally grow leggy, single stems, such as geraniums or chrysanthemums, can be pinched out as they grow. This will encourage a bushier shape that bears more flowers. Regularly snip or pinch out the tips of new growth. This method also works well for herbs.
Climbing and Larger Plants
Climbers and trailing plants can have their shoots cut back when they reach the extent of their supports, or start getting in the way. Trimming little and often is better than an infrequent drastic cut back. Likewise, pruning the woody stems of larger plants is better done by cutting back no more than a third at a time.
Indoor Plants Healthy Living
The guiding principles should be:
- Always cut back to just above a bud
- Refer to the individual plant’s requirements in the Plant Files of this website
- Learn how to best care for plants through observation of their growing habits in their unique situation
- Think twice and cut once
All house plants will shed old leaves at some point. Remove these and any other detritus, and promptly cut back dead stems to avoid rot setting in, which can spread to the plant, and to retain a healthy, green appearance. Having healthy indoor plants leads to a healthy living lifestyle.
Different species will suit varied room conditions. They are grown not for their foliage but for their long-lasting displays of beautiful, delicate and intricate flowers. Orchids like high humidity around their leaves, and do not like to sit in wet compost. The best compost option is a free-draining potting mix consisting mainly of bark chips (buy a proprietary orchid compost). Keep the plant in a pot with drainage holes. Its roots will also protrude above the pot but don’t be tempted to tidy them inside because if you do they will rot.
Water thoroughly about once a week, ensuring all excess has drained away, and mist to supplement humidity when required. Feed using a specialist orchid fertiliser once a month, spring and summer. Keep the leaves clean. Prune only to remove dead leaves, flower spikes and roots.
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Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)
Give this plant bright but not direct light. Avoid fluctuating temperatures, although flowering can be induced by moving to a cooler room for a month. Produces tall spikes of flowers from flat, almost rectangular rosettes of dark-green waxy leaves. Flowers can last for months, and colours vary between varieties. Prune the spike back to its second joint below the flowers once they’ve finished, and it may produce a secondary spike.
Similar flowers to the moth orchid but its leaves are tall and strappy. Give this plant bright but not direct light. As flower spikes develop, keep the temperature below 15 degrees centigrade; otherwise, the buds can drop off prematurely.
Best grown in an open-weave or slatted basket, out of which their roots can hang, species of Vanda have a flat, fan-shaped rosette of leaves. The flower spike is produced from the top of this rosette. Allow bright but not direct light and relatively humid conditions; supplement by misting the roots daily, more often if very dry, but always allowing to dry them out between watering. Feed by misting with a diluted fertiliser or plunging in a diluted solution for 10 minutes once a week. Having healthy indoor plants leads to a healthy living lifestyle.
Six Easy Tips on How to Care for Your Plants
Many people worry a lot when it comes to caring for their plants. When talking about house plants, there is no need to panic. There are just a few things you need to consider.
A watering can is a must-have in every home. It is recommended that you purchase one with a narrow spout to ensure adequate watering. However, that does not always apply, so the finger test may come in handy. Insert your index finger up to the first joint into the soil. If you feel that the earth is damp, don’t water it. Otherwise, do.
With foliage plants, they always need to be high in nitrogen. For flowering plants, on the other hand, K2O is needed. Fertilisers such as the slow release ones can be mixed with the compost. However, some plants such as cacti and orchids need special feeds. Feed plants based on the height of their active growth.
Plants such as Sanseveria and Aspidistra require no shade. They can be placed away from a window. Spider plants need semi-shade. You can put plants like these near a window that does or does not get sunlight. Others need the sun or perhaps no sun at all, such as cheese plants.
Temperature, Humidity and Repotting
With houseplants, they can survive in temperatures a little bit higher than 15 to 25 degrees centigrade or 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. However, drastic fluctuations in temperature may not be suitable for them.
Some houseplants require a humid environment. One tip to maximise humidity is to put the pot inside a larger container and fill in the gaps with stones or compost to keep in the moisture. The compost will not dry out. Plants are capable of creating their own climate if grouped together. This tip can also be used for keeping the soil moist. If you want, you can spray them with water once or twice a day, depending on the temperature.
Other plants require repotting for optimum growth, but some may not be suitable for this treatment. They would not want their roots to be disturbed, or other plants’ root systems may be too small. One way to check if your plant needs repotting is to turn it upside down. Tap the pot to release the plant and check its roots. If the roots are all you see, then repot.
You just need to have a little care for your plants, and in turn, you’ll reap their benefits. Don’t only have plants that can add to your house’s beauty; you can also learn how to respect and nurture life in its varied forms. Having healthy indoor plants leads to a healthy living lifestyle.
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