Hands-On Guidelines for Growing a Variety of Houseplants

Foliage and flowering house plants are now so well known that they need little introduction. Their popularity has increased enormously over the years since they were introduced about sixty years ago. Flowering pot plants, of course, have been with us for a far longer period, but foliage house plants with their many varieties still seem modern and new mainly due to the wide range of choice.

fresh calamondin oranges

Citrus mitis, the calamondin orange.

New introductions keep coming out and many old plants are being revived that have almost been lost to commercial cultivation. In Victorian times, there were not so many house plants as we know them today. They were mostly warm greenhouse stove plants. These were brought into the house from the conservatory for short periods and then taken back for resuscitation.

Light conditions in the home were very poor and central heating almost unknown at the end of the 19th century. Things have changed a lot since 1945 and now, one is used to good heating and excellent light in our homes. Many of the more recent introductions have been carefully chosen for their ability to thrive and grow well in the home.

The focuses, ivies and philodendrons come immediately to mind and you can add members of the vine family. The most important factor of all, without doubt, is the way you go about watering your plants. So much depends on various points, such as:

1) The time of year.

2) The variety of plant.

3) The conditions of the room it is growing in.

4) The type of soil the plant is potted in.

The Time of Year

In the winter time, all plants will be going through a semi-dormant period. This means that the roots are resting and far from active, thus requiring NO feed and very modest watering. When in doubt, always withhold the water. Rarely will you see a foliage plant flagging from lack of water during November to February.

Make sure you use tepid water during the winter months, but during the rest of the year this is unimportant. So many plants are spoilt during the winter time by being overwatered, and the roots become sick and unhealthy. Leaves go dull looking and they will turn yellow.

In such cases there is little one can do. Watering will kill the plant rather than save it, so the golden rule is to keep it as dry as you dare and gradually the plant, if not too far gone, will come back to life.

A healthy plant, which means a healthy root system, will become active at its roots towards the end of April and continues until August. There are therefore five months of the year when watering can be given more freely. Feeding is another matter, but these are the months when this can be beneficial. Never feed in the winter months.

The Variety of Plant

Here, one must depend on the instructions according to the label. Reputable firms will give careful instructions and one must make sure to read these. The sansevieria (mother in law’s tongue) is a variety that needs little water.

One of the reasons for this is that they have very fleshy leaves which can store and hold a good water supply. No foliage house plants need excessive watering and generally speaking they like to be kept just moist and never wet.

The Conditions of the Room in Which They Are Growing

Many rooms depend on gas fires, electric fires or open coal fires. When the room is not in use, then heating soon works down to nil. This means that the plants have to cope with considerable extremes of temperatures. When the heating is on the air, in the room becomes hot and dry.

This is not an ideal condition for plants and it can be improved by bedding a plant down in damp moss or peat. Moisture can then rise through the leaves and create an excellent micro climate of its own. With hot and cold conditions taking over, it is far better to water sparingly.

And remember that when the temperature falls, the plant kept on the dry side will suffer far less than if it were wet. Watering in the mornings, when all the day is ahead is the correct thing to do. Avoid any watering at night time, even if the plant looks as though it needs water—let it wait until morning.

The Type of Soil Plants Are Potted In

neatly arranged houseplants In the old days, far more soil was used for potting plants and the root system took longer to develop. The water laid longer in the soil as it slowly drained through the potting mixture. These days, nurserymen use far more peat. In fact, some mixes are nearly all peat.

There is nothing against peat, which tends to produce quicker growth, which means faster root action and therefore that the plant will drain more freely. Where the drainage is swift, then the plant will ask for and take more water, but beware of overwatering peat because this can quickly turn sour and any goodness in the mix will be lost.

So much on the subject of watering which is vital if one is to have healthy plants around. Never let any smooth surfaced leaves get dusty. However, correct the watering may be the leaves have to breathe, so wipe them with a damp cloth or sponge on both sides. Leaf shine sprays can be obtained on the market, but do use these sparingly because the oils in these preparations can clog the leaf pores, and leaf drop will follow.

Light

The majority of the plants we call houseplants are inhabitants of woodland in their wild state, usually of the jungle, and a characteristic of woodland is that the plants are seldom in direct sunlight. This means that although most plants like good light, they don t like the bright, unshaded light of a south facing windowsill in hot weather.

Neither will they like any windowsill at night in very cold weather, when drafts blow in and frost forms on the glass. Give your plants any available light by day in the winter but move them at night. In the summer, keep them away from direct sunlight striking through closed windows or scorching may occur. Generally speaking variegated plants and those with brightly colored leaves need more light than those with plain, darker leaves.

Feeding and Repotting

If you feel your plant needs feeding, there are numerous proprietary foods all of which give directions, but there are a few points to be remembered. Never feed a plant that hasn’t a healthy root system. You don’t give a rich diet to a sick person, and you don’t feed a plant that has recently been repotted, and whose roots have not yet penetrated the new soil.

Also, when the plant is semi-dormant during the winter, its roots couldn’t possibly take up feed. Much the same points apply to repotting. Plants will grow well in pots that seem impossibly small, but if you feel your plant really needs a larger pot, repot it early in the growing season, in late April or May, when it has the best time of the year to get used to new conditions. Never do it in the winter.

Pests

Houseplants are not too much troubled by pests but red spider is probably the worst offender, and the chief cause for leaf troubles on foliage plants. Pests come more quickly and multiply freely when the air is hot and dry around the plant. It is misleading to think the red spider looks like a spider.

It does not and it is only the very old ones that have a red coloring. The young ones that do so much damage are white in color if looked at through a strong magnifying glass. They breed in large quantities very quickly, and live on both sides of the leaves, extracting all the moisture.

The cures for most pests are easily obtained from horticultural sundriesmen or garden centers. Read the instructions carefully for the troubles you want to eliminate, and never overdo the recommended quantities.

Please refer to this article to learn about some of the most popular houseplants. Under some of the family headings, there are many different varieties and those worthy of note will be mentioned. In the case of philodendrons, there are many varieties within this Aracaea family.

The list given in that article is in alphabetical order for ease of reference. Twenty-four houseplants have been listed, but of course there are many, many more than these, but the ones mentioned are probably the most suitable and satisfying for amateurs.

Stuart Jones
 

My name is Stuart Jones and I'm the guy responsible for most of the content on this website. I'm a horticulturist with over 25 years of experience in gardening and garden plants. To bring color throughout the year, I regularly grow a wide variety of plants, bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees. Oh, and let’s not forget the fruits and vegetables to ensure the fridge is always stocked!

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