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Raising Your Indoor Plants


As the days get longer all plants begin to grow, including our indoor plants. All winter we have watered these plants with warm water and with spring in the air, it’s time to start pampering them. While I regularly remove the random brown leaf, this is the time I get in and remove all the brown from within. Doing this gets me intimate with each plant, and if a problem is spotted then I reach for Virginia Tech’s common indoor plant pests chapter in the publication Indoor Plant Culture.

I rinse my plants in the shower with warm water to clean the leaves, but please note, I do not do this with African violets. I then wash the outside of each pot and the tray, too. While doing this, I work at removing the mineral deposits with a blunt tool.

In mid-March I fertilize my plants. I use products specific to indoor plants which contain macronutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (N,P,K), and micronutrients. This first application is at half the recommended strength; subsequent applications are at full strength.

Watering the plants the day before hydrates the roots and moistens the soil. I then make a note on my calendar to remind me when I am to fertilize again. The interval is on the product label along with the application instructions.

More plants are killed by overwatering and moisture meters take the guesswork out of when to water. When it’s time to water, apply enough to soak all the potting soil so roots can grow throughout the entire container. If the soil is dry and has pulled away from the sides of the container, take special care to remoisten it by repeatedly adding water until it seeps through and fills the bottom tray. Leave the water in the bottom tray for another hour for maximum soil hydration before emptying it.

If a plant prefers very moist soil, I leave the water in the tray. One such plant is the swamp orchid, Phaius tankervilleae. This orchid is native to Southeast Asia and is very easy to grow indoors. It prefers low light, so I placed it on the floor to the side of an east-facing window and it rewards me with blooms every winter.

Swamp Orchid.jpg
Swamp orchids are very easy to grow indoors and mine blooms in February.

Another low light plant I enjoy growing is rattlesnake plant, Goeppertia insignis (syn: Calathea). Native to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, rattlesnake plant grows naturally in indirect or low light and it also prefers very moist soil. The rattlesnake plant grows in low light and the plant pictured below was left outside, can you see where the leaves were burned by the harsh summer sun?

I look up where a plant grows in its native habitat before I make a commitment to bring it home. I want to confirm I have the right growing conditions such as light, humidity and air temperature for a plant to thrive in, not just survive in. For example, the two plants I already mentioned are native to the understory of tropical forests and grow indoors in low light. Conversely, I also grow the succulent Echeveria sp., which is native to the semi-desert areas of Mexico, Central and South America. Echeveria requires bright light – 6+ hours of sunlight – and a well-drained soil medium which needs to dry out fully between waterings. Learning which direction your windows face will determine the type of light and ultimately which plants you can grow. South, west and east-facing windows are considered bright and sunny, while north-facing windows provide low light.

Light can always be supplemented with grow lights if your home’s existing light isn’t bright enough for the plants you want to collect. I strive to keep things simple so I choose indoor plants suitable to my existing light conditions. As for humidity, to offset the dry heat from my HVAC system, I run a humidifier during the winter.

Understanding a plant’s natural environment also guides me in selecting the proper type of potting soil. Succulents grow in a well-drained soil mix, while the tropical rainforest plants require potting soil with humus and other organic matter to retain the moisture.

I grow plants with varying heights to create a pleasing display and I gravitate towards plants with variegated or colorful leaves. The southeast-facing window in my living room provides the perfect light conditions for my Rex Begonia collection, while my north-facing screen porch provides ample shade for the Rex Begonias during the warmer months.

Rex Begonias.jpg
My Rex begonias.

After the last frost, I move my indoor plants onto my screened porch for the summer. I move them outside at increasing intervals over a course of a few weeks to allow the leaves of the plants to acclimate to the increase in ultraviolet ray intensity. Keep in mind, a sunny window indoors is equal to the shade outdoors.

The leaves must acclimate from one location to another by changing their makeup of chloroplasts within the leaf structure, and the thickness of each leaf’s exterior waxy coating or cuticle. The cuticle protects the tender leaf from the environmental conditions of wind, dust, rain and UV radiation from the sun while the chloroplasts produce the energy which sustains plant growth.

Slowly transitioning plants from one location to another reduces the stress on the plant as it makes these adjustments.

Keeping any plant healthy and not stressed greatly reduces insect and disease issues, whether growing in your home or in your garden. Choosing a plant which can thrive in the existing conditions it is destined for is the most important step to success.

Happy Gardening!


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