Melinda's How-To: Tips for New Indoor Plant Parents

Indoor Plant Parents

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Don't let the thought of adopting and nurturing new indoor plants overwhelm and stop you from creating a green oasis in your home or office. Fine-tuning your plant parenting skills can help increase indoor growing success.

Select the Right Plant for You
Pick a plant that will thrive in the available light and with the care you are able to provide.  If you like to groom and tend your plants frequently, look at those that require more care like a peace lily or gardenia.  If you are like me, purchase plants that thrive on benign neglect like the ZZ plant, cacti and succulents.

 

How Much Light Do My Plants Need?
Most plants grow well with light from an east- or west-facing window. Place cacti, succulents and other high light plants within a few feet from these windows and if possible by a south window in winter.

Low light plants like ZZ plant, pothos and philodendron can be set to the side or as much as six feet back from these windows or near a north-facing window. 

Overhangs, curtains and nearby buildings impact the amount of light entering your home. Keep this in mind when deciding where to place your new plants.  And don’t be afraid to move plants to brighter or lower light location as needed.

 

Give ‘em a Turn
Make sure each side of the plant receives sunlight.  Give plants a quarter turn each time you water to encourage even growth.

And if light is limited try swapping plants between high and low light areas every two weeks. This way both plants receive the light they need to thrive.

 

How Often Should I Water?
Knowing when to water can be overwhelming. Every gardener needs to develop a watering regime based on their home’s temperature, humidity, light and type of plant.  Bright light, warm temperatures and low humidity will have you watering most plants more often. Fortunately will soon be able master this task in a relatively short time.

Use your finger to check the soil moisture. When the top few inches of soil feel dry its time to water cacti, succulents and other plants that like it dry.  Most tropical plants prefer moister conditions so water whenever the top few inches are just starting to dry.

Water all plants thoroughly until water drains out the bottom of the pot.  Pour off the excess water or use a gravel tray (see below) to avoid root rot.

 

A Few Watering Tricks
Don’t wait for the leaves to droop as a clue you should water. Look for other cues.  Watch for the leaves to turn a bit off-color, somewhat gray green or lift the pot.  The container will be much lighter when the soil is dry and it is time to water.

 

Create a Tropical Paradise
Tropical plants are native to humid moist conditions. Our homes, especially in winter, have very dry air. Misting is an option but only provides about 30 minutes of benefit.

Instead, help your plants and reduce maintenance with one or both of these strategies. Group plants together for an attractive display and to increase humidity. As one plant loses moisture it increases the humidity for its neighbors.

Place plants on a gravel tray.  Set plants on a tray or saucer with a layer of stones, pebbles or marbles. The stones elevate the pot above any excess water that collects in the saucer. As this water evaporates it increases the humidity around the plant.

 

Pet and Kid Friendly Plants

Consult the America Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (www.aspca.org) or University of North Carolina (https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants) for lists of pet and kid friendly plants. Hanging baskets and high shelves are a great way to display plants and keep them out of the reach of curious children and pets.

 

A Few Plants to Consider

ZZ plants can be found in malls, airports and office buildings. This durable easy-care plant thrives in low light and dry soil. Like many houseplants it helps remove toxins improving our indoor air quality.

Sansevieria/Snake Plants (pictured) prefer bright light but will tolerate low light conditions. They thrive on benign neglect and add vertical interest to your collection. Sansevieria 'Laurentii' with golden edges and 'Cylindrica' with round, spear-like leaves provide additional interest.

Chinese Evergreen’s variegated leaves add welcome color to those bright, indirectly lit and low light locations. Water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil are starting to dry. Allow the soil to go slightly dryer during the winter.  Check out impressive varieties with silver highlights and Pink/Red Chinese evergreen with vibrant pink to red markings and stems.

Lucky Bamboo looks like bamboo but is actually a dracaena. They prefer bright indirect light making them suitable for most homes or offices.   Most are grown in water filled containers (hydroponically) eliminating the mystery of when to water.  Just keep the roots covered with water and your plant will continue to grow.

Bird’s Nest Fern has a cluster of wide flat leaves that add bold texture to your indoor garden.  Display it with other plants in bright indirect light or place it on a gravel tray for added humidity. Water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil are just starting to dry.

Money Tree is said to bring good luck and fortune to your home. Small specimens of these miniature trees are perfect tabletop plants and as they grow make excellent floor plants. Give them bright light and water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are starting to dry.

Cacti and succulents are perfect choices for busy gardeners with sunny windows or artificial lights.  Their form, color and texture make beautiful statements whether growing in their own container or combined with others in a dish garden. Splurge and buy a few smaller specimens, a shallow container and cacti and succulent planting mix to create your own succulent showpiece.

Once you push past the fear you will find yourself adopting more new plants to create the green sanctuary of your dreams.

 

Written by gardening expert, Melinda Myers. Melinda Myers is a nationally recognized gardening expert with more than 30 years of horticulture experience. She is a wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share Melinda’s Gardening How-To with you!