Sharing a knowledge and love of plants
Interior Plant Care and Selection in Burlington Mass
Almost any indoor environment is more pleasant and attractive when living plants are a part of the setting. In apartments, condominiums and single family residences, plants add warmth, personality and year-round beauty. Shopping centers, hotels and resorts take full advantage of the colorful, relaxed atmosphere created by green and flowering plants. Offices, banks and other commercial buildings rely on interior plants to “humanize” the work environment and increase productivity. There are other important, often overlooked functions performed by indoor plants. These include directing or controlling pedestrian traffic, subdividing or enclosing space into separate areas, reducing glare and reflection from artificial lights or sunlight entering through a window and screening to block out undesirable views or to create privacy. Real enjoyment and consistent success with indoor plants depend on selecting the right plant for a given environmental situation. Light, temperature and humidity are key considerations. Often one or more of these will be less than ideal. However, by being aware of the shortcomings of an indoor location one can usually alter them or match plants with growing conditions. Soil and water satisfy the remaining basic needs of living plants. A good soil mix and proper watering and fertilization are important for the maintenance of attractive plants.
Light– Light is essential for plant life processes and optimum levels ensure healthy, long-lived indoor plants. In general, there are three categories of light intensity for interior plants: low, 25 to 75 footcandles (fc); medium 75 to 150 fc; and high, 150 to 1000 fc. It is important to match plants with locations that satisfy their basic light requirements. Many reference books provide interiorscape professionals and home gardeners with information on the light levels necessary to maintain plants indoors. A wide variety of light meters are available for measuring light intensities
in indoor environments. They can eliminate much of the guesswork in selecting plants that are adapted to light levels in a given location. Even a camera equipped with a built-in light meter can give a rough indication of light intensities in footcandle units. Keep in mind that there are less obvious factors that affect sunlight levels indoors. These include: the color of interior walls and floors, types of window coverings, roof overhangs, outside awnings, nearby buildings and trees that filter or block incoming light. Plants grown in correct light conditions are vigorous, compact and bushy. Color is vibrant, leaves are normal size, and stems are sturdy. Flowering is promoted. Plants grown at a light intensity below their optimum will have smaller leaves and less vivid color. They often grow more open and leggy and pruning may be necessary for compact form. Keep these plants drier than those in bright light and fertilize them less often. A plant that receives significantly less than its required amount of light may survive for several months to a year, while gradually deteriorating in appearance and vigor.
Temperature– Most homes and offices are heated and cooled with human comfort in mind rather than the growth requirements of indoor plants.
Fortunately, the desirable temperatures for humans fall within the optimum range for most foliage and flowering plants. Daytime temperatures of 70 to 80 °F and a nighttime range of 60 to 70 °F are satisfactory for most species. Many flowering plants bloom longer at the lower end of these day-night temperature ranges. One room in a building may be cooler than the other while another may be warmer. A minimum/ maximum thermometer will pinpoint such differences. These temperature variations should be considered when you are placing plants. Sudden temperature changes caused by drafts can be harmful to interior plants. If a plant is positioned near a window, protect it from heat and intense sunlight during the day and from cold, drafty conditions at night. Use shades and curtains or move the plant far enough away from the window to avoid temperature and light extremes. Never place plants near heat registers, fireplaces, or on television sets.
Humidity– Humidity may determine whether certain plants that are native to moist tropical regions will do well in the average indoor location. In dry air, the leaves of these plants turn yellow or show brown tips and margins. Some fail to flower while others produce flower buds that shrivel and drop suddenly from the plant. In a moderate humidity range of 20 to 40%, it is possible to grow a variety of flowering and foliage plants. However, cactus and other succulents do well in a humidity range of 5 to 15%. A hygrometer can be used to determine the relative humidity of different indoor locations throughout the year. One of the simplest ways to increase the humidity around plants is to group them close together . Water constantly evaporates into the air from leaf pores (stoma) as well as from soil and some container surfaces, creating a humid micro-climate in the immediate area of the plants. Another technique for increasing humidity is to place watertight saucers or trays holding an
inch or two of wet pebbles under plant containers. Add water to the saucer or tray to a point just below the surface of the pebble layer. Humidity
increases around the plant as this water evaporates. Make sure the water level in the saucer never rises to the bottom of the pot. If this happens, the container soil will remain constantly wet, toxic salts will accumulate at the soil surface, and roots will be damaged. Air conditioners tend to make indoor air drier during the summer cooling season. Cool mist vaporizers or room humidifiers provide an effective means of adding moisture to the air. In a home environment sensitive plants can be grown in more naturally humid rooms such as the kitchen, bathroom or laundry room.\
Soil– Many commercial potting soils for interior plants are available. They vary in price, ingredients, and physical and chemical characteristics. It may be necessary to try several before you find one that gives good results under your conditions. The following points should help make the selection process easier. Good drainage with adequate water retention is essential. A fine-textured heavy soil mix that holds too much water will suffocate plant roots. On the other hand, a light, coarse-textured potting soil that drains too quickly may not retain adequate water and nutrients for normal plant growth. Almost all potting soils include two or more ingredients. These should be thoroughly and uniformly mixed for good root growth. Un-sterilized garden soils are not recommended for indoor plants. Besides questionable water- and nutrient-holding characteristics in containers, they may carry insect eggs, weed seeds and disease organisms.
Water– Watering indoor plants is a widely misunderstood practice. As a result, improper watering is the underlying cause of many plant problems. There are several basic points to consider:
1) Plants with large or very thin leaves and those with fine surface roots usually require more frequent watering than succulent plants with fleshy leaves and stems that are able to store water internally.
2) In a warm, dry, sunny location, plants need more frequent watering than they do in cool, low-light situations.
3) A large plant in a small pot will need water more often than a small plant in a large pot.
4) Flowering plants and rapidly growing plants dry out more quickly than plants with slow growth rates.
5) Different soil mixes require different watering schedules. Heavy fine textured potting media and those that contain a lot of peat moss hold more moisture than loose, porous mixtures of bark, sand and perlite.
6) Water evaporates rapidly from the sides of an untreated porous clay pot, but not at all from plastic or glazed ceramic containers. In either
case, water scheduling will be affected.
7) Water thoroughly every time you water a plant. Apply enough water to moisten the entire soil volume, plus a little extra to leach soluble salts out of the container. Indoor plants are usually placed in saucers to hold excess water that drains from the bottom of the pot. If the plant is left standing in this water, the moisture will be reabsorbed into the pot. This results in root rot, salt injury, and generally poor plant performance. To prevent the problem, discard any water in the saucer after each irrigation, or elevate the base of the container above the level of drainage water. One way to do this is to spread a layer of gravel in the bottom of the saucer deep enough to keep the bottom of the container out of the water. The feel of the soil should be one guide in watering indoor plants. When the top half-inch of the soil in containers up to 8–10 inches in diameter feels dry, the plant probably needs watering. Cacti and succulents can go without water for longer periods. Many interior plants that are not given artificial light go into a resting stage during the short cool days of winter. During this season watering should be reduced. You can also watch the plant itself for signs of over- or under-watering.
Fertilizer– Fertilizers for indoor plants should contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The analysis is printed on the label and indicates the percent by weight of each nutrient in the formulation (e.g., 5-10-5). The first number represents nitrogen (N), the second phosphorus (P2O5, or available phosphoric acid), and the third potassium (K2O, available or soluble potash). Most indoor plants grow vigorously with a 1-1-1 ratio (i.e., 20-20- 20) fertilizer. However, you may want to increase the ratio of nitrogen for a nonflowering plant, such as foliage plants. Liquid fertilizers are
convenient for indoor gardeners. Water-soluble granular, pill, and slow release forms are also effective. Regardless of the analysis and used. Untreated clay pots allow moisture to evaporate from the soil through the sides of the container. This promotes soil aeration and root growth. On the other hand, the soil dries faster and plants need watering more often in porous clay pots than in most other types of containers. Plastic pots retain moisture longer. It’s important, therefore, to ensure good drainage and to avoid over watering. Plastic pots are also easier to clean, lighter in weight, and generally less expensive than clay containers. Perhaps the most important characteristic of an indoor plant container is that it have one or more drainage holes. This permits rapid escape of drainage water, leaching of excess salts, and reentry of air into larger pore spaces in the soil. Plants grown in containers that have no drainage holes are easily injured or killed by over watering.
Grooming– The leaves of indoor plants can become coated with a heavy layer of dust in a surprisingly short time. This dust and grime interferes with normal leaf functions and makes the plant less attractive. Use a soft cloth moistened with warm water to clean both upper and lower leaf surfaces at least every two or three months. Plants that are small enough to move into the shower or outdoors onto the patio for a mild soapy wash and rinse in warm weather will be more attractive and less prone to insect problems. Plant leaf-shine materials should be avoided. They attract dust and can slow plant growth. Plants should be turned regularly if possible to expose all sides to light coming from one direction. This encourages a more uniform shape. Remove yellow or discolored foliage as it develops. Dried brown leaf tips and margins may be trimmed back to green tissue with scissors. Follow the shape of the leaf when making these cuts to maintain natural appearance.
Following these guidelines should help you in your house plant care and increase your plant success. For further information, contact Creative Interior Plantscapes,or visit our website: www.creativeinteriorplantscapes.com.