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How to Care for House Plants

House Plants

If your house just doesn’t look quite as classy as you would like, and your budget won’t allow a big home decorating outlay, try house plants. They are an inexpensive, effective way to decorate. A few, well placed houseplants can add life to the plainest room. Don’t limit them to the living room.

Ferns, for example, flourish in a warm, damp climate, taking away the bare, antiseptic look of a bathroom. Climbing house plants can add interest to a dull stairway.

Whenever you buy a house plant be sure to ask how to care for it, what it requires as to water, sunlight, soil and temperature. Make your purchase from a reputable greenhouse. Those cheap plants at the supermarket may or may not be healthy.

When it comes to caring for house plants, more of them probably have been killed by over-solicitous new gardeners than by neglect. The common beginner’s mistake is to water the plant into oblivion. There can be no general rule about watering, but plants in porous earthenware pots will need more than those in plastic ones.

There are times of the year when house plants will require more water than at others. Some plants, such as the miniature lemon tree, should be watered from underneath. Set the plant in a container of water until the top of the soil is damp. Most house plants flourish in a room temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. Plants that need a cooler environment can be kept in a bedroom or hallway. Find out before you cart them home.

The amount of sun needed varies greatly. A cactus can stand direct rays of strong summer sun. An African violet, on the other hand, requires a shady spot. The hours of sunlight needed also vary. There are long-day plants that require extra sunlight hours provided by artificial light in order to bloom.

Short-day plants, however, bloom only when the nights are long. The best known of these are the chrysanthemum, poinsettia and the Christmas cactus (zygocactus). If you lengthen the hours of darkness to a 12-hour minimum for these plants, they will bloom at any time of the year.

Despite the fact that houseplants can be grown in bottles, they normally do best in a room with good ventilation and fresh air. During the day, they take carbon monoxide out of the air and through photosynthesis, give off oxygen. At night, the process stops and the plants breath in oxygen.

Some house plants are very sensitive to oil and gas fumes. If you are planning on putting a plant in a room with an oil or gas heater, it is best to choose a plant with large, thick leaves.

Cactus and succulents enjoy dry heat, but most other plants need some moisture in the air. Many don’t survive the winter because of the dry heat put out by some central heating systems. To correct this problem you can place the plant in its pot on a stand in a shallow bowl filled with water.

Many plants also like to be sprayed with water. It freshens the leaves. Don’t give the spray bath in direct sunlight or when it is cold and do be sure to use soft water. Since plants absorb light through their leaves, washing the leaves not only improves their appearance, but adds to their life.

Besides air, water and light, house plants need different chemical substances – the so-called plant food. The most important of these are nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium. The plant particularly needs nitrogen for its growth and leaf development. Phosphorus aids the root development and production of seeds and fruit. Calcium is needed for the blossoms and fruit and to ward off disease. Normally, the plant takes these chemicals out of the earth.

House plants, however, soon use up the food from their soil and must be given plant food. There are many commercial plant foods on the market. You should rely on the advice of a good greenhouse as to which contains the proper mixture that the plant needs. Newly potted plants should not require food until the pot is full of roots. They should be fed only when they are in a growth period.

Caring for house plants may also include spraying a special food on the leaves. Generally plants are started out in a small pot, and then repotted several times. When potting or repotting use a container that has a drainage hole in the bottom. Watertight pots are difficult to care for properly. Water tends to collect in the bottom of the pot and injure the plant roots.

Before using, clean the new pot well, line the bottom with stones or pieces of broken pot and then add potting soil – and, of course a plant. To simplify watering you can make a subirrigatlon system from an ordinary flowerpot and a wick. A glass fiber wick is best; It does not rot. However, a piece of coarse rope or a tight roll of burlap can be used for a wick.

Place the wick in the hole of the flowerpot. Press the top two inches of wick against the bottom of the pot, pack fine sand over it, then fill the pot with soil. After the plant is potted, water it thoroughly from the top. Then place the pot on blocks or stones over a saucer filled with water.

The lower end of the wick must be in the water. The wick will soak up water as needed by the plant. It is best to begin with plants fairly easy to grow – not, for example, exotic orchids. Here are descriptions of some fairly easy-to-grow varieties. But just look around. There are so many types of plants to choose from. Choose one that appeals to you, that you’ll enjoy. No matter where you are, the Latin names remain the same.

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)

This house plant has dark-green leaves growing at the end of canelike stems. It will flourish for years in the dark part of a room and requires a minimum of care.


Here is a truly hardy fellow. It will endure, better than most other house plants, heat, dust, darkness, and lack of water. When it is well cared for, it produces a mass of broad, glossy green leaves and bears flowers close to the ground.

Bromeliads (Bromelia)

It is very easy to care for these house plants. These are the most adaptable of all foliage plants. Their leaves hold water and the plants grow well under dry indoor conditions in light or shade. When the plants are mature, a brilliantly colored flower spike lasts for several months. They should be grown in full sun, in a warm temperature, in medium humidity.

Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia)

This is one of the most spectacular of the house plants, grown for its large foliage. Keep them away from children, however. The sap causes the tongue to swell until it is difficult to speak. Likes indirect sunlight, warm temperatures, and low humidity. Keep the soil on the dry side.

African Violet (Gesneriaceae)

One of the most commonly grown house plants, they produce single or double flowers. Keep the soil moist. Grow in indirect sunlight and warm temperatures with high humidity, moderate temperatures with medium humidity or cool temperatures with low humidity. Water from the bottom. If the leaf stems lie across the wet clay rim of a flower pot, they may rot. To prevent this, cover the rim with aluminum foil or paraffin. Wash them regularly with soapy water at room temperature. Allow to dry in a shady place.

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