Liven up a living space with houseplants

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

When the Christmas decorations come down, the house sure looks bare. Eliminate that bare, drab look by adding some tropical plants or houseplants to your decor.

Houseplants not only make your home cheery, they also soften the harsh edges of walls and furniture. They make your home a comfortable haven, a place to spend your non-working time quietly alone, or with family and friends.

Houseplants are known to help purify the air inside a room. That means houseplants are healthy for humans. Caring for houseplants is also good therapy, a way to forget the stresses of this day and age.

If you want to add some plants to your home, I suggest you start with low light level plants such as pathos, philodendron, peace lily or Chinese evergreen. These plants are easy to care for and, because they have low light requirements, they usually do well in a home environment.

Place your plants in an area of the house that gets as much light as possible. Even though the plants listed above tolerate low light levels, they sure do like to have as much light as possible. If your plant location has little light, such as in a hallway, you will need to provide it with artificial light from a grow light.

Keep your plants out of drafts, both cold and hot. These drafts can cause permanent damage and even death to a plant in just a few hours.

Once you have placed your plants in the right location, you must monitor them on a continual basis to provide the right amount of water and nutrition. Of these two requirements water is the most important. I have seen more plants killed or damaged by improper watering than by insects, diseases or any other causes.

Monitor your plants' soil moisture by sticking your finger in the soil every two or three days. When the soil is dry, water. When the soil is wet, don't water. I know this sounds simple, but it is the best way to determine when to water.

When you do water, give the plant enough water to saturate the soil. Water until excess moisture pours out of the pot. Let your watered plant sit in the excess moisture for 15 to 30 minutes after watering. Then pour any excess water out of the drainage saucer.

Use tap water, deionized, or distilled water to give your plant a drink. Do not use water treated by a water softener.

Nitrogen is important

Fertilize your plants with a soluble plant food such as a 23-18-16. Put this in the water you use to water with. Notice the first number, nitrogen, is higher than either phosphorous or potassium. Most houseplants are foliage plants. Therefore you want to encourage your plant to produce good leaves. Addition of nitrogen will increase leaf growth.

During the winter fertilize about once per month. During the summer growing season, fertilize your houseplants every week to every other week. Your houseplants grow rapidly during the summer, so they will need extra nutrition to thrive.

Usually a houseplant has light shining on it from one direction, a window or an artificial light source. Therefore, to keep the plant growing in all directions, turn your plant 180 degrees every week or two. By rotating your plant, all parts of it will be exposed to the same amount of light and it will grow symmetrically.

Houseplants often gather dust on their leaves. You need to clean the leaves occasionally by using a clean damp cloth and wiping the leaves. You can also use a plant shine. This will not only eliminate the dust layer, but it will also give your plants a vibrant healthy green look.

If you want to make your home more relaxing, add some houseplants to your decor. Not only will your home or apartment look good, it will be a healthier place to live. Your soul will also benefit by giving a plant some TLC.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian. com.

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