Do you hesitate to bring home beautiful house plants because you can’t bear to watch another one wilt away? Take heart. Even experienced gardeners can have trouble keeping plants healthy indoors all year round. Improve your results by avoiding these 4 common mistakes.
I know a guy who used to pull out a Bible whenever his mother brought home another doomed house plant and pretend to read the plant its last rites. Not cool.
A more helpful approach would be to recommend this article from the website of Gardener’s Supply Company (Vermont). It’s an excellent basic guide for indoor gardening, and we’ve gleaned from it some key mistakes to avoid:
Mistake #1: Ignoring the Plant’s Native Habitat
This is a golden age for house plants. Remember when spider plants and ferns were the only house plants you’d see in almost every home? You don’t? Then you weren’t around in the 1970s and ‘80s, or you are — understandably — blocking the memory of that era’s standard home decor.
Today, exotic house plants abound, many of them native to the tropics. But too often, we treat tropical plants the same as we treat colder-climate plants with non-flowering foliage. We plant all our plants in the same soil, feed them the same nutrients, water them at the same time, etc.
Before you bring a plant home, or plant one from a seed or a cutting, know the variety’s origin, including the soil type, humidity, heat and light conditions it was bred for.
Mistake #2: Not Knowing When to Let Go
For some new house plants, the biggest enemy is…your old house plants. If you have a plant that’s been around a few years that’s clearly dying — and nothing you’ve done has reversed the process — let it go.
“Remember that unhealthy plants attract insects like a magnet,” the article points out, “and when the infestation spreads to your other plants, you may regret your earlier large-heartedness.”
For that same reason, the author also recommends letting go of most gift plants, such as cinerarias, poinsettias, chrysanthemums, azaleas and cyclamen, when they’re done flowering.
Mistake #3: Too Much Water and/or Nutrients
You know plants die when they’re neglected, but what about the opposite situation? “More house plants die from over watering than from anything else,” the article opines. It also mentions over-fertilizing as a common error.
You might think of your home’s interior as a controlled environment in which a regular watering schedule will benefit all house plants. But in most homes, humidity and temperature can be quite different from one area to the next.
So before you water any particular house plant, check to make sure the soil isn’t already saturated enough for that variety.
As for nutrients, the article recommends: “The most important thing is to not overdo it. Follow the instructions on the package, and err on the weak side. Always water your plants thoroughly before applying any sort of fertilizer. A standard 10-10-10 formulation is fine for most indoor plants.”
Mistake #4: Not Enough Light
Again, you need to start by understanding a plant’s native conditions, so you can match them as best you can. Gardener’s Supply Company’s guidelines include:
1. Most flowering plants, and some sun-loving foliage plants, need to be within 3 feet of a sunny, south-facing window.
2. Plants that prefer bright, indirect light can be located 3 to 5 feet away from a south-facing window, or within 3 feet of an east- or west-facing window.
3. Plants that thrive in diffused light can be placed 6 to 8 feet away from a south-facing window, or within a foot of a north-facing window. In that location they’ll receive about 25 percent of the light they would get if they were in front of the sunny, south-facing window.
4. During the winter months, you may need to move all of your plants closer to the window in order to compensate for the decrease in light.
5. Most plants perform best when they receive 12 to 16 hours of light per day. If you want to keep your plants blooming during the short days of winter, you may need to provide supplemental lighting.
How an Indoor Greenhouse or Grow Tent Can Help
The article doesn’t address a topic close to our hearts at Eco Garden House: indoor greenhouses or grow tents. An indoor unit that can create a controlled environment can be useful for house plants, even if these plants are mostly kept out in the open so you can enjoy them.
An indoor grow tent can give house plants that you plant from seeds or cuttings a strong start. A bank of full-spectrum fluorescent lights such as T5s that can be raised and lowered makes it easy to get the light down within a few inches of the tops of young plants.
Seedlings that don’t get enough of the right kind of light can become “leggy” and less likely to survive once they’re out in the open.
Another use for indoor greenhouses is rehabilitating a mature, ailing house plant. Unless you determine what caused the plant to struggle initially, however, the problem may come back when you put the plant back out.
It’s usually best to gradually wean house plants from your greenhouse, putting it back out into your home for gradually longer periods. Some plants may need to spend the entire winter inside a greenhouse to survive.
In the end, no matter how devoted and skilled you become, some house plants aren’t going to make it. So what? Enjoy them while they’re thriving and move on. In time, your failures and successes will be your best teachers.
Are you ready to grow your garden year-round?