BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: House Plants
By Kerry Peetz
We all appreciate the scenic beauty of nature. In our diocese we are blessed with the Rocky Mountains; they are practically at our doorstep. Just a step outside, a nod to the west and the vision of the mountains brings us closer to nature and to God. The top of Pikes Peak is nestled right under heaven and, as sure as the air is crisp, many a prayer has been prayed there.
Nonetheless, we spend about 90% of our time indoors. Interior plants are an ideal way to create attractive and restful settings while enhancing our sense of well-being by bringing a little bit of nature inside. House plants can be a satisfying hobby for sure, but they also convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and trap and absorb many pollutants.
To be a successful indoor gardener, one needs to understand how the interior environment affects plant growth. Here are six points to consider when planting indoors: light, temperature, humidity, water, nutrition, and soil.
Light. The amount of light in your home is variable — it is affected by the presence of trees outdoors (may shade at certain times), roof overhangs, buildings, wall color (reflectance), window curtains, day length, time of day, and time of year. When choosing indoor plants, select plants based on their light requirements and the place you want the plant to be. The plant’s label will usually contain information on the light requirements of the plant. While adequate light is crucial for plant growth, keep in mind that too much light can also be damaging.
Temperature. Temperature is the second most important factor influencing plant growth in homes. People feel comfortable in the range of 72°-82°F, and interior plants can tolerate and grow well in the 58°-86°F range because many of them originate from tropical areas of the world. Be careful not to allow temperatures to drop below 50° F, or chill damage will result on some sensitive foliage plants. Chill damage can cause the yellowing of lower leaves and/or defoliation. Plants vary in their minimum and maximum temperature requirements so take a little time to research your plant’s needs.
Relative Humidity. Relative humidity is the amount of moisture contained in the air. For interior plants, relative humidity below 20% is considered low, 40% – 50% is medium, and above 50% is high. Relative humidity is a very important factor, but it is easily overlooked. Rapid transpiration and water loss may result when newly purchased plants are placed in the 10% – 20% relative humidity typical of most homes. Therefore, here are a few steps to help your plants adjust to the low relative humidity in your home. Place plants close together to create a microenvironment with a higher relative humidity. Use a shallow container filled with water and lava rocks or gravel, which will provide evaporation from a large surface area. Using a humidifier might be the ticket.
Water. Learning to water is one of the most important skills in plant care. Applying too much water can suffocate plant roots and too little water causes growth to become erratic. Watering frequency will depend on the conditions under which the plants are growing. When dealing with how much water to apply, consider the following: If the growing container is too small, watering may be required more frequently. The amount of water already present in the growing medium will also affect your watering frequency. Plants under high light transpire more water compared with plants under low light.
Nutrition. Many indoor gardeners have the same problem with fertilizer that they have with water — they want to give their plants too much. Danger from over-fertilization occurs because any fertilizer used, whether in liquid, powder, or tablet form, will dissolve in soil water and will form salts in the water. When you over-fertilize, the water in the soil becomes so salty that it “burns” the plant’s roots by removing water from them. Excess soluble salts accumulate as a whitish crust on the surface of the growing medium and/or near the rim of the container. Some plants are heavy feeders, while others need little or no additional fertilizer for months. Again, a little research of your plants needs will go a long way.
Soil. The growing medium provides anchorage, water, and minerals. When repotting plants, make sure that the new mix is well drained and aerated, holds water and nutrients well, and is within the right pH range (5.0-6.5). A good potting mix provides ample amounts of oxygen to the root system. Most professional mixes are good to use. Some plants require special mixes. Either purchase these mixes or prepare your own.
Purchase only healthy-looking plants with medium to dark green foliage (unless foliage is supposed to be a different color). Avoid plants with unnaturally spotted, yellow, or brown leaves. If the plant is unhealthy at the nursery, chances are that it will die soon after you take it home. Look for pests on the undersides of leaves. Remove the plant from the pot and examine the root system. Healthy, white roots generally are and should be visible along the outside of the soil ball and should have an earthy scent. Any discolorations, generally brown or blackened roots, are signs of problems. Please note: some plants, such as Dracaenas, have roots with colors other than white.
During these frigid winter days while the grass is the color of straw and the perennials are fast asleep why not bring a little nature inside. Enjoy a house plant. It will brighten your day, freshen up the air and remind us of God’s daily blessings.
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God will stand forever.” — Isaiah 40:8