Sometimes it’s easy to take them for granted, with a little effort they soon become part of the fixtures and fittings of your home and one thing is for sure, my home would not be the same without houseplants. Plants bring a home to life and with a few tips and tricks they will soon become part of the family. No garden, no problem. Living in rented digs and moving frequently? The houseplant is your access to having an indoor garden.
If you are starting out it may be tricky to choose which plants to pick as the choices can be wide and varied. For those of you with busy lives I recommend starting with the tougher characters like rubber plants (Ficus decora), cheese plants (Monstera), African peace lily (Spathyphyllum) and the genus Calatheas. These are some of the indoor tougher characters, not too difficult to care for and once you've mastered their care you can move on to more specialised plants like cacti, orchids or terrariums.
One great idea is to make sure you mix your planting together, plants thrive better in communities, a Ficus can be under planted with Calatheas or Spathyphyllum; in short, I call these rainforest pots, with a larger canopy plant underplanted with groundcover. Or create mini gardens with a mixture of three or four plants of differing heights and habits.
Where to site houseplants – Once you've picked your plants it’s important to give some consideration to where you want to site them. The vast majority of houseplants like a well lit spot but will be uncomfortable for long periods in direct bright sunshine. A well-lit corner of a room is ideal for the bigger plants like rubber or cheese plants. The most important rule is to stand them away from heat sources, that means away from radiators or gas fires. Houseplants will hate sudden changes in temperature and will express their displeasure by suddenly dropping leaves. Another indicator is the browning of leaf edges, this occurs because the plant is transpiring too much water and cell death occurs in the leaf margins.
Many of my houseplants are purchased, received or propagated as small plants as I love to see them put on growth. However, they soon need bigger pots and it’s important to think about houseplant composts. Most will like an open, free draining soil, so avoid the heavy green waste composts. I know they are tempting because they are cheap, but houseplants won’t appreciate soggy roots and wet compost will also encourage Scarid fly. During my time working with tropical collections at botanic gardens, we used to mix our own composts, something I still like to do.
I will use a peat-free potting compost and mix it with 20 percent fine chipped bark and then 10 percent loam soil. The bark allows for decent drainage and oxygen supply to the roots and the loam aids nutrient retention. A handful of comfrey pellets mixed in will do no harm either. A good rule to remember when choosing pots is the bigger the pot the bigger the plant - so if you want one of those large majestic cheese plants in the corner of the front room then keep potting on once the roots fill out its current container. For arid loving houseplants like cactus, mix some decent compost with 30 percent silver sand.
When to water - this is the most asked question and easily the most common reason for managing to kill them. I will put this in the simplest terms, water feely in the spring and summer and ease right up in the winter. I will check my houseplants for water every few days in the growing season, using my fingers to check the moisture content of the soil. The plants will be active and thirsty during the growing season. In winter however, watering is reduced to once a month. I like my plants to sit mostly dry during the dark months but as always, I never ignore them - they are living creatures so get into the habit of checking their welfare. Another good tip is to spray them down from time to time with a hand sprayer of water, obviously make sure nothing electrical is nearby. This would be known as damping down in a professional setting and it increases the humidity around the plant, something it will enjoy. It will also help inhibit potential pests like the dreaded Red Spider Mite, a big nemesis of the houseplant.
On the whole houseplants are not particularly greedy plants, most of the common ones originate from rainforests and are excellent at surviving on minimal nutrients. However, they do seem to enjoy the watering or foliar spraying of seaweed extract. This I do once a month, it also helps prevent your houseplant leaves going yellow or chlorotic as it has magnesium content. A sprinkle of organic comfrey pellets and a thin top-dress of fine bark in early spring is also good practise but on the whole it’s fairly simple.
Like all household items a good clean of the leaves is required from time to time as they will collect dust which will in turn reduce the leaves’ ability to photosynthesise. Only use water, there are sprays for shining leaves on the market, but water is more than sufficient. This is also a good time to check for sap sucking pests like mealy bug or scale, remove these by rubbing them off or if it is a really bad infestation, prune them out.
Once you start growing houseplants, I guarantee you’ll soon become addicted and more and more will pop up around the home. They create a relaxing atmosphere in the home and benefit our mental well-being. They are mostly easy to propagate, and many will root in water or will divide. It’s good fun to swap material with fellow gardeners and houseplant enthusiasts so go on get foliating your home today.