Preparing Plants for Indoors
The arrival of fall weather is a signal for many gardeners
to turn their interest to the interior landscape. Plants are
either being brought in from outside where they have been reviving
after the difficult winter season indoors, or new plants are
purchased to make the long hours of our inclement weather confinement
Here are a few keys to success with indoor plants. To begin
with, if you've been fertilizing your plants regularly through
the summer, or if you have a new plant that's been growing vigorously,
less fertilizer will be needed during winter, and, for most
plants, none may be needed. On the other hand, if your plants
are growing vigorously and if you have a bright sunny spot for
them, or if you're using artificial lights, then you may need
monthly applications of a soluble fertilizer.
Make sure that you put your plants in an area where you have
plenty of light. If it's a place where you're comfortable reading
a newspaper, that should be sufficient. Or, consider using artificial
lights. Incandescent light sources are not particularly good
for use with plants, but fluorescents, and especially wide-spectrum
fluorescents, are excellent. Try to place the lights within
18 inches of the tops of the leaves.
How to water is often a problem. Weekly is sufficient for most
plants and if you'll put the pot in a saucer filled with pebbles
any excess water that drains through won't soak back up into
the pot and cause the roots to drown.
Temperature is also an important environmental factor. Plants
flourish much better at their natural temperature. In almost
every house, there are wide differences in temperatures between
rooms, and even between areas of the same rooms. For example,
at night, a window-sill is almost always cooler at night than
the center of the room.
Humidity is the fourth important factor to consider when growing
plants indoors. The natural habitat of a plant may have been
very humid, or very dry, or somewhere in between. The air in
most homes is usually too dry in winter to support many types
of plants with the exception of succulents. The indoor gardener
must then provide the additional humidity that the plants require.
There are several ways to increase the humidity around houseplants:
misting with lukewarm water, placing a tray of water near the
plants and grouping plants close together so that their combined
transpiration will raise the humidity around them.
Soil quality is vital. Most plants grow well in the packaged
commercial soil mixes. Be sure to choose one that is high in
organic material and has been sterilized to kill insects, diseases,
and weed seeds.
The correct container is also important. The height or diameter
of the container should be from ¼ the height or width
of the plant. Unglazed clay pots with drainage holes are usually
the best types to use because the chances of over-watering are
The steps in potting a plant are simple, but it is vital to
the future of the plant to follow them carefully. A plant needs
repotting when a mass of roots develops that presses against
the wall of the pot. To remove a plant, hold the root ball with
your hand, turn the pot upside down, tap the pot sharply, and
the plant will slide out. The job is much easier if the plant
was watered thoroughly the night before repotting. Place the
plant in a pot ½ to 1 inch larger than the previous pot.
Fill the soil in gently around the tender roots.
Of all the factors in the natural environment of a plant,
the most difficult to reproduce is the moisture content of the
soil. The amount of water a plant needs usually depends on the
temperature of the room, the kind of pot, and the size of the
plant. Be sure to soak the soil thoroughly so that every particle
is wet. Then, when the excess water drains away, the soil will
be uniformly damp and the roots can use all of the available
space. The best way to determine how much moisture is in the
earth is to touch it with your finger. Avoid over-watering -
the soil should be slightly dry before the plant is watered
There are many easy to grow houseplants - for instance Chinese
evergreen, Cast-iron plant, Maidenhair Fern, Birds-Nest-Fern,
Sansevieria, Philodendron, Pothos, Spathiphyllum and Zebrina.
These are just a few that can be used.
Some of the most dramatic houseplants, however, are the various
species of palms. The Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) is a palm that
can be used outdoors in the shade, and its shade tolerance also
makes it an excellent indoor palm. It's rather slow growing
and large specimens can be expensive, but it is a beautiful
palm well adapted to indoor conditions. The Pigmy Date Palm
(Phoenix roebeleneii) is often used as an indoor palm and unlike
its huge relative that produces commercial dates, it is more
adapted to home conditions. Fountain Palm (Livistonia chinensis)
is a palm that will grow in protected locations outdoors here,
and has huge, bright-green fan-type leaves. It would be an excellent
plant to use in an atrium. The European Fan Palm (Chamaerops
humilis) is quite hardy outdoors going as far north even as
central Texas, but it can make an excellent indoor palm as well.
With age it tends to form multiple trunks in cluster fashion.
Finally, some of the few good imitations of real plants have
been several of the artificial palms. If your thumb isn't the
least bit green, or if you need a plant for a dark hallway,
these might be permissible.
For more information about houseplants, see: