ENTERTAINMENT  :   Lifestyle

Tips for taking care of your indoor plants

Saturday , 01 August 2015

Like pets, it’s equally important to take care of your indoor house plants as well. However, nurturing your ‘Green Friends’ properly, can be challenging, as extra effort is needed to make them last for a longer time. To understand the small steps you can take to help them grow, TGI brings you some useful tips…

Choose your plants carefully

Before you buy your indoor plant, it is important to understand that all plants need food, water and sunlight to survive, but different plants require different amounts of each of these. Therefore, choose only those houseplants that will thrive on the amount of light you can provide inside your home. A few good houseplants you can consider, are dragon trees, ficus, mother-in-law tongue, peace lily, umbrella plants, kalanchoes, African violets, orchids, sweetheart plant, and arrowhead, among others.

Provide them with light

Select only those plants for which your home can provide the right amount of light. Tough survivors like cast iron plant or snake plant can survive in dim corners or interiors, but others, especially blooming plants need bright windows or supplemental fluorescent lights. A south-facing window is the ideal place for plants which require full sunlight. Indoor plants also thrive close to east and west-facing windows, as here moderate sunlight filters through. North facing windows have very little sun, thus avoid them.

Always avoid placing indoor plants close to air conditioning ducts, on television or a radiator or between curtains and a frosty window, as that may restrict their growth due to excessive heat.

Ensure right amount of watering

Here you have to be very careful, as overwatering is one of the most common causes of a houseplant’s death. Each houseplant has different watering requirement. For example, cacti and succulents need less water, while flowering plants usually need slightly more. However, most plants like having their roots consistently moist, but not wet and some plants prefer to dry out a bit, between watering cycles. It’s best to water your plant, on an ‘when-needed basis’, rather than setting a fixed schedule.

The best way to water plants is to keep a saucer underneath the pot to catch drips, and empty it after watering. Water it until you can see it trickle-out of the bottom.

If you see brown tips on the leaves of your plants, the air in your home is probably too dry. In such a case, add moisture by grouping plants together or putting them on top of pebbles in trays or saucers filled with a little water.

Keep grooming periodically

Carry out regular grooming, to enhance the looks of your houseplants. Wash the leaves with a gentle shower or dust them with a soft brush, if the plant has hairy leaves. Washing improves the plant’s appearance and keeps the leaf pores unobstructed, so that the it can absorb additional light. If you have flowering houseplants, pick the spent blooms, to encourage growth of more flowers. Always pluck-off dead or yellow leaves, too, and cut stems that have lost their leaves, to the soil line.

Prune and pinch once in a while

Pruning makes your houseplants look better. Remove all dead or diseased leaves and stems, to help prevent the problem from spreading. If a plant has a branch that’s too long, cut it back to a side shoot or main stem. Also rejuvenate overgrown houseplants by cutting them back to 4 to 6 inches in height. This technique is effective in encouraging new growth, in trailing plants such as Swedish ivy that may have become bare at their bases.

Pinching is to remove stem tips with pruners. Pinch out the tip of a stem and the topmost leaves to promote growth of side buds. Plants that grow rapidly often look best with frequent pinching to keep them compact and bushy.

Regularly feed your plants

Regular fertilising maintains healthy growth of houseplants. But like watering, it too has to be in right quantities. As feeding depends on plant’s growth rate and age, and the time of the year, avoid feeding them when they’re not actively growing, or if they are stressed. Generally, houseplants should be fertilized from January through September, and should then be allowed to rest for a few months.

However, it is extremely important to avoid over fertilising plants, as this can lead to burning of roots, thus restricting growth. For flowering varieties, use a fertiliser in which three important ingredients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) are in relatively equal quantities. If nitrogen content is too high, the plant may grow a lot of leaves, but few flowers. Similar problems occur if the other two fertilisers are in excess.

Timing for repotting

Summer is the best season for repotting your houseplants. Check the root systems to find out whether your plants need repotting. If the roots are circling the inside of the container, it may be right time to repot your plant. If the plant has outgrown its pot, you can transplant it into another larger flower pot. If you’d like to keep it in the same pot, trim off some of the roots with a sharp knife and then replant it into the pot, using fresh potting soil.

Care during your absence

If you are out on vacation, then there are various ways to take care of your plants. A day before leaving, trim foliage of mature plants, so they will require less water. Water all mature plants thoroughly, the night before leaving. Also use a hydrogen peroxide mixture to kill any potential fungus gnat eggs, lurking beneath the soil.

For self-watering, place gallon jugs of distilled water around the plants and cut long pieces of natural twine to put inside the jug, with just a few inches remaining outside. Place the jugs next to your plants and tape over the jug opening with duct tape, to slow down evaporation. Place the remaining end of each twine piece, inside your pots so it’s lying on the soil. The water will travel through the twine, into the pot.

Combat insects and diseases

Insects and diseases are two common ailments, as far as plants are concerned. Before you start watering the plants, always inspect both sides of the leaves for fungus gnats or spider mites. Besides this precaution, dust and grime pose additional danger to the health of the plant, as they make it difficult for a plant to respirate. Dust also filters sunlight before it reaches the plant, decreasing the amount of photosynthesis the plant can undertake.

To counter these adverse situations, use insecticidal soap or Neem oil for soft-bodied pests, such as aphids and spider mites. A forceful spray of lukewarm water from the hose may knock down the population of these pests, while rubbing alcohol can restrict insects with waxy coatings like scale and mealybugs. To avoid little flies from plants, do not tip tea and coffee into plant containers, as the sugar left in the compost can make it an ideal breeding ground for flies. Always use sterile soil to plant. That will minimize problems with fungus gnats and other soil-borne diseases.