By Lori Williams, CSU Extension – Denver Master Gardener since 2016
Houseplants are so lovely and offer a nice spot of green during the Colorado winter. Almost everyone, and certainly gardeners, can find them an enjoyable extension of outdoor gardening. Be it herbs in a kitchen window, plants brought in from summer’s patio to overwinter, or the many varieties that prefer an all-year indoor existence, research shows several health benefits of houseplants, including:
- Improve employee focus and reduced sick days in the workplace.
- Reduce fatigue and boost indoor air quality.
- Lift spirits – pops of color from seasonal plants such as amaryllis or orchids can help beat the winter blues.
As with all plants, houseplants subscribe to the maxim: Right plant, right place. Many who are convinced they have a brown thumb can work through the following simple steps, find their right plant within their (right) place and achieve success. It’s not magic, complicated, or mysterious. Promise.
TIPS FOR HOUSEPLANT SUCCESS
Proper lighting is most important. Evaluate your space and select plants that will work. Find tips for evaluating light quality here.
Most houseplants like household temps that most people like, basically around 70℉.
Some plants need more humidity than typically found indoors, so grouping those together on pebble lined trays and adding water to below the top of pebbles increases the relative humidity.
Watering is unique to each plant: Overwatering kills as many plants as under watering. Plant tags and a quick google search can explain your plant’s preference. Grouping plants with similar watering needs together helps water accordingly. An inexpensive houseplant water meter is a handy tool, too.
Monitor consistently for pest and/or disease (and while shopping for them, too). Look under leaves for yellowing or leaf loss. Discovering new growth can happen here, too!
Fertilize seasonally, usually during active growing months from April through September.
If you are new to houseplants, find help selecting the best ones for your lighting and skill level. This webinar is absolutely wonderful for explaining the science behind happy houseplants and selecting the right plant for your place.
Once you’ve got a handle on the light in your space, it’s on to the fun part: Make a wish list of suitable plants and go strolling through your favorite local garden center. Enjoy the immersion in the elevated oxygen of the greenhouse, ask their staff questions, and peruse the gorgeousness you will find.
Aesthetically, it’s fun to mix up plant structures – tall and reedy, soft and velvety, draping growth habitat, foliage colors. Are you wanting something that blooms? Violets, bromeliads, or cyclamens might be the ticket. Or is self-sufficiency key? Sansevieria, pothos, schefflera or succulents are rewarding lower maintenance options.
Another tip is to inspect plants before you buy by checking under the leaves and at the soil line. Sometimes creepy crawlies sneak their way in to even the most professional greenhouses!
Regardless of the time of year, all houseplants need a little TLC. During winter months, with non-melting snow, dreary skies and almost freezing temps projected for days – houseplant pampering can perk up plants and us – their peeps! Here’s how I do it:
- Gather the basics: Gloves, clippers, potting mix, a small fork or chopstick, fertilizer, watering can, and a bowl of water to keep any clippings hydrated for propagation.
- Collect plants in the shower or tub and gently spray or splash off the mid-winter dust. It’s a nice humidity boost for them, too.
- Soak soil thoroughly and let the container drain. Clip, pluck or pinch off dead, diseased, or discolored matter. If the foliage is looking a bit limp or weak you can fertilize lightly with half strength of your favorite brand.
- Inspect plants for disease and pests. If any are present, you’ll find remedies here.
- This is a good time to select plant parts for propagating and prune to reshape foliage. Check out good tips here.
- Gently disturb the top 1” of container’s soil and apply a top dressing of potting mix. Depending on your plant’s preferred growing conditions, this can also be a good time to repot root bound varieties.
- Return the plant to its home. Every few weeks, rotate the plant so it receives even light on all sides.
- Dispose of diseased matter rather than composting it to avoid spreading the disease further. Compost temps need to reach at least 150℉ to kill pathogens which is a struggle for home compost bins to reach during winter months.
Houseplants offer a verdant element to our homes and workplaces. They are as varied and interesting as the people who share them!