Houseplant Basics 101-Containers

Photo Provided by kevinrosseel

Photo Provided by kevinrosseel

Your houseplants need a suitable home to live successfully indoors. That is why your choice of a container is critical to the success of your houseplant. With such a wide range of containers available, you should be able to find just the right home for your houseplant. The two most important factors to consider when choosing a container are size in both depth and diameter and drainage.

Size

Make sure that your plant has the proper root to soil volume. This simply means choosing a container that will accommodate a plant’s root system and a sufficient amount of soil to sustain it. An oversized pot holds more soil than is needed and that soil can easily become saturated with water. This will disrupt the air/water balance and will increase the houseplant’s chance of dying of root rot. You should never increase soil volume by more than one pot size when repotting.

Drainage

Unless you are growing an indoor water garden, be sure to choose containers that have drainage holes. Water must be able to drain through the soil and out of the pot. Without proper drainage, your houseplant is likely to die. If you are thinking about putting rocks at the bottom of your container to help with drainage, don’t do it. Pebbles and rocks will shorten the column of soil which will allow for the soil to become more easily waterlogged.

Aesthetics

Just because a container has to be functional doesn’t mean that it can’t be attractive too. Garden centers are full of beautiful containers that will fit any style and budget. The right container can make just as big an impression as the plant itself, so take your time and pay attention to those finishing touches, as they have a way of making all the difference.

Tips

  • Remember to buy a saucer or tray to go under a container. Many containers are sold with a container already, but make sure to get one if your container doesn’t have one.
  • Add caster wheels to the bottom of a large container for easy mobility.
  • Use decorative moss, pebbles and driftwood on the soil surface to create visual interest and to discourage pets from digging.
  • Conceal less attractive pots and saucers in decorative baskets, crocks or plant stands. Be sure to remove any plastic liners that may prohibit drainage. This is a common problem for many sick houseplants as their roots are literally being drowned and smothered. Remember that the roots need air to survive.

What are some of your favorite containers for your houseplants? Leave me a comment and share.

Houseplant Basics 101-Fertilizer

All houseplants need fertilizer to supplement their diets. Think of it as a good shot of vitamins and minerals. Although your houseplants feed on light and the nutrients in the soil, a boost of fertilizer can help to promote and support strong, healthy growth.

Fertilizers contain three major nutrients to support stem and leaf production, flowering and healthy roots. These elements are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Whenever you look at a container of fertilizer, pay close attention to the fertilizer analysis which is represented by three hyphenated numbers. For example, it may look something like this: 20-20-20 or 10-6-16, or 10-15-10 like on this bottle of “SCHULTZ” LIQUID PLANT FOOD PLUS . The first number always represents the available nitrogen in the fertilizer. The second number always represents the available phosphate and the third number always represents the available potash in the fertilizer. The higher the number, the greater the percentage by weight of that nutrient.

Houseplants require nitrogen for leafy growth. As a general rule, houseplants that are grown primarily for their foliage will require a fertilizer with a high first number, a lower second number and a third number that is comparable to the first. Houseplants that are grown primarily for their blooms are given a fertilizer with a high third number (K or potash) that promotes flower development.

Fertilizers are most beneficial to a plant during its growing season, which is February to October. During the winter months when there is less light, you will want to hold back on fertilizing unless your houseplant is beginning to show signs of new growth. Your houseplant’s consumption of fertilizer will follow its growth curve, which in turn follows a light and temperature curve.

General Rules for Fertilizing

  • Granular and liquid fertilizers work similarly. Be sure to read the instructions and mix and feed accordingly.

  • Hold off fertilizing for at least a few weeks after houseplants are repotted. It isn’t that your houseplant doesn’t need food; it is that they only need so much. Most soils contain unknown amounts of fertilizers and it is easy to overfeed your transplant.

  • Water until water flows out the bottom of the container. This step will flush out any built up soluble salt deposits. As salts become more concentrated, it becomes harder for a houseplant to take up a proper supply of water.

What is your favorite fertilizer to use in your houseplants? Leave me a comment and share.

Houseplant Basics 101-Soil

Photo provided by anitapatterson

Photo provided by anitapatterson

The quality of the potting soil you use can mean the difference between life and death for your houseplant. This means that you will want to invest in a high-quality potting soil that offers the correct balance of water and oxygen. This balance is important because the soil must be able to retain moisture long enough to sustain your houseplant between waterings as well as allow for proper drainage.

Be sure that you do not reuse potting soil from the pots of previous houseplants. If the houseplant died because of pests or disease, the potting soil could be contaminated. Even if the houseplant died because you let it dry out one too many times, do not reuse the soil. The soil may have far to few pore spaces, which are pockets of open spaces that can be filled with water, to sustain a new houseplant. As soil decomposes, it starts to lose pore space and it becomes too dense for air to infiltrate and for roots to grow properly. However, your pots can be reused. Just be sure to scrub them clean and then soak them in a solution of 10% bleach and water.

Potting Mix vs. Soil Mix

Soil is the term that most people use to describe the black medium in which we pot plants. But the truth is that most of the soil to which we refer is actually soil-less. It is completely free of what we traditionally think of as garden soil. It looks like rich garden soil and it even smells like it, but it is completely different.

Most potting mixes contain at least one of the following material: peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, sand and lime to neutralize the peat moss, bark, pumice or compost. On the other hand, soil mixes contain a blend of soil. So when you’re looking for soil, be sure to read the bags carefully and choose a high quality soil-less potting mix.

Specialty Potting Mixes

There are some houseplants that require special potting mixes like orchids, cacti and African violets. Since these houseplants are so popular, distributors have come up with special commercial blends of each type.

Orchid mixes: To the uninitiated, this planting medium might look unable to sustain anything other than a beaver. Many contain two or three types of bark, coarse sphagnum peat, fine grade pumice and sponge rock. It is a rather odd combination, but it is one that serves an important purpose.

Some species of orchids grow on trees in their natural habitat. These orchids are referred to as epiphytic plants, which are those having their roots exposed to the air. One of the reasons that orchid mixes contain bark and moss is to allow the air to move freely through the medium. This air movement allows the roots of an orchid to absorb moisture and nutrients from the humid air.

Cacti mixes: Even someone who doesn’t know much about cacti knows that these plants prefer dry soil. It should therefore come as no surprise that the standard potting medium for cacti is composed of coarse sand, potting mix, peat and perlite. Although the formula varies from one commercial mix to another, all cacti mixes are designed to provide rapid drainage.

African violet mixes: African violets like a soil that is light, loose and porous. Most African violet mixes consist of three parts peat moss, two parts vermiculite and one part perlite. Lime is also often added to bring the pH level to the 5.8 to 6.0 range. African violets hate having their roots sitting in water, so the loose, porous soil is important for the health of these plants.

What is your favorite potting soil to use with your houseplants? Leave me a comment and share.