Houseplant Basics 101-Watering

Photo provided by kevinrosseel

Photo provided by kevinrosseel

There are several tools and gadgets on the market today that are designed to measure the moisture in the soil of your houseplants. However, be advised that there really isn’t any secret method to checking whether a house plant needs water. All you really need to do is walk over, stick your finger into the potting soil, scratching down around 2 to 3 cm into the soil. If the soil is moist, it will feel about as wet as a damp sponge. In fact, the soil should also feel a little spongy too. Even when the top of the soil is dry, there may actually be enough moisture just beneath the surface for your houseplants.

How much water your houseplants need and how often they need it will depend on the following factors:

  • Type of house plant
  • Size of house plant
  • Size and type of container
  • Soil composition
  • Humidity of the growing environment
  • Season
  • Location of the plant in the room
  • Average room temperature

You will need to know your houseplants preferences and water them accordingly. Don’t forget that although most houseplants will forgive a missed watering here and there, not all houseplants are as forgiving and tolerant. For example, Boston ferns hate soil that is dry, while cacti hate being too wet.

Watering Methods

Most houseplants seem to get watered from the top, but that is really more about the preference of the person watering it than it is about the houseplant’s preference. In fact, most houseplants could care less if they are watered from the top or from the bottom as long as they are watered regularly and sufficiently.

Generally, in order to check that you are giving your houseplants enough water, you will want to check for water running through the drainage holes at the bottom of your container. This runoff is especially important as it flushes the excess salts from the soil. Be sure to drain any water that remains at the base of the saucer.

Watering from the top

  • Consider grouping your houseplants together in the bathtub and giving them a gentle watering and shower. After you have watered, leave your houseplants in the tub for a few hours. This will allow them to drain properly and will help you to not track water all across your home.
  • Do not water form high above your plant. Place the spout of your watering can close to the lip of the container and water from a different side each time. Watering from the same spot each and every time will wash away sections of topsoil and leave craters behind.

Watering from the bottom

There are some plants, such as African violets, that prefer to wick water through the drainage holes in the bottoms of their pots. They will essentially draw up water until the soil is moist. This method is particularly beneficial to fuzzy-leaved houseplants that tend to blemish whenever they come into contact with water.

Whichever method you choose, your houseplants will thank you and be grateful for a regular and consistent watering schedule. Which method do you prefer? Leave me a comment and share.

Houseplant Basics 101-Temperature & Humidity

Photo Provided by bluekdesign

Photo Provided by bluekdesign

If you were providing your houseplants an ideal world, then you would help them to feel at home by adjusting the temperature of their indoor environment to mimic their natural environment. However, this is not really practical and your own comfort will most likely come before your houseplants. And even if you were to choose the comfort of your houseplants over your own, the reality is that your home has warmer and cooler spots that are just waiting to present problems.

Since there are so many species of houseplants, it would follow that there is a wide range of ideal growing temperatures. Lucky for us that houseplants are fairly tolerant and reasonable when it comes to variations from their ideal. As a general rule of thumb, you will want to keep temperatures during the nighttime a few degrees cooler than the temperatures of the daytime.

The cooler nighttime temperature is important because it allows your houseplants to store energy. When the temperature at night is hot, your houseplants have no choice but to burn a portion of the energy that they worked so hard to accumulate during the day. Flowering houseplants especially appreciate a cool rest in the evenings because it prolongs the life of the flowers and the intensity of the colors.

Here is a list of conditions that your houseplants will generally NOT like:

  • Extreme changes in temperature
  • Cold drafts from windows or exterior doors
  • Hot air blasts from fireplaces, heat registers or exterior doors
  • Close proximity to hot or cold window panes
  • Night temperatures that dip below 57?F (14?C)
  • Daytime temperatures in the upper 68? to 86?F (20? to 30?C)

Relative humidity is simply a measure of the amount of water that the air will hold in a given temperature. The reason that it becomes an important factor in the health of your houseplant is that it affects the amount of moisture that your houseplant may lose.

The ideal relative humidity for the majority of houseplants is about 60%. However, during the winter when our homes are much drier, a more realistic percentage to aim for is 25%. Do not try to raise the relative humidity to 60% during the winter as your windows will have more condensation that you would probably want or enjoy. Although your plants may appreciate your efforts, remember that you can grow a beautiful houseplant in a dry home or office. Keep in mind that there are both deserts and rainforests in nature and plants will thrive in both types of environments.

Here is a list of ways to maintain an ideal humidity level for your houseplants:

  • Use a humidifier
  • Group plants closely together so they can benefit from each other’s transpiration
  • Keep plants away from heat sources such as registers and fireplaces
  • Grow plants that are extra sensitive to humidity in a terrarium if they are small enough

Some of the symptoms that you may see that may indicate that a houseplant is suffering from a lack of water, including relative humidity are brown leaf edges, abnormally small leaves, misshapen plant growth and drooping or wilting. It is important to remember that in most cases, the real problem will be a lack of soil moisture and not a low relative humidity.

How do you address the problems of temperature and humidity in your houseplants? Leave me a comment and share.

Houseplant Basics 101: Light

When it comes to houseplants, they have several basic needs: light, a temperature that is comfortable, humidity, soil, water, fertilizer and physical space. When you place all of these needs into one list, it can seem a little daunting to just cover the basic needs. However, understanding their significance requires a very small investment of your time. And when it comes to houseplants, a little knowledge really does go a long way.

I will cover each of these aspects for you over the next few days. Today we will begin with the first one: Light. Houseplants, just like people need energy to grow. But whereas people seem to obsess over avoiding carbohydrates, plants obsess over making them. I am referring of course, to photosynthesis, or the process by which plants take energy from the sun and convert it into sugars that can be used to grow. This is perhaps one of the most important chemical processes in the world.

Measuring Light

Light is the single most important factor in determining whether your houseplants will thrive or die. It is also one of the most misunderstood factors. It simply comes down to understanding that the amount of light your plants receive will determine if they are rapidly dying plants, slow-dying plants, plants that neither gain nor lose growth, slow-growing plants or rapidly growing plants.

Because light is not able to be held in your hands or poured into a glass and measured, you will need to think about it in terms of intensity, quality and duration. So what does that mean? Here is a general rule of thumb:

  • Intensity of light: the strength of light available
  • Quality of light: the wavelengths or colors of light
  • Duration of light: the amount of time plants are exposed to light in a 24-hour period.

The relationship between these three factors is important to consider. For example, if the quality of light is high, but there isn’t much of it (intensity), pr it doesn’t last very long (duration), will your houseplant do well? Most definitely not. In an ideal world, you would want to give your houseplants the perfect intensity of the highest quality spectrum light for the optimal amount of time. But since that will never happen, you will need to compromise and manipulate it for your houseplant. Although a short burst of perfect light is wonderful, it is better for your houseplant to have 12 hours of lower quality light.

Light Factors

The greatest challenge that you will have is providing your houseplants with enough light. Although initially it may seem like a fairly easy task to provide your houseplants with the ideal quantity of light, it can actually be just a little more complicated. You may want to consider factors that will complicate and reduce the amount of natural light that gets to the leaves of your houseplants. These may include the following:

  • Not as much sunlight enters your home in the winter as it does in the summer. In fact, winter light may only be 20% of the light you receive in the summer.
  • Moving plants even a few extra feet away from a window will cause a dramatic reduction in sunlight. A few feet may not sound like much, but it is not uncommon to see a 100-fold drop in light when a houseplant is moved from a windowsill to a table a few feet away.
  • Windows are not a source of sunlight. They merely allow light to pass through with, at best, 93% sunlight transmission. The sunlight transmission may drop to 50% if your windows are tinted.
  • Windows which face the south will usually provide the greatest amount of sun exposure.

There are many other factors that may contribute to inconsistent natural light throughout the year. These include things such as fog, cloud cover, elevation, drapes and window treatments, the presence of ultraviolet-blocking coatings, dirt or dust on the window, reflections from light-colored interior paint and the presence of awnings, overhangs or shade trees near the windows.

What are your biggest challenges with light sources for your houseplants? Leave me a comment and share.