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Maintenance of Interior Foliage PlantsThere is no such thing as a "house plant." Plants grown in interior spaces actually come from tropical or arid regions and must adapt to less than ideal conditions in the home or office. The gardener's challenge is to know the plant's environmental needs and meet them. The interaction of environmental factors and maintenance practices contribute to the health or decline of the plant.
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Reference: Ohio State University Extension
It is important to begin with good quality, healthy, pest-free plants. Check that leaves possess good color for the species, with no brown tips or margins. Look for insects, mites and signs of disease.
Characteristics of light to consider include intensity, quality and duration. Intensity refers to the amount of light present and will vary by season, shade cast by objects outdoors, cloudiness, or by window treatments used. Intensity decreases greatly from outdoor to indoor spaces and can vary greatly within a single room. A southern exposure indoors typically provides the greatest light intensity, then western, eastern, and northern.
Plants with variegated foliage have less chlorophyll and therefore require more light to achieve the same photosyn-thesis as a plant with green foliage. If light is insufficient, variegation may be lost. Flowering plants also require higher light intensity.
As winter approaches, light intensity and duration will diminish. A plant that grew well in an eastern exposure in the summer may require a southern exposure in the winter. Move plants to other locations seasonally if needed.
Symptoms of insufficient light intensity include: weak growth; long, spindly stems; poor color in older leaves; and leaf loss or failure to flower.
Quality of light refers to the spectrum or colors available; sunlight contains all colors. Plants utilize all colors in photosynthesis. An incandescent light bulb emits limited colors and is not acceptable as an indoor lighting source for plants. To grow plants under artificial fluorescent light, most indoor gardeners combine a cool and warm tube in a fixture to provide light of good quality for many interior plants. "Grow lights" emit the required light; these fluorescent tubes are more costly than others but last longer.
Duration refers to the length of light exposure. A daily exposure to light, preferably 8 to 16 hours, is needed for plant processes. Symptoms of insufficient duration are similar to those of low light intensity; small leaves, spindly stems and older leaf drop.
Air temperature is quite variable within a home or office and can change daily or seasonally. Exposure may affect temperature; typically, southern and western exposures are warm because of sunlight, while eastern and northern are moderate or cool. Avoid locating plants on cold window sills, or where there are cold or hot drafts from opening doors and heating or air conditioning vents.
Symptoms of cold damage to plants include: leaf spots or blotches; downward curled foliage; slowed growth; and root rots. Excessively high temperatures cause yellowish green foliage which may have brown, dry edges or tips and spindly growth. Insect, mite and disease problems may develop quickly under warm conditions as well.
Attempt to raise the humidity indoors by grouping plants together; using a room or furnace humidifier; watering properly and avoiding drafts and high temperatures. A pebble tray may also work; layer pebbles in a tray and fill with water to just the top of the pebbles. Set pots on the pebbles, just above water level. Double potting may work, too; sink pots in a larger container, then fill in between pots with moistened sphagnum moss. Misting foliage has not proven useful in raising humidity as water droplets evaporate rapidly.
Most plants thrive in a mix containing: one to two parts potting soil, one to two parts moistened sphagnum peat moss and one part coarse sand or perlite. Vermiculite can be used in place of perlite; however, it tends to compress over time whereas perlite is physically stable.
Native soil from the garden can be used in a mix if it is first "pasteurized." Soil should be moistened 24 hours prior to heating. Place soil on a baking sheet, two inches deep, and heat in an oven at 180°F for 30 minutes. Generally, native soil is high in clay content and does not make the best mix.
Pots without drainage holes should have a layer of gravel or broken clay shards in the bottom for excess water drainage; be very careful not to saturate soil in such containers.
Used pots can be reused if cleaned thoroughly or heat sterilized. Scrub with a 10% solution of chlorine bleach and water, using a stiff brush, or wash pots in the dishwasher.
It is impossible to impose a strict watering schedule because a plant's needs change. Need can change depending on a number of factors: the plant species; the type and size of pot; soil mix characteristics; variable weather conditions; and how fast the plant is growing. For example, the same plant that uses abundant water when the weather is hot, dry and sunny, will use less water when conditions are cloudy and damp.
Plants may slow in growth after a period of heavy bloom, after a flush of new growth, or during a prolonged period of dark or cloudy weather. Be especially careful not to overwater such plants.
The best way to determine when a plant needs water is to feel the soil mix with your finger tip. If cool and barely moist to the touch, the plant is considered moderately moist. If the soil mix is slightly moist, or questionable, it is best to wait another day or two and retest before watering. Cacti and succulents can tolerate greater dryness; let the soil become crumbly dry for several days before watering. Another method to determine when to water is to use the weight of the container. A dry container and soil mix will be lightweight compared to one that has just been watered.
Most plants do well when the soil mix is "moderately moist." After watering thoroughly, allow the soil mix to dry to a slightly moist condition before watering again. Completely saturate the soil mix with water to fill all the pore spaces. Pour enough water into the pot that it drains out through the drainage hole. This method is also beneficial in leaching out excess fertilizer salts in the soil, which build up over time. It also exchanges the air in the soil mix. Do not allow drainage water to seep back into the soil mix; empty the saucer of excess water as soon as the container drains completely.
Do not allow the soil mix to dry excessively. If the salt level is high in the container, root damage can occur. If a plant's soil mix is excessively dry and hard to rewet, try double watering. Water once and then again half an hour later; or place the pot in a sink or bucket filled with water. Remove it from the sink or bucket when the soil surface is moist. Allow the pot to drain after using one of these methods.
Plants should not be watered with hot or cold water. A water temperature between 62°F and 72°F is good. Do not water plants with softened water which adds sodium and chloride to the soil mix and could cause plant damage.
Complete, water-soluble fertilizers are a good choice. Choose a balanced fertilizer for foliage plants, such as a 10-10-10, and one that is higher in phosphorus for flowering plants, such as a 5-10-5. These numbers represent the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer.
Using a "continuous feed" method is preferred over the "once a month" method. Dilute fertilizer to about one tenth the recommended label rate and use this solution to water plants at every watering. Once a month, flush pots with clear water to wash out excess salts.
House plant fertilizer stakes are a continuous feed method as some fertilizer dissolves with each watering over a period of three to twelve months. However, use these with caution since it is not easy to correct a salts problem should it occur. If the plant goes into a dormant phase or if dark and cloudy weather occurs, these fertilizers can't be leached quickly from the soil mix.
Pots that have a white discoloration near the top or bottom or a crust of salts at the soil line may indicate that the plant is being over fertilized and/or possibly overwatered. If salts are high and the soil excessively dry, root damage or death is possible.
Typically, the growing stem tip is removed, just above a node. Pinch with your thumb and forefinger, or use a sharp scissors to make the cut.
Mature plants can be pinched to produce dense, bushy growth, especially on fast growing, soft-stemmed plants with long, lanky stems. Once side shoots form, they can be pinched to promote even more new growth.
A plant needs repotting if roots are growing out of the drainage hole or "surfacing" in the pot, if the plant wilts shortly after watering, or if it requires frequent watering. As roots grow they compact the soil, decreasing the pore space which holds water and air for the root system.
Choose a pot one or two inches larger in diameter. With each inch diameter increase in pot size, the volume of soil nearly doubles. For example, a four inch diameter pot holds two and a half cups of soil; a five inch pot holds four and a half cups. If a plant is repotted into too large a pot, the root system is surrounded by a large volume of soil which can become excessively moist and be slow to dry out, which can lead to root rot.
Make sure the plant to be repotted is slightly moist. Remove it from its pot and gently disturb the root system with your fingers so that roots are headed outward from the root ball. If the roots are very tight and compact in the pot, score the rootball with a knife to loosen them. Place some soil mix in the new pot and position the plant so it will be at the same depth; fill in around the sides of the ball with new soil mix. Water well so excess water drains out of the container.
For plants in large containers that are impossible to repot, carefully remove the top two or three inches of soil and replace with fresh soil every two year's. This process is known as topdressing.
Summering Plants Outdoors
Consider moving plants indoors as night temperatures approach 50°F in late summer. Gradually reduce light levels by moving plants from sun, to light shade, to heavy shade over a period of a week, and then inside. Once inside, leaf yellowing and drop may occur as the plant re-adjusts to lower light conditions.
Plants should be carefully inspected for insect or mite pests before bringing them indoors. Control any pests found as indoor conditions may allow populations to increase rapidly.
Many gardeners choose not to summer plants outdoors because of the potential pest problems and the stress plants usually undergo once moved back indoors.
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|Data Source: Ohio State University Extension. Articles and resource may contain pesticide recommendations that are subject to change at any time. These recommendations are provided only as a guide and it is always the pesticide applicator's responsibility, by law, to read and follow all current label directions for the specific pesticide being used.|