Charlotte gardeners give houseplant tips
by Ellen Goff
Houseplants are nature's air fresheners. These potted wonders — which NASA has studied for 20 years — remove contaminants carpeting, furnishings, paints and other household items give off. As houseplants soak up chemicals, they refresh the air with oxygen.
We've all heard people say, "I can't grow plants indoors — everything I touch dies."
That's hard to imagine, considering there are so many plant species and varieties to choose from. It's really a matter of finding a houseplant that fits nearly every interior climate. Perhaps these "black thumb" gardeners drown their plants, completely neglect them or set them too close to a heating source or cold doorway. All these missteps can be solved with a few tips and a little coaching.
For established, confident gardeners, look over your houseplants and carefully scrutinize their health. Eliminate the weak and sickly. The same goes for holiday bloomers such as poinsettias. Think of these plants as "potted cut flowers," intended to be enjoyed for some period of time, then discarded.
This is a perfect time to select some new healthy houseplants that can offer you a lift during the short and often gloomy days of winter. Select plants for your home's interior environment just as you do for your outdoor landscaping — according to the climate. In fact, you can select plants that will grow well inside during the colder months and thrive outside when the weather turns warm.
Bobby Walker of Roundtree Plantation in Charlotte says tropical houseplants are becoming popular to mix with annuals in our summer landscapes. "Crotons are often treated like annuals outside, showing off their colorful leaves. Then many people throw them out at the end of the season, but they're an easy houseplant to grow during the winter."
Before making a selection, begin by assessing your growing conditions. Light determines how well a plant can produce its own food. The strength of the light and a plant's proximity to the source fall into four categories:
• Low light — some distance away from a bright window, facing north.
• Medium light — 4 to 10 feet away from an east, south or west window, or placed directly in front of a north window. This is generally the best exposure for most foliage plants.
• Bright light — 4 feet or less from an east, south or west window, with some sunlight.
• Direct sunlight — intense light of a sunroom or greenhouse, best suited for most flowering plants.
Tough, hard-to-kill plants:
Cast-iron plant, mother-in-law's tongue, asparagus fern, aloe, weeping fig, hen and chicks
Easy, solid performers:
Chinese evergreen, croton, peace lily, philodendron, jade plant, grape ivy, spider plant, English ivy, Schefflera
The ideal air temperatures around your plants should be up to the mid-70s during the day and low 60s at night. Most plants can tolerate cooler rather than warmer conditions. Avoid direct contact with warm furnace air and cold drafts from exterior doorways.
Low humidity is common during the winter heating season. To increase humidity, arrange plants in grouped displays instead of rows. Place open containers of water around the space to raise the humidity. Mist your plants often with a spray bottle filled with tepid water.
Ellen Goff is a master gardener and environmental advocate. Aside from writing about and photographing plants, Ellen tends to a 3-acre landscape she shares with her husband, cat and border collie on the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.