How to find the right houseplant

How to find the right houseplant

by Ellen Goff

We've all heard people say, "I can't grow plants indoors — everything I touch dies."

In this modern age, it's hard to imagine. 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 greenery 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 in your yard or on the deck when the weather turns warm.

Begin by assessing your growing conditions: Check the light, air temperature and relative humidity inside. 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.

The ideal air temperatures around your plants should be up to the mid-70s during the day and low 60s at night. Conditions that are too warm can cause stunted or soft growth, or the plant can dry out too quickly or simply die. 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. Or, place your plants on top of small trays filled with pebbles and water. Mist your plants often with a spray bottle of 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.

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Jacqueline Franklin

Subject: Nats

How do you get rid of all the nats in the soil around house plants. They are driving me crazy. Someone told me the eggs were in the soil.

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