SIDNEY — During this uncertain and scary world of COVID-19, indoor plants provide an avenue of joy and a window into nature. With directives to stay-at-home, indoor plants improve our moods by satisfying our need to nurture/care for a living thing that asks for so little, but adds so much. They bring beauty to our homes with their foliage and even their blooms while bringing enjoyment at little cost. They also provide a health benefit. During photosynthesis – the process by which green plants use sunlight to make food from carbon dioxide and water – plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, an element that we need for life.
Indoor plants are plants that have been removed from their native habitats to grow in our homes. Coming from warm tropics, cool mountain tops, and dry deserts, these plants offer many choices to fit the indoor living spaces we inhabit.
Here are some general guidelines that will help owning an indoor plant an enjoyable experience:
Since many indoor plants are sub-tropical/tropical in nature, some generalities can be applied for watering. Plants do the most growing in spring and summer, so most likely requiring a weekly watering, but two-week intervals in fall and winter. Succulents, as a general rule, need watering every two weeks or longer. Pushing your index finger up to the 2nd knuckle and finding the top 1 – 2” of soil dry, indicates watering is needed. Strive to avoid stressing the plant to the point of wilting.
There are two types of watering, top and bottom watering. To do top watering, the most common method, lift leaves and allow water to flow until it runs out the bottom. If the soil is excessively dry or the plant is pot bound, water may flow without wetting the soil, then try bottom watering. Set the plant in a container of water for 30 minutes then remove. With either method never allow the plant to sit in water, but drain it away. A turkey baster can be used to remove excess water from the saucer of a too large or heavy plant.
There are other watering considerations. Use room temperature water that has not been through a water softener. If using tap water, let it sit overnight in an open container to allow chlorine or fluoride to escape. It also helps to save the plant tag for reference, since it may contain very specific information on your plant’s particular watering needs.
There are three levels of light exposure: low, medium, and high (bright). To determine the level of light in a particular location hold your hand twelve inches above a sheet of paper. If there is a definite shadow, the level is classified as high light. A fuzzy shadow indicates medium light; no shadow means low light. Once again having the label comes in handy for your plant’s light requirements. Since indoor plants will grow toward the light source, rotate the plant regularly to maintain fullness on all sides. Since light changes with the seasons, plants may need to be moved to different locations in your home depending on light intensity.
Indoor plant fertilizers come in many forms: granular (slow-release), crystalline, liquid concentrates and spikes. They are applied when plants are actively growing, spring and summer. The crystalline and liquid concentrates should be mixed with water at half the recommended dose on the label. At this lowered strength your plant will receive a continuous diet of nutrients rather than a heavy dose every month or so. Spikes and granular are usually not recommended for indoor plants. The high concentration of fertilizer in a small area (spikes) may burn the roots. With granular’s slow release plants may receive fertilizer at a time when the plant is going through its time of rest (fall and winter). If your plant is sickly, fertilizer should not be used as a remedy.
Grooming and Cleaning
Cleaning the leaves helps the plant with photosynthesis and air exchange. A gentle warm shower in the sink or shower or a damp sponge over the leaves aids in dust removal. When leaves become faded or brown or fallen on the soil, remove them. Pinch out spent blooms. Pruning away long vines and unruly growth promotes a better-shaped, healthier plant. Wipe tools with alcohol to prevent disease and insect transfer between plants.
These basics of indoor plant care should help you enjoy the plants you have now or plan to acquire in the future. Even though the Extension office is closed until further notice, Shelby County Master Gardener volunteers can still help; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The writer is a master gardener volunteer with the OSU Extension Office.