Keep Your Houseplants Happy

This expert guidance will help ensure that your indoor plants have what they need to stay healthy and flourish all year.


| November / December 2017



houseplants

Plants of all kinds boost mood, reduce stress and can help purify the air.


Photo by iStock/imnoom

Plants make people happy. This simple fact has been proven time and again by studies showing plants’ effectiveness at bolstering mood, reducing stress and, in some cases, even purifying the air, as the NASA Clean Air Study discovered three decades ago. But you don’t need science to know that adding a couple of well-placed pots can dramatically brighten the mood of a room and bring new life to a space.

Developing a green thumb requires some practice and patience, although just about anyone can help a houseplant not only survive but thrive in its new home. Barbara Pleasant, award-winning garden writer and author of The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, has spent years working with plants and knows a thing or two about keeping them healthy all year long. The following tips, assembled with her help, will ensure your houseplants are living their best life.

Find Your Plant’s Happy Place

One of the most important considerations is where to put a houseplant — and not just for aesthetics. “Plants don’t move locations [in the wild] and if you get them in a place they like, you leave them there,” Pleasant says. “They’re stationary beings.” First, do a little research on a plant’s light and temperature requirements to minimize the trial-and-error period. If you’re purchasing a plant for a specific location, be sure to buy one that isn’t destined for failure by taking a picture of the desired location with your phone. Being able to show knowledgeable nursery or shop assistants the conditions you’re working with is “a wonderful way to pick a houseplant,” Pleasant says.

Water Wisely

When it comes to water quality, what’s OK for people isn’t necessarily ideal for plants. Tap water, though generally safe, can have negative effects on a plant over time. “Water that’s been through water softening systems and water that’s high in fluoride will give a lot of houseplants that have long strappy leaves — like dracaenas and even palms — brown tips,” Pleasant says. She recommends using filtered water or, ideally, distilled water instead, which will also help prevent potentially root-damaging salt buildup in the soil. Even if the convenience of tap water wins out most of the time, an occasional rinse with distilled water will help flush salts and other buildup in the soil.

The same goes for water quantity, which is one of the most common houseplant killers. Overwatering can cause leaves to turn yellow, roots to rot and fungus gnats to invade, while underwatering starves a plant and will cause it to wilt and dry up. Before jumping in with the watering can, be sure to test the soil with your finger or a pencil: If the soil is dry an inch beneath the surface (roughly to your index finger’s first knuckle), go ahead and give it a good soak.

Get the Pruning Shears Ready

Though pruning houseplants may seem counterintuitive, occasionally clipping back some growth will help them fill out and give them a healthy glow, particularly just before spring’s new growth period. “The best way I’ve found to get maranta and Swedish ivy to bloom is to put it outside and give it a haircut and then start watering it,” Pleasant says, recommending floral or micro snips for the job. Many plants that benefit from this yearly trim can also be easily propagated in water until new roots form, including vining varieties such as maranta, heartleaf philodendron and pothos. Start by removing dead leaves and branches, then clipping back overgrown branches until you have a healthy and more compact plant.





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