Indoor plants brighten home

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 | 4:00 p.m. CST; updated 3:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Houseplants brighten up any home or office, and caring for them can be a great hobby during the long months of winter. Houseplants, also called indoor plants, offer many benefits. Besides cleaning the air in the home or office, they also brighten up the room, providing a cheerful sight on dark, dreary days. Also, there is something very relaxing about gardening, and caring for houseplants is a way of extending the gardening season.

Factors to consider for growing houseplants are: light, humidity and temperature.

n Light: Most houseplants grow best in bright, indirect light, but many plants can adapt to various light levels. Some plants do better in certain exposures than others, and there are plants suited for all light levels.

Plants that would do well in low light are prayer plant, cast-iron plant, parlor palm and snake plant.

Medium light plants are asparagus fern, spider plant, grape ivy, giant dumb cane, corn plant, India rubber plant, English ivy, Boston fern and African violets.

High levels of light are needed for aloe vera, Norfolk Island pine, coleus, jade plant, Christmas cactus, wax plant and begonia.

n Humidity: Most houseplants prefer levels between 40 and 60 percent. A room humidifier would provide increased humidity, making it comfortable for both plants and people. Grouping plants together also helps raise the humidity level in the area of the plants. Plants give off moisture and putting the plants together lets them benefit from this evaporation. Another good idea to increase humidity is to place the group of plants on a tray of moistened pebbles. The humidity level is raised as the water evaporates.

n Temperature: Foliage plants prefer temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees during the day and 55 to 60 at night. Very high temperatures can be detrimental to all houseplants.

Watering, or knowing when not to water, is also important when caring for your houseplants. The best way to tell if a plant needs water is to feel the soil and see how dry it is. When the top inch is dry, it’s time to water. There is really no set schedule for watering the plants as each plant will have different needs.

Top watering and bottom watering are both good methods. When watering from the top, apply the water until it starts coming out of the drainage holes. Be sure to apply the water evenly to the soil surface. With bottom watering, salts may accumulate in the soil and need to be flushed out from the top every once in a while. After a thorough watering, be sure to empty the tray underneath the plant so the plant doesn’t sit in water for too long. It is also important to remember not to water too often as this could cause the roots to rot and doesn’t allow for the oxygen needed for growth.

Most houseplants do not need much fertilizer. The best time to fertilize is when the plant is actively growing. There are fertilizers especially made for houseplants that have a balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Many plants in your outdoor garden make for good indoor houseplants, too. Plan early to pick out what plants you want to bring inside when fall arrives. Buy your potting soil and containers before the fall season is over and while the selection is still good. Be sure to place the plants in the area where they will have the best growing environment.

Keeping these few points in mind, you will be able to have plenty of enjoyment from your plants during the cold months of winter. For an excellent resource on houseplants and gardening, check out the Web site of the Missouri Botanical Garden and scroll down to Kemper Factsheets.

Barbara Michael has been a Master Gardener since 1993, and she serves as the Master Gardener’s liaison to the Community Garden Coalition as well as serving on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at

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