Tips on Indoor Houseplant Care

A lot of us will be the lucky recipients of beautiful Valentine’s Day plants this year. And, unlike the box of chocolates, they stand a good chance of being around for a while. Naturally, they’re going to need a little TLC, but it’s not too difficult. After all you don’t want the gift from that special someone to get neglected and wither away. If you’re not too sure of where to start, here are some easy-care tips.

Potted plants in windows should be turned occasionally to keep them shapely. Be sure to keep them away from windows that have a tendency to heat up excessively. Plants should also be kept away from heat sources such as registers, radiators, and the like. Your plants will need fresh air, but don’t place them in a drafty spot.

We all know the importance of water. But do you know precisely when to water a plant? Many people just pour a little in every day and leave it at that. That’s not the ideal way to go about it. Don’t let the calendar dictate when you water. Instead, let the plant tell you. That’s right. Poke your finger into the soil slightly. If the soil sticks to your finger, it’s moist enough and doesn’t need any more water. If soil doesn’t stick, the plant’s telling you it’s thirsty. Another way to tell if water is necessary is to simply lift it up the plant. If it feels extremely light, give it a drink.

Plants send out other signals when they’re in need of water. They begin to wilt. Foliage becomes dull or very shiny. Flowers and flower buds drop. Tiny leaves and stem tips may die.

Some plants, such as African violets, cyclamen, gloxinia, and others can be watered from the bottom. Set the plant in a saucer or pan of water. Let it soak up water until you see droplets glistening on the surface of the soil.

After your plants have been around for a while, it’s a good idea to examine them. You may find layers of dust here and there. Dust not only affects the plant’s appearance, it can also affect its health. The solution is just what you may be thinking. The plant could use a bath. For large-leaved plants, simply wipe the leaves with a damp cloth. Use a gentle shower for the smaller-leaved ones.

If the plant becomes riddled with water spots, you can clean the leaves with a mild soap cloth. Be sure to rinse the plant well to remove all the soap.

Don’t wash, wipe or polish African violets, though. Instead, dust them with a soft cloth or brush. If you wash them, water spots may result, and they’re difficult to remove without damaging the leaves.

Most indoor flowering plants prefer high-phosphorus plant foods. Look at the three numbers on the container of plant food. You want one with a higher middle number, such as 15-30-15. Other plants may prefer a balanced diet such as 20-20-20. There are special foods for African violets and orchids. When in doubt, ask someone at your local nursery. In case you’re wondering what those numbers mean, they tell you plenty about exactly what’s in the container. We can get into more details another time. But for now, go with that.

Whatever plant food you use, be sure to follow the directions to the letter. Too much of a good thing definitely applies here, and excessive feeding can be as bad as not enough.

Follow these tips for plant care, and your beautiful Valentine’s Day gift (and any other indoor houseplants) should be around to enjoy for a long time to come.

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