Brookings Record | From the Garden: Keeping Tropical Plants Healthy
Tropical plants fill our homes and work spaces, adding beauty, relieving stress, and enhancing creativity, productivity and focus. Keep these plants healthy and looking their best by providing for their basic needs.
Select plants that will thrive in the growing conditions in your home or office and with your level of care. Busy gardeners should look for low-maintenance plants such as ZZ plants, Chinese evergreens, pothos and philodendrons while others may opt for ferns, peace lilies, baby tears and gardenias that require a little more attention and care.
Light is the most common limiting factor when growing plants indoors. Matching plants to the required light is the first step in success. Plant labels, university websites, and plant books can provide you with this information. If you’re lucky enough to have an east- or west-facing window, you can grow a variety of plants. High-light plants should be kept 2 feet from these windows. Low-light plants can be placed up to six feet back or on the side of an east- or west-facing window or in front of a north-facing window. Keep in mind that buildings, canopies, trees and awnings can reduce the amount of sunlight reaching plants.
Fortunately, there are now more options for energy-efficient decorative grow lights, increasing your indoor gardening opportunities. Furniture pendants, clips, floor lights and plant racks provide needed light to plants and add decorative elements to your home.
Proper watering is next on the list of key factors for healthy growth and longevity of indoor plants. Most tropical plants prefer evenly moist soil that resembles a wrung out sponge. Water well with lukewarm water when the top few inches of the potting mix begin to dry out. Get rid of any excess water that collects in the dish. Allowing plants to sit in water can lead to root rot and plant death.
To achieve proper irrigation, seek help from moisture-retaining products such as Wild Valley Farms Organic Wool Granules (wildvalleyfarms.com). Made from wool waste, this sustainable product reduces irrigation by up to 25% and increases pore space in the soil for proper drainage and better plant growth.
Create attractive groups of plants with the increased humidity that most tropical plants need for their healthiest growth. When one plant loses moisture through the leaves, often called transpiration, neighboring plants benefit. Go one step further by using gravel trays. Place plant pots on saucers or trays filled with pebbles. Allow excess water to collect in the gravel at the bottom of the pots. When this water evaporates, it increases the humidity around the plants. This also reduces your workload by eliminating the need to pour excess water that collects in the plant saucer.
Add a few terrariums for plants such as Venus flytrap, ferns and mosses that grow best in high humidity and moist soil conditions. Buy one or create your own from an old aquarium, or other clear glass container and add a lid to create a closed growing system. Choose or create one that supports plant growth, complements your home decor, and reflects your personality.
Provide a warm, draft-free location for your tropical plants. Most prefer the same temperatures we do, 65-75 degrees. Don’t worry if you turn down the heat at night, most plants will be fine. Just don’t trap them between the curtain and the window where it will be cooler than the rest of your house. Avoid cold drafts from doors and windows and hot drafts from heat registers that can harm your plant’s health.
You may need to move plants, adjust grow lights, and adjust watering as you learn about each plant’s needs. Once placed in the right location and provided with the right amount of light and water, your plants will grow and thrive.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released “Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, Second Edition” and “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts the amazing “How to Grow Anything” instant video courses, DVD series, and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment radio show. Myers, a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine, was commissioned by Wild Valley Farms for her expertise in writing this article. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.