Potted plants can thrive indoors
Watering, feeding, grooming and pruning plants important to their health

February 9, 2006
HELEN BOATMAN - Victoria County Master Gardener
Inside plants, or interior plants, which is probably the most appropriate name, have been around for a long time. Having a pothos, diffenbachia, philodendron or syngonium in our homes not only brings the outside in, but it also helps our well-being.
Throughout history, accounts can be found on how plants were used inside buildings. Ancient Egyptians practiced potting exotic plants for display at palaces, gardens and temples. Romans had atriums filled with exotic plants, palms and citrus. Palaces in the 18th century began to include interior plants that were regularly changed out with fresh specimens from private aristocratic greenhouses. Victorian period homes were lavish with potted indoor plants in cool parlors and conservatory rooms. They were responsible for the collection of most indoor plants as well as initiating care and cultural practices on the common person's level.
Caroline Boatman Reinhardt with Evergreen Plant Care in Houston said that current design trends and popular appeal of indoor plants has resulted in the widespread use of potted plants in homes, stores and offices. Boatman has graciously allowed me to share with you information on tropical plants she has provided at various forums.

Boatman said that tropical plants are placed inside due to the light and temperature in homes and offices. A location that receives adequate natural light is very important. However, sometimes the preferred location receives little or no light. For that reason, it is important to select the proper plant.

Plants that can tolerate low to moderate light are in the dracaena family - like corn plants and Janet Craigs. I personally had a Janet Craig in my office that had absolutely no natural light. It did very well on the neon light it received during the weekdays. Weekends, it was totally in the dark. Aglaonemas, spathiphylums, sansaveria (mother-in-law tongue), and philodendrons are also good choices.

Plants that like moderate to bright light are palms such as areca, fishtail and kentia. Dieffenbachia and scheffleras are also good for the category.

Plants that like bright light are in the ficus family, such as benjamina and alii. Other plants are aralia and cacti.

Watering and feeding your indoor plant is very important. Watering should be on a regular schedule, usually once a week. Because plants use water at varying rates, moisture should be checked before water is applied. Be judicious with the amount of water applied since plants respond better if they are kept evenly moist. There are moisture meters available, however the tried and true moisture meter is your index finger feeling moisture about an inch below the surface.

Most indoor foliage plants need to be fed once a month during the active growing months of March through October. Indoor flowering plants need to be fed every two weeks. Foliage plants need a balanced fertilizer, something like a 20-20-20 mix.

Because these plants are inside, one would think that insects wouldn't be a problem, but unfortunately that isn't the case. Mealybugs, spider mites, scale and fungus gnats are the main culprits. Systemic granules will control all these insects. They should always be watered in with the application and the plants then should be kept away from children and pets. The application will last for up to 2 months.

Keep your plants in full and good form by pruning and grooming - or as my mother always said, give your plants a "hair cut." Always remove any dead or diseased branches. Keep them well shaped by removing any wayward growth. Don't be afraid to trim, this will help your plant to put on new growth.

When you are dusting your furniture, don't forget your plants, they get dusty, too. Dust inhibits their ability to make food or photosynthesize. Use clean, damp soft cloths, handy wipes or sponges. Regular cleaning also keeps the insect population in check.

Most indoor plants like to be pot bound, but when roots are growing through the drain hole or at soil level, or the plant is always thirsty, then it is time to find a new pot. Choosing a new pot is like choosing one for outside plants - increase to the next size pot.

For example, if the current pot is 10 inches, then the next size should be 12 inches. Be careful not to disturb the roots too much and use a good packaged potting soil. Pack the soil around the roots and water in.

One of the special benefits of having live plants in homes, stores and offices is that they can cleanse the air of pollutants. A good resource is "How to Grow Fresh Air, 50 Houseplants that Purify your Home or Office" by Dr. B.C. Wolverton. According to Wolverton, the areca palm removes the most pollutants in enclosed areas. Some of the other plants are lady palm, bamboo palm, rubber plant, dracaena Janet Craig, English ivy, dwarf date palm, Ficus 'alii', Boston fern, peace lily (spathiphyllum), corn plant, golden pothos (ivy), and Kimberly queen fern. There are more, but these are the most effective.

More than likely you have brought in for the winter one or more of the tropicals you normally have outside. Have you, hopefully, noticed that you feel good just by the enjoying the beauty of the plant? Maybe that plant is also helping to clean the air in your home.

Perhaps this will encourage you to keep that plant inside, or search our fine nurseries and garden centers for any of the perfect indoor plants listed above to brighten up your home or office. Remember the light and moisture requirements of the plant you choose and you should have a long and happy relationship.