By adding houseplants to your home, you are not just adding greenery.
When you breathe, your body takes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. Plants do the opposite. Plants help to increase oxygen levels and our bodies appreciate that.
NOTE: Most plants at night change their process. They inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. With that said, there are plants like orchids, succulents and air plants, that are perfect for a bedroom.
Plants release moisture vapor, which increases humidity of the air around them. Plants release roughly 97 percent of the water they take in. Place several plants together, and you can increase the humidity of a room, which helps keeps respiratory distresses at bay. Studies at the Agricultural University of Norway document that using plants in interior spaces decreases the incidence of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs.
Extensive research by NASA discovered that indoor air quality improvement in which plants play a pivotal role: “Both plant leaves and roots are utilized in removing trace levels of toxic vapors from inside tightly sealed buildings. Low levels of chemicals such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves alone.” NASA researcher recommend a minimum of one potted plant per 100 sq. ft. on indoor space.
Plants increase the humidity indoors. While this may sound unappealing during hot moist months, it’s a gift during dry months. Studies at the Agricultural University in Norway document that by using plants indoors decrease the incidence of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs. Other research reveals that higher absolute humidity is conducive for deceased transmission of the flu virus.
The recommendations vary based on your goals.
• To improve health and reduce fatigue and stress, place one large plant (8-inch diameter pot or larger) every 129 square feet. In office or classroom settings, position plants so each person has greenery in view.
• To purify air, use 15 to 18 plants in 6- to 8-inch diameter pots for an 1,800-square-foot house. That’s roughly one larger plant every 100 square feet. Achieve similar results with two smaller plants (4- to 5-inch pots).
Remember that for the best success with any houseplant, you need to match the right plant to the right growing conditions
Fall is a good time to repot houseplants. Fresh soil and room for new root growth will help keep plants healthy through winter.
What should you consider when choosing a new container? There are several important things. Naturally, a new pot should be attractive, highlighting the plant or the surroundings. But you also should consider size, color and the material the pot is made of. These factors influence how easy the container is to move and how often the plant needs to be watered.
If you are repotting a household or other plant that has gotten root-bound, the new pot should be at least 2 to 4 inches larger in diameter than the previous container. That’s enough space for new root growth without making the pot a great deal heavier. In general, it’s best to move up gradually in pot size.
Also consider the weight and porosity of the container. Lightweight plastic or foam pots will be easier to move than heavier ceramic or terra cotta pots. Terra cotta pots are also porous, so water evaporates through the sides. While this is good for aerating the soil, it causes the pot to dry out faster than plastic or ceramic pots. Dark-colored pots situated in sunny spots also warm up and dry out faster than light-colored ones.
To repot houseplants, gently remove the plant from the existing pot. This will probably be easiest if you water the plant several days before transplanting so that the soil is moist. To remove a small plant, place your hand over the top so you can catch the root ball. Tip the entire plant upside down and tap the rim of the pot on a hard surface until the root ball releases. With a larger plant, you may have to run an old knife around the edges before the root ball can be gently pulled out. If the plant still won’t come out of a clay or ceramic container, you may have to break the pot. To do so, place it in a bag or wrap it in an old sheet. Tap the pot with a hammer until it breaks.
Place enough potting soil in the bottom of the new pot so the top of the root ball is at least an inch below the rim. Put the plant in the pot and fill around the edges with potting soil. Water well. If necessary, add more soil.
Houseplants bring nature indoors – a touch of green that softens hard lines and strong light in our homes or offices. Houseplants can even improve air quality indoors. Many differ in their specific cultural requirements, but here are some general tips to help keep yours healthy.
Match plants with light conditions. Houseplants vary in their light requirements. Some prefer the strong light found next to a south-facing window. Others thrive in the soft morning light of an east-facing window. Distance from the window will affect light intensity and quality. And to make matters more complicated, light intensity and patterns vary with the seasons. One thing for sure, all houseplants do best with some light from outdoors. Some need less than others (view our list of low-light houseplants), but the better you match the plants with the light conditions where they will grow the happier you and your plants will be.
Your plants will also tell you if they are getting too much or too little light. Too much light usually turns the foliage dull green to yellowish, and the leaves may also wilt even if the plant has plenty of water. If plants are not getting enough light, they will get leggy and less compact.
Choose the right container. It is important to consider size, material and even color.
Use good-quality potting soil. Good potting soil (never use regular garden soil in containers) promotes healthy roots by providing a balance of proper aeration, nutrition and moisture-holding capability. Nurseries and garden centers carry an excellent selection of packaged potting soils.
Water properly. Like all containerized plants, houseplants need frequent, thorough watering. Wet the entire root ball, and let excess water run out the bottom of the pot. Don’t leave standing water in the catch-tray for more than a day or two. Doing so can promote root diseases. Allow the soil to partially dry before watering again. To check soil moisture, stick your finger into the top 2 inches of soil. If it is dry, it’s probably time to water. You can also tell how dry a plant is by lifting the pot. It will be heavy after watering, lighter as it dries out. To prevent salts from building up in the soil, water especially heavily (refilling the container four or five times) once every month or two. This is most easily done by placing the plant in a sink or taking it outdoors.
Fertilize and control pests. The frequent watering required by most houseplants leaches nutrients out of the soil. These must be replaced by regular fertilization. And insects, such as aphids, scale and whiteflies, can be problematic indoors. Regularly inspect your houseplants for signs of insect pests and treat when necessary.
Increase humidity and prevent drafts. Indoor conditions can be dry and drafty. Keep plants away from heater vents, doorways and drafty windows. Increase humidity by setting plants on trays layered with small pebbles and filled with water. Or, place them in naturally humid areas like kitchens or bathrooms if there is adequate light. Misting plants increases humidity only temporarily and is of little help, plus it can increase chances for foliage diseases.
Keep foliage clean. Dust that accumulates on the leaves of houseplants will block light and harbor insects. Clean leaves by wiping them with a moist towel or, in mild-winter areas, take plants outdoors and hose them off.
Keeping houseplants healthy doesn’t require a green thumb. If you know what to look for, you can spot early signs of trouble and intervene before problems escalate. Start by knowing what a healthy houseplant looks like: strong stems that have non-wilted, nicely colored leaves with a consistent shape. If you notice a plant veering away from this appearance, inspect further.
In a home environment, houseplant insects multiply rapidly due to a lack of natural predators to keep insects in check. At least weekly, inspect plants for signs of insects.
Changes in leaf color or texture can signal an insect problem. Leaves may become spotted, speckled or yellowed when insects are present. Leaves might also become distorted or misshapen, often looking cupped or pinched. You may spot webbing draped along leaf undersides or where leaves attach to stems.
Some insects secrete a substance called honeydew, which makes leaves unusually shiny and sticky. Honeydew also encourages sooty mold to grow on leaves, creating black smudges. Often honeydew drips onto nearby surfaces, coating them with a sticky layer.
Look for insects lurking beneath leaves, clustered along new growth or boldly lodged where stems and leaves join. A 10-power magnifying glass can help shift suspicions into a confirmed diagnosis.
Certain symptoms indicate the arrival of specific insects. Use this guide to track down your invader.
Aphid: Small green, yellow, black or white soft-bodied insects. Feeding produces honeydew and yellow and/or distorted leaves. Aphids reproduce quickly and can heavily infest a plant in a few days. Look for aphids on new growth.
Spider mite: Very tiny (not even pinhead-size) creatures thrive in hot, dry conditions. Cluster along leaf undersides or where leaves join stems. Feeding produces speckling on leaf surfaces, causing plants to look faded. Webbing occurs with heavy infestations and is likely the most easily detectable symptom. Hard to eradicate.
Mealybug: Small, cotton-like insects are easily visible, occurring most often on stems or leaf undersides. Feeding produces honeydew and distorted growth. Hard to control when numbers are high. Isolate infested plants to limit insect spread.
Scale: Stationary, sucking insects with shell-like coverings that typically gather on stems and leaf undersides, but can occur on leaf surfaces. Feeding produces distorted growth and honeydew. Hard to control.
Whitefly: These insects resemble tiny white moths and flutter around when infested plants are disturbed. Feed on leaf undersides, producing honeydew. Overall plant growth is stunted; leaves turn yellow and die.
Just like people or pets, houseplants occasionally succumb to disease. In the worst case, disease can kill a plant. But many times, if you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of an outbreak and act to defeat the disease.
Many common houseplant diseases operate in an opportunistic fashion, taking hold when plants are stressed due to unfavorable growing conditions. The single greatest thing you can do to prevent disease outbreaks is to provide a suitable growing environment. This means using proper soil, not crowding plants, avoiding drafts, and providing adequate temperature, humidity, light, water and drainage.
Disease Symptoms: What to Watch For
When disease attacks a plant, it’s easily visible. Growth slows, stunts or becomes spindly; leaves may yellow, show white powdery blotches or develop spots. Affected leaves eventually drop. Stems may become soft and mushy, with black tissue visible near the soil.
Waterlogged soil – either from overwatering or compacted soil that lacks air pockets – causes roots to suffocate and die, trading their white tubular appearance for a spongy, blackened mess. Root problems usually surface as a plant that remains wilted, even though soil is adequately moist. Slip a plant you suspect is having root issues from its pot. Blackened roots and a sour or ammonia odor are sure signs the root system is unhealthy.
Learn to recognize these symptoms of common diseases.
Gray mold: Also called botrytis; a fungal disease that can attack every part of a plant. Resembles fuzzy gray mold. To prevent, faithfully remove dead leaves or flowers from stems and soil, and provide adequate air circulation. Commonly attacks begonia, African violet and cyclamen.
Powdery mildew: White powder appears on leaves. Powdery mildew doesn’t kill plants, but greatly weakens them. Associated with poor air circulation.
Leaf spot: Yellow, brown, black or water-soaked spots appear on leaves. When disease is severe, separate spots coalesce and kill the leaf. Also causes brown dusting on leaves and blooms. Frequently attacks dracaena and dieffenbachia. Associated with too-high temperature and humidity; also with poor air circulation.
Root rot: Early symptoms are wilting and yellow leaves. In severe cases, the entire plant collapses. Associated with poor drainage and overwatering.
Viruses: These diseases manifest as distorted, streaked or mottled leaves, or by diminishing plant growth and flowering. Most viruses are incurable – and many are contagious. If you suspect a virus, isolate the affected plant and provide perfect care to rule out other diseases.
Dealing with Diseased Plants
Follow these steps to prevent disease development and spread.
• Isolate diseased plants.
• Wash hands between plants when working with different houseplants.
• Sterilize tools between plants with a solution of 1part bleach to 9 parts water.
• Provide adequate water – don’t overwater or underwater.
• Double-check light needs; adjust a plant’s location accordingly.
• Avoid crowding plants. Ensure that air flows freely around plants. If necessary, use a small fan to improve airflow.
• Give up on the most diseased. Sometimes you’ll need to toss plants you can’t cure.
Sooty mold grows on a substance called “honeydew” which is excreted from certain insects such as aphids, soft scales, whiteflies and mealybugs. These insects feed on a variety of landscape plants and can be found on the leaves and stems where they use special mouthparts to pierce plant tissues and suck out the juices from within. During this time these insects excrete large amounts of a sticky, sugary substance commonly called “honeydew”.