Breathe life into your home

Last Updated 19 January 2012, 15:23 IST

The best way to enhance your interiors is by bringing an element of life, by way of a potted plant, into your homes. A plant can brighten a dull corner, obscure an unappealing view or just serve as an interesting conversation piece. Indoor plants can work for you in many ways. Natural greenery helps counter the harsh lines of modern architecture and helps reduce stress.

Usually, plant enthusiasts like a plant and buy it simply because it looks nice or unusual, but most often, the indoor plant starts showing signs of stress. Eventually, the plant loses its charm and with it is lost the enthusiasm of the owner. Growing indoor plants successfully does not have to be difficult. Just a little bit of understanding about the needs of a houseplant will help you maintain it for a longer duration.

Foliage plants make up for a major chunk of indoor plants. There are almost 250 plants, mostly of tropical or sub-tropical origins, commonly used in any interiors scheme.

Choosing the right plant is the key to success. Good quality is the first step. Always buy from a reputed place. Begin by inspecting the leaves carefully. They should have the right colour, shape and size and be free of blemishes or brown edges. Also, the lower leaves should not be pale or yellow. A good specimen should have a good, balanced shape and not be top heavy, leggy or sparse.

Look closely at stems and leaves for any signs of insects or pest. Finally, look at the pot and soil. If roots are growing through the drainage holes or are seen at the soil surface, the plant has probably outgrown its pot. If you choose this plant, special care will be needed when transplanting into a larger pot. The second step is to get a plant whose growth needs match the environment indoors. For healthy plants, certain conditions need to be met. Essential growth conditions like light, humidity and temperature vary from house to house and even between rooms.

Light is crucial

For indoor plants, light can be one of the most limiting factors. This should be the deciding factor when you opt for a particular plant. Both the amount and intensity of light matter for good growth. One plant may do well in your dim bathroom but might turn dry on your south-facing window. While most plants will perform best under bright light conditions, some plants can tolerate moderate to low-light conditions. Therefore, it is imperative to find out the light requirements of the plant from the nursery before you buy it. In order to match plant needs with the location, following general guidelines will be helpful.

Low light plants - North window: a few feet away; East/West window: 3-10 feet away; South window: 15-20 feet away

Medium (average) light plants - North window: directly in front; East/West window: a few feet away; South window: 3-10 feet away

High or bright light plants - East/west window: directly in front; South window: up to five feet away

Direct light plants - South window: directly in front

Keep in mind that light conditions change with seasons, so location changes may benefit the plants. Most foliage plants do well in the temperature range of 15 to 25°C. Sudden temperature changes and draughts must be avoided as they may shock the plant, especially if an AC is around. 

Water and soil

Don’t express your love for the plant through the watering can. Excess watering often kills the plant. How much water your plant needs is influenced by the individual plant size, species and conditions like light, temperature, humidity, container type, container size, and finally soil type. All these factors influence the speed of growth and therefore the amount of water needed. Usually it is best to allow the soil to dry moderately between waterings or keep slightly moist throughout.

Cacti need drier soil while ferns may ask for constant moisture. Houseplant roots are usually in the bottom two-thirds of the pot, so do not water until the bottom two-thirds starts to dry out slightly. To be able to tell this, you have to feel the soil. For a six-inch pot, feel the soil that is two inches deep (approximately to the second joint of your index finger). If the soil feels damp, don’t water.

For smaller pots, one inch into the soil is the proper depth to measure. Water the pot until it runs out of the bottom to ensure that the two thirds of the soil is wet. When you test for watering, pay attention to the soil. If you can’t feel the soil two inches deep, it means soil porosity is lacking. Soil should be porous for root aeration and drainage, but also be capable of water and nutrient retention.

Buy soil rich with organic matter from the nursery. You can prepare your own potting soil by mixing equal parts of garden soil, coarse sand, pumice or perlite, and peat moss or coir.

This potting mixture can be easily modified with additional coarse mineral material or peat moss to satisfy specific plant requirements. 

As the plant continues to grow, soil nutrients begin to deplete and eventually your plant may need nutrient supplement via fertiliser. However, adding unwanted fertilisers can be harmful to your plant. If a plant has been in the same potting mix for a year or more and is growing vigorously, then it may be a candidate for nutrient replacement.

Fertilisers are usually marked with a number indicating N-P-K ratio. A 3-1-2 ratio of these elements is usually good for green foliage plants, while a 1-2-1 ratio is usually better for flowering plants. Apply complete fertiliser at half the recommended label dilution rate.

Finally, your choice of the container will affect aesthetics and also the plant health. Note that container should be large enough to provide room for soil and roots, have sufficient room for proper watering, provide drainage and be attractive without competing with the plant it holds.

(The writer is a landscape designer.)

(Published 19 January 2012, 15:13 IST)

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