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December 18, 2013

Taking Care of House Plants

Taking care of plants is a time consuming hobby but well worth the effort. One of the side - benefits of planning some quality time with your plants is you tend to get introspective. Often, when you're done with a session, you'll find that you are more at peace with yourself... your mind is clearer. For me it always has the effect of an hour's meditation and I am better equipped to handle the day.

How To Take Care Of Your House Plants -

1. Water Thoroughly Only If The Soil Appears To Be Dry: We are talking about house plants here; not just any plant. How much of water a plant needs depends on various factors like the weather, the potting media and the pot itself. Mud pots for instance are porous but the poracity keeps keeps it cool. Cement pots generate a lot of heat and the rate of moisture loss is faster than in mud pots. I haven't figured out how it works with plastic pots. 
Remember: Watering all your house plants the same way is equivalent to giving your diabetic father-in-law plenty of sweets every time you give your teenager some. It's harmful to your FIL's health.  He might eat it because you are offering it (maybe because he loves it too)... Get the idea?

2. Give Them the Benefit of Indirect Sunlight: Indoor plants too need a bit of sunlight albeit indirectly. So, if you keep them inside the house for a week, put them where they can catch either the first or the last rays of the sun each day for the next 4 days. If you expose them to direct sunlight, the edges of the leaves will first turn yellow and then brown. With a bit of trial and error, you can figure out the favourite locations of your plants.

3. Turn the Pot Around Frequently: Ever noticed bent and twisted houseplants? If you remember some of your botany lessons, you'll also remember that plants exhibit phototropism; meaning they tend to grow towards light. Turn the pot around every couple of days if you don't want to see your plants leaning to one direction.

4. Height of the Plant: I keep plants inside my house for 3 reasons.
  1.  I love plants
  2. They give my house a well cared for and aesthetic appearance
  3. Some indoor plants (according to a NASA report) are considered air cleaning machines.
To maintain the well cared for aesthetic look they give my rooms, I have to ensure that they don't grow too tall. The general rule is if a plant is more than 1/3 the height of your room, it belongs outside.

5. Colourful Plants: For obvious reasons, colourful plants need more light. Keep them near a well-lit window or give them the benefit of indirect sunlight more often.

6. Moss-stick: Some plants like Philodendrons, money plants etc, need a moss stick support for their aerial roots. In that case you have to water the moss stick as well while watering the plant.

7. Misting: Mist leaves frequently with a sprayer to remove the dust that inevitably settles settles on them. Some plants like Begonia and African Violets don't take well to misting.  Leafy plants like Dieffenbachia (also called dumb cane), palms, money plants etc. love misting.

8. Food for Plants: Indoor plants are poor eaters. If you have the potting mixture right, you don't have to worry about regular feeding. 15-15-15 or 17-17-17 (also called NPK - Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potash) once a month is good enough. 
Here's the dosage: 1 tsp of 15-15-15 + 3 liters of water. Use this for watering. 
Plants love tea leaves. So don't throw them away. Use them for feeding your plants minus the sugar of course. You don't want a colony of ants taking up residence in your pots.

9. Indirect Watering: How do you water your plants when you plan to be away for a few days? In my experience, the best way is to thoroughly soak a couple of gunny bags and put them under a very very slightly dripping tap. Put your pots on these bags. They should be good for a week or so. But the general health of your plant would depend on the location of the tap. Alternately, you can request someone to water them for you. I've found that general health suffers anyway. Plants like kids and pets know when you are not around.

10. The Watering Hour: The best time to water plants is the evening. There is enough time for the plants to absorb the water and nutrients. When you water them in the morning, the rate of evaporation is faster.

A final word - keeping an already potted plant in decorative container without drainage holes is fine as long as you remember to drain the water frequently.