Succulents photo credit MelindaMyersLLC

Succulents should be kept within two feet of an east- or west-facing window and grown in a fast-draining potting mix.
 Photo by Melinda Myers, LLC

Houseplants 101


By Melinda Myers



Lift your spirits and improve your indoor environment by taking part in the indoor gardening movement. An apartment or home filled with tropical, succulent and flowering plants can provide beauty, extend your garden season, improve air quality and create a peaceful environment to de-stress.

Though some may find indoor gardening a bit intimidating, don’t let past failures or the thought of tending living greenery stop you from enjoying the many benefits. Knowing some basics in care and making needed adjustments to the growing environment can turn past failures into success.

Water, humidity and light are key to growing healthy plants. When you match these to a plant’s needs and the growing media, you’re sure to experience success.

Use a container with drainage holes to avoid overwatering that can lead to root rot and plant death. It should be no more than an inch or two larger in diameter than the plant’s root ball. Growing in a larger pot results in the soil staying too wet, increasing the chance of root rot.

Select a quality potting mix that holds moisture but drains well. Cacti and succulents prefer a fast-draining mix while tropicals and African violets prefer a mix that stays moist, not soggy, yet drains well.

Set your plant in a location that’s free from drafts of hot and cold air, but in the preferred light conditions. An east- or west-facing window usually provides adequate light for most plants. Keep cacti, succulents and other plants requiring high light within two feet of an east- or west-facing window. Pothos, philodendron, Chinese evergreens and those that tolerate low light can be placed near a north-facing window or up to six feet back or off to the side of an east- or west-facing window. Shears, awnings and trees can impact the light reaching your plants. Adjust their location as needed.

Always water thoroughly and pour off the excess water that collects in the saucer. Allow the top few inches of soil to dry before watering drought tolerant plants like cactus. Water tropical and flowering plants that prefer moist conditions when the top few inches of soil are barely moist, like a sponge that has been wrung out.

Reduce maintenance and improve plant health with gravel trays. Fill a tray or saucer with pebbles. Allow excess water to collect in the tray. The pebbles keep the pot elevated above the water to avoid root rot. As the water evaporates it increases the humidity around the plant.

When pest problems occur, consider an organic approach safe for people, pets and plants.  Manage fungus gnats, those tiny fruit fly like insects found flitting around the house, with a naturally occurring bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, found in Summit Mosquito Bits (SummitResponsibleSolutions.com).  Just sprinkle on the soil surface and repeat as needed until these pests disappear.

Mites, aphids, scale and mealybugs can be controlled with an organic horticulture oil like Summit Year-Round Spray Oil. This product coats the pests and kills all stages from egg to adult. Repeat as needed to control any that were missed. Once the pests are managed, check the growing conditions and make needed adjustments to the growing environment.

The more plants you grow, the easier it becomes and soon enough you may find yourself immersed in a tropical or desert paradise inside the comfort of your own home.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her expertise to write this article. Myers’s website is www.melindamyers.com.

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