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Caring for Indoor Plants

Indoor plants can be used to add colour and vibrancy to a home or to give a calm tranquility to a bedroom or lounge. They allow the home owner to inject personality into their home with living plants that are easy to grow and require little care and maintenance.

Indoor plants have also been proven to absorb many of the toxins that are generated by materials in modern households and also give oxygen to refresh the air in closed living spaces. The benefits of including plants in the home are far more than just adding decoration and colour.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE
For indoor plants, the container and potting mix is their entire world. Unlike garden plants, they can’t send their roots out a little bit further to get moisture or nutrients so they rely on what you give them. Use a premium potting mix which will have perfect nutrient level as well as effectively retain moisture. Once a fortnight, water plants with liquid seaweed to help them deal with the extreme temperature changes from air conditioning and heaters.

Rotate the pot every week or two so that each side of the plant can get the same amount of sunlight. This helps them to keep a balanced shape.

Many indoor plants are actually killed by too much kindness. Over watering can cause the soil to become waterlogged and turn sour so that the plants roots are not able to draw up the oxygen and nutrients that it needs. The soil of indoor plants should actually be allowed to go slightly dry in between drinks. Check this by pushing your finger into the potting mix – a few grains should stick to your skin but the mix should feel quite dry.

Many indoor plants have broad leaves and just like other ornaments in the home, they capture dust. For plants, this dust can block the pores and prevent them from being able to transpire. Once a month, simply wipe the leaves using a damp, soft cloth. An occasional trim to shape the plant and contain more vigorous growth is the final touch to keep indoor plants well maintained over the growing season.

Slow Release Fertilisers for Indoor Plants are the easiest and cleanest way of feeding indoor plants. These are simply scattered over the soil surface and the tiny prills will release their nutrients over four months after which more will need to be applied.

Indoor plants prefer warm, moist conditions but our homes are heated and cooled with gas heaters and air conditioners which dry the air. Misting indoor plants regularly will give them the humidity that they need as well as help keep the leaves clean and fresh.

POSITIONING INDOOR PLANTS
Where to place an indoor plant can be a tricky decision. The plant has to look good but also needs to have enough sun that it can thrive. For every metre that a plant is placed away from the window, the amount of sunlight that it receives is reduced by about 15 per cent. For plants that receive very little sunlight, only keep them in that position for about a week and then move them to a brighter spot for a little while.

Some indoor plants can be poisonous if ingested by cats or dogs. If young puppies or kittens are in the home, ensure that plants are kept out of their reach.

Be careful when placing plants very close to a sunny window as the glass will intensify the rays and burn the leaves. This will become obvious by brown edges on the leaves or large burns across the top of the leaf. When returning plants outside, place them in the shade first and then slowly acclimatise them to the sun. This will help stop leaf burn and damage from the sudden change in conditions.

RE-WETTING SOIL IN POTS
If left for too long without water, potting mix can be very difficult to re-wet. This is obvious when the water comes out of the base of the pot almost immediately after the plant has been watered and if you were to dig down a few centimetres, the soil would still be very dry.

To re-wet the soil, fill a bucket or sink with water and plunge the potted plant so that the water level sits about 2cm above the soil level. Little bubbles will come from the soil which is a sign that the water is soaking in. Let the plant sit in the bath until the bubbles stop.

Plunging a pot plant in water will help to flush salt from the soil which accumulates from excess fertiliser. It is obvious from a white crust that appears on the top of the soil or pot.

RE-POTTING INDOOR PLANTS
Indoor plants that are bulging out of their pot, falling over or are root bound and just not thriving need to be re-potted. The best time to do this is in late winter or early spring but, if that is too far away and the plant is looking desperate, there is nothing to lose by re-potting at other times of the year.

An indoor plant can be potted back in to its original pot or potted up into a larger one. Over newspaper or plastic, knock the plant out of its pot. If potting to a slightly larger pot, loosen the roots or, if they are very tight, use a sharp kitchen knife to cut off about a third of the root ball from the base. If re-potting back into the same pot, a bit more effort will be needed to loosen the roots or the plant can be divided by cutting vertically between the stems ensuring that some roots remain attached.

Use a premium potting mix because it always has fertiliser already added and choose a mix that is coarse and open grained so that it drains well. Indoor potting mixes are available and are worth considering.

Position the plant so that it is not too high in the pot and then backfill with the soil. Tap the pot so that the mix settles around the roots and only press the soil in very gently. Water the plant well, preferably with a liquid seaweed solution. The aim is to finish with the soil level a couple of centimetres below the top of the pot so that when watering, it doesn’t overflow over the edge.

PROBLEM SOLVING
Brown and dried leaf edges?
Too much heat or sun or lack of humidity.

Tips of leaves brown?
Lack of humidity. Incorrect fertilising. Insecticide damage.

Rapid leaf drop?
Sudden temperature/light changes. Irregular watering. Drafts.

Lower leaves yellow and fall?
Overwatering or under watering. Lack of light or fertiliser.

Leaf drop?
New leaves small & curled Cleaning product spray. Industrial pollution. Aphids or mite.

Spotted leaves?
Overwatering. Sun burn. Fungal infection from humidity.

Pale, weak foliage?
Insufficient light. Soil or air is too dry. Lack of fertiliser.

New leaves are small and pale?
Lack of fertiliser. Soil too dry. Insufficient light?

Yellow leaves between green veins?
Incorrect pH. Test soil or re-pot plant.

Failure to flower?
Insufficient water or light. Over fertilising.

Flower buds drop before opening?
Sudden changes in temperature. Lack of humidity. Drafts.

Silver or red blemishes on foliage?
Too much direct sun.

New growth is wilted or burned?
Too much fertiliser. Drafts. Sunburn. Heat or cold damage.

Entire plant has wilted?
Soil too dry or too wet. Too much fertiliser. Cold temperatures.

Stunted plants?
Excess fertiliser causing root damage. Lack of water.

Small white spots on leaves?
Probably spider mites – look under magnifying lens.

Cottony bumps on stems or roots?
Mealy bugs. Control with white oil or Pest Oil.

Sticky substance on foliage?
Probably aphids or scale. If only a few, squash with fingers.

Small brown lumps on stem or foliage?
Scale insects. Control with white oil or Pest Oil.

Grey mould on flowers, leaves & stem?
Botrytis from dead leaves and flowers left on plant. Too humid.

General drooping of entire plant?
Crown, stem or root rot from overwatering (esp. in winter).

Brown or yellow leaf spots?
Fungi from cold water remaining on leaves.

Mildew (eg. African violets & begonias)?
Powdery mildew.

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