Get It Growing: Keep Your Houseplants Happy

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  6/30/2006 2:16:36 AM


Get It Growing News For 07/14/06

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Whether we admit it or not, heat and humidity this time of year make gardening outside less enjoyable. I have to confess to retreating into the coolness of my air-conditioned home and spending less time in the garden now that mid-summer has arrived. But when I don’t spend as much time in my outside garden, I can turn to my collection of indoor plants to keep me happy.

As it is with growing plants outdoors, successfully growing houseplants starts with understanding their needs. Houseplants contribute to and become an important part of the interior decor, but they are not furniture or knickknacks. They are alive, and like all living things they have certain requirements that must be met to be healthy.

Primary among those needs is light. Light is the energy plants use to create their food. You cannot grow a plant where there is not enough light – no matter how good it looks in the location.

Houseplants are available at a wide variety of sources. You can find them in nurseries, at flea markets, in chain store garden centers and even grocery stores and other locations.

Wherever you obtain a plant, its quality is of particular importance. Always purchase plants that are vigorous and healthy. They should have good color, an attractive shape and be free of insects or diseases.

When considering a plant, look at the foliage carefully. Avoid plants with yellow leaves, brown leaf edges or spots that indicate the plant has been poorly cared for. In addition, look for signs of scale, mealybugs or mites, which could not only be damaging that plant but also could infest your other plants at home.

Choose a plant that will survive in the location where you intend to place it – particularly in regard to the amount of light the spot receives. Different types of houseplants will grow in higher or lower light conditions. Ask the nursery staff members to help with the selection or check references on growing plants indoors before you make your final decisions.

When you purchase a plant, make sure there is a tag in the pot with the name of the plant on it, especially if this is a spur-of-the-moment purchase of a plant you are not familiar with. Without a name you cannot look up information or ask someone for information about the plant.

Houseplants generally are grouped into high-light, medium-light and low-light categories. These generic terms have no clear meaning to most people, so here are some helpful guidelines.

–High-light levels are provided by unobstructed east-, southeast-, southwest- and west-facing windows.

–Medium-light (in summer) to high-light (in winter) levels are provided by unobstructed south-facing windows.

–North-facing windows provide low-light levels. Low-light levels may also be provided by placing plants several feet away from east-, west- or south-facing windows.

While light is most often provided by sunlight shining through windows, artificial light also can be effectively used to grow indoor plants.

Place plants where you have determined they will get the proper amount of light. Within four to eight weeks a plant will indicate if there is a serious problem. Whether there is actually enough light in the area is, after all, the plant’s decision, not yours. If there are no pests present and a plant has been watered properly, a deteriorating condition usually indicates insufficient light. Move the plant to a brighter location.

People are always obsessing over how to water their houseplants. For the majority of plants it is really quite simple. Stick your finger into the pot, and if the soil feels wet or moist, don’t water. If the soil feels dry, water.

Do not allow plants to wilt before you water them. This stresses them and can cause leaf drop, flower bud drop and brown leaf edges.

Apply water until some runs out of the pot’s drainage holes and into the saucer underneath. That way you know you have moistened the entire root ball. Do not let the pot sit in a saucer full of water, however. Remove the water in the saucer if it is still there a few hours later. You can use a baster to suck the water out of the saucer if the plant is too large to dump the water out of the saucer.

Houseplant containers definitely should have drainage holes. There must be some way for excess water to drain out of the soil when we water our plants. Otherwise, we run the risk of the soil staying saturated, drowning the roots and encouraging root rot.

Choose pots you find attractive, which will fit well with your interior decor. Clay, plastic or other materials are all appropriate as long as they drain.

Only use soil specifically blended for use in containers called "potting soil." Do not use top soil or garden soil products or soil you dig up from your outdoor garden beds.

Professionals use soilless potting mixes made up of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite because they work so well. You must, however, regularly fertilize plants growing in those materials.

The important thing is to make sure whatever potting soil or mix you use is loose, drains freely and does not pack tightly in the pot.

If you have a houseplant that has not been doing well indoors, try moving it outside to a shady location for the rest of the summer. Given good care and time you will see the plant rejuvenated. Then you can bring it back inside and try it in a different location after it has perked up and looks better.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

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