Get It Growing: Understanding Needs Key To Success With Houseplants

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  3/25/2005 3:54:39 AM

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Get It Growing News For 02/25/05

Growing houseplants successfully starts with understanding their needs.

Houseplants contribute to and become part of the interior decor, but they are not furniture or knickknacks. They are alive and, like all living things, they require certain things to be healthy.

One of the primary needs of houseplants 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 that location.

Houseplants are often spur-of-the-moment purchases, but planning will bring about more consistent and satisfactory results. Walk through your home and think about where plants would be appropriate. Focus particularly on areas where the family spends a lot of time, such as the kitchen or living room.

Be sure to think about such things as where there is sufficient light for plants, how many plants you want, how large they should be and whether the plants will sit on a windowsill or on the floor or perhaps hang in a basket.

Then choose plants that will survive in the locations where you intend to place them – 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 or garden center staff members to help with the selection based on the amount of light you will be able to provide.

In addition, when choosing plants, make sure there is a tag in the pot with the name of the plant on it. Without a name you cannot look up more information or ask someone for more information about the plant later.

Houseplants generally are grouped into high-light, medium-light and low-light categories. High light levels are provided by unobstructed east, southeast, southwest and west facing windows. Medium (in summer) to high (in winter) light 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 from east, west or south facing windows. Light most often is provided by sunlight shining through windows, but artificial light also can be used effectively to grow indoor plants.

Place plants where you have determined they will get the proper amount of light. Within four weeks to eight weeks the plants generally 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 no pests are present and the plant has been watered properly, a deteriorating condition usually indicates insufficient light. Move the plant to a brighter location.

People always are obsessing over how to water their houseplants. For most, it is really quite simple. Stick your finger into the pot every few days. If the soil feels wet or moist, don’t water. If the soil feels dry, water. Generally 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 (or water them at a sink and let them drain there). That way you know you have moistened the entire rootball. But do not let the pot sit in a saucer full of water. Remove the water in the saucer if it is still there a few hours later.

Newly purchased houseplants should not be repotted immediately. If the plant does well, however, repotting eventually will become necessary.

When the time comes to repot the plant, the new container should have drainage holes. There must be some way for excess water to drain out of the soil when we water. Otherwise, we run the risk of the soil staying saturated, drowning the roots and encouraging root rot.

At any rate, when you repot, choose a pot you find attractive that fits well with your interior decor. Clay, plastic or other materials all are appropriate as long as they have drainage holes.

Use only soil specifically blended for use in containers called "potting soil." Do not use topsoil 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 them. Soilless mixes are available under various brand names.

Whatever potting soil or mix you use, make sure it feels relatively light when you pick up the bag. Also make sure it is loose, drains freely and does not pack tightly in the pot.

Since most of the plants grown as houseplants are native to the tropics, they should not be exposed to freezing temperatures. Generally avoid temperatures below 45 degrees. Also avoid extremely high temperatures (as in stopping somewhere along your way home from the nursery during the summer and leaving plants in a parked car with the windows rolled up). The normal temperatures we maintain inside our homes are just fine for most houseplants.

With consideration given to their needs and a commitment to providing the care necessary, you can grow a wide variety of wonderful plants in your home.

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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