Spring is just days away, and with it comes the natural urge to get out and relish the great outdoors. Houseplants are a fun and easy way to keep that fresh, springtime feeling inside your home all the time. Even better, the health benefits associated with having indoor plants are fantastic. Not only does the presence of plants lower stress by promoting a calm and relaxed attitude, but research undertaken by NASA proves that plants are capable of cleaning indoor air of volatile organic chemicals.

Houseplant  Basics

All houseplants need the correct balance of light to thrive. Always judge available light during the middle of a sunny day and be sure to choose a spot that has light for at least five hours of the day. Lack of sufficient light can lead to spindly plant growth. Check new plants daily for watering needs.  Most plant roots don’t like to be under water for more than 15 to 30 minutes, so make sure to put pebbles or other drainage material under the pot so the water that drains out isn’t touching the bottom of the pot.  Watch the leaves for signs of improper watering. Drooping or shriveling means not enough water is getting to the leaves, either because the plant needs water or the roots are damaged. Brown tips can mean dead root tips, either because the pot is too small or the plant isn’t being watered enough. Yellow leaves can be a sign of too much or too little water, so adjust accordingly.  Because the available nutrients in most potting mixes are depleted quickly, fertilizing houseplants appropriately is important. Fertilizers can come in the form of powders, spikes and premixed liquids, as well as slow-release pellets and water soluble crystalline plant food.

Troubleshooting

If a plant is slowly declining for no good reason, or is experiencing a browning or “frying” of leaf margins, chances are it is being chemically poisoned by chlorine, wrong-PH or fertilizer build up. Many plants are sensitive to the chlorine in tap water, so try leaving the water out overnight before watering the plant. Limit fertilizer to once a month or once a quarter. Dilute twice the recommended amount and don’t use during dormancy. Try testing your water’s PH with a cheap kit from the pet fish store. Most houseplants like a medium or slightly acid PH. Acidity can easily be increased using a drop or two of vinegar.

Five Great House Plants

1. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Native to South Africa, Spider Plants get their common name from the long thin leaves that emerge from their central point. They prefer cool to average home temperatures, but will tolerate hotter temperatures, and do well in just about any amount of light. The roots of Spider Plants have actually evolved to store water, making them very tolerant to inconsistent watering practices. The fluoride in tap water may turn leaf tips brown. To prevent this, use distilled water or rainwater for watering. Little plantlets form on hanging stems, making it very easy to propagate. Consider using an abundance of these plantlets in your container gardens outdoor this spring. This is a great and economical way to add variety to your annuals!

2. Mother-in-laws’s Tongue or Snake Plant (Sansecieria trifasciata)
This plant comes in tall and short varieties and will tolerate just about any growing condition. It also has an amazing capacity to miraculously revive from any “brown thumb” care once treated properly. Repotting is seldom necessary, since roots are sparse and the plant looks best when allowed to crowd the pot.

3. African Violet (Saintpaulia sp.)
When conditions are right, African Violets can bloom all year. There are a wide range of colors and sizes available and plants are easily hybridized to produce new colors and forms. African Violets need a lot of light throughout the day, but hot, direct sun will scorch the leaves and blooms, making indirect or filtered sun ideal. Water plants from the bottom using tepid water and feed the plant regularly with liquid houseplant fertilizer.

4. Aloes come in a variety of forms, but they all have thick succulent leaves coming from a central point. They like a lot of light and are reasonably easy to propagate. Plantlets grow up alongside the parent plant. Cut them off along with some roots, put them in soil and you’ll soon have many of them. Aloe is also a heavy hitter in the world of medicinal plants, most commonly used to treat burns and rashes.

5. Geraniums possess characteristics that make them ideal plants. Not only are they easy to care for, but they have a long bloom and lovely fragrance. Bright light is important to keep them flowering throughout the year. Light from a southern or western window is recommended. Geraniums like their soil to dry out a bit between watering. The best technique is to check about 3″ down into the soil, not the top of the soil, for watering needs.