Mankind has always liked to keep plants indoors. You can find these in the paintings of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
In India, paintings of the ancient civilizations depict them being kept in the courtyards.
In ancient Japan and China, the practice of growing indoor bonsai plant was prevalent. These are miniature trees grown and regularly pruned to keep their size small.
Keeping plants at home was a status symbol in the early European era as well.
But things have changed a lot.
Now we live in homes away from nature, often in areas where is less greenery outside as well.
And that’s the reason houseplants have become increasingly popular. Houseplants allow you to experience nature while being the closed walls of your house.
In addition to recreating the “ nature rich atmosphere” and their attractiveness, they also have amazing physical, social, and psychological impacts on humans.
Benefits of keeping Indoor plants
Below are some benefits of keeping indoor plants in your house or office.
- Plants absorb background noises thus they provide a comfortable atmosphere.
- They help improve concentrations.
- They help in increasing memory.
- People are more relaxed around plants
- Their attractiveness is eye pleasing
- They help in respiratory illnesses.
- They have a positive effect on people with high blood pressures and anxieties.
- They purify the air of indoor pollutants and helps remove toxins.
- They help remove dust, bacteria, fungi and other chemicals, smoke etc.
- They add life to dull interiors
- Researches show that they have a positive effect on our psychological thought process, helps increase our reasoning and cognitive abilities
- They help improve social contacts.
- People showed higher resistance to virus-related diseases.
Maintaining and Growing Indoor Plants
Firstly, you must determine where you want to keep them and then note the environmental conditions such as how much light is found in that spot, how much humidity and the temperature is present.
Light Conditions for Indoor Plants
Foliage plants need 14-16 hours of light per day and flowering plants need 12-16 hours of light per day.
Darkness is also important for plant growth. The plant needs at least 8 hours of darkness every day.
Different plants require a different spectrum of light.
- High light (bright indirect light) means a place near sunlight window where there is strong indirect light or long hours of good light from a south window. Among houseplants, those Plants which need high light are African violets, aloe, cactus, crotons, jade plants, geranium, zebra plant and wandering jew
- Medium indirect light means a place where there is a curtain between sunlight and the plant and it is 4 to 8 ft away from a north window or 2-4 hours of sunlight a day. Plants which need medium light are bromeliads, ferns, figs, ivy’s, palms, dieffenbachia, Moses in the cradle, philodendron, Schefflera, snake plant, peace lily, spider plant and peperomia
- Low light means a place more than 8 ft away from the window, filtered light from a small window across the room or light from a shaded window. Plants which need low light are cast iron plant, Chinese evergreen, pothos (though they can grow in high and medium as well), Dracaena (they can grow in the medium light as well) and birds nest fern ( they can grow in medium light conditions as well)
If there isn’t enough light in your home, you can use artificial lights.
Artificial Lights for Indoor Plants
You can use LED blue lights for foliage and LED warm red and orange for flowering plants.
LED lights are energy efficient and long-lasting. However, their cost is a bit high.
The positive side is that they emit very little heat and are a good supplement to sunlight. They can be customized according to the wavelengths required.
Below is a good artificial LED light you can use.
Symptoms that there is less than required light
- The leaves on the lower end of the plant turn yellow and eventually fall off.
- There is a very slow paced growth or no growth.
- The new leaves are smaller than the old leaves.
- No flowers grow or if they grow, they do not bloom to full extent.
- The color of the leaves will start fading and leaves will curl upwards.
- Spaces between nodes and leaves increase.
- Stems and leaves will lean towards the light.
Symptoms that there is too much light exposure
- The plants look wilted around midday.
- The leaves look faded and lifeless.
- There are brown patches on the foliage.
- Leaves start falling off.
- Foliage becomes dry as plants try to cool down due to too much heat produced by light.
Tips on Using the Right Light Conditions
- Watch the plant closely and look for signs which it wants to communicate
- Don’t switch abruptly from high light to low light or medium light. It might cause shock to plant leading to its death.
- Start by one hour every day in its new condition and gradually increase the number of hours
- Don’t move plants around a lot. They get used to environments around them gradually.
Humidity Conditions for Indoor Plants
- Almost all houseplants are tropical and therefore need good humidity
- Humidity can be classified into high (more than 50%), medium(30-50%) and low (25-50%) humidity.
- Most of the houseplants need medium humidity (50%)
- Indian homes have an average of low humidity (around 30%)
Cactus needs low humidity. Zebra plant and croton need high humidity.
To control and monitor the humidity levels around plants, a digital hygrometer and humidity gauge is very helpful.
If your house and low humidity, you can use a humidifier to increase humidity around plants without getting them wet.
Alternatively, you can spray a mist of water a few times a day with any spray bottle. Make sure the hole is small. That way big droplets don’t remain on leaves.
A cheaper option is to take a humidity tray and set pebbles on it. Keep half of the bottom down pebbles soaked and top half dry. Keep your container over it. The water will evaporate and create the moisture-rich environment.
Keeping plants together also helps in creating humidity.
- Signs of low humidity are wilting of stems and leaves
- Browning of tips and edges also indicate low humidity
- Signs of high humidity are grey molds forming on leaves
Watering Tips to Grow Indoor Plants
Water is very essential to the plant. It comprises 95% of the whole plant structure.
Plants use water through the roots to transport nutrients throughout the body. They also use water to make food through photosynthesis. Only 1% of the water is used for photosynthesis. The rest is released by small openings called stomata into the atmosphere (which also makes plants acts as natural humidifiers).
Plants should be watered with water which is at room temperature. Never put too hot or too cold water as it damages them.
If there is chlorine in water, let it stand in open for a day before using it for watering.
Water used for boiling eggs and veggies is a nutrient-rich source for plants. Fish tank water is also a good way to use water efficiently and giving plants some nutrients at the same time.
Take care not to over water. Overwatering leads to plants not having oxygen to breathe leading to root rot and plant death
Water thoroughly and allow it to dry a bit before watering again.
- Plants which need soil to be moist at all time are ferns, creeping fig, dracaena, cast iron plant, pothos, peperomia, philodendron, peace lily and zebra plant
- Plants which need intermediate watering, in a way that soil should be dry to touch before watering are bromeliads, fiddle leaf fig, ivy’s, palms, African violets, Chinese evergreen, croton, dieffenbachia, snake plant, spider plant and wandering jew.
- Plants which need periods of complete dryness before watering again are cactus, weeping fig, aloe, jade plant and Schefflera.
Useful Watering Tips to Grow Indoor Plants
Below are some tips to make sure your indoor plants not only survive but thrive:
- Use a moisture meter to help you know the moisture level in the soil. It is quite an easy method and will let u know for sure about the hydration levels. If you don’t want to invest in a moisture meter, prick your finger in the soil. If it slides down easily and soil sticks to fingers, don’t water. If it’s difficult to poke finger and soil doesn’t stick to fingers, water the plant.
- For the best care of indoor plants, use a good watering can to water plants. Start from bottom up or top down.
- Make sure the pots you’re using have good drainage holes. If there is no proper drainage of water, it can lead to waterlogging and death. Ceramic and Clay pots are good options as they soak up water and lead to better growth. Plastic and metals do not soak up water. Thoroughly water till water comes out of drainage hole.
- One more method is by placing a tray for any extra water underneath the plant. By capillary action, the roots will take the water they require. Throw the water in the tray after an hour. It will prevent dirty water from pooling on the floor/table.
- Make sure you don’t overwater the plants. Signs of overwatering are leaves becoming yellow, new growth falling off, plant looking wilted and swelled up, root rot and plants looking puffed up. At the same time, you need to make sure you’re giving enough water to the plants. Signs of dehydration are brown and dried leaf edge, slow leaf growth and leaves at the bottom becoming curled and discolored.
- Flush off the excess salt which is build up on the surface as white crust due to tap water and fertilizers. Take the plant out under the sun and water it until water comes out of drainage holes. After a while, pour more water and empty the drainage tray.
- Plants with thick foliage will require more water. Thin foliage, leathery leaves require less water.
- Plants require more water in their growth periods which is spring and summers.
- If you have put too much water, tip the plant to the side to allow excess water to fall. You can also use absorbent tissues.
- If you frequently forget to water, there is much self-watering equipment available which you can use when you go on mini vacations as well for up to 4 days.
How to Water Plants when on vacation/away?
These are not expensive and will make sure that you come back to healthy living plants when you come back.
Soil Related Tips when Growing Indoor Plants
For an indoor plant, never use garden or yard soil. It can be full of fungal diseases and pests/weeds.
Plants which need dry soil spells require a well-draining soil. Plants which are to be kept moistened need a moisture retaining mix.
Use a good organic potting mix. It is a combination of minerals, beneficial bacteria, decomposed organic matter, and micronutrients.
Steps to pot a plant: with the organic potting mix (or any other soil type you’re using):
- Pour the soil. Mix it with water according to instructions. A little water at a time, to kneed it into a sponge-like consistency or according to the plant requirement.
- Pat the soil with fingers to eliminate big air pockets. There should be an inch gap between the soil surface and the stem of the plant.
- Keep the stem above the soil surface.
- It is good to fill the last layer of the pot with broken pots/pebbles to allow for drainage. It will also reduce the amount of soil used.
- Take the plant gently out of its plastic container cup by watering one hour before to help it loosen
- Put your fingers on either side of the stem and tip the cup upside down.
- Squeeze the cup walls to remove the plant. Never pull the stem.
- Dig a hole the size of the root ball into the soil and place the plant.
- Fill up to the soil surface and water the container.
Keeping the Plants Alive
Once we have chosen the correct houseplant, given it the light, humidity and water and soil that it requires, the next step is keeping them alive.
Indoor plants require fertilizer more often as the nutrients in the soil get used up by plants
While newly potted or newly bought plants from nursery have enough fertilizer for few weeks, every time we water the plants, some amount of nutrients get removed from the soil.
Once the soil nutrients are used up, we need to add fertilizer for health and growth of the plants.
For Indoor plants, a 10-10-10 formula works best. Equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are the three major nutrients required by the plants.
Plants also require minute amounts of micronutrients such as calcium sulfur, magnesium, copper, iron zinc which are present in almost all the fertilizers.
- Nitrogen helps in growth and good foliage
- Phosphorus is good for root health and flowering
- Potassium fights off diseases and promotes stem growth
During winter months when the plants are dormant, you can withhold the fertilizer. A good regime is to fertilize once a month
If a plant is dropping lower leaves, changing color to yellow-green, and is getting weak, it can be a sign to add some fertilizer. Try adding fertilizer every two weeks in such a case.
If there are brown spots on leaves and spacing between leaves are more than usual and growth is small, fertilize less often.
Cacti need to be fertilized only once or twice a year.
Natural organic fertilizer is less likely to harm plants than synthetic fertilizer.
Synthetic fertilizers lead to soluble salt deposits with time in the soil. This excess salt is harmful to roots and makes the plant susceptible to diseases. Wash out the excess salts every month by adding generous amounts of water until water flows out. Repeat 2-3 times.
If a plant is unhealthy or wilted, water first and give adequate sunlight and fertilize only after its recovered.
There are many types of fertilizers available in the market.
- Slow release fertilizer granules which dissolve slowly over time making it an easy process
- Water soluble fertilizers are very common and come in the form of liquid, powder, and crystals
- Fertilizer spikes are inserted in the soil and dissolve when watered.
Pinching and Pruning the Plants
Pinching is the act of removing new shoots and buds with thumb and forefinger.
Pruning is the act of cutting a part of the plant.
Below are some tips on pinching and pruning the plants to keep them healthy and alive:
- Regularly pruning and pinching the plant keeps it healthy, attractive and helps to keep pests and diseases away. The best time to prune and pinch a plant is when it’s growing quite well.
- Pinching should be done above the node. Node is the point of new growth. It helps the stem to branch out below the point of pinched growths leading to thicker fuller plants
- Pruning or cutting of plant should be done with scissors to make a clean sharp cut. If we tear off the leaves abruptly or make big open cuts it can invite fungal diseases and rots.
- Cut or prune yellow and brown leaves or else they will decay and attract pests and diseases.
- Always prune at 45-degree angle and above a node so that new branches grow from the node area.
- Prune as soon as you see dead and decayed parts.
- If the plant looks diseased, first prune off the diseased part and then treat it with insecticide/pesticide/fungicide.
- When the roots grow too large for the container, a good idea is to prune the plant roots. Pull away from the roots from the root mass and cut up to one inch within the soil mass. This will give it a good room to grow further.
- It is a good idea to not prune more than 30% of the plant at a time. Cutting back more than that can shock and even kill the plant.
Cleaning and Washing the Plants
Just like humans bath to remove dust, plants also need to be rid of dust collected over time on its surface
It helps the plants breathe and absorb light more efficiently. It also keeps the plant healthy and rid of pests.
You can use any good spray to give a bath to your indoor plants.
To do this, take the indoor plants outside and give it a good bath once a week. You can cover the soil or let the soluble salts leach out of the soil. Keep it in a sunny place to dry out. You can also wipe clean with soap and sponge and then place under sink or shower and then dry the plant.
Repotting the plants
When the plant outgrows the pot it is in, the roots of the plant find it difficult to derive water and nutrients to support new growth. When this happens, it’s an indication that your plants need repotting.
Signs of reporting are:
- Top of the plant becoming heavy
- The soil is filled with new shoots with no more space in the container.
- Roots growing out of drainage holes
- Stunted growth and old leaves begin to lose color and drop
The solution is to transfer the plant to a bigger container but not more than 2 inches in diameter compared to the current pot. The reason being that if we transfer to a very large pot, the extra soil retains water giving a wet culture and the excess water saturation will harm the roots.
Plants get a shock while repotting. So, it’s better to re-pot in the periods of active growth like spring.
Not all plants need repotting. Some can grow in the same pot for years as long as they are top and bottom pruned. Know which type of plant you have and check the symptoms mentioned above before repotting.
Here are the steps to follow when repotting your houseplants:
- Water the plant well for 2-3 days before repotting.
- Invert the pot and gently remove the stem by placing hands on either side
- Put fresh potting mix in the new pot and then place the plant
- Position the plant and add the soil mix so that the plant is at the same level as in the old pot.
- After the plant has been repotted, it shows signs of stress. The most common being wilting. Keep it away from strong light for a week to give it a chance to heal and rest.
Repotting can be difficult and cumbersome. Using a re-potting sickle can really make sure you don’t end up harming your plants.
Disease and Pest Management for Indoor Plants
For a disease to occur, a favorable environment, a pathogen, and a susceptible plant are required.
Because indoor plants have low humidity conditions, chances of foliar diseases are bit low.
It is very important to know that stress-free plant fights off diseases. Try to keep the plant as stress-free as possible.
Low light levels and too much watering can cause stress to the plant.
Spots with particular patterns which don’t go away are signs of diseases.
Diseases can be bacterial, viral and fungal (soft spots, wilts, sooty molds, rots, and cankers)
Soil-borne diseases occur when the soil is kept excessively moist.
Use good fungicide/bactericide for fungal/bacterial diseases once you have identified them
Due to low humidity, low light, and excess water, pests are common in indoor plants. Soil-borne pathogens develop easily in these conditions.
Heavy infestations may be difficult to treat. It is better to discard such plants.
Related Articles on Indoor Plants:
- 10 Best Indoor Flowering Plants in India.
- Planning to Get Indoor Bamboo Plants? Here is what you need to know.
- 7 Indoor Plants that Don’t Need Sunlight (available in India).
- 7 Indoor Water Plants that are Great to Keep and Easy to Maintain.
- 10 Indoor Plants You Can Use as Decorations.
- Best Indoor Palm Trees in India.
- 7 Indoor Medicinal Plants to Keep You Healthy in India