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Indoor Plants: Selection and Care

Points to be kept in mind while buying an indoor plant

  • Check the compost (Potting Soil). If it has dried out the plants have been neglected. Don’t buy.

  • Lift & check the base of the pot. If lots of roots are coming out of the bottom, the pot should have been reported sooner. A few small roots through the bottom of the pot is not a sign of neglect and is normal where the plants have been grown on capillary matting.

  • If buying a flowering plant, make sure that there are still plenty of buds to open, otherwise, the display may be brief.

  • Look critically at the shape. If the plant is lopsided, or the plant is bare at the base, choose another.

  • Make sure the plant is labelled. A label should tell you how to take care of the plant, and unlabelled plants suggest a lack of concern for plants & customers.

  • Avoid plants with broken or damaged leaves.

  • Turn the leaves over. Look for signs of pests & diseases. If you find any then leave the plant in the shop.

  • Any plant kept in the protective sleeve should be checked properly by removing the protective sleeve, before buying.


Caring For Indoor plants

1. Creating the right environment

  • Temperature: Most plants will survive much lower than the temperature that is generally recommended. In winter when the light is low the growth of the plant can be stimulated by high temperature. In summer the plant should be kept out of the reach of direct sunlight with high humidity.

  • Light & Shade: The best position of the plant is in good sunlight but out of direct sunlight. The plants that are generally placed outside should be placed in a place where the sunrays would either be passing through a glass or a net curtain so that it would not come in direct contact with the sun’s rays. Only the plants from desserts, steppes etc should be kept in direct sunlight.

  • Effects of Heat: Leaf Scorch is the main problem that is seen in the case of plants (Brown marks or blotches that leave the areas looking thin & papery). The problem can also be found if drops of water are left on the leaves of the plant in the direct sunlight, as the water droplets act as magnifying glass spoiling the leaves.

  • Humidity: Humidity is highly important for the plant. Humidity can be increased by placing the potted plant on gravel with water. However, the plant shouldn’t be placed in direct water as it will block the compost. Also, the misting of the foliage plant should be done daily for the better growth of the plant. While misting the flowering plant, cardboard or a piece of paper should be used to cover the flower or the bud so that the water wouldn’t damage it.

2. Feeding

The plant should be fed when they are growing actively and when light & nutrients are such that they can take advantage of it. Generally mid spring & mid-autumn are the best times for the plant’s growth. Fertilizers are of different types which would include liquid feeds (they are quick acting and useful when a plant needs an immediate boost), Pellets & Sticks (they are pushed into the compost and then they release the nutrients slowly over a period of time), Slow release sachets( Placed in the bottom of the pot. Useful while repotting), Soluble powders( they are dissolved in the liquid and used as like the liquid fertilizer), Granular fertilizer( added directly to the compost and spread using a fork).

3. Compost

It acts as a reservoir of nutrients & if the structure is right then achieves the right balance between moisture & air. It also acts as a host to many microorganisms. Compost is basically of 2 types ie loam-based & peat-based.


Indoor Plants Maintenance

1. While watering plants, keep a few things in mind:

  • Check the soil for moisture, if moist watering is not required. If you do expect a hot day ahead then you could give it a bit of a sprinkle.

  • Make sure the soil is never left soggy for long periods letting it dry between watering. This will prevent the plants from rotting due to suffocation. Plants like cactus need to be watered once in a week and placed in full sun

  • The best time to water plants is in the morning before the sunlight is at its strongest intensity as this is the optimum condition for plants to photosynthesize.

  • If plants have plastic trays beneath them, make sure there is no standing water in the tray as this could inhibit airflow to the roots. Once watered, make sure the tray is emptied of standing water and placed back. Standing water can cause mosquitoes to breed and result in overwatering of the plants.

  • Make sure to thoroughly clean plants up to twice a week to keep them dust-free. Dust interferes with the breathing of the plants and if not cleaned, plants appear dull and tend to wilt.

2. Re-Potting

All potted plants need to be re-potted at least once a year to maintain stable growth and lustre. Some slow-growing plants may take longer; hence pay attention to your plants. Some signs to look out for are:

  • Roots are visibly sticking out from the bottom of the pot as well as the surface.

  • Soil surface looks depleted of soil.

  • There is no space for you to apply any additional fertilizer.

  • The plant may look wilted and sick.

In that case, you must remove the plant from its pot and trim the roots. Be careful while doing this as some plants may suffer shock and not recover. Ideally, plants should be placed in a larger pot (approximately 2-4 inches larger) or on the ground. Prune and re-pot the plant, making sure you have added a good amount of fertilizer. After re-potting, water the plant thoroughly and place it under shade for two days till it settles and then reintroduces it to its desired location.

3. Fertilizing

It is mandatory that all plants be fertilized once a month. Make sure they are supplied with a balanced diet of NPK- Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium or any well-decomposed organic fertilizer.

  • Create a ring around the plant.

  • Dig about 2-3 inches in and sprinkle some fertilizer.

  • Cover it back with soil and then water.

  • For leaf shine and brightness, a weekly routine of spraying any organic liquid or soil fertilizer is advised.

4. Trimming and Pruning

Pruning is a horticultural practice that involves the removal of certain unwanted, diseased, non-reproducing parts of a plant. It is advised according to a particular plant’s growth habit. While pruning, keep the following points in mind:

  • Is it the flowering time of the plant in question?

  • If it is, then wait until it is done flowering and then continue to prune.

  • How much you need to prune will depend on how much you expect it to grow within a certain period. For example, if you decide to drastically prune your bougainvillaea, it will be another 6-10 months before you see it in a lush bushy flowering state.

Pruning must be done systematically. A good method is to trim the young, wild, out of shape branches before you tackle the older, more established ones. In this way, you give the plants a better form as it grows to increase their overall aesthetic appeal. It is advised that the cutters have sharp blades or else they could damage the plant creating and an open wound susceptible to fungal and rust diseases.

5. Hydro Culture

Also known as hydroponics. It is a method of growing plants without soil or compost. It gives us successful plants with a little attention. Choose a young plant, wash its roots carefully. Then place the plant in a container with slatted or mesh sides. Pack expanded granules along with the roots and then place the pot into another larger watertight container. Insert water level tube. Pack the whole with more clay granules to fill up the pot. Sprinkle the special hydro culture fertilizer and add water to the maximum level. Relax for a few months now.

6. Trouble Shooting

a. Eliminating Pests

Everyone gets pests in their houseplants. All need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Most pests fall under the three categories given below:

  • Sap Suckers and Aphids: They are perhaps the most common and troublesome, but are easy to control provided you act as soon as they are infected (as they reproduce at a phenomenal rate). They are not only important for the immediate damage they do but also because of the long-term health risk to your plant. When aphids cluster on buds or tips of shoots, leaves and flowers, they will often be distorted when they open up. Aphids can easily transmit virus diseases from one plant to another because they tap into the veins of the plant. To control one can use systemic, insecticides or impregnated sticks or simply swish the plant in water. Whitefly looks like tiny moths and rises up in a cloud when disturbed. The nymphs are green to white and scale-like, turning yellow when mature. Use repeated spraying of a contact insecticide. Red spider mites are tiny and the actual insect may be missed. They are noticeable due to the webs and yellowing, mottled leaves. They hate a humid place so mist the plant after spraying insecticide. Mealybugs and other saps sucking insects can be treated by dabbed them with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

  • Leaf Eaters: They are easily noticed by missing leaves and are relatively easier to control. Large insects that remain on the plant(caterpillar, slugs, snails etc) can usually be picked off by hand. Those insects that feed at night and hide during the day can be controlled by the use of insect powders or traps (small ones filled with litter and left slightly open)

  • Root Chewer: One is unlikely to notice them until the plant collapses. If a plant looks sick or starts to collapse and there is no obvious cause such as over-watering/ under watering, remove the plant from its pot and shake off its compost. Examine the roots for pests, if any. Then dip the roots into an insecticidal solution before repotting in fresh compost.

b. Dealing with diseases

Plant diseases can be disfiguring and even fatal, so always take them seriously. If you cannot control them by picking off the affected leaves, rapid resort to a fungicide may be the best solution. Fungal diseases are difficult to identify accurately but most can be controlled by the same fungicide(the only precaution is to read the label to check)

  • Leaf Spots: Various fungi and bacteria cause leaf spots. If tiny black specks are seen on the affected surface, they are likely to be spore-bearing bodies of a fungus, so a fungicide may be effective. If no specks are detected it might be a bacterial problem. Prune off and destroy the affected leaves. Water with a systematic insecticide and avoid misting too often. Increase ventilation if possible.

  • Roots Rot: The first sign of this is the sudden collapse of the plant. The leaves turn brown/black and curl up. The entire plant may wilt. This is almost always a result of overwatering. If the plant has not already deteriorated too far, try drying it.

  • Sooty mould: The fungus covers the leaves and the black growth looks like a root. This does not harm the plant but makes it unsightly. This mould lives on the excrement left by aphids and whitefly so eliminating the insect to remove this mould.

  • Mildews: This disease is seen as a white, powdery deposit. The problem starts in 1-2 areas but soon engulfs the whole leaf. Pick off the affected leaf at an early stage, and then use a fungicide to have its spread. Increase ventilation and reduce humidity around the plant till the disease is under control.

  • Viruses: The main symptom is stunted/distorted growth, irregular yellow blotches on foliage and streaked petals on flowering plants. They are easily transmitted by sap-sucking insects. There is no effective control.

c. Disorders and deficiencies

Not all troubles are caused by pests and diseases. Sometimes psychological problems such as chills and cold draughts, or nutritional deficiencies can cause. Look for anything that has disturbed the usual routine has the plant been moved, watered more or less heavily, has the weather become much colder, have you turned on central heating but not increased humidity and ventilation.

  • Temperature: Plants can't take sudden change of temperature. If leaves drop, this may be due to low temperature. Leaves that look shrivelled and slightly translucent may have been touched by frost. Hardy plants drop their leaves and berries fall if the temperature is kept too high.

  • Light and sun: Plants that need high light intensity will become elongated and drawn if the illumination is poor, the leaves and flower stalks will be drawn towards the window. Lopsided growth is another sign of inadequate light. If you cant move the plant into a lighter position, try turning their pot round by 45 degrees each day. Do not put in the direct sunlight as it may scorch the leaves (brown, papery areas on the leaf). Patterned glass is a particular problem as it can act as a magnifying glass.

  • Humidity: Dry air can cause leaf tips to go brown and papery on vulnerable plants.

  • Watering: Too little water causes wilting and collapse. If the compost feels very wet, and the plant collapses, suspect overwatering

  • Feeding: Pale leaves and short, stunted growth may be due to lack of fertilizer in the compost. Try liquid feeding for a quick boost. Specific plants such as citrus fruits & rhododendrons may show signs of iron deficiency (yellowing leaves) if grown on alkaline compost. Feed with a sequestered iron and next time you report use ericaceous compost.

  • Bud Drop: This is often caused by dry rot or dry air, overwatering or by moving a plant once the flower buds have formed.

d. Wilting and Worse

When a plant wilts or appears to collapse, it's time to take drastic action. The first priority is to decide what’s wrong, then if possible, to apply first aid measures without delay to bring the plant back to health. Plants usually wilt due to too much/ little water(visible) and insects and diseases affecting the roots. If the compost is neither too wet nor dry check the base of the plant just above compost level. If the stem looks black or rotten, a fungal disease is a likely cause and the plant is discarded.

If none of these symptoms is seen, remove the plant from its pot and shake off some soil. If any of the roots are soft or black and decaying, a root disease is a likely cause. Look also for grubs or other insects around the roots. The larvae of beetles such as weevils can sometimes cause the plant to collapse.

e. First aid for root pests/ diseases

Try drenching the compost with the fungicide, then after a couple of hours letting it dry out on absorbent paper. If roots are badly damaged re-pot it sterilized compost first after removing old soil as much as possible. If pests are not controlled (wine, weevil, grubs, etc) try shaking the old soil off, dust roots with insecticidal powder, then repot in fresh, sterilized compost.


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