Houseplants For Dummies book cover

Houseplants For Dummies

By: Larry Hodgson and National Gardening Association Published: 08-26-1998

Looking to bring some outside greenery indoors? Maybe you already have an indoor garden and are looking to create a botanical jungle.  Whatever the case may be, houseplants are an ideal inexpensive way to beautify your dwelling. You’ll be rewarded with purer air and you’re sure to enjoy watching your plant sprout, climb, and even flower.

Of course, before you start working on crafting a greenhouse, you need to know what kinds of plants you can grown in your home and which plants are best suited to your taste and style. Houseplants For Dummies introduces dozens of different foliage plants, flowering plants, cacti, and exotic varieties. Your green thumb is sure to get even greener once you’ve read about:

  • Houseplant basics
  • Identifying indoor microclimates
  • Indoor plant “biographies”
  • Differentiating between direct, indirect, and low light
  • Watering needs
  • Rules of fertilizing
  • Temperature and growing cycles

Houseplants For Dummies is packed with houseplant growing techniques, tips, tricks, and even goes the extra mile with a chapter devoted to the various ways you can display houseplants if you’re looking for some bragging rights! Whether you’re new to the world of houseplant basics or you’re a seasoned gardener, you’ll get the “inside dirt” on topics such as:

  • Various potting soil mixes
  • Preparing plants for indoor life
  • Cleaning, pruning, and staking
  • Propagating houseplants
  • Dealing with pests and diseases
  • Building your own controlled climate
  • And much more

The material is arranged into six clear and helpful sections: houseplant basics, houseplant profiles, growing essentials, potted plant maintenance, houseplant settings, and valuable ideas – each section helping you create your own indoor forest. Even if you’re convinced you have a black thumb, Houseplants For Dummies will have you living among the green in no time!

Articles From Houseplants For Dummies

3 results
3 results
Steps for Fool-Proof Repotting

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Ready for a little repotting? It's not that difficult even if it's your first try at repotting a plant, and if you're an old hand at it, you may discover some helpful new techniques. Before you remove a plant from its pot, always make sure that you have enough potting mix on hand, and then follow these steps: 1. A day or two before you plan to repot, give your plants a thorough watering because they're easier to repot when the growing mix is moist. 2. Pour some potting mix into a bucket or bowl and add an equivalent amount of warm water, then blend thoroughly. Most soilless potting mixes are somewhat water repellent when dry, so you need to stir them. Aim for a consistency a little drier than muffin batter. If the mix is too dry, add more water; too liquid, add a bit more medium.Adding a drop or two of liquid soap to the water also helps the mix to absorb moisture more readily. You can seal any leftover mix in a plastic bag or container and save it for your next potting session. 3. To remove the plant from its old pot, slip your hand over the top of the pot, holding the plant's stem between your fingers, and turn the pot upside down, as shown in Figure 1. Figure 1: The correct technique for removing a plant from its pot. 4. Tap the rim of the pot firmly against a hard surface, such as a table, and then gently pull the pot upwards to remove the plant (again, see Figure 1). If the plant refuses to budge, tap the pot against the hard surface a few more times and try again. It may take two pairs of hands (one pair pulling on the pot while the other pair holds the plant) to remove big plants from large pots. You also may have to run a knife blade around the inside of the pot's rim to remove the plant or first cut away roots extending from the drainage holes. If that doesn't work, you may actually have to break the pot to remove the plant. 5. Examine the root ball. If the root ball is less healthy or if the plant has been in the same pot for more than 18 months, you must do some cleaning up before repotting it. If some of the roots appear dead, damaged, or rotten (or circle the inside of the pot, indicating probable underpotting), you need to prune them off. 6. If thick roots totally encircle the plant, cut away a 1/2- to 1-inch (2- to 3-centimeter) slice of roots and soil with a sharp knife — not only all around the pot, but also from the bottom (see Figure 2). Figure 2: If the root ball is entirely circled by thick roots, slice a portion of roots and soil from the sides and bottom. Don't cut away healthy roots of plants that don't like being repotted, such as the clivia. If you intend to repot the plant into a pot of the same size or smaller, prune back even more harshly. You can remove up to one-third of the old roots (or one-third of the root ball) without harming the plant. 7. Remove about one-third of the old potting mix from the root ball, loosening it gently with your fingers, a stake, a pencil, or a chopstick inserted straight down into the roots. It's no loss — the soil is most likely contaminated with mineral salts. 8. Pour in a layer of the premoistened potting mix made in Step 2. Use just enough so that the top of the roots are at the same level as the pot's rim projection. 9. Set the plant in the pot, turning it to make sure it is completely centered, and begin adding soil. Use your fingers or a chopstick to work the potting mix down among the roots. Press just hard enough to eliminate any large air pockets without compressing the soil. 10. Add the potting medium until the roots are well covered, and then even out the mix with your fingers or a spoon. 11. Water well, let drain, and you're done! Try to keep any newly repotted plant out of full sunlight for a week or so, and then reintroduce it to its permanent home. You can begin fertilizing again in about one month. One important note before you actually repot the plant: Don't waste the already limited space in an average pot with a layer of useless pot shards. Use a good potting mix from top to bottom. Studies show that so-called drainage layers don't actually help drainage at all. On the contrary, pots actually drain better when the potting mix is evenly packed in the pot.

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Fertilizing Fundamentals for Houseplants

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The secret to fertilizing your houseplants lies in moderation. Rule Number One: Less is more The number-one rule for fertilizing plants bears repeating: When it comes to fertilizing your plants, less is more. Go ahead and fertilize your plants, but never give them as much fertilizer as the manufacturer's label suggests. Fertilizer companies want to encourage you to use as much fertilizer as possible (you use it up quicker, you buy more often). The dosage on the label usually represents the largest amount of the fertilizer that a healthy plant growing under ideal conditions can tolerate without feeling ill effects. Under less than ideal growing conditions (like those in the average house or apartment), plants won't absorb large amounts of fertilizer. If a plant lacks light and humidity, it doesn't synthesize the fertilizer as quickly because it isn't operating at peak performance. Therefore, fertilizer builds up in the potting mix unused. Unless you're certain that you are providing your plants with absolutely perfect growing conditions, never apply more than half the recommended dose of fertilizer. Rule Number Two: Never fertilize a weak plant A plant that's in bad shape, such as one suffering from insects or disease, recovering from a bad shock (such as a spill to the floor), or struggling with root damage, simply can't utilize fertilizer properly. Wait until you see healthy new leaves appear or note other obvious signs of recovery before you fertilize the plant again. Rule Number Three: Some plants don't live by the rules Some plants do require more fertilizer than others. Flowering plants and plants grown for fruit require more light, more water, and more humidity than other plants. If you boost the amount of growing essentials (and you have to if you want them to perform), it stands to reason that they require more fertilizer as well. Just don't go overboard: It's easier to add a little more fertilizer if necessary than to remove excess fertilizer from a plant that you've pretty much poisoned by overfertilizing. So, when's the best time to fertilize? Wait for a month or so before fertilizing newly purchased or freshly repotted plants. Not only does their mix usually already contain fertilizer, but also the last thing they need as they acclimate to their new pot or home is an extra dose of fertilizer. (Remember: Never fertilize a weak plant. Plants adapting to a new environment qualify as weakened.) Fertilize plants only during their active growth phases. Most plants grow most strongly from spring through summer and need the most fertilizer at that time. Begin reducing the fertilization rate in the autumn (an excellent time to apply a bit of tomato fertilizer, which is rich in potassium, to help the plant through the dark days of winter). You may want to apply fertilizer at half the recommended rate in spring and summer and then cut back to a quarter of the rate in autumn. Most plants grow slowly, if at all, in winter. Give them either no fertilizer during this time of year, or only a weak dosage. Never fertilize a plant that is completely dormant.

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Checking for Disease/Distress When Buying Houseplants

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Always give a plant a quick once-over, at the very least, before you make the purchase no matter where you're buying the plant. The following list tells you about the major signs of distress and disease in a plant (and you can follow along with Figure 1): Figure 1: Trouble signs to watch for when shopping for plants. Wobbly plants: Give the plant a quick shake. A plant that's unsteady in its pot may not be well-rooted. Shaking the plant also tells you whether the plant has whiteflies (see Figure 2) because the flies, which resemble dandruff, take off like a shot when you move the plant. Figure 2: Whiteflies. Crowded roots: Check the bottom of the pot for roots coming out of the drainage hole. Roots emerging from holes in the pot don't necessarily mean that the plant is underpotted, but it's frequently a first symptom. If in doubt, ask the clerk to remove the pot (if possible) so that you can see the roots. (Expect this kind of service only in a nursery, garden center, or florist shop.) If roots are wound around the base of the plant, you know it's underpotted and possibly stressed. Try to find another plant of the same kind that has a less-developed root ball. A healthy root ball holds together but doesn't have excess roots showing when you remove it from the pot. Unhealthy roots: If you've convinced the clerk to remove the pot to let you check for crowded roots, go ahead and check the plant's overall health as well. Roots come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, but they should always feel firm, not squishy, with the tips a paler color than the rest of the roots. Examine bits of white fluff among the roots with suspicion: You're quite possibly face to face with soil mealybugs. On the other hand, that white fluff may be nothing more than bits of perlite, a common medium for potting plants. A soggy growing medium also means bad news. Signs of rot: Sniff the potting mix. If it has a forest-after-a-spring-rain smell, all is well. If it has the sickly sweet smell of a rotting potato, put the plant down — more than likely, that plant has a bad case of root rot or stem rot. Leaf spots: Leaf spots can indicate disease. Physical damage can generate leaf spots, too (garden center plants tend to get jostled around a bit). Damaged leaves never recover, however. Ask yourself whether you're willing to wait for the plant to produce new leaves. You may decide you prefer a healthier specimen. Spindly, leggy plants or ones with brown leaf tips: These symptoms indicate the plant has not been getting adequate care for quite some time. Signs of insects or disease: Make sure to look underneath the leaves and at the leaf axils (the point where the leaf meets the stem), two places where most pests hang out. Yellowed leaves or abundant leaf loss: A yellow leaf or two at the base of a plant is nothing to be alarmed about. If you see many yellow or fallen leaves, however, the plant's probably stressed and therefore not a good choice. Lots of open flowers, but only a few unopened buds: A flowering plant in full bloom can look spectacular but may be well past its prime and ready to stop blooming in short order. Buy a plant mostly in bud with just enough open blooms to let you see its eventual color. Then you know that you've yet to see the plant at its best. Chrysanthemums and miniature roses are exceptions to the avoid-lots-of-opened-flowers rule: Chrysanthemum and rose buds not fully open may not open at all under home growing conditions unless you can give them full sun. Buy chrysanthemums and miniature roses already at their peak of bloom.

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