Houseplants can thrive in arid climate

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— Growing houseplants is a popular hobby and an interior decorating technique. The secret to maintaining healthy attractive houseplants is to establish a suitable growing environment in your home. Know your plants' needs.

There are five elements necessary for an optimum growing environment: light, temperature, humidity, water and plant nutrients.

Homes vary in the amount of light available for plant growth. To increase the amount of light a plant receives, move the plant closer to a southern exposure window or provide artificial light, and always keep the leaves clean of dust and grime. To reduce the amount of light, you can shade the plant with another plant, move it farther away from the window or install a lace curtain to diffuse the light.

Know what temperatures your houseplants prefer and select a location in your home accordingly. Rooms with southern and western exposures are usually warmer. If plants are by a window, lower the blinds at night to avoid major temperature changes or freezing temperatures by the window sill.

The arid environment in the Steamboat Springs area and the long season of heating homes can cause the humidity to be as low as 10 percent. That is tough on tropical plants, most of which grow naturally in 70 percent humidity. To increase relative humidity, put the plant on top of a tray of gravel and clean water (be careful not to let the pot sit in water), or group your houseplants together in the same area. Plants transpire air continuously by releasing water into the atmosphere through tiny openings in their leaves.

Over- or under-watering can be detrimental to your houseplants. All plants require a supply of water for the soil. Air, as well, is vital in the soil. If there is too much water in the soil, there is no room left for air.

Use a pot that will allow excess water to drain out a hole in the bottom. When watering, apply enough water to run out the drainage hole, but do not allow the pot to sit in the excess water.

Water as the houseplant needs it, not on a schedule. If some plants require frequent watering, this may be a sign it is time to transfer the plant to a larger pot with more soil. Water high in sodium can harm houseplants. Remember nobody likes a cold shower -- use room-temperature water.

Houseplants grown in containers need fertilizer because they have a limited amount of soil from which to take their necessary nutrients. Water-soluble fertilizers are the most convenient to prepare and use. Only mix up what you need at the time of watering and follow the dilution directions as described on the label. Keep all fertilizers, synthetic and organic, away from children.

During the winter months, as plants are not actively growing, fertilize every six weeks. During the growing months, spring and summer, fertilize every other week. Do not over fertilize; more is not better and over fertilizing can kill a houseplant. If in doubt, use low-strength fertilizer. If you notice white crusts on the rim or sides of clay pots, it may be due to salt accumulation on the pot. Flush your houseplants with clear water every six months to prevent salt deposits.

Houseplants vary in their needs. Light, temperature, water, humidity and fertilizer requirements are all interrelated in promoting healthy growth. If managed well, your houseplants will grow into specimens you can enjoy for years to come.

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