Deb Babcock: 7 tips for growing plants indoors

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.

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Indoor plants

This list compiled by Master Gardener Diana Eilers contains suggested houseplants for Routt County homes:

Peace lily or white flag — A beautiful flowering plant that starts drooping the minute it needs water and perks up immediately upon receiving a drink. (Leaves can be toxic to pets.)

Weeping fig or Benjamin ficus — This tree is such a joy to watch grow, plus it tolerates low humidity well. Rotate it when you water or fertilize, as it prefers bright indirect or filtered light. (As the tree grows, do not add any competing plants into its base even though it may add to its exterior decor.)

Pothos (all varieties — golden, jade, marble, queen, neon) — Superbly easy to grow and replant; just cut off large vines, trim to smaller ones, place in water (or vermiculite) until roots appear and then plant.

Medicine plant/aloe vera — This succulent (among others) requires little water and even less attention. Place in a sunny southern location and take advantage of the soothing, healing juice in its leaves. (Leaves are toxic if eaten, so keep away from children and pets.)

Umbrella tree — This long-living, hearty plant enjoys direct sunlight, dry spells between watering and frequent misting. The branches display nicely, and its large leaves produce lots of pollution-cleaning oxygen.

English ivy — This is a prolific water-loving houseplant that adds dimension to a container of Pathos. As the vines grow, trim (along with the Pathos) and replant.

Other possibilities: Philodendron, dracaena, snake plant, jade plant, zebra plant, spider plant, lipstick plant, wax plant

I’m always amazed at how well some local gardeners do with houseplants. Our climate is so dry indoors and some window spaces can have such intense temperature swings between day and night that plants really struggle to stay alive.

Here are a few tips for maintaining houseplants that will help bring color, aroma and interest to your indoor spaces. Indoor plants also help cleanse the air by filtering dust and returning fresh oxygen to the environment.

The first tip is to select plants that can thrive in a dry environment, or choose a location in your home for moisture-loving plants (like the bathroom) where the air is more humid. Your florist or garden center can help you choose the plants most likely to do well in your home.

The second tip is to choose the light exposure best suited for your plants. Some plants, especially those with variegated leaves, need filtered light because direct sunlight will burn the sensitive leaves. Other plants need as much daylight as possible and do best in windows with western or southern exposures.

Tip No. 3 is to make sure you have a healthy soil mix in the pots your houseplants dwell in. The container should have a drainage hole in the bottom so excess water can flow away from the roots once the soil has been saturated. Roots that sit in soggy soil for an extended period of time are certain to rot and kill your plant.

Tip four is to repot the plant when it outgrows the container it is in. You can tell if the plant is too big for the pot when the roots start creeping out of the draining hole on the bottom or when the soil dries out quickly (like in a day) or the plant starts getting spindly and the foliage looks unhealthy. When you repot, get a container that is just a couple of inches bigger in diameter than the current pot, make sure it is clean and use fresh potting soil.

Tip No. 5 is a biggie. Water your plants only when they need it. The biggest mistake indoor gardeners make is overwatering their plants. Generally, you want to let the soil dry out between waterings. This little bit of stress as the soil dries makes your plant healthier and causes the roots to grow more tentacles for bringing in water and nutrients. A water meter that you can push into the soil is a good way to determine if a plant is ready for a drink.

Tip No. 6 is to fertilize plants according to the directions on the bottle or bag of fertilizer. During the winter months with the shorter days, your houseplants will need less fertilizer than during spring and summer. Again, check with your florist or garden center for any special nutrient needs for the plants you’ve selected.

And tip No. 7 is to group plants together so they can share in the moisture generated as each one takes up water from its soil and expels oxygen. But allow enough room between grouped plants so that air circulates freely.

These simple tips should help you keep houseplants green and healthy in your home through our long winter months.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Colorado State University Extension office in Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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