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The most common killer of houseplants is over watering. Make sure that you choose a plant that will fit the size of your home and that will
receive the light and conditions it needs for proper growth.
Before purchasing a plant, it's important to know what conditions your plant will
be living in. It is easier to purchase a plant that requires the same environmental
conditions of your home rather than alter the environment to suit the plants.
Below are more tips for choosing the right plant for your home:
Getting your plant home during the summer or winter can be potentially harmful to
your new plant's health.
In the summer, don't leave your plant in a hot car. Avoid burning your plant's foliage
by shading it while in the car.
In the winter, protect your plants from the cold. Many plants can be badly damaged
if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even if it is just
a few minutes. Keep your plants as warm as possible when you transport them.
Once your plant is safely home, you will want to make sure you acclimate it to your
home's living conditions. Place your plant in an area with lots of light and gradually
move it to its permanent, darker location over 4- to 8- weeks.
All houseplants need the right amount of light, water, heat, humidity, ventilation,
and fertilization to grow properly.
Remember: Sunlight is plant food!
Your houseplant can be classified according to how much light they need to be healthy.
Plants can be considered to have high, medium, or low light requirements, and this
light requirement corresponds to the nearness of the light source (like a window,
The direction of your window will affect the intensity of light your plant receives.
Most flowering plants are indifferent to the length of the day. If you are looking
for increased growth of your plant, you might consider increasing the hours of light
your plant gets each day. Be mindful that plants require some period of darkness to
develop correctly and shouldn't be exposed to light for more then 16 hours a day.
Too much sunlight can be as harmful as too little sunlight. If your plant gets too much direct light, the leaves can become pale, sunburn, and
ultimately kill your plant. Protect your plants from too much direct sun, especially
during the summer.
Warning: Overwatering is the top threat to houseplants!
Your plant's water needs are determined by what type of plant you have and its environmental
Wait until the bottom two-thirds of your plant's soil drys out before you water it.
The best way to check you plant's moisture is to stick your index finger directly
into the soil. If the soil feels damp, don't water. Keep repeating this until the
soil is barely moist two inches into the pot.
When you do water your plant, make sure water runs out of the bottom of your plant's pot. This makes sure you are watering your entire plant and you are washing out excess
salts from the soil.
Most house plants can tolerate normal temperature fluctuations. In general, foliage
house plants grow best between 70-80 degrees during the day, and 60-68 degrees at
Keep in mind that excessively low or high temperatures can damage or kill your plants.
Some house plants require higher levels of humidity to thrive. Thankfully, you can
increase the humidity of your plant's living conditions without turning your home
into a sauna.
All plants need nitrogen (N), phosphate (P), and potassium (K) to grow properly. You
can buy houseplant fertilizer at most garden centers. Make sure to follow the instruction
label before you fertilize. Improper application can damage or kill your houseplant.
As a general rule, fertilize your plants every 2 weeks between March and September.
Don't fertilize your plants during the winter.
Over time, fertilizers can cause soluble salt build-up in the soil of your houseplant.
As the salts in the soil becomes more and more concentrated, plants find it harder
and harder to take up water. This can make your plant grow less and become more susceptible
to infection and disease, root damage, and wilting.
The best way to prevent soluble salt damage is to stop the salts from building up.
Make sure you water your plants correctly by allowing some water to drain through
your plant's pot entirely. Do not allow the pot to sit in water. The salts you washed
you can be reabsorbed into the soil through the drainage hole, or directly through
the clay pot.
The amaryllis, or Hippeastrum, is a tender bulb plant from tropical America. It produces large, trumpet-shaped
flowers, growing as large as eight inches across in clusters of four to six flowers
per stem. The leafless, hollow stems can grow to be two to three feet tall. Colors
include shades of red, orange, pink as well as white and striped ones.
How should I buy amaryllis?
You can either purchase a pre-packaged bulb already planted in a container, or the
bulb by itself. Some nurseries and florists will also sell plants already in bloom,
or ready to burst into bloom. Regardless of how you start with it, this is a bulb
that will re-bloom every year with proper attention.
If you are starting out with a bulb that hasn't begun to grow, be sure that at least
half of the bulb is exposed out of the potting soil. The container should be only
slightly larger than the bulb. Water sparingly until growth starts. Excessive watering
is harmful and may cause the bulb to rot.
How do I care for amaryllis?
Soon you will see the flower spike begin to start growing out of the center of the
bulb. Once growth has begun, move the plant to a sunny location and make sure that
it stays moist. Turn the plant frequently to keep it from leaning. Temperatures during
the day of 70 - 75 degrees will force the plant into flower earlier, but may also
give you extremely tall plants, which will need some staking for support. Once the
blooms begin to open, give the plant cooler conditions and move it out of direct sunlight
to extend the length of bloom. Your plant should be in bloom within four to six weeks
from the time growth begins.
It is normal for the plant to produce a lone flower stalk, with the leaves appearing
after bloom. Occasionally you will be lucky and have two flower stalks. Each flower
stalk will have a minimum of four blooms, with some of the larger, older bulbs producing
up to six flowers per stalk.
Once the flowers have faded, cut the flower stalk back to within several inches of
the bulb. The foliage needs to be kept actively growing following flowering to insure
a flower for the next season. The deep green, strap-shaped leaves average one and
a half inches in width and can grow to be 18 to 24 inches long. Fertilize with any
houseplant fertilizer after blooming and put the plant in a sunny window.
Many people would like to plant their bulbs outdoors for year-round growth. Although
some people have had success with this by mulching the plants heavily, it is preferable
to bring them indoors each year. Besides the chance of losing the bulb to a hard winter,
you need the color and enjoyment of these flowers indoors during the winter months
more than you need it in the garden in the summer. There is a variety of amaryllis
that is hardy and will come back each year in the garden.
If you want to extend the season of bloom for a long period of time, purchase several
bulbs and stagger the planting.
Spring and Summer Care
When all chances of frost have passed, move the plant outside to a sunny environment.
You can sink the pot in the ground to reduce your watering schedule. Make sure that
the plant receives at least half a day of sunlight. Fertilize the plant monthly.
By September, gradually reduce your watering, lift the plant out of the ground and
quit fertilizing. With the cooler temperatures, shorter days, and drier conditions,
the leaves should begin to fade. Bring the bulb inside, cut off the old foliage and
let the bulb rest on its side for a month or two. This resting period will usually
end on its own when you see the bulb beginning to sprout out. Then you start the cycle
all over again.
When you begin the cycle again, check to see if the bulb needs to be repotted, or
if offsets (small bulbs) need to be removed. Amaryllis will bloom better if slightly
potbound, so don't put them in too large of a container. Use well-drained potting
soil. If you are removing any offsets, pot them in small three-inch pots. They should
grow into flowering size within two to three years. Don't leave them attached to the
mother bulb, since they will be competing for water, sunlight, and nutrients.
How do I grow amaryllis from seed?
Amaryllis can be grown from seed, but it is a somewhat long process. If you want to
try it, leave the flowers attached after bloom, to allow for seed production. This
will slightly weaken the bulb, so be sure to fertilize well afterward. Sow the seeds
soon after harvesting. In about four weeks the seedlings should be up and growing.
When the second set of leaves forms, move them to an individual three-inch pot. Keep
them in a sunny location, and don't allow the leaves to die down for the first year.
Seedlings normally can take up to three to five years to produce their first bloom.
How much should I expect to pay for amaryllis?
Bulbs may average from $5 to $10, while the blooming plants can sell for as high as
Azaleas require direct sunlight to remain healthy. Keep the soil constantly moist.
If the leaves should turn yellow, the soil is not acidic enough. Use an acid fertilizer
sold especially for azaleas. Do not use softened water. When repotting, use a mixture
high in acid peat moss.
Azaleas can be planted, pot and all, in a shady spot in the garden during the summer
months. Examine them frequently and keep them watered during dry periods. Greenhouse
azaleas are not hardy, and need to be brought indoors before freezing weather.
Azaleas need a cool rest treatment before they are forced into bloom. Place the plants
in a room with a temperature between 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and filtered light.
During this rest period, flower buds will develop. Then place in a well-lighted warm
(65 degrees Fahrenheit.) room around January 1 and the plant will bloom. Unless you
have the proper growing conditions for the azalea, you should not attempt to carry
the plants over.
At least three related species are sold in addition to several cultivars. All have
similar cultural requirements.
They will develop buds and bloom if given bright light, short days, and night temperatures
between 55- and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Christmas cacti bloom best when somewhat pot-bound.
Repotting is necessary every 3 years. Full sunlight is beneficial in midwinter, but
bright sun during the summer months can make plants look pale and yellow. These plants
grow naturally shaded by a canopy of leaves.
Christmas cacti require less water from October to March than they do when growth
is active from April to September. Dormancy should be started about the middle of
September and continued for 8 weeks. Care should be taken that soil never becomes
waterlogged during the dark days of winter.
Cyclamen require full sunlight and a night temperature of between 50 and 60 degrees
Fahrenheit. They are heavy users of water and must be watered whenever the surface
of the soil is dry. Flower buds will fail to develop if night temperature is too high
or if light is poor.
Cyclamen can be carried over. Let the plants die down after they finish flowering.
Repot the fleshy corm in June with the top of the corm above the soil line. Allow
resting bulbs to dry but not become shriveled.
Shade FernsShade ferns for the garden are a diverse mix, including hundreds of species. Some
good starter small ferns include: Maidenhair fern: Adiantum pedatum -- this fern has fronds which
hang down like locks of damsels tresses, thereby its name. It has a bluish green foliage, and
will add delicate texture to your garden. Another small fern which is also evergreen, and is
the most hardy native fern, both in shade and drought tolerance, is the Christmas fern: Polystichum
acrostichoides. This fern has a more upright growth. It is named Christmas fern because
its green foliage was gathered and brought indoors during the holidays and made into wreaths
and garlands during the Civil War era, up through the early 1920's. Sensitive fern: Onoclea
sensibilis is another interesting low growing fern. This fern changes its form when disturbed
by early frosts or by hot weather in spring. This leads to various leaf forms. In the fall, this fern
is one of the first to lose its leaves. It also prefers a moist environment.
Shield FernsMoving up the scale, (three to six feet in height) are the shield ferns: Thelypteris
spp. Shieldferns will generally tolerate more drought and have a more lacy appearance to the
leaf. Shieldferns are what define our definition of a fern leaf or frond. There are more than
100 varieties ofshield ferns in the commercial trade, ranging in height from two feet to four feet.
The leaf color is generally a lighter green to hunter green, and tends to grow in a vase shape of fronds.
Logferns: Dryopteris spp. tends to be larger -- up to six feet in height, and a darker
green in color.They have a fuller, coarser leaf, with less cutting in the fronds. There are several
hundredvarieties in the commercial trade, and six native species.
Cinnamon and Royal FernsCinnamon and royal ferns: Osmunda spp. are common throughout Arkansas and were one
ofthe first ferns that homeowners began finding in garden centers. Royal ferns can grow
up to sixfeet in height, and generate many fronds. In time they form dense colonies of plants,
giving abushlike appearance in the landscape. They will die back completely to the ground
in the winter.The cinnamon ferns new fronds emerge covered in a reddish hair, and are called fiddleheads.This is not the edible fiddlehead of commerce -- don't eat the Arkansas natives. As
the frondsage, the red hairs drop off, but a few are retained where the little leaflets join
the main stem ofthe leaf. The spore bearing leaves come up first and are quite red in color. The sterile
persistentgreen leaves follow, and are also covered with reddish hairs initially. The spore
bearing frondsonly last a few weeks, and will wither away, leaving behind the large green bushy
Sun-loving FernsIf you are a fern lover, but don't have shade, don't despair. There are sun-loving
ferns. It is evenpossible to grow some of the shade lovers in the sun, but soil preparation and water
are crucialto survival. An easy family of ferns to grow is the Lady ferns: Athyrium spp. There
are two nativespecies and several hundred cultivars in the trade. They differ by the amount of cutting
in theleaves, with colors ranging from reds to greens. Some cultivars are dwarves -- no
taller than afoot, with other varieties growing upwards of six feet. The southern lady fern is
supremelyadapted to a wide range of sun and soil characters. They can be quite drought tolerant,
afterthey are established. These plants will grow in both full sun to total shade, but
will require morewater, and a more organic soil in the sun.
Bracken Fern Pteridium aquilinumAnother sun lover. Give it space, for it is aggressive. It will tolerate the shade,
but prefers thesun -- growing three to four feet in height. It tends to kill out other plant species
in its shade, sogive it its own space, and let it grow -- and more importantly give it room to grow.
Mosquito FernAzolla sppAn aquatic sun-lover. This diminutive fern turns bright red in the fall, then dies
back and settlesto the bottom of the pond, and waits for the warmer water of spring. This species
is common inthe waterways of Arkansas. It is a fern of true global economic importance--it is
the greenmanure crop grown in Asia which is plowed under to fertilize the rice crop. It is
not invasive inArkansas rice fields, but it can be aggressive in home water gardens. Fish, such as
theornamental Koi tend to harvest it in your water features and keep it under control.There are some other fern allies -- not technically ferns, but like ferns, they reproduce
by sporesversus seeds. These spore bearing plants include: Scouringrush and Horsetail: Equisetum
spp.They are striking plants, resembling bamboo, and are found native along the major
rivers inArkansas. They will grow in full sun or shade, as long as they have a moist environment.
In adrier environment they will not grow as rapidly as in the wet soils, but they will
survive. They arewinter hardy and evergreen. The difference between the two is that scouringrush hasunbranched stems, while the horsetail has whorls of branches.
CareAs with any group of plants, culture and care will vary by species. Some general guidelines
forall ferns: prepare the soil carefully. Loosen the soil and add in well-aged compost
or leaf mold.Avoid tight, heavy soils. Have your soil tested, if the pH is below 5.5 add some pelletized
lime.Most ferns prefer a soil pH between 6.0 - 7.0. Raised beds make for excellent fern
displays butwill need extra winter protection -- with mulching. Raised beds have lower winter
soiltemperatures which can be harder on the ferns. Container gardening of these ferns
can bedifficult both in summer temperatures and winter lows. Wrapping of the pots or using
largercontainers may help. Container production of hardy ferns should be limited to some
of thesmaller ferns, which don't produce as large of a rhizome and root system.While many of the ferns can be drought tolerant once established, most ferns will
benefit fromsupplemental watering. Ferns appreciate an occasional leaf mold or aged compost supplement,but don't respond well to commercial fertilizer. For the most part, if proper soil
preparation wasdone, they should do fine on their own.
Ferns prefer to be left alone to multiply -- they like benign neglect -- and don't
like to be dividedon a regular basis. So allow room for them to mature and spread. Division is a method
ofpropagation, but will set back their growth for a year or more.
The red poinsettia still reigns supreme among flowering holiday plants. Yet, poinsettias
are more than the traditional red, flat-bracted blooms. Today, poinsettias come in
a range of colors, including shades of red, pink, white, yellow, and purple. There
are speckled ones and curly flowered ones called Christmas Rose. They come in the
standard four inch pot, or in miniature or large tree forms. There truly is a poinsettia
for every home.
If you want to branch out, there are other plants besides poinsettia that can add
cheer to the inner landscape. Other choices include amaryllis, anthurium, azaleas,
cyclamen, Gerber daisies, holiday cactus, Kalanchoe, orchids and paper white narcissus.
When receiving a holiday plant, you need to know something about plant care, to keep
it attractive the longest. With poinsettias, give them fairly bright light and even
moisture. Avoid dark areas with drafts. The new varieties have been bred to hold their
color for months, and can add color long after the holiday season. While they can
re-bloom for another season, it is best to start with a new plant each year. Enjoy
them while the color lasts, and then add them to the compost pile.
Amaryllis are sold from the dry bulb stage to the bloom stage. For the longest enjoyment,
start your own bulb or choose one just beginning to show color. If they are in full
bloom when you get them, they may not last too long. The bulb can linger for years
and re-bloom each season, much easier than with most other blooming seasonal plants.
Anthurium is a rather new addition to our indoor plant repertoire. The Hawaiian flowers
have the right colors to choose from-red, white or pink spathes of color, which can
last for months. Some people use them as a green houseplant after bloom, since it
is difficult to re-bloom them. Let them dry out slightly in between watering.
The florist azalea is different than those we plant outdoors. Keep it cool and in
indirect bright light and it too can last for four to six weeks. While many gardeners
attempt planting these outdoors, many don't survive the winter.
Cyclamen plants come in a range of reds, pinks and whites. These plants grow from
small bulbs called corms. They prefer cool temperatures, and will decline quickly
if kept warm day and night. They prefer bright light and even moisture-too much water
can cause the bulbs to rot. While many toss the plants after bloom, they can re-bloom
with proper care. As the foliage begins to die back, withhold water for a few months.
After a rest period, gradually begin to add water.
When you see signs of new growth, increase water and sunlight.
Gerber daisies are a semi-hardy perennial in our outside garden, but can last several
weeks indoors as a potted plant. Coming in a wide range of colors, they prefer to
be kept on the cool side with plenty of sunlight.
Holiday cactus are also readily available. While some call them Thanksgiving or Christmas
cactus, these blooming cactus can give enjoyment year after year. Once it is in bloom,
it will last longest in indirect light with even moisture. Leading up to bloom it
needs cool nights and sunny days.
Kalanchoe is a succulent plant with a long blooming cluster of flowers. Flower color
ranges from reds and oranges to yellows and whites. They like short days and long
nights and warm, dry conditions. Don't over water this plant.
You may not think of orchids during the holidays, but what showier blossom can you
think of that will last for six to eight weeks with very little care. They can also
live to see another day, if you so choose.
And last but not least, paper white narcissus. These lovely forced clusters of white
blossoms often come artfully arranged with greenery and berries. Like the amaryllis,
they are available in all stages, from dried bulbs to blooming plants. Enjoy them
while they last, and then move on to something else. Re-blooming is not advised.
The holidays are upon us, and who wouldn't welcome a blooming plant? While the care
of these plants isn't difficult, re-blooming may be, and in most cases is not worth
the effort. To ensure the flowers last the longest, in general, keep holiday blooming
plants in a cool room, with bright, indirect light. Make sure you have an even supply
of water-but avoid over watering, which is most common. Extremely warm rooms can cause
flowers to fade quickly. Try to have at least a slight differential from day to night
temperatures. With so many choices to choose from, why not select several. With just
minimal care, these seasonal favorites are sure to add a boost to any holiday decor.
The poinsettia requires bright light and should be kept away from drafts. A temperature
between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. is ideal. Avoid temperatures below 60 degrees
and above 75 degrees. Keep plants well watered but do not over- water. Some of the
newer, long-lasting varieties can be kept attractive all winter. Gardeners frequently
ask whether they can carry their poinsettias over to bloom again next year. It is
questionable whether the results are worth the effort as the quality of home-grown
plants seldom equals that of commercially grown plants. However, for those who wish
to try, the following procedure can be followed.
After the bracts fade or fall, set the plants where they will receive indirect light
and temperatures around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Water sparingly during this time,
just enough to keep the stems from shriveling. Cut the plants back to within about
5 inches from the ground and re-pot in fresh soil. As soon as new growth begins, place
in a well lighted window. After danger of frost, place the pot out of doors in a partially
shaded spot. Pinch the new growth back to get a plant with several stems. Do not pinch
after September 1. About Labor Day, or as soon as the nights are cool, bring the plant
indoors. Continue to grow them in a sunny room with a night temperature of about 65
The poinsettia blooms only during short days. To initiate blooms, exclude artificial
light, either by covering with a light-proof box each evening or placing in an unlighted
room or closet for aminimum of 12 hours of darkness. Plants require full light in the daytime, so be sure
to returnthem to a sunny window. Start the short day treatment in about mid-September to have
bloomsbetween December 1 and Christmas
Once you have the basics of successful houseplant care under your belt, you might
want to consider training your houseplant to look a certain way. In general, remove
all dead flowers, leaves, and branches. Keep leaves dust free by washing plants with
warm water. Trim leaves that are brown and dry.
Pinching: If you want to stimulate new growth in your plant, pinch off 1 inch or less of a
new stem or leaf. Pinch just above the node. If you want your plant to stay small
but filled out, you will need to pinch often.
Pruning: If you want your leggy plants to grow bushier and more compact, prune the growing
tip of the tallest stem. Sometimes an entire branch or section of a plant should be
removed for the sake of appearance.
Bud removal: Make sure to remove the buds of young plants or plant cutting that have been recently
rooted. This gives your plant time to grow stronger before flowering.