Growing Healthier Plants

Some people seem really good at growing plants indoors. We say that they have a green thumb. Other people seem to have a lot of trouble getting plants to grow. They joke and say they have a black thumb. 

It is possible to get better at growing plants. Here are a couple of basic tips:

  1. Water about once a week, adding room temperature water until it drips from the drain holes of the pot. Don't water again until the soil feels dry.
  2. Give the plant at least several hours of good strong light each day. Sunlight from any direction is good. North facing windows don't get sunlight in winter. Use a florescent light if you can't get good sunlight.
  3. Use a houseplant fertilizer during the growing season from March to October, following the directions that come with the fertilizer.

Plant not doing too well? Here are a few tips that may help you to figure out what the problem is. They are based on The World Book of House Plants by Elvin McDonald, first published in 1963 by Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

What you see - Plant’s leaves have brown edges and are crisp, new leaves die.
What it could mean -The plant is getting too much heat and the air is too dry.
What to do – Turn down the heat if you can. Make the air moist by filling a shallow pan with pebbles and water. Place the plant’s pot on the wet pebbles. Mist the plant leaves every day.* Or run a cool mist humidifier. Water more often so soil doesn’t get too dry.

* Some plant leaves should never get wet, for example, do not mist African violets.

What you see – White or yellow rings or spots on plant leaves.
What it could mean – Plant is being watered with water that is too cold.
What to do – Always use water that is room temperature or even lukewarm. Don’t let the sun shine directly on leaves if they have water drops on them.

What you see – Plant leaves and stem are soft, maybe even turn yellow or brown and droop.
What it could mean – The plant is getting too much water, it has root rot.
What to do – Many houseplants grow well if watered pretty thoroughly only once a week. Let the soil in the pot get dry to the touch before watering again, and don’t let the pot stand in overflow water more than half an hour.

What you see – Plant seems tall and weak, may even be yellow-green colored.
What it could mean – Plant is not getting enough light.
What to do – Move the plant to a window that faces east, west or south (the sunniest direction for New York state). If no good window is available, add a florescent light nearby so it shines on the plant. Special grow bulbs are not necessary.

What you see – Yellow leaves
What it could mean – Leaves are old, or soil is too wet, or soil is becoming too basic.
What to do – If just oldest leaves yellow, there may be no problem. Make sure you are not watering so often that the soil is always wet. Try using a fertilizer that makes the soil more acid

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