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Missouri Organic Mulch, Compost, Bulk Soil

Cleaning, Fertilizing, Containers
and Light Requirements

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Houseplants are widely used in homes and commercial buildings such as offices, restaurants and shopping malls. They help us stay in touch with nature and, in a sense, "bring the outside indoors."

Houseplants may collect dust or greasy films that dull their appearance, making them less attractive. Clean leaves are favorable to healthy growth. Also, cleaning helps control insects and enhances the plants’ attractive-ness. Products that clean and shine leaves are generally not recommended because the waxy coating residue may interfere with air exchange. Never use these products on plants that have hairy leaves, such as African violets.

The best way to clean leaves that are not hairy is to dampen a soft cloth with water and wipe the lower and upper surfaces of each leaf. An alternative is to place the entire plant outdoors or in the shower to rinse it off. Plants with hairy leaves should not be dusted with a wet cloth but with a soft cosmetic brush. A pressure sprayer may be employed.

All plants require certain essential elements for proper growth. Houseplants, in low light conditions of the interior environment, have reduced fertilizer requirements.

Observation will guide you in determining a plant’s fertilizer needs. As a rule, applications should be more frequent when the plants are in their growth stage(s). This is usually in the spring and summer when sunlight intensities increase and the days are warmer and longer. During the short days of winter, many houseplants that receive little or no artificial light enter a "resting stage." If plants go into a winter rest period, do not give them fertilizer.

Frequency of fertilizer application varies somewhat with the vigor of growth and age of each plant. Rapid, new growth is often undesirable, as plants may outgrow their locations. As a rule, fertilizer applications should be more frequent when the plants are growing. Fertilize at the recommended label rate every two or three months, or dilute the fertilizer to about one-tenth the recommended rate and use this solution at every watering during the growing season. An alternative to these methods is to fertilize every seventh watering.

A complete fertilizer (one that contains nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) is an excellent choice for indoor gardens. Choose a balanced fertilizer for foliage plants, such as 20-20-20, and one that is higher in phosphorous for flowering plants, such as 15-30-15. These numbers represent the percents by weight of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer.

Fertilizers are available for houseplants in liquid form, water-soluble granules and slow-release forms (granules, stick or tablets). Water-soluble fertilizers are often preferred because dilute solutions reduce the potential for fertilizer burn.

Soils that have a white film on the surface or pots with a white crust on the rim or drainage hole may indicate that the plant is being over-fertilized and/or possibly over-watered. Salt buildup in the soil can lead to root damage, causing symptoms such as reduced growth, brown leaf tips, dropping of lower leaves and wilting of the plant.

The most effective way to prevent soluble salt injury is to prevent the salts from building up. Water correctly by watering the soil thoroughly and allowing the excess to flow out of the drain holes into a tray which is emptied.

Indoor Containers
Many types of containers can be used for growing plants. Most pots with bottom drainage holes are made of plastic, ceramic or clay, whereas decorative containers without drainage holes may be made of clay, ceramic, plastic, wood, copper, brass and various other materials.

It is important to choose the correct size container for the plant. Containers too small or too large present an unbalanced appearance. An appropriate container should provide room for soil and roots, allow sufficient headroom for proper watering, and be attractive without competing with the plant.

Two methods for potting houseplants are:

  1. Planting directly in the container
    When plants are potted directly in the container, the container should have a drainage hole and a tray to catch the excess water. If the pot does not have a drainage hole, place a layer of coarse gravel in the bottom to allow a space for excess water (it is important not to saturate soil in such containers).
  2. Placing a potted plant in another, more decorative container ("double-potting")
    The "double-potting" technique can be used with decorative containers with or without drainage holes. The smaller, interior pot should have a drainage hole. If the decorative pot does not have a drainage hole, place a layer of gravel in this pot, and place the potted plant on the gravel layer. No gravel layer is necessary.  If the decorative pot has a drainage hole, be sure to place a tray beneath the pot to catch the excess water.

Never place pots directly in contact with the carpet, floor or furniture as moisture can damage its surroundings.

Clay pots are porous and allow air movement through the sides of the pot. This allows the soil to dry and oxygen to reach the roots. Nonporous containers prevent water from evaporating through the sides, thus, plants require less frequent watering than those in clay pots.

Light Requirements
The environment in our homes dictates which plants
will grow vigorously and which will suffer. The most important environmental factor in growing plants indoors is adequate light.

Light provides the energy source needed for plants to manufacture food. The amount of light is commonly measured in foot-candles (ft-c). The interior of a well-lighted home is often less than 100 ft-c, while outdoor light intensity on a clear sunny day may exceed 10,000 ft-c. Plants differ greatly in their light intensity requirements (see table). houseplants are often classified by the amount of light necessary for growth:

  • Low (minimum 100 ft-c, 75 to 200 preferred for good growth)

  • Medium (minimum 100 to 150 ft-c, 200 to 500 preferred)

  • High (minimum 150 to 1000 ft-c, 500 to 1000 preferred)

  • Very high (minimum 1000 ft-c, 1000+ preferred)

  • About 100 ft-c for 12 hours per day are necessary simply to maintain plant quality for one year, and at least 200 ft-c for 12 hours per day are necessary for foliage plants to manifest any benefit from fertilization.

    With the exception of homes with a sunroom or greenhouse, few homes have areas with sufficient light levels to grow plants that require very high light (hibiscus, wax begonia, geranium). High light plants (weeping fig, English ivy, schefflera) can usually be grown well near windows or glass doors with western or southern exposures. Medium light plants (African violet, Boston fern, dumb cane) do well if placed within several feet of these light sources or in eastern exposures. Low light plants (peace lily, heart-leaf philodendron, cast-iron plant) can be placed several feet away from eastern exposures or in northern exposures. The amount of light at any given location will vary according to time of year (angle of the sun, day length), outdoor tree shading, window curtains and wall color (light reflection), as well as the location itself. Inexpensive light meters are available.

    Artificial lighting is widely used to supplement or replace natural light. Many houseplants grow well under artificial light provided by fluorescent lamps or special incandescent lights. A large variety of fluorescent lamps are available. Generally, ordinary incandescent lamps are not recommended for plants, as plants placed under them tend to stretch or become "leggy." It is possible to make up for lack of sufficient light by increasing the time or duration that the plant is exposed to light. Sixteen hours of light and eight hours of darkness are satisfactory for most plants. Use an electric timer to ensure the correct cycle each day.

    While lack of sufficient light results in poor plant growth, too much light can also be harmful. Shade plants cannot tolerate excessively high light levels. When a plant receives too much direct light the leaves bleach or scald, sometimes dying. This often happens after moving a plant outdoors in direct light. Any changes in light intensity should be gradual.

    Light requirements in footcandles (ft-c)
    for some common houseplants

    Low Light (100 ft-c)

    Aglaonema commutatum  Silver Evergreen
    Aglaonema commutatum cv. Silver King  Silver King Evergreen
    Aglaonema modestum Chinese Evergreen
    Aspidistra elatior Cast-iron Plant
    Aspidistra elatior cv. Variegata Variegated Cast-iron Plant
    Chamaedorea elegans Parlor Palm
    Epipremnum aureum Golden Pothos
    Epipremnum aureum cv. Marble Queen Marble Queen Pothos
    Monstera deliciosa Split-leaf Philodendron
    Sansevieria trifasciata Snake Plant
    Sansevieria trifasciata cv. Laurentii Goldband Sansevieria

    Medium Light (100 to 150 ft-c)

     Aechmea fasciata Silver Vase
    Asparagus densiflorus cv. Myers Plume Asparagus
    Asparagus densiflorus cv. Sprengeri  Sprengeri Asparagus
    Asparagus setaceus  Fern Asparagus
    Aucuba japonica cv. Variegata Gold-dust Plant
    Brassaia actinophylla Schefflera
    Brassaia arboricola* Dwarf Schefflera
    Caryota mitis Fishtail Palm
    Chamaedorea erumpens*  Bamboo Plant
    Chlorophytum comosum cv. Variegatum  Spider Plant
    Cissus rhombifolia Grape Ivy
    Dieffenbachia amoena  Giant Dumbcane
    Dieffenbachia maculata Spotted Dumbcane
    Dizygotheca elegantissima False Aralia
    Dracaena deremensis cv. Warneckii*  Striped Dracaena
    Dracaena fragrans cv. Massangeana* Corn Plant
    Dracaena godseffiana Gold-dust Dracaena
    Dracaena marginata* Red-margined Dracaena
    Dracaena sanderana Ribbon Plant
    Fatsia japonica   Japanese Fatsia
    Ficus benjamina  Weeping Fig
    Ficus elastica cv. Decora India Rubber Plant
    Ficus lyrata  Fiddle-leaf Fig
    Ficus retusa Indian Laurel
    Gynura aurantiaca  Velvet Plant
    Hedera helix and cultivars English Ivy
    Howea forsterana  Kentia Palm
    Maranta leuconeura cv. Erythroneura  Red-veined Prayer Plant
    Nephrolepsis exatata cv. Bostoniensis Boston Fern
    Peperomia caperata* Emerald Ripple Peperomia
    Peperomia obtusifolia Oval-leaf Peperomia
    Philodendron bipennifolium* Fiddle-leaf Philodendron
    Philodendron scandens subsp. oxycardium Heart-leaf Philodendron
    Philodendron selloum Tree Philodendron
    Pilea cadierei  Aluminum Plant
    Pilea involucrata Friendship Plant
    Plectranthus australis 

    Swedish Ivy

    Polyscias balfouriana cv. Marginata Variegated Balfour Aralia
    Saintpaulia species, hybrids, and cultivars African Violet
    Spathiphyllum cv. Clevelandi  Cleveland Peace Lily
    Spathiphyllum cv. Mauna Loa Mauna Loa Peace Lily
    Syngonium podophyllum cv. Trileaf Wonder* Trileaf Wonder Nephthytis
    Tradescantia fluminensis Inch Plant
    Zebrina pendula  Wandering Jew

    High Light (150 to 1000 ft-c)

    Aloe barbadensis Aloe Vera
    Alternanthera ficoidea Joseph’s Coat
    Aphelandra squarrosa Zebra Plant
    Araucaria heterophylla  Norfolk Island Pine
    Beaucarnea recurvata  Ponytail Palm
    Cissus antarctica** Kangaroo Vine
    Citrofortunella mitis  Calamondin Orange
    Coffea arabica  Coffee
    Coleus blumei 


    Cordyline terminalis Ti Plant
    Crassula argentea  Jade Plant
    x Fatshedera lizei** 

    Botanical Wonder

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Chinese Hibiscus
    Hoya carnosa** Wax Plant
    Iresine lindenii   Blood Leaf
    Podocarpus gracilior  Weeping Pododarpus
    Polyscias fruticosa Ming Aralia
    Rhoeo spathacea Moses-in-the-Cradle
    Schlumbergera cv. Bridgesii  Christmas Cactus

    Sedum morganianum 

    Burro’s Tail

    *May also be conditioned to grow in low light
    **May also be conditioned to grow in medium light


    Originally Published by Clemson University Extension
    Reprinted with permission.



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