Master Gardener Jon VanZile’s articles on gardening have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Better Homes & Gardens Special Interest Publications, the Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale), Orlando Sentinel, among others. He also was the houseplants and indoor gardening expert at About.com (now Spruce.com) for almost a decade. His book, A Healthy Home: 50 Indoor Plants To Help You Breathe Better, Sleep Better, And Feel Better All Year Round is available now wherever books are sold from CBS sister company Simon & Schuster.

The plants in “Houseplants for a Healthy Home” by Jon VanZile can all be successfully grown indoors without taking any extraordinary measures. Still, if you’re new to indoor gardening, it can take a little practice to get the hang of it. To help you out, here area few simple guidelines that will apply to most plants:

USE A HIGH-QUALITY POTTING MEDIA

Never use gardening soil for indoor plants. Common “dirt” is far too heavy and provides poor drainage. A good potting media should include a lightweight base like sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir to retain water,something to add structure like pine bark fines, and something that will increase drainage like perlite. Bagged potting soil might also contain added fertilizer and water-retention crystals, which will hold moisture longer so you don’t have to water your plants as frequently.

BEWARE OF OLD DIRT

Bagged potting soils are not meant to last forever. Over time, the peat breaks down and becomes more acidic. The bigger chunks crumble into smaller, denser particles that compress around the plant’s feeder roots, making the plant less able to take up water and oxygen. It won’t be long before your container is filled with mostly roots, decomposed and exhausted potting media,and not much else. Repot plants annually for the best results.

LEARN TO WATER CORRECTLY

Improper watering is the number one killer of indoor plants. Overwatering can lead to decay and root rot, while underwatering can leave your plant dry and cause it to waste away. Never let your plants sit in water! After watering, let the container drain into its saucer, then empty the saucer of extra water.

LOOK FOR WAYS TO INCREASE HUMIDITY

Indoor environments are often heated or air-conditioned and have a very low humidity level, especially compared to the tropical regions where many of our favorite houseplants come from. Increase the humidity around your plants by filling a spray bottle with water and misting the leaves of your plant regularly.

USE FERTILIZER

Your container-bound plants rely on you to provide all of their nutrients, so invest in a good fertilizer, such as controlled release pellets or liquid fertilizer.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR PESTS

The most common pests that affect indoor houseplants are aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, scale insects, and spider mites. If you see pests,start with nonchemical solutions like isolating the affected plant and spraying it with water to blast the pests away. If you must use a pesticide, opt for the least toxic solution possible and always read the label to make sure the pesticide is approved for the type of insect you have and is safe for indoor use. Neem oil is a popular choice for indoor plants. You can also use soapy water in a spray bottle, garlic and hot pepper sprays, or insecticides containing an ingredient called pyrethrum. In every case, it’s always a good idea to first research the kind of bug you’re fighting.

KEEP YOUR PLANTS CLEAN

Wiping the leaves clean with a moist cloth or paper towel will help keep your plants’ pores open so they can absorb carbon dioxide more efficiently.This is especially important if you’re using houseplants to help purify your air. For optimal air purification, you will need one plant for every 100 square feet of indoor space.

houseplantshealthyhome 10 Tips For Growing Great Houseplants

Cover of Houseplants For A Healthy Home (Courtesy of Simon & Schuster)

USE THE RIGHT SIZE CONTAINER

Plants should be firmly rooted in their containers. If you see roots spilling over the edges of the container or growing from the drainage holes, it’s time to repot. Likewise, if your plants are too heavy and tip over, you should consider repotting. When you repot, go up by one pot size at a time so the plant doesn’t put too much energy into root growth at the expense of leaf growth.

MIMIC THE PLANT’S NATIVE ENVIRONMENT

If you’re growing desert succulents, don’t treat them like rainforest aroids, with high humidity and excessive watering. Instead, try to mimic the plant’s natural desert habitat: bright light, sandy soil, low humidity, and low to moderate watering. A plant’s native habitat will provide invaluable clues on how to grow it.

PAY ATTENTION!

Don’t worry too much about the “rules.” Every house is slightly different, and your growing environment won’t be the same as your neighbor’s. Instead, get in the habit of paying attention to your plants. When you’re watering or misting, peek at some leaf bottoms to see if any pests are snacking on your plants. Wiggle the stems to make sure your plants are well rooted. Are the leaf margins turning brown? Are leaves turning yellow and dropping off? Learn how to “read” the clues your plant is giving you so that you can cultivate healthy, happy healers.

Excerpted from Houseplants For A Healthy Home: 50 Indoor Plants To Help You Breathe Better, Sleep Better, And Feel Better All Year Round by Jon VanZile. Copyright © 2018 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Master Gardener Jon VanZile’s articles on gardening have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Better Homes & Gardens Special Interest Publications, the Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale), Orlando Sentinel, among others. He also was the houseplants and indoor gardening expert at About.com (now Spruce.com) for almost a decade. His book, A Healthy Home: 50 Indoor Plants To Help You Breathe Better, Sleep Better, And Feel Better All Year Round is available now wherever books are sold from CBS sister company Simon & Schuster.

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