How to care for indoor plants

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ARTICLE Patricia Moore

The Victorians are often credited with making them fashionable, but in fact the history of growing plants indoors dates back thousands of years; images of potted plants decorated the tombs and ruins of ancient civilisations. But perhaps the most famous indoor gardens are the ‘Hanging Gardens’ of Babylon where Emperor Nebuchadnezzar 11, had flowering plants, palms and cedars suspended from the ceilings to remind his wife Queen Amytis of the lush gardens of her Persian homeland.

While the trend for indoor living walls or vertical gardens may owe something to this amazing creation, most people are happy with a few carefully chosen pot plants highlighting their interior décor. However, they’re more than simply aesthetically pleasing.

Indoor plants are ‘heroes’ – they even have their own ‘national week’ in the USA. They can reduce harmful pollutants in the air, (Hedera helix or English ivy has been shown to filter out formaldehyde found in some household cleaners) and in the case of living-wall installations, reduce both noise and energy consumption by providing extra insulation.

For the most part, house plants are ridiculously easy to grow and require very little maintenance. The information card provided by indoor plant growers tells you everything you need to know. As a general rule they’re happiest in good light, although it’s important to avoid direct sunlight, prefer a draught-free position, a humid, fairly even, moderate temperature and a regular water supply. But beware; it seems more pot plants are killed by over, rather than under, watering.

Fertilise with either a liquid or slow release plant food and ensure any dust is carefully wiped off foliage plants. Indoor plants can also benefit from time spent in a cleansing shower of rain. As with plants in the great outdoors, house plants can be subject to attacks from aphids, mealybug, scale insects, mites and mildew. They can also indicate stress by losing leaves, an indication it’s too hot – or too cold, or perhaps too wet or too dry. You be the judge.

Choice of the right soil mixture is important; look for one that contains both slow release fertiliser and water storing crystals. And remember, the pot holding that plant is just as much part of a room’s décor as the plant.

Fashions in house plants come and go. The Victorians loved their aspidistra, calling it ‘the cast iron plant’ for its ability to withstand low light and frequently unhealthy environments. It’s still around today, along with favourites like Sansevieria trifasciata, better known as mother-in-law’s tongue; the variegated Epipremnum aureum with a multitude of common names including Devils ivy, and Pothos; Ficus, or weeping fig, a slow-growing indoor tree that can reach to over 3m tall, and Dracaena deremensis or Janet craig, said to be so easy to grow it needs no fussing at all.

And for a burst of colour indoors, particularly in winter, there’s nothing quite like cyclamen, which will happily transit to a shady spot outdoors when flowering’s over. But the medal for the world’s best-selling house plant apparently goes to the Phalaenopsis or Moth orchid, an elegant beauty guaranteed to add a special touch of sophistication to any indoor setting!

You might be interested in reading: ‘English Box’ plant and care instructions.
 

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