Practical hints for growing indoor plants

Why do we need living indoor greenery? 

Five years ago if I asked what motivated someone to grow indoor plants the most common answer would have been to freshen the air.  This was based on NASA research for the space program that showed indoor plants are very successful at removing pollutants and toxins from the air we breathe in homes and offices.  Two common pollutants are particulate matter such as dust, pollen, smoke and soot and volatile organic compounds (VOCS) from furniture varnishes and household cleaning products, many of which incorporate benzene.

We are living a more indoor lifestyle with the majority of us spending as much as 90% of each day inside a workplace or home.  Recent research shows a wide range of human efficiency and wellbeing improvements coming from being in a space with an abundance of plants. 

So, the same ?why grow indoor plants?? question today, would be answered in many different ways.  We tend to be happier and we are more productive in workspaces where plants are included. Studies show positive improvements in how we feel both physically and mentally. I have seen at close hand a revolt against artificial/plastic indoor plants, which try to give off an air of healthy greenery.  I guess this is just another manifestation of the anti plastic movements that are springing up around the globe. After a while these fakes start to age a rather unhealthy looking blue colour. 

Practical hints for growing indoor plants 

Location plays an important role in plant selection as well as ongoing maintenance.  The availability of light is the key.  Flowering plants and variegated plants need more light as a general rule, than green foliage feature plants which can survive on low light levels. Very few plants can handle the high levels of exposure if located beside a window that receives midday or full afternoon sun. At the other extreme no plant can grow without some light.  If you have a very dark location it is possible to supply light through various grow lights. These range from regular incandescent globes through to sophisticated colour indexed LED configurations, which you can find in hydroponic specialist stores. 

Design is a major factor when it comes to indoor plants and how you style your space.   The Nursery and Garden Industry Association of Australia have commissioned an App called ?Plant Life Balance?.  This can be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet and allows you to take a photo of a room in your house and then paste in pictures of specific indoor plants so that you can get an idea of how they would look.  This is of excellent value and the cost is zero.

Choosing pots and containers 

There are two main categories to look for - containers with drainage holes and those without, which are often referred to as cache pots. The former can be directly planted using a quality potting mix, like Baileys Premium Potting Mix. Cache pots are really a sleeve into which you place the plant in its own pot, often the plastic one from the nursery. Pots and containers come in a range that almost defies description; there are so many at your local garden centre, This is another area where design can have an influence. Just think shape, colour and construction - there can be many aspects to consider. 


Self watering pots have made indoor plant growing more accessible for some as they lengthen the watering interval making maintenance less of a burden. These pots usually have a reservoir, which stores water and also prevents it leaking out onto the floor or bench. 

Are saucers worth using?
Saucers are the low-tech alternative to self watering pots as these can collect excess water and also act as a reservoir for capillary action to bring moisture back into the potting mix where the pot actually sits in water.  It is easy to drown an indoor plant however if you keep adding water before the saucer dries out.  This is worse in winter when growth slows and roots can be sitting in constantly wet soil. One solution to prevent this drowning is to place ?pot feet? on the saucer then position the pot on these so there is no contact between the base of the pot and the water in the saucer.  Saucers can also stop water marking floors so long as they are not porous themselves such as those made from terracotta.

Potting mixes

Australain potting mixes are amongst the best in the world as a result of the creation of an Australian Standard for quality potting mix. Mixes that comply with the standard show either red or black ticks.  This assures you of getting a free draining, moisture holding, healthy mix that will enhance the growth of your plants.  Red tick mixes contain sufficient nutrient to keep your plants going for as long as 6 months, these are the ones you will find on Baileys Premium Potting Mix.  Black tick mixes comply with all the physical requirements, however, these need fertilisers added to them at planting time to get plants growing. Potting mixes that don?t conform to this standard are usually very cheap and this can be tempting.  I urge you to think about the investment you have made in pot, plant, and time and reject the cheap and cheerful version, as too often it ends in tears. 

Repotting 
Its worth noting that the best potting mixes in the world, and I would include Baileys Premium Potting Mix in this class, will run thin after two years and need to be topped up or partially replaced.  This can be achieved by potting on into a larger pot or by excavating a portion of the old potting mix and replacing with fresh mix.

Watering

This skill is easy to learn and is critical to indoor plant survival. The aim is to saturate the root ball ? the potting mix and roots inside the pot, allow it to drain freely and then leave until the potting mix starts to dry out from the top.  At this time re-water. I recommend the first knuckle, feel test.  When the potting mix is dry at the depth of the first joint of your finger (about 2 cm) then its time to water your plant to the point where water drains from the pot. 

Tidying up

Keep your plants looking in good shape by removing dead and yellowing leaves as well as spent or finished flowers. Some indoor locations can be dusty and leaf surfaces can be a trap.  I recommend wiping these large leaves with a soft cloth dipped in warm water. One hint is to wipe the underside of the leaf as well as this is where most of the respiration takes place. 



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