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Tips for Healthy Houseplants

Houseplants come in many different varieties, all with their own specific needs.
Although it's true that houseplants can tolerate a certain degree of so-called "improper" treatment, the University of Nebraska Extension Service says houseplants do best when they're provided with the best environment and care. No matter how tolerant these plants can be, overwatering, overfeeding, insufficient light or lack of air circulation can impede houseplants' growth and make them susceptible to disease. So keep these pointers in mind when tending to your low-maintenance buds and vines:

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  • Make sure your houseplants have bright, but not direct, light. A sunbeam's brightness and heat can be intensified by windowpanes and scorch most houseplants. If you're going to put your plant (such as African violets, aloe and cacti) near a window, it's best to make sure they're getting either indirect light from an east-, west- or north-facing window or some sort of artificial light. However, be sure your plant isn't one of the common house varieties that require shade, such as philodendron, rubber plants or Swedish ivy.
  • Most houseplants thrive in temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F and will tolerate a minor temperature drop at night when thermostats are routinely lowered. They also require a humid environment, so daily spraying or placement of the plants in a tray of damp pebbles helps.
  • Consider the type of plant, the size of its container, the composition of its soil, and the room's temperature and humidity before you water it. Allexperts.com gardening expert Beth Pierce says one of the biggest mistakes people make is over watering their plants, because it can often kill them. Since most plants go through a dormancy period during the winter, they'll need less water than they do the rest of the year.
  • Pierce says houseplant soil should be a mixture of soil, peat and sand, vermiculite or perlite. Some mixtures are soilless, containing mostly peat, she says, but peat mixtures lack the nutrients necessary for successful plant growth and are supplemented regularly. However, these potting mixtures are sterile and allow better drainage and air circulation around the roots.
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  • Feed your houseplants regularly when they're in a growth phase. When houseplants are actively growing, the nutrients that are so vital to their growth -- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium -- are gradually used up. But you can find those kinds of nutrients in fertilizers or plant food that are easily added to the soil. Nutrients also can be sprayed onto a plant's leaves, stimulating their growth. (Pierce says natural fertilizers improve the soil near the plant, and cautions that regular fertilizers just pour chemicals on the plant.)
  • Plants are still susceptible to pests and disease when they're indoors. Pests and diseases can come in the home on new plants or whenever a door is opened. Control infestations by washing the plant with various liquids, such as alcohol, soapy water or commercial insecticides.

  • And finally, don't forget your houseplant's container. From clay to plastic, these pots should have a drainage hole and saucer to catch excess water. Hanging containers are great for trailing plants because the leaves can fall over the sides. Standing window boxes are also widely used.

    Source: By Paige Bowers