Houseplant care 101

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Here at the Denver Botanic Gardens, we have a large collection of tropical plants that live in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory and in our plant collections greenhouses. Much of this collection is also what could suitably be considered houseplants.

Many people choose to decorate their home with houseplants as it can be beneficial in many ways other than visually appealing. Some other benefits of including plants in your home are they can improve mood, reduce fatigue, lower stress and increase oxygen and humidity in the air.

When choosing plants for your living space, it’s important to first pay attention to the conditions in your home. The main things to think about are sun exposure, which changes quite drastically over the course of the year; average temperature of the living space; amount of space you can dedicate to your plants; and what pets might be exposed to the plants. Because of the vast array of houseplants available, it is best to grow what will do well in your conditions. Here are a few general groups of plants recommended for different conditions.

Eight hours of direct light is considered full sun. Plants that will be happy with six or more hours of sun include cacti and succulents, croton, dracena, palms, cycads, hibiscus or strelitzia. Some plants that do well in medium light — three to six hours of sun — are orchids, pilea, gesneriads, African violet and begonia. Plants that will do well in low light are spathiphyllum, ferns, diffenbachia, ivy, philodendron, calathea and anthurium.

Now for some general care tips for successfully growing houseplants. In general, don’t overwater. This, in my opinion, is the most important and the hardest thing I ever learned how to do. Roots breathe oxygen and if soil is constantly saturated, roots will rot and the plant will die. Obviously, some plants need more water than others, but a good general schedule for most is saturated for a day or so, two-to-three days of medium dryness and a day or two on the drier side. It’s OK for plants to begin to wilt so long as they don’t get crispy.

For potting and placing your plants, be sure not to overpot them too much, i.e. gradually move them into the next appropriate size. Also be sure to rotate plants that receive light from only one side. From time to time, your plants may also get bugs on them. It happens to everyone, and the closer you pay attention to your plants, the less frequent and extensive the outbreaks will be. I like to remove dead leaves and examine the entire plant for bugs on a regular basis.

Although plants can often be overlooked in the home, they do need attention and care. You will get out of them what you put into them. If at first, you are not successful, keep trying! I’ve certainly killed my share of plants and will kill more in the future.

Scott Preusser is a conservatory horticulturist at the Denver Botanic Gardens

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