What Are Houseplants?

Houseplants can be a great introduction to the world of gardening. When we talk about houseplants, we are usually talking about plants grown for ornament or air cleansing inside the home.

Often, though not exclusively, of course, they are plants that cannot typically be grown outside in the UK. They will often hale from places with warmer climates than our own.

The term houseplants can refer to any plants that we can grow indoors. We can not only choose typical houseplants for ornamental use and to enhance our homes, we can also choose to grow a range of common garden plants as houseplants too. When we think about houseplants in this broader category, we soon see that it can encompass a huge range of plants. They might even include edible crops – fruits, vegetables and herbs. Though most people will not think of these types of plants grown indoors when they think about the term.

Houseplants can be evergreen tender perennials, shrubs, climbers, palms, orchids, succulents or bulbs…They are generally those plants that are grown indoors, but which typically require little care and which, apart from a little watering and general care, can pretty much be left to their own devices. Houseplants come in many shapes and sizes. Some have large and impressive architectural form and attractive or interesting foliage, others beautiful blooms in a wide range of colours. The main thing that defines them is that they are grown indoors all year.

The most common houseplants include subtropical and tropical species, – including a huge range of succulents, cacti, and bromeliads. Air plants are another category of houseplants that are currently popular to grow. You might also grow climbers and vines as houseplants, whose trailing forms can enhance your living spaces – this is another popular approach in contemporary interior design.

Popular Houseplants Grown In The UK

Here are some plants commonly grown indoors in the UK:

How To Care For Houseplants

The first rule in caring for houseplants is to provide environmental conditions suitable for the particular plants you are trying to grow. You need to think about temperatures, of course, ventilation, humidity levels, and light.

Most houseplants will do best in a reasonably warm location where the temperatures do not fluctuate too much. Most houseplants will do find in typical rooms that experience level temperatures throughout the year. During winter, however, some plants may need to be moved to a cooler room to prevent overheating during the day. Make sure you do not place houseplants too close to heat sources such as fires, stoves or radiators. And avoid placing them in chilly draughts from doors or windows on winter’s nights.

The majority of houseplants prefer to be placed in bright filtered light. Though there also houseplants that can cope with more shade. And tropical plants can often experience scorched leaves when they receive too intense sunlight through glass. Remember, light levels decrease rapidly the further back into a room from windows a plant is placed.

In terms of humidity, this is something else that it is important to get right. It can be a challenge when keeping certain tropical plants as houseplants. Tropical plants need a humid atmosphere and centrally heated homes in the UK and other climate zones can often easily become too dry. Some plants will need to be misted daily to keep humidity high, or placed on trays or saucers filled with damp gravel or other media. Humidity levels are also affected by creating groupings of house plants. A more humid atmosphere will be created around the leaves of the plants, which can be beneficial in some cases and detrimental in others.

The most important thing, however, when caring for houseplants, is getting it right when it comes to watering. Both overwatering and under watering can cause a range of issues. Make sure you understand the water needs of the plants you are trying to grow. Looking at the plant’s native range and conditions to be found there can often help you work out what houseplants need, and how much water to give them.

Generally speaking, you will be looking for the surface of the growing medium to dry at least a little before you apply more water. Though in some cases you will wait for the growing medium to dry out almost entirely. Use rainwater rather than tap water to water your plants whenever possible, especially when it comes to acid-loving plants. Often, you need to make sure the water gets into the growing medium and to the roots, where it is needed, rather than splashing water around and wetting the leaves. Reduce watering for most houseplants during the winter months.

Feeding houseplants is not always required. However, many houseplants can be fed during their active growing period (usually March to September) for best results. Organic liquid feeds can be great for a wide range of houseplants. For flowering plants, you should choose one that is rich in potassium, such as a comfrey feed. Certain groups of plants, such as orchids, will need specialist feeds that cater for their unique needs.

When And How To Repot A Houseplant

Usually, houseplants should be repotted every year or two. How often you need to repot will depend on which plants you are growing, their stage of development and growth rate. You should only repot when the plants require it. The best time to repot is generally in spring.

When repotting houseplants, your goal should usually be to make sure that there is a little, but not too much space within the container into which the root system of the plant can grow. Some houseplants prefer to have a bit more space, while confinement and being a little squeezed can actually be beneficial for others.

When choosing a new container for repotting, think about the size of the specimen and the size of its root ball. The new container will typically be just one or two sizes bigger than the original pot.

Make sure you fill your new container with a growing medium suited to its specific needs. Many houseplants will be fine with a multipurpose compost or potting mix, though some will need a specific mix, or one that is more free-draining, for example.

When repotting, you usually need to make sure that you keep the growing medium at the same level on the plant that it was at when the plant was in the original container. Make sure you water well so the growing medium around the plant roots is moist before repotting. Then firm in the extra growing medium around the roots within the larger container – avoiding the formation of air pockets, but not compacting the material too much. Add water in the plant.

Consider adding a mulch or soil cover on top of the growing medium. Organic mulches can be beneficial for adding nutrients. While soil covers like grit, sand, or ornamental beads can aid in water retention within the pot.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Houseplants Improve Air Quality In Your Home?

Keeping vascular plants in your home means that as they photosynthesize, they will draw in carbon dioxide, and expel oxygen. But plants can also help, at least to a degree, in more specific ways, to improve air quality in your home.

Scientists have long known that indoor plants can remove gaseous pollutants from the air by absorbing these gases through their leaves and roots. As they photosynthesize, they can also play an important role in filtering volatile organic compounds.

There are many toxins in the air around us – such as the formaldehyde given off by plywood and other household materials and cleaning products, and the Benzene found in some plastics, fabrics, pesticides and cigarette smoke.  These air-born pollutants are included on the long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), found in the air in our homes, that can damage our health.

Plants removing these harmful compounds from the air is an example of phytoremediation. Any houseplant can aid in cleaning the air in your home to a degree, though some can do so more effectively than others. Some plants that scientists have found to be particularly useful for improving indoor air quality include:

  • Boston ferns
  • Spider plants
  • English ivy
  • Aloe vera
  • Peace lilies

In addition to the plants themselves, micro-organisms living in the growing medium around your potted plants also play a key role in neutralizing air pollutants.

It is important to remember, however, that houseplants can only ever do so much. The air in your home is not in a hermetically sealed environment. And the air is replenished regularly from outside. And remember, also, that gases are not the only thing that affects air quality in your home. And plants cannot help with things like dust, pet hair, or mould.

While plants can play a role in improving air quality, it is also important to take other steps to improve air quality inside your home – such as switching to a natural cleaning regime, and being careful about the materials and items you bring into your environment.

How Can You Stop Cats From Eating Your Houseplants?

Cats can often have the habit of eating houseplants. And this is not only annoying. Since some of the common houseplants kept in the UK are toxic to cats, it is important for the health of your feline friends to make sure they do not take a bite.

First of all, cats may be nibbling houseplants out of boredom. So make sure your friend has plenty to keep him or her entertained. Another reason that cats eat houseplants (or potting soil) is because their diet is lacking in certain essential nutrients. Or they have gastrointestinal issues. So get them checked out if it becomes a regular occurrence.

Once you’ve ruled out these issues, it may just be a case of finding ways to break the habit. You can:

  • Simply place houseplants out of their reach. (High up, or hanging from the ceiling, for example.)
  • Choose prickly plants. (A prick to the paw can be a lesson your cat will not forget.)
  • Select plants that have a smell cats don’t like. (Coleus canina, citronella, rosemary…etc..)
  • Add cat repellent smells around houseplants. (Such as citrus, for example. Add a few pieces of lemon peel around the houseplants to deter cats from nibbling)
  • Sprinkle cayenne pepper around your plants. (One sniff and your cat should be put off for good.)

What Makes Houseplant Leaves Turn Yellow?

Houseplant leaves turning yellow is usually a sign that you have done something wrong when it comes to watering. It may be that you have watered too much, or that you have watered too little.

Though yellow leaves on certain plants can also be a sign of disease, pest infestation or nutrient deficiency, stress is usually due to environmental factors.

Look to watering and other environmental conditions first before exploring other avenues of thought. Since something wrong in the watering regime, or moisture levels in the growing medium is the most common root cause.

Can Houseplants Survive Without Natural Light?

Some plants need natural sunlight to grow, but others can thrive without direct sunlight, and sometimes without any natural light at all. Most houseplants will require at least some natural sunlight. But artificial lighting alone can be sufficient for certain plants. LED grow lights even mean that you could grow houseplants in rooms with no windows at all.

Here are some of the houseplants that can grow best in very low or artificial light conditions:

  • Devil’s Ivy
  • Spider plant
  • ZZ Plant
  • Peace lily
  • Snake plant

How Much Water Do Houseplants Need?

The water requirements for houseplants will vary significantly depending on which houseplants you are growing. Many, especially succulents and cacti, have very low water needs. While others will need a bit more.

Remember, watering needs will differ depending on a range of environmental factors, including the amounts of sunlight that the plant gets, and the temperatures and humidity levels.

Monitor the moisture level in the growing medium for your houseplants, as this will be the best way to determine when you need to water again. Also, pay attention to the clues the plants themselves are giving you – often you will be able to tell by examining your houseplants whether they need more water or less.

Is It Safe To Have Houseplants In The Bedroom?

Generally speaking, it is perfectly safe, and even beneficial, to place plants in your bedroom.

As you are no doubt aware, plants expel oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide as they photosynthesise in the presence of sunlight. This process stops at night, and plants respire – cellular respiration means that plants consume some oxygen and expel some carbon dioxide instead.

Some people believe that this means that houseplants in the bedroom will consume the oxygen in the room during the night, and release too much CO2. They therefore believe it will be better to place plants in areas we do not sleep in at night. But in actual fact, the amounts we are talking about mean that plant respiration will typically not affect the people sleeping in the room. So it is perfectly safe to have houseplants in the bedroom – as long as it is not hermetically sealed and you don’t have a jungle around you.

One thing to note, however, if you are worried about this, is that there are certain plants that do continue to produce oxygen at night. (The snake plant, for example). And plants that do produce oxygen at night have actually been shown to promote a good night’s sleep.

Are Eggshells Good For Houseplants?

Eggshells contain calcium, so when eggshells are crushed and sprinkled into the growing medium around houseplants, they will break down and slowly add this plant nutrient to the soil over time, so it can be taken up by plant roots.

You can also make a soluble fertilizer, by adding boiling crushed eggshells in water, leaving it to cool overnight, then straining the solution and using the water to water your plants.

How Can You Keep Tiny Flies And Spiders Away From Houseplants?

To keep pests, tiny flies, spiders and other creatures away from houseplants:

  • Make sure the growing medium is neither too wet nor too dry.
  • Keep plants and containers clean and dust-free, removing any dead plant material.
  • Place your houseplants alongside companion plants which repel pests and annoying creatures.
  • Use organic sprays of substances that have a smell that deters the creatures you wish to deter.
  • Create traps for adult flies and other pests if necessary, in cases where there is a bad infestation.
  • If there is an infestation in the growing medium, carefully replace that medium with new.

Of course, dealing with any unwanted creatures on and around houseplants involves looking at what plants and pests in particular you are looking at.

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