Help new houseplants adjust to your home

December 19, 2007 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      In real estate sales the buzzwords are “location, location, location” and the same is true for healthy houseplants.  After over- and under-watering, improper amount of light is the next leading cause of failure of houseplants to thrive. 

      Many of our indoor plants are tropical plants shipped from nurseries in Florida.  They are accustomed to the bright, warm Florida sunshine and suddenly they are sitting on a store shelf in chilly Wisconsin.  What a shock!  They might look fine for a few days, but then they start to decline, sometimes rapidly.  When you bring the plant home it has to make yet another adjustment.  There is 5-10 times more light in deep Florida shade than in an average Wisconsin living room. 

      Plants are able to adapt to new environments, but it takes about eight weeks. During that time, don’t expect your plant to thrive; just focus on keeping it alive until it adjusts. 

      The first few weeks, the plant may use what seems to be a LOT of water.  Remember, it came from Florida, and no one told it that in Wisconsin it doesn’t need to drink as much, so it is still transpiring (taking up and releasing water into the atmosphere) at the Florida rate.  If the plant doesn’t get enough water during this critical time, it will be unnecessarily stressed.  Monitor the soil moisture carefully during the first several weeks.  Whenever the soil is dry to an inch below the surface, water the plant.  Make sure to cut back on water as the plant acclimates.  You’ll know this is happening because the soil will dry out much more slowly.

      Your plant should come with a tag that tells how much light it needs.  While plants can adjust to different light levels, they will be healthier the closer you come to matching optimal levels.  A south or west window is considered high light, an east window is medium light and a north window provides low light.  While your plant is acclimating to the new light conditions, it may lose a few leaves.  This is nothing to worry about. 

      Before plants are shipped, they are often sprayed with many things.  It is a good idea to wipe the leaves with a soft cotton cloth to remove residues.  Make sure to wipe the leaves regularly – dust on leaves can reduce light by 25%!       

      There are ways to tell if your plants are getting the proper amount of light.  If they aren’t getting enough, they will not grow, leaves will yellow and drop, variegated leaves may lose their variegation and the soil stays wet.  Too much light may cause strange growth, pale leaves, dropping leaves, scorched leaves and dry soil.  Perfect light will produce plants that grow nicely with dark green leaves few of which drop, and will require regular watering. 

            Temperature and humidity are other factors affecting the health of houseplants. Most home temps are fine but the air is too dry.  Misting plants regularly helps them flourish


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