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Make Gift Plants Work In Landscape
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
With Christmas finally past, you may find yourself with some new plants you received as gifts or bought as decorations. While indoor plants certainly can add beauty and enjoyment to your home, how do you make them last?
Whether grown for foliage or flower, they can only add beauty and charm to your home if they are healthy. Many gardeners begin their struggle with houseplants by choosing the wrong location with regard to light.
The amount of light a plant requires varies by type. When deciding on where to place the plant in your home, it helps to understand the window and light environment.
East facing windows receive cool morning sun and are good choices for most houseplants. However, in the winter east windows receive more sun light than they do the rest of the year. This would be my pick for the Christmas cactus.
North facing windows receive almost no direct sunlight. North windows are a great choice for houseplants that thrive on indirect light. The cyclamen, a popular Christmas plant, would love this window, as would the Peace Lily, Chinese evergreen or pothos ivy.
South facing windows receive a lot of sunlight in the winter, but less in the summer. Special care may be needed when using south facing windows or you simply may need to move the plant in the summer. Poinsettias will look good for a couple more months in this location.
West facing windows receive the most sunlight of all. Plants on the west side of your home may need to be protected from the sun. Plants like the Norfolk Island pine, weeping fig and rosemary topiaries would find this window ideal.
While these statements about windows are general principles, they can be greatly misleading for your house. Consider the effects of tall trees, blinds and curtains. Remember also that light is measured in foot-candles and a bright sunny day outside may register as high as 10,000 foot-candles. Indoors it may drop to only 300 to 500 depending on where you take the measurement.
Despite the struggle for appropriate light, the leading cause of plant death is over-watering. When you consider the drastic drop in light intensity, it stands to reason that the plants are really not in a vigorous state of growth. Think of it as simply holding the plant until warm spring weather when it might be moved outdoors.
Since the plants aren't growing as vigorously as they do in their native environment or the grower's greenhouse, they will not need as much water. Before you water, check the soil to see if it is dry. You never want the plant to sit in soggy soil.
When you do water, irrigate enough so that it drains through the soil and out the hole. Then by all means let the soil dry before you water again. There is no need to water by the calendar, only when the plant needs it.
Since the plant is not actively growing and we are cutting back on water, we also need to cut back on fertilizer. Use a dilute water-soluble fertilizer about every fifth watering. Time-released granules are a very good choice for fertilizing houseplants.
If you move these plants outdoors in the late spring and growth resumes, increase the fertilizer applications to every other watering.
For the best look in your home, try placing your plants in groups. This natural setting resembles a miniature rainforest and helps increase your humidity around the plants.