Success with Houseplants
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Call it luck or a green thumb, but what success with houseplants often boils down to is matchmaking -- matching a plant's needs with the growing conditions in your home. Your chances of success increase significantly when you put a plant in an environment that provides the light and humidity levels and temperatures it needs. Put it in an adverse environment -- too dark, too hot, too dry, too cold, whatever -- and you may lose it.
Some houseplants have a well-deserved reputation for tolerating a wide range of light intensities, humidity levels and temperatures. Plants such as dumbcane (Dieffenbachia), corn plant (Dracena fragrans), Indian rubber plant (Ficus elastica), philodendron, devil's ivy (Scindapsus aureus), pothos and sansevieria are common in homes, offices and public buildings because they will not only survive but thrive in less than ideal conditions.
Others are more difficult to grow because they need more bright light or higher humidity levels or much cooler temperatures than the average home or office can provide. Ferns, spider plant (Chlorphytum comosum) and prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) may be lush and green when they enter your home, but they typically turn brown around the edges in the dry-as-a-desert air of a heated home. Flowering plants that come into the home in bloom may never flower again because of low light levels or certain temperature requirements.
Indoor gardeners can expand the range of plants that will thrive in the home if they are willing to modify the natural growing conditions. Adding fluorescent fixtures to increase light levels and using a room humidifier to change light and moisture levels are relatively easy and inexpensive ways to make the environment more suitable for certain plants.
Growing plants that need high relative humidity in terrariums is another way to increase the variety of plants that will thrive in your home.
If dry air indoors in winter is such a problem -- and it is -- one solution would appear to be growing cacti and succulents instead of tropical plants. This works only if you realize that these plants are adapted to dry environments. They don't need a lot of water even when they're growing, and in winter they're not growing, so they need almost no water. Too much water leads to root rots and dead plants. Neglect kills far fewer cacti than too much water.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office