BY MIKI JENNINGS
As the summer heat sinks in, more and more people are taking refuge indoors.
Instead of slumping into the habits of watching TV, more productive hobbyists are enhancing their homes by caring for indoor plants.
Keeping houseplants softens the overall look of your home, adds natural interest points, and gives you a way to connect with nature…without sweating the triple digits.
“It gives you something to do…keeps you busy,” says JoAnn Spencer, Master Gardener at University of Arizona’s extension campus.
Aside from a relaxing hobby, caring for houseplants can improve the oxygen in your living space. Some plants filter out more pollutants than others, but they’re all beneficial to some degree.
According to Jan Westenborg, owner of Green Things, a nursery in Tucson, it all comes down to picking a plant you like and finding a good fit for your home.
“Things that people really like are peace lilies, pothos, dieffenbachia…we have hundreds of varieties in here and they’re all great at giving off oxygen,” she continues.
Plant care 101
Supermarkets sometimes sell inexpensive houseplants, but they don’t always come packed in the highest-quality soil – it’s better to transplant into another pot with higher-quality soil, then fertilize once the plants are settled, which could be up to a month.
“The most important thing is getting the right fertilizer [for your plant type] and following the directions,” Westenborg said.
In theory, the rest is simple. At the root of it, all plants require a good balance of the same basic things ─ sunlight, water and good soil. But even with the most agreeable plants, it’s important to figure out what each plant needs to thrive. Figuring out the right amount of water can be challenging for new planters. When it comes to watering indoor plants, less can be more.
“Just watch the soil moisture,” Cara Bohardt, an employee at Harlow Gardens in Tucson, said. “You don’t want a plant to be sopping wet, and you don’t want a plant to be bone-dry. It’s okay to let a plant dry out a little bit, but keeping a plant sopping wet is how a lot of people kill their indoor plants.”
While watering and nutrients are the focus, some plants are more high-maintenance, require pruning and grow at a rapid rate. Check with your nursery to plan for pot size.
In terms of sunlight, each plant has different needs. The jade plant, for example, can survive in light shade or full sunlight (as long as it’s not overexposed). Ficus plants are more finicky, but grow well in a consistent environment with medium to bright light and a steady room temperature.
While tending to your plant, remember to remove any dust off the leaves to allow for maximum oxygen flow.
If you don’t consider yourself a “green thumb,” don’t worry, there are many low-maintenance houseplants with minimal upkeep.
“I particularly like the ZZ (zamioculcas zamiifolia) plant,” Bohardt says, “it tolerates a wide range of lighting inside…You pretty much ignore it and it survives. I’ve got one in my house I only water every two to three weeks.”
Indoor plants will freshen your air and brighten the space. Visit a local nursery or look to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension campus for more information on gardening and indoor plants, extension.arizona.edu/maricopa.