My Life as a Houseplant
I’m a houseplant. Which is to say I’m a plant living in a house. It’s a nice house, but it’s the most foreign and at times hostile environment imaginable. After all, I’m originally from the tropics! But here I struggle to get the light I need. I either get too much or too little water. I rarely get the nutrients I need. I never get a bath. And the humidity I crave is hard to come by. In other words, most of the time my life sucks. But you can make it better.
Some of my roomies are able to adapt to life indoors better than me. Cacti and succulents, for example, can go days on end without water. They like the air bone dry. And they don’t eat much at all. Lucky them. I, on the other hand, need special care, as do most of my friends. It’s not that we’re high maintenance, mind you. It’s just that we’re no more accustomed to living indoors as you are outdoors, so we need a little help now and then.
Temperature and Humidity
We’re okay with the same temperatures you humans prefer, and like you, we tend to enjoy it a little cooler at night and a tad warmer during the day. But your heating and air conditioning systems are brutal because they make the air crazy dry, and we love humidity. So please, get in the habit of misting us often, as in every day, or put us in the kitchen or bathroom where there’s plenty of moisture in the air. That way our foliage won’t turn brown and brittle.
Speaking of moisture, why is it that you only water us when it’s convenient for you? Most of us don’t like to dry out completely, and some of us like the soil to be evenly moist but never soggy, myself included. At the very least, we need a drink when the top inch or two of soil is dry. Just stab your finger into the soil every few days to check the moisture content. We don’t mind. And it doesn’t hurt a bit. During our active growth phase in spring and through the summer, we need water far more frequently than we do in fall and winter. In fact, too much water in the winter months kills more of us than anything else.
Light is tricky, but without it we’re goners. You probably learned about something called photosynthesis in school. That’s the process by which we make our own food by “eating” photons. However, here’s where things get tricky. Too much light can burn our leaves (or worse) and too little light means we basically starve to death.
Of course, some of us need more light than others, but most of us are okay with medium light levels, which are usually found a few feet away from a south-facing window or near an east- or west-facing window. Whatever you do, don’t put us up against a south-facing window or we’ll fry, much like you humans do when you travel to the tropics in winter.
In addition to the food we make without your help, we sometimes need additional nutrients from what you call fertilizers. Basically, fertilizers are like the vitamins and other supplements many of you take. But do us a favor when fertilizing: only use half of what the label recommends. Those instructions weren’t written by plants (after all, we can’t write), but rather by humans who make and sell fertilizer. Too much of the stuff can burn our roots and cause an accumulation of salts, so take it easy. When we’re actively growing, fertilize us every two to three weeks, then taper off as fall approaches. And in winter, don’t fertilize us at all.
Yeah, we like a bath now and then too, because as dust accumulates on our leaves, it plugs our stomata, little holes or pores through which we take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, as well as release moisture as we “breathe.” Just moisten a small towel with tepid water and clean our leaves every couple of weeks or so. Or give us a good rinse with a gentle mist from the hose or under the kitchen faucet.
Give us a break from life indoors by moving us outside when the weather is nice, but not in bright sunshine and never when temperatures drop below 50 or so. And yes, we absolutely love to get rained on (it happens nearly every afternoon where I come from).
Repot us every spring with fresh potting soil. And as we grow, slowly increase the size of our pot or trim our roots a bit so we don’t become pot bound.
We rarely get diseases, but pests can be a problem. The best way to control most of them is to pour some isopropyl alcohol on a towel and wipe our leaves, just as you would when giving us a bath.
Oh and one more thing. The next time you vacation in the tropics, say hi to all my friends and relatives. And don’t forget your sunscreen!
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