General Management of House-Plants
Soil — Pots and Potting — Watering — Temperature and Atmospheric Moisture — Propagation — Situation and Sunlight — Ventilation— Cleanliness — Insects — Fertilizers — Pruning.
So general is the desire for window plants at the present day that their cultivation is almost universal, and they have become, in a measure, a popular necessity.
Plant life is a never-failing source of interest. It provides a diversion for the mind in leisure hours or from vexatious cares. Indeed, the mysterious principles of life and growth it presents furnish physical and moral lessons of the most healthy character.
But while house plants have been introduced into almost every home, and some succeed well in their cultivation, many meet a greater or lesser degree of failure and disappointment, which might be avoided by observation and by availing themselves of the experience of others.
The main points in rearing window plants, after having made a judicious selection of the best varieties of each kind, are to secure for them, as near as possible, the soil, temperature, degree of atmospheric moisture and the amount of light and water required by their natural habit.
Most plants will flourish in widely different soils if they have favorable atmospheric conditions as to moisture and temperature. Many florists have discarded the use of special soils and pot nearly all their plants from the same heap of mold; the conditions supplied by the greenhouse render the composition of the earth of less importance. But when subject to the vicissitudes of the living-room, plants should have every possible advantage to be derived from a congenial soil. We have therefore given the soil most desirable in the treatment of each plant. The best constituents for compost are fresh loam, rotted stable manure, leaf-mold and sand.
The light-colored (soft baked), porous pots, known as greenhouse pots, are perhaps the best for house plants if they can be set in a box of sand to prevent too rapid an evaporation of moisture.
But when they are to be surrounded on every side by the too often hot, dry, absorbing atmosphere of living-rooms, glazed pots are preferable. The glazing prevents evaporation, and the working roots which form against the inner sides of the pots are less liable to be injured by drying.
On the other hand, careful attention must be paid to the drainage of glazed pots; if this becomes obstructed, the plant is in danger from too much moisture.
Those who have not much time to devote to plants will find a zinc-lined box ten or fifteen inches wide and four inches deep, in which to set porous pots and surround them with sand, convenient. Similar boxes two inches deep and four inches wide may be placed across halfway up the window for small pots of young plants.
It is important to select pots of a proper size. A very common mistake is made by giving flowering plants too large pots and producing a growth of foliage instead of flowers. Nearly all plants bloom more abundantly if their roots are somewhat restrained.
Pots for newly rooted cuttings should not exceed three inches in diameter, and when filled with roots, they should be changed to those half an inch, or at most only an inch, larger. Pots should only be filled to within half an inch of the top, as that space is necessary for watering.
In potting, the soil should be settled among the roots by tapping and carefully pressed around them so the plant will stand firmly. Wet soil should never be used, as it packs and becomes hard. After potting water thoroughly once to settle the earth. The plant should then be kept rather dry until it is well established and commences growth.
It is not necessary to fill the bottom of porous pots with broken crocks or rubbish for drainage, except hanging baskets or pots that have no outlet for water.
The exhausted soil may be carefully washed from the roots and replaced with fresh earth and the plants reset in the same pots. By this means a growth is produced that seems inadequate to the size of the pot. This method may be practiced by those who have a limited space for plants or have no larger pots to shift into.
This is the chief regular attention the house plant demands. No general rule can supply the place of that observation and experience which enables those accustomed to the care of flowers to readily determine the exact wants of each plant. As much care should be exercised not to overwater as to guard against excessive dryness. If the soil sours by being kept in a sodden state, it should be replaced with fresh or the plant is ruined; this condition of the soil is equally as fatal to the working roots as extreme drought.
When the surface of the soil appears dry and will readily absorb water, the plant needs it. The application should then be sufficient to saturate the entire soil, not merely the surface. No more water should be given until the surface of the soil again appears dry. An exception must be made to this rule in the case of bulbs when forcing for blooms.
If their growth is checked from any cause, they should be carefully watered. Very likely, nearly all the roots are destroyed, and they cannot use much water until new ones are formed. It should be remembered that plants in porous pots require more water than those in metal or glazed vessels, as it evaporates through their sides.
Watering should be done at a regular hour and in the early part of the day to provide plants exposed to a hot sun with a plentiful supply of moisture at their roots. On cloudy or rainy days, they will need less and perhaps none at all. Plants in porous pots surrounded by sand require water but two or three times a week.
Care should be used not to wet the foliage of rough-leaved plants, such as the Begonia or Chinese Primrose.
Temperature and Atmospheric Moisture
Extremes of temperature, as permitting plants to get too cold at night and too warm during the day, have a tendency to check their growth and induce disease. Window plants are most frequently injured by too much heat. For a general collection of plants, a temperature that ranges from 60 to 70 degrees by day and not below 45 degrees at night will produce the best growth and the greatest amount of flowers. A high temperature with insufficient light and ventilation produces spindling and unhealthy plants.
Different plants require different temperatures. It must be remembered that if a Carnation and a Begonia or a Rose and a Coleus are grown side by side, one or the other must suffer from an improper degree of heat. Having noticed the temperature given for each plant under its treatment, so distribute them that the coolest locations at command be given to those demanding the lowest temperature. A thermometer should always hang in the vicinity of plants, out of the reach of the sun, that the window-gardener may be able to regulate the degree of heat.
Temperature and atmospheric moisture are the main difficulties to contend with in the house. Every part of the greenhouse is kept in a splashy condition and the air is charged with moisture, while the atmosphere of the living-rooms of our houses is often hot, dry and dusty. It is important that moisture should be constantly supplied by evaporation from a vessel of water placed on the stove or under the grates of the registers and by sprinkling the plants both night and morning. The dry heat of a furnace is especially injurious to vegetable life.
There are in reality two atmospheres, that of air and that of aqueous vapor, although we are not so accustomed to regard them. Water received into the atmosphere is not dissolved but exists in a state of vapor, a distinct atmosphere, so to speak, from that of air, though coexisting with it and discernible only when by reason of there being a large quantity and low temperature it is condensed. Plants cannot live for any length of time without this atmosphere of aqueous vapor and they flourish in proportion to its existing in sufficient quantity.