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Plant Care

Light

All plants need some light in order to photosynthesize, the process by which light, chlorophyll, energy, carbon dioxide and water act together within the plant to produce the sugar and starches it needs to survive and to release oxygen. The light requirements do vary from plant to plant but generally speaking the lower the light the slower the plant grows and when there isn't enough light present to photosynthesize, the plant dies.

Each plant has its own photosynthetic needs and it is important to know if your plant has low, medium, or high light requirements so that when you select the placements, you have the right plant for the right light conditions.

Light is measured in foot-candles (a foot-candle being the amount of light cast by a candle on a surface 1 foot candle away) with low being 50-125, medium 125-250 and high light 250 and above.  In situations where you cannot give a plant sufficient light, you can artificially produce light using fluorescent lights or grow lights to supplement the plant needs.
Whatever location you chose, the plant must have a light source that supplies it with its needed daily dose. Plants, more so than humans, can adapt to existing conditions and thrive, but consistent light, even if it's less than required, is very important as constant changes will cause the plant to deteriorate rapidly.

Water
More plants die from overwatering than any other cause. One reason so many people think that because it is Friday it must need water. Always check a new plant a couple times per week until you establish a cycle.   The index finger to the second knuckle is one of the oldest and best methods.   If you feel moisture on your finger, don't water.  By overwatering, the plant will drown as its roots will sit in water not allowing life-giving air to circulate. So after a first good flushing to dissolve any excess salts that have accumulated as a result of heavy fertilizing by the grower you should be careful not to drown the plant. You can do this by making sure the soil is moist but that the plant is not sitting in water the day after you water.

There is such a thing as underwatering too, and its primary symptom is wilting leaves, beginning with the youngest ones at the tips of the stems. The older leaves which have established tougher cells, may not show any effect for a few days or more, but soon their edges will begin to turn brown. If you catch the plant at the browning stage, there may be time to save it with watering and, though, the edges will not turn green again, they can be trimmed with scissors.

It is not easy to gauge the right amount of water.  A plant will use water based on its location, temperature, humidity of the room, the size of the container, light conditions and the time of the year.  There are no precise schedules for watering other than establishing a consistent cycle. The needs of different species vary. In general, plants fall into three categories of moisture needs. Water-loving plants, moderately dry plants and dry soil plants.

A Few Basic Tips on Watering

1. Use tepid water; plants take up tepid water more readily than cold water that can shock them and cause them to wilt. Try not to use heavily chlorinated water or  do not use water from a softener. Neither chlorine or sodium from soften water are beneficial to plants. If you are using a container that doesn't have a drainage hole, place some gravel, rocks or any other material that can be used to raise the plant from the bottom of the container so the water can accumulate without drowning the plant. Periodically check to see if there is any excess water and dump it.
It is important to note that, other than over/under watering, plants can learn to adapt to different watering techniques as long as they are done on a regular and consistent basis. A weekly schedule that is maintained regularly will benefit most plants.

Fertilization
Most indoor foliage plants will require fertilization at some point in time.  Keep in mind that plant food will cause a plant to grow more rapidly. We prefer the liquid plant food in 10-15-10 ratio.  Schultz Instant plant food is a great choice. The numbers represent the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  Nitrogen helps promote leaf growth. Phosphorus helps promote sturdy cell growth. Potassium promotes balance of the plant systems.
Follow the directions on the label and under no circumstances make the mixture stronger than the one suggested by manufacturer; generally use only half the minimum strength suggested.

Cleaning
Clean your plants frequently.  All indoor foliage benefits from a good washing every two weeks or so. Simple wiping with soap and water will free the plant from dust that can clog the pores and prevent the plant from breathing, in addition, the soap will clean away any insects that may have gathered and freshen the leaves so they can function normally. Cleaning brings out the natural beauty.

Pests
Insects are not as great a problem to plants indoors as they are outdoors but because indoor foliage is normally not planted in the ground and does not have any natural defenses, the pests can cause irreparable damage in a short period of time. Insect infestations should be monitored carefully and when found, the plant or plants should be removed from the others in the group (to prevent spreading) and treated.Most insects can be washed off with soapy water or swabbed away with alcohol but serious infestations require chemicals which are normally readily available at garden centers.

The five most often found indoor pests are aphids, white flies, spider mites, scales and mealy bugs.

Aphids are common plant lice and are about 1/8 inch long and may be green, red, pink, yellow, brown or black. They congregate on soft young tips or the undersides of leaves. They suck out a plant's juices, stunt new growth and cause foliage to pale, curl and die.

White flies are exceedingly tiny sucking insects that flutter off the leaves when a plant is disturbed. The eggs lay on the undersides of leaves and hatch into almost invisible transparent green larvae that feed on plant sap and do most of the damage.

Spider mites are microscopic pests that weave spider-like webs on the plant. The first sign of attack may be yellow or brown speckles on the foliage. When left unchecked the spider mites will devastate a plant within a few weeks.

Scales, which congregate on the undersides of leaves and look like oval spots about 1/8 inch long, are hard to see until the infestation is severe. At that stage the scales encrust stems and leaves like lumpy blisters, and plants may yellow and die.

Mealy bugs are the most common pest in indoor plants. The soft 1/4 inch long bodies are white in color and look like cotton clustered under leaves and in crevices on the tops of the leaves. They lay up to 600 eggs and by sucking sap they stunt and kill plants.

In most cases, mild infestations can be cleaned up by washing or dunking the plant in soapy water and rinsing with tepid water. In some instances, like with mealy bugs, dabbing the insect with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol will also help to kill them off.

For serious infestations chemicals must be used. After purchasing the correct product from your local garden center make sure the spraying is done outdoors and the plant brought in only after the spraying has completely dried off.