Bulletin #2611, Tips for Growing Houseplants in Maine: Caring for Houseplants in Maine

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Tips for Growing Houseplants in Maine: This newly revised and expanded fact sheet series addresses the basics of keeping houseplants. It will help you diagnose common problems with your houseplants, such as insects and diseases; overwatering or underwatering; improper lighting, temperature, or humidity; and insufficient pot size (root-bound). The series addresses how to start new plants from old plants, and also the unique challenges of growing houseplants in Maine, including the use of artificial light.


Adapted by Donna Coffin, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Reviewed by Rebecca Long, Extension Professional, and Matt Wallhead, Extension Ornamental Horticulture Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extension.umaine.edu/publications/. 

Foliage plants and flowering plants can brighten any home. People who keep plants in their home report feeling happier and more relaxed. Natural aesthetic beauty is soothing to people, and nurturing plants reduces stress levels. Research shows that workers are more effective when they have plants around them and that people are more cheerful when they are surrounded by plants. Plants also provide an important link to nature, and it’s interesting to watch plants change and grow throughout the year. It is very rewarding to grow a prize specimen, whether it’s an orchid or a cactus.

Most of our houseplants come from tropical and subtropical climates. They are well adapted to the warm conditions in our homes and offices. Because they evolved near the equator, they have adapted to similar day lengths throughout the year, which we maintain in our homes and offices through the use of artificial lights.

But problems may crop up when growing houseplants, and this can be very discouraging. The problems encountered are often attributed to disease or insect infestation. But oftentimes problems can be traced to the conditions in which the plants live.

Growing houseplants can be more enjoyable by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Choose a healthy, vigorous plant with a good root system (a small tug on the stem of the plant can assure it has a good root system, if it pulls out easily, it may have just been planted, or the roots have rotted off), lustrous green or typical color, and no sign of insect or disease damage.
  • Know the correct identification of the plant and the conditions it requires.
  • Know the conditions in the area where the plant is to be located.
  • Choose a plant to match available conditions.
  • Check plants frequently for any signs of change (positive or negative).
  • If a problem develops, try to determine the cause so it can be avoided in the future. To determine how to avoid, prevent, and treat problems refer to Bulletin #2612, Dealing with Houseplant Problems in Maine, and Bulletin #2613, Controlling Insects and Disease in Houseplants.

Light and Temperature

Unless specially planned lighting is arranged, artificial light under a table lamp for a few hours each night does not make up for a continued lack of sunlight or indirect bright light. For more on lighting refer to Bulletin #2614, #4 Growing Houseplants Under Artificial Lights in Maine.

Ideal temperatures for foliage plants are 68–70 degrees during the day and slightly lower at night. Flowering plants retain their blossoms longer at these lower temperatures. Remember that windowsill locations are much colder during the winter than at a little distance within a room.

watering tools
Tools for watering your houseplants can include a watering can, mister, a squeeze wash bottle for watering small plants, and a baster for removing excess water from the trays of large plants.

Watering

Plants can be watered from the top, bottom, or by automated irrigation system, but make sure there is good drainage so that water does not stand in the pot and soil. Plants in clay pots need watering more frequently than do those in glazed or plastic pots because the clay pot absorbs water. Most houseplants do best if watered periodically, not daily. When you water, add enough water to fill all the air space in the pot. Lifting the pot up can help determine if the pot is completely watered. Allow the excess water to drain out and don’t let the pot stand in water in its tray. Do not water again until the soil is dry an inch from the surface. A mister can be used for gently watering cuttings or cleaning foliage.

Humidity

Many tropical plants require higher relative humidity than we normally sustain in our homes. You can increase the humidity around plants by grouping them together, or by placing humidity-requiring plants in the bathroom or over a sink or an aquarium. Misting plants has no long-lasting effect on humidity.

Fertilizing

If plants have been repotted in the fall into a soil containing fertilizer, they probably will not need more fertilizer until spring, but if they’re growing in a soilless mix, they will need regular fertilizing. Fertilizers labeled for houseplants in powder, liquid, or tablet form may be used following the manufacturer’s directions.

Maintenance

To keep the plants healthy, turn them occasionally to expose all sides to the light source. Also, wash the leaves regularly to remove dust accumulation, but do not use any oily substance on the leaves to keep them shiny—it attracts dust.

Houseplant Care During the Winter

Maine’s long, dark winter can present challenges to maintaining lush houseplants year-round.

When day length shortens and the heat goes on in the home or the woodstove is fired up, houseplants sometimes begin to yellow and drop their leaves. You may need to move some plants to a different place in the home and treat them differently than you do during the summer.

Flowering plants need at least a half-day of direct sunlight during each 24-hour period to develop flower buds. Cacti and many succulents require a sunny place, and coleus and crotons need direct sun to maintain their decorative foliage colors.

Foliage plants such as ivies, philodendrons, foliage begonias, and peperomias do well in indirect light rather than direct sunlight. African violets and gloxinias, which require indirect bright light during the summer, need more direct light in the winter.

When plants are used for decorative accents in a room, they may get insufficient light. You can fix this problem by rotating them to a bright light area every few days — perhaps a week or two in the low light area, then several days in a sunny location. As an alternative, have two sets of plants and shift them every week; one set receives bright light while the other is used in the decorative scheme.

Be prepared to adjust watering practices as you move plants to accommodate the season. Water needs may go down if plants receive less light or, conversely, may increase due to the drying effect of heating the home.

Additional Resources

Sources

1 Hall, C., & M. Dickson, 2011, Economic, Environmental, and Health/Well-Being Benefits Associated with Green Industry Products and Services: A Review. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 29(2):96-103.

Houseplants in Maine by Lois Stack, Ornamental Horticulture Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

House Plant Tips by Gleason Gray, Extension Educator, Penobscot County, University of Maine Cooperative Extension


Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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