Indoor Organic Gardening and Pest Control
Depending on where you live, the growing season can be frustratingly short to some gardeners. If you want to extend your growing season through the colder months of the year, don't have an outdoor space to grow a garden, or you love the lush and verdant atmosphere that a house full of plants can provide, indoor organic gardening may be the solution for you. Here are some tips to keep your indoor greenery in peak condition.
When it comes to houseplants, even lighting is one of the most important factors. Plants differ in the amount of light they need: high, medium or low light.
- High-Light Houseplants - Plants like Aloe Vera, Meyer Lemon Trees and the Polka-Dot Plant (Hypoestes Phyllostachya) all require a lot of light. For proper maintenance of high-light houseplants, give them five or more hours of bright light, preferably near a south-facing window. Keep them close to the window, within 6 feet.
- Medium-Light Houseplants - Plants that do well in medium light conditions include African Violets, Begonias, Christmas Cactus, Bird’s Nest Ferns and Moth Orchids. If you buy a medium-light houseplant like one of these, expose it to several hours of bright or indirect light during the day from a window or even overhead lighting. These plants are best kept near a west or southeast-facing window.
- Low-Light Houseplants - Needing very little light, low-light indoor plants do well in a room that has light, but no windows. Keep in mind that “low-light” can be misleading, because these plants still need some kind of light. They cannot survive in a room that has no windows and lights that stay off. One of the most popular low-light tolerant houseplants is the Snake Plant. Other plants in this category include:
- Heart-Leaf Philodendron
- Spider Plants
- Chinese Evergreen
- Parlor Palm
- Peace Lily
Beyond the light level, houseplants may need direct light or indirect light. Direct light is classified as light coming from a window. All direct light is bright but not all bright light has to be direct. For example, medium light houseplants like bright light, but not direct light. On the other hand, indirect light can come from a light bulb or sunlight that has been filtered through something like a curtain.
It’s important to keep in mind that the lower the light level, the less water the plants use. This is especially important in the winter months when the light is lower. However, it is easy to add light to a room by using grow lights or other indoor lighting. HGTV suggests incandescent lights for growing low-light plants, while fluorescent lights are ideal for low to medium-light plants.
You'll face fewer difficulties with your indoor plants if you select varieties that can cope with the climate where you are. While the environment in your home or greenhouse will be regulated, your plants may struggle if they're not kept at the right temperature. Most plants that are considered “houseplants” are actually quite tropical, and therefore cannot tolerate cold temperature. They need to be kept in rooms that are between 65° and 75° F. Make sure you don’t overheat your house, however. For most plants, you will also want to add humidity, preferably with a humidifier rather than a mister.
Water is essential for houseplants. For most houseplants, it’s time to water when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. However, for plants like succulents and cacti, you water when the soil is completely dry. Since indoor plants do not need as much water as outdoor plants, check the soil once a week and only water those that actually need it at that time. Also, keep in mind that your pot will need drainage holes in the bottom to allow air to get to the roots and prevent root rot.
Indoor plants can be fertilized in one of two ways: through water and slow-release fertilizer. Organic fertilizer, whether home-made or manufactured commercially, is much safer than chemical fertilizers -- particularly if you're trying to improve your vegetable harvest. Organic products are inexpensive, effective, and much safer for your indoor gardening endeavors. Look for an organic fertilizer, or if you have properly managed compost, you can blend that with soil.
There are many plants, including some well-known flowering houseplants, that are unsafe if you have young children or pets around. One example is the Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum). Famous for its beauty and wonderful perfume, this flower can be deadly to cats. Even a little of the pollen on their fur can cause severe illness. Before you bring any plant into your home, research it for possible toxicity. You can also read our post on 10 pet friendly houseplants.
Dealing with Pests and Infestations
Growing indoors means that you'll have more control over the environment; you probably won't have to worry too much about weeds or slugs and snails. You may, however, have to cope with insects or issues like mold and other fungal infestations.
Pests and diseases can attack any plant, even in the cleanest house or apartment. Being aware of and addressing these concerns quickly is important if you want to keep your plants looking their best. Check your plants regularly to ensure that they are free from mites, aphids, gnats, and other pests. You should also keep an eye out for brown or withered leaves or spots of discoloration. These can be signs that your plants may have a fungal disease.
Maintaining a healthy, natural environment is crucial whether you're cultivating a few houseplants or setting up an indoor herb garden. It's important that the products you use to keep your plants healthy are free from toxic chemicals and safe to use around children and pets.
Here are some chemicals to avoid:
- Organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos or disulfoton, in insect killer
- Glyphosate, a herbicide that can be dangerous for pets and humans
- Pyrethroids and pyrethrins, which are toxic to aquatic life, pets, and beneficial insects
- Inorganic fertilizers such as urea, anhydrous ammonia, diammonium phosphate and superphosphate
Many conventional pesticides and fungicides are inappropriate for use in your living space but there are plenty of safe, organic products that you can use indoors. Earth's Ally Insect Control will help take care of those pesky leaf nibbling insects, while Earth's Ally Disease Control will control powdery mildew, leaf spot, and other infections.
If you have pets in your home, you'll need to take special care when selecting houseplants. Cats, dogs, and other animals can easily be harmed by chewing on or ingesting some types of plants. Be sure to keep unsafe species well away from your animals or choose pet-safe varieties.
One of the appeals of growing plants indoors is their ability to purify the air. A famous NASA study conducted in 1989 found that many houseplants can remove many toxic compounds, like formaldehyde and benzene, from indoor air. Because air purification is influenced by the surface area of the leaves, the bigger and leafier the plant, the better. In their study, NASA reported that Golden Pothos, English Ivy, Philodendrons and these other plants are the best for clean air indoors.
Indoor plants can make us feel calmer and happier, especially during these times. The benefit to growing plants indoors is that anyone can do it, no matter the size of your home. Whether you are an experienced gardener or new to gardening and dreaming of becoming a green thumb, there is a houseplant for you to add to your home.
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