Train houseplants to thrive

Posted on: 26 April 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

While human beings can live indoors with low light levels and dank air, plants are another story entirely.

HouseplantsWhile human beings can live indoors with low light levels and dank air, plants are another story entirely. Luckily, plants can be trained to better adapt to the rigors of indoor living, according to a horticulturist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences

Keeping indoor foliage plants alive has long been a challenge for plant lovers. Too often, homeowners will bring a plant home from a greenhouse and put it inside, only to see it die within weeks.  The reason?  Most plants must be carefully prepared for light conditions inside a building before they are moving-in permanently. Plants need enough light indoors to maintain a slightly higher level of photosynthesis (the food manufacturing process in plants) than the energy the plant loses from transpiration, a process by which plants lose moisture through tiny openings in their leaves and stems.

If a plant doesn't receive enough light it will begin to use up its food reserves and this results in leaves dropping off the plant, which means a loss of chlorophyll necessary to maintain photosynthesis. Without adequate light, plants will decline and then die.

Plants can be trained to accept lower levels of light by acclimatizing, or gradually reducing their light levels to the point that comes closest to an indoor environment, but acclimatizing plants is not a quick process.  Depending on the plant, the process could take up to 15 weeks.

Start by putting the plant outside in a sunny spot and then slowly moving it to areas of lesser light every few weeks. Once the plant has stabilized, you can provide the necessary light with incandescent or fluorescent lights.  Indoor light sources can give off a lot of heat, so remember not to place the light too close to the foliage.  Incandescent lights, which give off much more heat, should be placed toward the ceiling, directly over plants. Fluorescent lights, which are cooler, can be placed closer to foliage and within smaller spaces.

The indoor environment is tough for plants, even tropical plants native to darkened jungles can have problems. In general, however, plants with thicker leaves adapt better to indoor conditions.

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