Houseplant Care: Proper Nutrition

Everybody knows that plants need water, light, and air to survive. But nutrition is just as important as these other factors in raising a healthy houseplant.

Besides light, water, and air, plants require food to flourish in the home. Proper nutrition is essential to the health of the roots, leaves, and flowers, yet this part of plant care is often forgotten - especially for some plant owners who are so busy they scarcely have time to water the plants. But if you want to have an attractive display in your home, it's crucial to give your plants a balanced diet of good nutrients.

Most plants require at least two of three nutrients to succeed: nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. Nitrogen, the most well-known plant nutrient, is necessary for healthy leaf growth. Phosphate is essential for the well-being of the roots, and potash is the nutrient most responsible for the colorful blossoms that a well-fed flowering plant will display during the growing season. Although these are three most important nutrients, certain plants require more or less of other elements such as iron, zinc, manganese and copper.

When in an outdoor garden, most of these nutrients are readily available simply by virtue of the earth, but in an indoor setting, plants are reliant on the owner to get the food they need. There are a several different ways to make sure your plants remain well-fed. First, select a good potting mix. Most home and garden centers have a variety of soils to choose from; different types of soils are engineered for different kinds of plants, based on a scientific breakdown of what nutrients those plants need. If you know what kind of plant you are going to use the soil for, this can be very helpful. However, if you have a lot of different kinds of plants, you may want to go with a more general purpose potting mix. Ask the garden-center employee about his or her suggestions based on your plant's needs.

Buying an enriched potting soil is not enough to provide adequate nutrition for a long period of time, though. Because the houseplant's roots cannot explore new soil for nutrients as it can in an outdoor garden, you must make sure that you replenish the food supply at regular intervals. There are two major ways to accomplish this.

By far the most popular way to feed your plants is with liquid plant food. These usually come in small bottles with eyedroppers for measuring the food into the water before watering the plant. The advantages of liquid plant food are manifold - besides being able to control the distribution and amount of nutrition around the pot, you can easily increase or decrease the nutrient supply depending on the time of season. Remember, all houseplants need to have a resting season, and when the winter rolls around, you should cut back on feeding.

A second method for feeding is using nutrient sticks. These are simple, and a good solution for people too busy to pay much attention to the feeding habits of their plants. Simply stick the prescribed number of fertilizer sticks into the pot at various intervals; they will last from anywhere from a period of weeks to months. Unfortunately, sticks have drawbacks in that the nutrients are not distributed evenly throughout the soil as with liquid food, promoting less-even root development. Also, when it comes time for the resting season, it can become difficult and potentially damaging to the plant to try and extract the sticks themselves.

The plant will show signs if it is not getting enough food or is getting too much food. Things to watch out for in plants that may not be getting enough food include the yellowing of leaves, frequent lower leaf fall, and weak or non-existent flowering. Plants that are being overfed might demonstrate signs such as wilting leaves, leaves with brown spots and edges, or a white film developing on the surface of the soil. If you see these symptoms, and are not sure whether it is related to the plant food or to another factor such as light or water, adjust one thing at a time and see how the plant responds.

Food is an important but often overlooked aspect of houseplant care, but it is not difficult to make sure your plants are well-fed. Buy the right soil and food, and pay attention to your plants needs, and they will reward you with a healthy, attractive display.

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