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Almost any indoor environment is more pleasant and attractive when living plants are part of the setting. In apartments, condominiums, and single-family residences, plants add warmth, personality, and year-round beauty.
There are other uses for indoor plants that include: enclosing space into separate areas, reducing glare and reflection from artificial lights or sunlight entering through a window and screening to block out undesirable views or to create privacy. Also, plants provide oxygen for our environment.
Real enjoyment and consistent success with indoor plants depend on selecting the right plant for a particular environmental situation. Light, humidity and temperature are key considerations. Since one or more of these will usually be less than ideal, being aware of the shortcomings of an indoor location can help you alter them or match plants to their growing conditions.
Soil and water satisfy the remaining basic needs of living plants. You should use a good soil mix, water properly and fertilize to maintain the health of your plants.
Light is essential for plant life processes and optimum levels ensure healthy, long-lived indoor plants. There are three categories of light intensity for interior plants: low 25-75 foot-candles; medium 75-150 foot-candles; and high 150-1,000 foot-candles.
It is important to match plants with locations that satisfy their basic light requirements.
Usually the plants you buy will have a tag indicating its light level. If you are not sure of your light intensity, you can use a camera light meter to determine this measure. The following information will help you determine your indoor sunlight locations:
High light: Areas within four feet of large south, east and west-facing windows.
Medium light: Locations in a range of four to eight feet from south and east windows and west windows that do not receive direct sun.
Low light: Areas more than eight feet from windows, sometimes in the center of a room. Northern exposures often fall into this category even when close to a window.
Of course, light intensity and duration vary during the year. Remember, days are shorter in winter and the sun’s path is lower; therefore, most plants will receive fewer hours of less intense sunlight. However, plants growing close to an unshaded south window may receive more direct sunlight at this time of year because of the low sun angle.
Keep in mind various indoor and outdoor factors also affect sunlight levels. You must include the color of interior walls, window coverings, roof overhangs, outdoor awnings, nearby buildings and the filtering of light by nearby trees.
Plants grown in the optimum conditions are vigorous, compact and bushy. The color is vibrant, leaves are normal size, and stems are sturdy. Plants grown at a lower light intensity are leggy, less vivid in color, and have smaller leaves. You can, of course, use artificial light as a supplement to your light source. When light levels are too high, plant leaves show an overall yellowing that results from the destruction of green pigment.
The best range for most foliage and flowering plants is a daytime temperature of 70-80 degrees and a nighttime range of 60-70 degrees. Sudden temperature changes caused by drafts can be harmful to indoor plants.
Place plants away from intense sunlight during the day and cold drafts at night. Check to make sure the plant is not near air-conditioning or heating register. Other factors on how to care for indoor plants will be addressed in next week’s column.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.