Smarty Plants: four tips for indoor gardening

With so many of us confined to our homes for the past year and a half, indoor activities and hobbies like bread making, board games and puzzles have exploded in popularity. Just like indoor gardening. Here are four simple tips to keep your green friends thriving and, well, green.

Site. Site. Site: Giving your indoor plants the right amount of sunlight is very important for them to grow well. Some plants will thrive in low light conditions, while others will need bright light. Before choosing a plant, do some research to find out what type it needs. Keep in mind that sunlight streaming through a south or west window can scorch tender foliage. Also, just because a plant can grow in low-light conditions doesn’t mean it will thrive in a dark, windowless living room. Gro-Lights can help. Your desk at work under fluorescent lights can be more than enough for many plants.

Drink : There is no simple answer to the question “How often should I water my plant?” Room temperature, time of year, type of plant, and most importantly, the type of medium (soil) it is planted in are all important factors. Some plants like to be kept on the wet side, while others, like cacti and succulents, like to dry out somewhat between waterings. A good rule of thumb for all things green is to water them when the soil in the pot “approaches dryness.” In other words, don’t water when the plant is already wet or soggy, but don’t let the roots dry out. The best way to determine this is with your fingers. Put them gently into the ground and use your best judgment. With practice you will get good at it. I’m not a big fan of moisture meters. You already have 10 at your fingertips.

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They are what they eat: Although some potting mixes contain nutrients for plant growth, these nutrients are quickly depleted or washed out of the soil by frequent watering. Regular feeding with some type of “natural” or “organic” fertilizer will allow your plants to grow and thrive. As a general rule, it is best to feed your plants only during the months when they are actively growing. Follow label directions, but use much less often.

Don’t bother me: If you maintain your plants properly, they are less likely to catch insects and diseases. Always use the least toxic and most environmentally friendly remedies to eliminate parasites. Spider mites, for example, thrive on dusty plants, so wash foliage frequently, including the underside. If you have those pesky fungus gnats buzzing around the surface of your soil, try using a more porous, less heavy potting mix. To make a homemade insecticide, mix a few teaspoons of liquid dish soap with a liter of water. Spray or wipe the solution onto the leaves and stems of your plants to kill aphids. For harder-to-kill vermin like scale insects, try a dilute solution of horticultural oil, and for scale insects, a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol should do the trick.

Randy Arnowitz, or Mr. Greenjeans as he is known in Santa Barbara, is a gardener and writer who cultivates green thumbs throughout Southern California. See

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