Soule Garden: Create an indoor oasis using houseplants - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Soule Garden: Create an indoor oasis using houseplants

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Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 3:00 am

Love the tropical look? Wish you were surrounded with luxuriant greenery? Want to enjoy it without sweltering in triple-digit heat? Want it all without going broke on your water bills?

Can do! The secret? Create an indoor oasis!

Indoor plants make sense on many levels. Plants soften the hard, rigid lines of walls and furniture. Plants release oxygen into the air, taking up carbon dioxide and a number of harmful indoor pollutants. 

Plants reduce glare and reflection from light entering a window, and can help provide privacy. All excellent reasons.

Think about a theme for your indoor oasis. Try to have it match up with your home decor. For a Mexican Colonial look, fill vividly colored talavera pots with such plants as an umbrella plant (Schafflera sp.), golden pothos (Pothos sp.) and colorful croton (Codiaeum sp.).

Alternatively, create a Zen garden with Oriental-style pots filled with such plants as the bamboo palm (Chamaedora erumpens), prayer plant (Maranta sp.) and dragon tree (Dracena draco). A formal look can be achieved with plants that maintain rigid growth forms, such as the snake plant (Sanseveria sp.), cryptanthus (Cryptanthus sp.) and Indian rubber plant (Ficus elastica).

Caring for houseplants is easy if you consider what they are used to in the wild. In general, most of them come from the floors of tropical forests. Light levels are about equivalent to most homes. Temperature is right around 70 degrees all the time. 

Soil is a limited resource, with many roots fighting for a toehold. The soil is generally lacking in many nutrients, and often dries out between rainfalls, sometimes for months at a time. All this makes many tropical plants ideal candidates for houseplants.

• Containers for plants should have drainage in the base. The container itself should also be large enough so that it does not tip over, but not so large that the plant looks like a little lost waif. 

No need for anything other than potting soil in the container.  Pot shards and gravel in the bottom have been proven to be harmful to plant survival. If you want to cover the hole so soil does not drain out, use a piece of window screen or nylon stocking.

• Soil for your plant should hold some water, but not too much. Virtually any sterile potting soil will work.  Avoid soil out of your yard as it may contain insect eggs and weed seeds.

• Top dressing is a layer of gravel on top of the soil to help keep the soil in place during watering. You can add a decorative touch with colored aquarium gravel or even colored marbles.

• Light for houseplants is graded low, medium or high. Low light comes from a north-facing window. Medium light is generally from east-facing windows. South- and west-facing windows provide high-light situations. Make sure you select the right plant for the light level.

• Humidity is generally low in our homes, and there are some plants that will simply not tolerate this. Unless you want an indoor mist system, select plants that tolerate low humidity.

• Water is the one thing that usually kills houseplants. If there is water in the soil, there is no oxygen – and the roots drown. Always let plants dry somewhat between watering (unless it is an aquatic plant!). 

• Fertilizer is not often necessary for houseplants. Remember those poor soils of their “native” rainforest homes? You can add fertilizer once a month, but be sure you water it down through the soil. If you get a white, salty-looking build-up on the surface of your soil, you are over-fertilizing.

Houseplants are available at a variety of local nurseries as well as the big box stores, but to select the best plants for indoors in our special growing area, head to a local nursery. They have Arizona Certified Nursery Professionals to help you pick the best plants for your space. Shop local and help them be there for years to come.

Houseplants look great, make oxygen for us, and need little care. How about houseplants!

Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D., has been writing about gardening in the Southwest for close to three decades. Her latest book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today,” ($14.95) is available at area nurseries, or email for more information.

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