Most houseplants are native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world. Tropicals generally like warmth. Since home and work space thermostats are usually kept between 60 and 80 degrees throughout the year, indoor temperatures are fairly comfortable for tropical plants. However, they won’t live long if temperatures dip below forty-five to fifty degrees (depending on the species). Drafty indoor locations near windows and exterior doorways may be problematic to plants most sensitive to cold air.

Those who move their houseplants outside during warmer months, should wait until spring nighttime temperatures are consistently 50 degrees or more. Since tropicals can’t survive colder months in outdoors, gardeners sometimes bring those sold as tender patio or deck feature plants indoors to over-winter rather than leaving them out in the garden to die. Whether tender garden plants or houseplants, bring tropicals indoors in early autumn before the first night below 50 degrees. Treat for insects then cut plants back to a size that will be manageable in the house.

Indoor gardeners can learn the proper amount of heat, water, humidity, light, fertility and air movement to meet individual plant needs from reference books or through research online. Be sure to look for both optimum conditions during a plant’s active growth stage and also the best treatment during that plant’s dormant phase.

Allow most houseplants about 8 weeks of down time. During their annual “rest period” withhold fertilizer, control artificial lighting to have more hours of darkness than light (around 14 continuous hours without light in each 24), give minimal moisture and keep plants cooler. High-nitrogen fertilizers, bright light and high air temperatures encourage stem and leaf production. Forcing growth during a plant’s time of dormancy is a bad idea and can weaken plants. Wait until days lengthen after the first day of spring before adding fertilizer to water used to irrigate houseplants. However, don’t make the mistake of treating a sick plant with fertilizer at any time of year. That practice often kills rather than cures.

Compare recommended warm season versus over-wintering treatment for Mandevilla vines. Watering– Keep soil evenly moist during summer. Water three times per week. During winter allow soil to dry out between waterings. Water once every week or two. Soggy soil can cause root rot.

Fertilizing– In summer fertilize as often as every other week using a complete fertilizer higher in phosphorus (10-20-10 for example). Do not fertilize at all while dormant. Light– Site in an outdoor location with shade during the heat of the day for the summer. Place in a eastern, western or southern window where midday light is filtered by a curtain or blinds during wintertime. Florescent lighting is a good alternative to natural light.

Irrigation is critical to indoor plant health. When watering potted plants get the soil wet beyond the surface. About 10 percent of the water should flow out the drain hole in the pot’s bottom. Lift the pot and empty runoff water collected in the saucer underneath. When extremely dry, soil pulls away from a pot’s edge. There can be runoff even though the potting medium absorbs very little moisture. Stick your index finger into soil by the plant. If it is not damp past the first knuckle, alternate watering and letting the plant sit and absorb moisture until the finger test shows dampness an inch or more below the surface.

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