Stocky Seedlings

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If you’re planning to grow a garden this summer, odds are you intend to start at least some of your plants from seed. Here in Colorado, with our short growing season and unpredictable weather (such as the 70 degree drop last week), it’s worthwhile to start a lot of those seeds indoors.

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How to Grow a Houseplant: Water & Food

Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series on How to Grow a Houseplant. Part 1 covered light & temperature requirements, Part 3 will discuss containers and repotting.

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Water
The biggest problem most people have with growing container plants is watering. Ideally, the potting soil for your plant should have equal amounts of air and water trapped between its particles. It should be moist but not soggy.

Most people realize that letting plants dry out is a bad idea (unless you’re growing cactus). However, too much water can also cause wilting. Frequently, a novice gardener will interpret the limp leaves to mean the plant is thirsty, and water more. This nearly always proves fatal. What has actually happened is that the roots have suffocated from a lack of air. Dead roots can’t absorb water, so the plant wilts. More houseplants die from overwatering than from drought. Always check the soil first.

You can stick your finger into the potting mix, or buy a simple water meter that indicates how wet your plant is. Or, if it isn’t too big and heavy, you can simply lift the pot. A well-watered pot is heavy. If your plant feels like a light-weight, it’s time to water.

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How to Grow a Houseplant: Light & Temperature

spider-plant_home_20090908_lah_0280“Mom, can you fix it?”

My college freshman was looking at me with a dejected, mournful expression, holding the spider plant I had sent to school with her. It looked awful. Wilted, brown leaves hung limply over the edge of the plastic pot. There were no signs of life.

“Well, that one looks kind of done, but I can give you another one. I’ve got plenty of spider plants. What happened?”

The story unfolded… it was well below freezing outside, but the central heating in the dorms was turned way up. Suffocating in her room, she’d opened the window a crack. No one thought to move the plant on the windowsill. Unfortunately, tropical spider plants aren’t equipped to survive 6ºF drafts. The poor plant had succumbed during the night.

As I potted up another victim, er, spider plant, I explained to my daughter that the primary thing to remember is that plants are alive. I know this seems obvious, but too many people treat them as decorations rather than living organisms. It’s better to think of them as pets—sort of like green hamsters without the exercise wheel. They need food and water, shelter and room to grow. If you meet their needs, they’ll not only survive, they’ll grow and perhaps even bloom. It’s really not that hard.

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