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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Starting Seeds: Light

If you’ve ever tried growing seeds indoors, you may have ended up with tall and spindly plants, flopping over, adorned with pale leaves. When planted outside, these ungainly wisps quickly succumb to bright sunlight and the gentlest of breezes. What’s a gardener to do?

While overabundant food and water, coupled with too-warm temperatures, contribute to this problem, the primary culprit is insufficient light.

The crops most commonly grown in our veggie gardens all require full sun—at least eight hours per day. Likewise, bright light is essential for producing stocky seedlings with healthy green leaves.

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