Beckoning Greenery Indoors

At a time when Al Gore is propagating a‘Green Earth’ and raising awareness of ‘Global Warming’ and the entire world is listening, the best we can do is plant some trees. But modern day realities stop us from doing the right thing.

I live in an apartment.” This statement is very important to understand my state of being and, of course, the following article.
This August completes five years of our stay in an apartment. The housing trend had just picked up steam when we shifted here. Initially, it felt strange living high up in the air. And, the more difficult part was retaining normalcy when there was no garden of your own, it felt weird.
Having a garden becomes an issue when you have lived through your childhood in a place where you had acres of land as your backyard to play in. No, we were not filthy rich, we were no feudal lords. My father was a government employee and we lived in a colony along with hundreds of other families. Greenery was a part of our lives: we had pine, conifers, mango, Indian gooseberry, guava, papaya, you name it, and we saw them all the time. And, of course, the flowers. The trees also served another purpose; they were guarding our fragile lungs from dust and harmful particles emanating from the factory close by.

Trees were our protectors. They acted as shields. It felt good to be around them. The families would have volunteered had there been a ‘Chupko Aandolan’ part II just to pay them back. My family did not have any houseplants except for the money-plant which was our heirloom inherited from my grandfather. We did not feel like bringing the green inside when we had such a large backyard garden and a front porch full of plants and trees.

I wasn’t expecting the same of the capital city nor did I expect it from the present housing system, but… man has to have something to please the eyes. Space is a big issue in a housing system. We have building blocks in the name of houses standing tall and close to one another like Siamese twins. Our neighbors are the people who live below and above us. We live one above the other and all we have for a garden are potted plants. We have made our balconies virtual gardens with orchids, indoor ferns, aloe vera, rose, caladium, impatiens, jasmine, and philodendron. Some of them are on shift, since they act as decorations for the nooks of the sitting room, bathroom, and kitchen.

It is not just us; most of the residents have taken the initiative doing their part in making the world a little greener, a little better, by planting different species of plants—whatever the guy with a trolley of plants brings to our colony of high-rise buildings. Since the source is the same, we have the same plants in every house, in every block. Our mothers exchange samplings and the topic for their talk is mostly, ‘the plants’. “How is the new plant doing? Try planting a hybrid rose instead of the wild ones.”

The situation has made me admire the indoor plants since they make our hallway and sitting room (though already crammed with hundreds of other stuff) aesthetically beautiful. They are also good reminders of the lush greenery that we left behind. They remind us that just the green t-shirts and green wall paint do not make the surroundings ‘Green’. It is not just the eyes that get the best of the plants but the wellness of the body too is incorporated with their being. The benefits of indoor gardening are numerous. Houseplants not only act as vibrant decorations, but create a fresh environment indoors. Live plants in modern environments, therefore, help improve indoor air quality in any building. My family feels reassured with that piece of information at least. Plastic indoor plants and shrubbery are no substitute for the real thing; however.

And the good part is, now one sees greenery and flowers blooming in the strangest of places like office lobbies, bathrooms, kitchens, and staircases, places where we do not expect living things. Placing pretty flower pots on window sills, bathrooms, corridors, dining tables, and hanging them around staircases instantly revamp a dull corner. These are ways of reaffirming and reconciling with nature.

Tender. Loving Care for Your Plants
Plants flourish in certain conditions, otherwise they cannot mature well. It is important to remember that indoor and outdoor plants have entirely different requirements. 

Temperature
Controlled temperature is most preferred for indoor plants. However, it varies from plant to plant.  The ideal range is usually 65 to 750 F in the daytime and 60 to 650 F at night. This range may vary with type of plant, but is the most common range. Many indoor plants do not do well in a drafty area. It is not a good idea to put plants in a sunny window; they can experience wide temperature extremes as the sun heats them during the day and the cold comes through the window at night.

Light
In general, houseplants need less sunlight than outdoor plants. This is largely because the selection of indoor plant varieties is geared toward plants which thrive in the shade or indirect sunlight. But, this does not mean that your plant does not need sunlight, or will not benefit from sunlight during some portion of the day. Besides, some varieties will require more sunlight than others. A lot of us will chase the sunlight as it moves from window to window on a sunny winter’s day.

Tip: Rotate the container every few days so all sides of the plant get a chance to “see the light!”  

Humidity
During the winter, your home or office is normally much drier than t other times of the year. Sometimes, this gets a bit beyond the tolerance range of your plants. Your plants will benefit by an occasional “sponge bath.” Take a damp cloth or sponge and wipe the leaves once a week or two. This has the added advantage of removing dust from the leaves.

Soil
Most houseplants like balanced soil with a slightly acid pH level. Such soil will contain a good mix of nutrients to get your plants started in their indoor environment. It will also be properly blended to provide good drainage, yet retain moisture.

Even if your plant does not grow much, it should be re-potted every couple of years with fresh potting soil. The old soil loses important minerals over time. Over time, the top layer of soil can become encrusted. Loosen it with a spoon or fork. Remove the top layer and add some fresh, sterile potting soil.  

Fertilizers
Because your plant is growing much slower than in an outdoor environment, its needs are less. It is using far lesser nutrients. So, those nutrients can build up to harmful levels if you fertilize too frequently.

Watering plants
While different plants have different needs, in general, you should keep your soil moist, but not wet. Many houseplants like to get a good soaking of their soil. Apply water to the point that it drains through the pot and out the openings in the bottom of the pot. This helps to remove excess fertilizer and salt that can build up in the soil. Outdoors, nature performs this task during a spring or summer downpour. After giving the soil a good drenching, allow the soil to almost completely dry out before the next watering.

Your tap water likely has chemicals that your plant does not like in excess. Those chemicals are sodium (salt) and chlorine. Use distilled water where possible or collect rainwater.