The Complete Guide to Foliage Plant Care


Foliage plants add a bit of greenery to your indoor space and can even help clean the air. Plants that usually live in the rainforest, a tropical setting or even a desert can get acclimated to the conditions in your home. Choosing the right plant to grow based on the conditions in your home and learning how to properly care for that plant is key to your success as a grower of houseplants.

Caring for Foliage Plants

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Photo by Abdecoral licensed under CC0

The tricky thing about growing foliage plants is that you are taking them from their natural settings and forcing them to grow in a place where conditions might not be optimal. For example, many foliage plants usually come from tropical areas or from the rainforest.

Most homes don't accurately mimic the conditions you'd find in the rainforest or in a tropical area. That means for foliage plants to thrive, it's up to you to help them acclimate to their new homes as quickly as possible.

Understanding the conditions in your home and how they will affect any plants you grow will help you choose the best plants and the plants that are most likely to thrive in your house.

Water and Humidity

According to the University of Missouri, poor watering techniques probably harm or kill foliage plants more than any other care issue. A regular problem is over watering plants. Too much water causes the roots to rot.

One sign that your plants are getting too much water is if the water pools on the surface of the soil. An overwatered plant will start to yellow or turn brown. Its stems might develop a waterlogged, soggy appearance. If the plant continues to get too much water, it will eventually collapse and die.

Although it's usually less of an issue, it's possible to give a plant too little water. While you do want the soil to dry out a bit between waterings, if the soil becomes very dry, the roots of the plant will suffer. A parched plant will start to wilt. If it doesn't get water soon, it will die.

It's not just water in the soil that you need to pay attention to when caring for a foliage plant. The humidity levels in your home are also important. Homes are often too dry for many plants that are used to conditions in the rain forest.

Where you keep your plants can make a big difference. For example, the bathroom, which tends to be more humid, can be a great spot for humidity loving plants like the Boston fern. If you don't want to keep plants in the bathroom, you can also mist their leaves regularly to recreate the humid conditions of their natural environment.

Light Requirements

Light can also be a big issue for the health and survival of foliage plants. Some plants will survive in and prefer to live in low light conditions. Others need brightly lit interiors to survive.

A south-facing window is usually the ideal location for foliage plants that need bright light. North-facing or east-facings are better for plants that prefer darker conditions. Keep in mind that there are very few plants that will survive in completely dark or very dimly lit rooms. If a room has small windows or windows that just don't let in a lot of sun, putting a grow light in those rooms might be necessary.

According to Gardening Know How, one way to know if a plant needs bright light or not is to look at its leaves. Plants with solid green leaves can typically tolerate darker conditions, while plants with variegated leaves need more light. Plants with yellow and green leaves produce less chlorophyll and need more light from the sun for photosynthesis.

Soil and Food

Since you are growing foliage plants in containers, rather than in the ground, it's important that you use the right type of soil for them. Stick with a container mix, as it has the food the plants needs and is designed to drain well in a pot.

Don't use garden soil, no matter what. For one thing, it can be contaminated with bacteria or fungus, which can harm your houseplants. For another thing, it won't drain well in pots, and will clump up and strangle your plant's roots.

Even when grown indoors, foliage plants are likely to have an active growing season in the spring and summer. Penn State University Extension recommends feeding your plants then to encourage new growth and to keep them healthy.

Avoid fertilizing your plants in the winter, when they are likely to be dormant or simply not growing. There's also no need to feed your plants right after repotting, as their new container soil should provide plenty of fertilizer to keep them happy.

Choosing the Best Plants

No matter which type of plant you end up buying, make a thorough inspection of it first, to make sure it's healthy. Take a look at the leaves and the rootball.

If the leaves are supposed to be an even green color, they should be an even green color. If they are meant to be striped or variegated, they should be striped or variegated. Avoid plants with yellowed leaves (that aren't meant to be yellow). You also want to steer clear of plants with brown spots on the leaves or with leaves that appear chewed or ragged.

Take a peek at the roots of the plant. They shouldn't be sticking out of the bottom of the plant's container. You also want to avoid plants that have roots protruding from the top of the soil. Both are signs that the plant has been in that small pot for too long.

You also want to inspect the plant for signs of pests or pest damage. In some cases, pests can be easily to spot. You'll see them hanging out on the plant, acting as if they own it. Since some pests are small or designed to blend into plants, you might have to look very closely to see them.

The type of plant you choose also matters. The video above from Bachman's Floral, Home and Garden introduces you to a number of plants that are suitable for low light, medium light and bright light conditions.

Plants that do well in low light conditions include pothos, Chinese evergreen and the cast iron plant. Plants that need a bit more light include ferns, dracaena, and ivy.

Finally, some plants need very bright conditions. These plants include most cacti and succulents, as well as palms and ficus.

Your own habits and lifestyle can also influence which foliage plants are best for you to grow. If you're often away from home, you'll want a plant that can continue to survive with a bit of neglect. Snake plants and spider plants are two plants that will keep on going even if you forget to water them for a few weeks.

If you have kids or pets, keep in mind that some plants are toxic. The ASPCA has a full list of which plants are poisonous to pets and which aren't. It can be helpful to check the list before bringing a new foliage plant home.

Learn More About Foliage Plants

Want to learn more about growing and caring for foliage plants? We have tons of helpful articles for you. Take a peek over at the sidebar to find the full list.

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