published Saturday, January 28th, 2012

FIVE tips on caring for houseplants

The care of houseplants is mainly dependent on one thing: light.

"The first thing people need to decide is how much light they have in the area," said Sara Melton, general manager at The Barn Nursery. Melton and her colleagues divide houseplants by the amount of light required.

In particular, foliage plants' growth depends on whether they are correctly placed according to their light requirements. Blooming plants, Melton said, tend to be bright-light plants.

"They tend to not be as pretty for as long as foliage plants," she said.

Selecting easy-to-care-for plants, such as kalanchoes, or even orchids, makes for low maintenance care for blooming plants, which last a couple of months.

Kalanchoes are low-water succulents, meaning they require little watering. Orchids, especially common phalaenopsis orchids, are fairly simple to care for as well. Melton suggested watering every 10 to 14 days for a 6-inch orchid, with occasional misting in between.

"They're good to just kind of ignore," she said.

Certain indoor houseplants, such as orchids and cyclamen, are more readily available in winter, while kalanchoes are more year-round houseplants.

Other plants can be more difficult to maintain in winter because they require more light than is readily available. The ficus tree, for example, requires more bright light than is commonly available this time of year. Cold drafts can also cause a ficus to drop its leaves and be more difficult to care for.

A vining plant such as pothos can be a good year-round plant, Melton said.


1. To prevent insect infestation on smooth leaf plants, wash leaves with a mild insecticide soap.

2. Make sure pots have a drainage hole. No plant wants to sit in water.

3. Set bright light plants 3 to 4 feet from a sunny window, medium light plants 4 to 8 feet, and low-light plants at least 8 feet from a bright window.

4. Keep plant leaves from touching windows, as they can freeze in winter.

5. A plant like a ficus, which drops leaves easily, should be kept clear of doorways.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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