The five key elements for indoor plants to thrive

When I was young, my father used to keep a bonsai and a pot of mini bamboo in the living room, they were static forever, tranquil yet lifeful. Our house plants run in a routine for years, a tray of blooming daffodil in the spring and yellow chrysanthemum in the autumn. We may not notice, but we live closely and co-evolve with plants throughout human history.

The first flowering plant appeared about 130 million years ago, which is more than 120 million years ahead of the first human appeared. During the long evolution, plants developed hardy supporting systems such as vascular system as well as secondary woody structures which help them successfully colonized and adapted to the diversified terrestrial environments including lower humidity, higher temperature, and higher light intensity as compared to their previous aquatic, damp and wet environments. Accordingly, various morphology traits and much more complicated physiological characteristics are matched and geared up to accommodate the challenges. For example, succulents developed fleshy tissue with a waxy cuticle layer that allowing them to survive in the aridest conditions. Plants impact the food chain by changing or creating food pools. Most animals only eat and digest certain types of plants. For instance, Panda exclusively relies on bamboo to survive, the population would be endangered when the bamboo starts to bloom. Compare to the animal world, humans are extremely lucky in terms of taking advantage of plants. There are nutritious food plants, fiber plants, lumber woods, fragrant plants, kitchen herbs, medicinal plants, aquarium plants, and ornamental plants. Plants bring abundant benefits to humans and nowadays, as the technologies of artificial controlled-environment become easily achieved for general households, more and more plant species are cultivated indoor. Vertical agriculture, the cultivation of vegetables indoor on a large factory-scale has become a new trend worldwide. Growing plants inside our house are easy and manageable as long as follow some general rules.

Plants create a positive atmosphere by having the oxygen generator inside the house and bringing relaxation and refreshing feel as well. It a great fit to put desktop plants in the office, large plant pots in the corner of the rooms, balcony, living room, bathroom, almost anywhere in the house. However, not every plant can be planted as an indoor plant. Before being a houseplant, all types of indoor plants were initially identified as outdoor plants. To grow your plants successfully, it’s crucial to understand and know their original wild environments. There are several major factors determining whether a plant is suitable as an indoor plant, mainly space needed to grow, temperature, light intensity and duration, watering frequency, dormancy period, soil and fertilizer, as well as the types of plants.

First of all, the type of plant or plant species. Different genotypes of the plants require different growth environments. Mosses without a vascular system absorbing water through moisture in the air can only be found at the damp and moist area with minimal light. Ferns with the vascular system but without the cuticle layer are thriving in a shady and fresh area. Higher plants such as bushes and trees with both vascular system, cuticle layer as well as stomata spread anywhere near water sources or they had adapted to the harsh conditions. To plant moss or fern in a condition that receives full sun will dry up the moss instantly, whereas, a tree in a moist and shady area will suffocate from the lack of light for photosynthesis and likely to die by pathogen infection. Therefore, it is very crucial to identify the type of plant that “tells” us where to locate it as an indoor plant.

The second key element is space. Most indoor plants are relatively small at no more than 6-8 feet tall with a shallow roots system. Space isn’t a big concern unless you want to grow trees inside the house. Normally large tall trees are outdoor landscaping due to their huge size. Even a small tree with a height of a few meters is supported with a robust root system that penetrates a few meters deep into the soil. Space required for outdoor plants could be infinite because of the continuous expansion of the roots system and the large canopy, making it impossible to fit into an ordinary house or condominium. But with some horticulture techniques, it’s possible that some trees species can be modified into small dwarf plants. Artistically, the outdoor trees could be shaped into a unique way of representation known as Bonsai. The word of bonsai is originally from Japanese means tray planting. This is an art form that applies certain cultivation techniques to produce small trees that mimic the shape and scale of full-size trees or sometimes into a unique shape in a container, usually a color-glazed ceramic tray. Therefore, with special treatment, outdoor trees can be made into creative bonsai art that could be kept indoor.

The third element is light. The good news is that the most recent artificial lighting technologies allowing the full light spectrum that mimics the bright sunlight is available on the market. With correct locations selections, such as shady area can be represented by the area with minimal lighting or receiving no reflected light; partial sunlight which can be replaced with artificial lighting or area that exposed to reflected illumination; and full sun which use the areas such as the balcony or open window that is receiving bright sunlight at daytime or the application of artificial lighting source with high light intensity also sufficient for indoor plants.

The fourth is the water supply. In the wild nature, plants get water from rain that has no consistency in the frequency as well as the amount. They have to tolerate the seasonal drought or long period of a waterlogged condition in the rain season. On the other hand, indoor plants receive water at relatively consistent frequency and amount. Watering gears could be very fancy in multiple forms such as moisture as in fog or mist, dripping, and watering. Fogging or misting is always recommend for plants that absorb moisture through the air such as mosses, epiphytes air plants, ferns, orchids, and some succulents. Whereas, dripping and watering are the best for small trees. For indoor succulents, it can be watered only when the soil is dried up. Except for aquatic plants or indoor hydroponics garden, you should avoid too much watering to prevent root rot. The golden rules are, for most indoor plants, they can be watered with a medium amount of water until all the water has been drained out thoroughly.

Soil, the growing media where roots set in is the fifth element. Naturally, uncultivated earth soil consists of different soil horizons. Wild plants tend to be growing in regional as although seeds are randomly dispersed but only germinate when the condition is favored. Meanwhile, you can choose from a variety of substrates that can be the growing medium for indoor plants. It can be static water (water propagation), the mixture of substrates such as lightweight expanded clay aggregate (LECA), perlite, and vermiculite as well as peat moss or other different soil types. The ratio of the mixture can be adjusted according to the need of the plants. Living or dead sphagnum moss is widely used for plants that needed to be grown on a damp substrate. Charcoals can be a beneficial add-on for orchids. Artificial substrates such as rock wool are great for seed germination due to its water retention ability.

As part of growing media, fertilizer, or growth promoter is just as important as other factors. There is no way for wild plants to get supplements in the form of fertilizer, except organic waste, animal feces as well as the natural compost of wilt leaves or twigs, which may not be consistent throughout the growth stage. However, the supplementation of fertilizers is a standard horticultural practice to boost both vegetative and reproductive growth, particularly to promote flowering and fruiting. There are slow-release fertilizers that release the nutrients slowly, which can benefit plant growth for a long period and also supply nutrients at a constant rate. Avoid using conventional fertilizer that bringing a sudden increase in nutrients in the substrates, too much fertilizer may kill the plants as well. Fertilizing for indoor ornament plants such as bonsai should be minimal to limit growth and keep the plants at a small size to maintain the aesthetic pattern.

The easiest way of knowing the conditions required by the plants is to get the scientific names of the plants, either from the seller or through the help of social media. To get a more precise scientific name of the plant, the old school way is quite reliable by matching the leaves, flowers, and other morphological characteristics with botanical books. There are many social groups on the internet that can help identify the plant species. Also, a few plant identification apps are available for smartphones, a few pictures are enough to give you a quick match. Although may not be guaranteed accurate, it may roughly give you a direction, and confirmation with multiple ways is always highly recommended.

We hope this article will help you succeed in planting indoor plants, understand the basics to differentiate the major needs of indoor and wild plants. Everybody can be a green finger. No more random buying just by the fancy looks, spend some time to identify and understand the plants that suit you the most, the reward of living with plants closely worth every effort you put on your plants.