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A Magic Green Thumb

Do you have a 'black thumb', and "can't grow a thing", despite your best efforts? The most often cited reasons for the failure of house plant is over watering. Except for native desert plants, this just is not true. Actually, the most common reason is insufficient light. Light is the very Life-energy of plants, and without sufficient light they wither and die. And since most house plants are native outdoor tropicals, they are used to a lot of light.

Now then, our typical indoor environments are not nearly as bright as we think they are. Outside daylight is at least 4 times brighter than indoor light on any given day. Because our irises quickly adjust to ambient light levels - opening larger indoors, and becoming smaller outdoors - we hardly ever notice. It seems more or less the same to us, other than on those rare occasions when we rush outdoors on a bright day, and are momentarily dazzled by the light.

Moreover, due to scattering by the molecules of the air, light levels fall off rapidly the farther from the source. At 4'-0 feet from a window, for instance, the light intensity is only 1/8 of that at the window. Here is a handy 'light meter' for people who have cats. Note the size of the iris of your cat indoors, and then take it outdoors, and see the difference. Our irises react in exactly the same way.

Insufficient light is the most common reason for the failure of house plants to thrive. Over watering enters the picture only if your house plants do not have sufficient light. Without sufficient Life-energy, there is just no way they can use all that water, things get stagnant, and rot sets in. But given sufficient light, they can make use of a lot more water. Indeed, with sufficient light, you can water them daily, although this is not necessary, and they will thrive. You can even set most house plants in a bucket of water, and they'll do just fine.

For most tropical plants, as close to the window as possible is by far the best - except for the shade tolerant plants, which are jungle natives by nature. Set these as near to the windows as possible, without exposing them to direct light.

And be aware of the compass direction of your dwelling, and the rooms. Even on the window sill of a north-facing room, although it may appear bright to us, few house plants will survive, and particularly so in winter. Plants in rooms facing east and west will have to be as close to the window as possible. And only near the window in south-facing rooms will most house plants receive adequate light - except when facing a heavily treed street. However, south windows often heat up far too much, particularly so in the summer, and can easily 'bake' your house plants to a crisp. Use a sheer curtain in summer, or keep your house plants out of the direct light of a south window in summer.

And if a spot far from a window just cries out for a 'Ficus elegans', get two of them and rotate them between the light and the dark place every two weeks or so. They'll do just fine. Or else, obtain a nicely decorated fluorescent fixture, and suspend it no further than 18 inches above the plant, and leave the light on for 12 to 14 hours per day. Light coloured walls, and the lighter the better, also help a great deal, since they reflect much of the scattered light. On the other hand, dark coloured walls in a north facing room is all but a hopeless place for any plant.

So, now that you know about the perfect fertilizer, the light needs of your house plants, and given a reasonable modicum of care, you should also be blessed with a very, very green thumb.



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