When you think about it, house plants are a strange phenomenon. Pets in general are strange and uniquely human. Plenty of animals have symbiotic relationships with other members of the animal kingdom. But no other animal on the planet keeps around helpless life forms that essentially require caretaking.
Plants do not have the utility of dogs, nor do they have the recognizable signs of life that cats provide. So, why do humans care for them at all? Well, caring for anything, whether it is plants, dogs, or children, is not always about what you get out of it in return. Sometimes it is about learning what is important.
Sunlight is important for house plants because it acts as their food source. Water is absorbed to help with chemical reactions, but sunlight is what is actually being used to turn a small plant into a big plant. What surprises most people, however, is how important shade is to plants as well.
Sunlight and shade are easily the lowest maintenance of a plant’s needs, though some people are surprised to hear how important shade is. “Plants need shade?” They ask, not realizing that plants are as dependent on the nighttime as they are on the daytime.
During the day, plants absorb sunlight and breathe in carbon dioxide, producing oxygen as a waste product. During the night, they “sleep” and breathe in oxygen and produce carbon dioxide as a waste product. Now, if you are giving your plants light by way of a windowsill that gets plenty of sun, this will happen naturally.
But there are people who use harsh UV lamps that give their plants perpetual “sunlight” at all hours of the day. This is not only unnecessary but harmful to the plants. Imagine getting a cat and keeping the cat awake at all hours of the day. The cat would not have a very pleasant time. Plants need to sleep as much as animals do.
Placing Your Plants Properly
It is for this reason that it is important to place your plants in the right spot in your home. You want them to get sunlight, but not endless sunlight. You also want them to be somewhere you can see them, as this will help you water them. Do not go putting them in your bedroom, however, as that will pose some problems for you.
As mentioned earlier, plants breathe out carbon dioxide during the night. If placed in your bedroom, this means that your plants will spend the night breathing in your oxygen and replacing it with carbon dioxide. So, while it can make it easier to remember to water your plants, this can also make your sleep less restful.
The best places for your plants are in your living room or kitchen. Anywhere with a window that you pass through frequently works. You can set them on the windowsill, or you can make them a part of your morning routine by placing them across from the window.
This will make it so when you close the curtains at night, you are then required to open the curtains in the morning in order for your plants to get some light. This has the disadvantage of adding a step to giving your plants light. But that can be an advantage as well since it gives you a reason to get up in the morning.
When Should You Water Houseplants?
It is best to water plants in the morning or evening. This is because watering them in the morning prepares them for the day, giving them water to help them photosynthesize while watering them in the evening cools them off. Cooling them off is important, as plants retain a lot of heat, and retaining too much will dry them out.
This is somewhat an oversimplification, but if you are new to taking care of plants in your home then you are likely looking for broad strokes more than nuances. Think of watering them in the morning to be like giving plants their morning coffee, while watering in the evening is giving them a bath after a long day’s work.
How Do You Tell If A Plant Needs To Be Watered?
This rule of watering plants in the morning and evening is all well and good, but it carries with it some assumptions. It assumes that your plants are in an environment of perfect equilibrium. It assumes that they get a reasonable amount of sunlight to shade and that the heat is not so great that they are consistently dried out.
Draughts are becoming more and more common as greenhouse gas emissions not only warm the planet but extend and intensify summers. Whereas forty years ago seeing plants wilt in the heat of a window was pretty uncommon, nowadays it is something you are going to have to deal with every summer.
Given that, it is a better time than ever to learn how to identify, diagnose, and treat a plant’s needs, particularly when it comes to dryness and watering it. As you might expect, it all starts with looking at and feeling the soil.
Plants are watered by pouring the water directly onto the soil they live in. You probably know this already. But what you might not know is that this “topsoil” that the water makes contact with will almost always be a little moist. This means two things for you: The first is that if the topsoil is dry, then the plant itself is in danger.
The second, less obvious thing to look for is actually under the topsoil. See, because the topsoil is almost always moist, it can actually hide the real problem. If your plant is seeming dried out despite your repeated attempts to keep it consistently watered, then try mixing the soil around a bit.
What you should be trying to do is stir the soil up so that the topsoil is no longer the topsoil. Get it so that you can see and feel the soil underneath. If the soil under the topsoil is dry, then you know why your plant is drying out: Because the plant is drying out faster than the topsoil is.
This is why plants are deceptive. The topsoil dries out slower than the rest of the plant no matter what. The plant has no control over this, it is just a matter of chemistry. You have to take the initiative to understand what is going on with the plant. If you wait for it to tell you what is wrong, you will wait forever.