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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Foliage Plants in Low Light Conditions - from David Robson

Posted by John Fulton -

Foliage houseplants have requirements for light, heat and water. The heat and water are easily supplied by a homeowner, but light is often a problem, says David Robson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Springfield Center.

In the decorating scheme, foliage plants could often be useful in a corner, an entry area or almost anywhere away from good light–where they may grow long and spindly. Success is possible, however, and since green growing plants have a place in every d├ęcor–use them.

Some foliage plants can be acclimated to low light intensities. Three practices help ensure the plant adapting: watering only often enough to prevent wilting, reducing the amount of fertilizer applied to the plants and keeping the air temperatures on the cool side.

Double pot plants that are to be grown under reduced light. This makes soil-moisture control easier than leaving the pot exposed to the air.

Begin watering as frequently as you would if the plant had sufficient light. Then gradually lengthen the intervals between waterings. A few of the oldest leaves may die while you are adapting the plant to dry-soil conditions; this is part of the readjustment of the new environment. Do not let the plant wilt at any time, warns Robson.

Fertilize the plants more sparingly than normal. Use only about one-third as much fertilizer as is recommended for plants growing vigorously. Apply less fertilizer each time, but still apply it on a regular basis. Maintain an air temperature that is as low as human occupants can comfortably tolerate.

Most plants thrive at temperatures of 60 to 75 degrees F. In general, weakly lighted plants do best in the lower limits of this range, while brightly lighted plants do best in the upper limits.

If you can add moisture to the air, do so. Plants will grow under conditions of low humidity, but they need more attention to watering than they do under moderate humidity.

Sometimes it is not possible to reduce temperatures adequately or the light is just too dim. Supplementary lighting with fluorescent bulbs works quite well. The required lighting intensity for a plant varies according to the time the plant is lighted; the dimmer the light, the longer the plant must be lighted.

If you use a fixture containing two 40-watt fluorescent tubes and light the plants for 16 hours a day, the minimum lighting intensity for growing foliage plants can be supplied by placing the fixture two to three feet above the plants.

These are maximum distances for satisfactory plant growth. All the plants grow best if they are no farther than 36 inches from the lighting fixture. If plants become leggy and weak, the lights are too far away and should be moved closer.

There are no real secrets to growing houseplants successfully. When the plants' requirements are known and then fulfilled, their performance will be a pleasure. Dim light isn't a problem if you know what to do about it.

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