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Every home needs books and plants. EBooks are fine, eplants are not. You need real, growing plants in your living spaces.

If a ficus tree is too much of a commitment for you, think about a cactus or succulent. If a cactus is too much, perhaps you need to slow down.

Some people are a little intimidated by growing plants indoors, in some cases because of past failures. The first rule of indoor gardening is to not take the death of a plant personally. Just because an ivy died while under your care doesn’t mean you are lacking in IQ points. Taking a plant that is native to lands far distant from Idaho, putting it in a pot and expecting it to live indefinitely in a corner of your living room is setting the bar too high. It is possible to keep a plant healthy for years under those circumstances, but it may require some trial and error. If it helps, try thinking of the houseplants you have killed as science experiments.

I suggest there are two “too” things to remember when caring for houseplants: too much water and too little light. These represent 90 percent of the problems we experience with foliage plants.

Most plants will do better if you let the soil surface dry slightly before watering. And never let plants sit in water for more than an hour. Chronic overwatering is a common cause of unhealthy houseplants.

Many people get caught in the trap of watering on a schedule or watering anytime they are not sure if they need water. Watering needs to be adjusted for the time of year. During the longer, warmer days of summer, plants will grow more actively and use more water. As a general rule it is better to get stingy with water in the winter. A convenient indication system for detecting changes in the season is called daylight savings time. When you set your clocks forward, increase the frequency of watering your plants; when you set your clocks back, cut back on the watering.

Providing enough light indoors is another challenge. Even plants sold as low-light need more light than is typically available when placed far from any window. Consider the exposure, the window size and if there are any obstacles interfering with sunlight entering the window. South- or west-facing windows have the best light, but east and north can furnish enough when plants are placed closer and/or require less light. Many plants will tolerate lower light for a period but may decline over time if the light levels are marginal.

Not everyone wants to cluster all their houseplants in windows but would rather place them where they look best in the room. If this is your objective, simply rotate them or replace them when they start to look like a bad hair day.

Don’t let the only plants in your house be the ones sitting in the crisper waiting to be eaten.

After working for years in commercial greenhouses in Idaho and Utah, Susan Harris of Shoshone is a garden designer and garden coach. Reach her at


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