How to Care for Your Foliage Plants

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This cultural practice generally causes the most confusion, but is relatively simple. Foliage plants are adapted to regions where soil is moist, but not continually saturated with water. Therefore, never allow soils to become completely dry between waterings, and when waterlog, apply enough water to thoroughly wet the entire soil ball. One of the best ways to do this in large plantings is with automatic watering systems. Watering frequency will depend on weather, type and size of plant and stage of plant growth.

The type of container used will affect method of watering. Containers with drainage holes should be placed in a saucer or other container and sufficient water applied at each waterlog until excess water drains out the bottom. This water should then be discarded, since pots should not be allowed to stand in water for any length of t1me. Containers without drainage should have a layer of coarse gravel placed in the bottom to allow a space for excess water. A good way to check these containers for excess water is to lay them on their side in a sink or to use a dip-stick Inside a hollow pipe.

Soils and Repotting

Foliage plants can be grown in a great variety of soil mixes, but are easier to care for if planted in soils containing high levels of peat moss. Such so1ls retain water and fertilizer and provide good aeration if peat moss is mixed with coarse sandy soils or perlite. The following soil combinations are suggested for growing foliage plants, or prepackaged soils may be obtained with similar properties.

Repotting is necessary when the plant top outgrows the pot and there is not enough room for new root growth. Plants also require repotting when they must be watered more than once a day. When repotting, remove the loose soil. Use a clean pot of the right size. When shifting to a larger pot, place some soil in the bottom of the pot and firm the soil around the old root ball. Leave enough room in the top of the pot for proper watering. Water the soil thoroughly at first. Do not water the plant again until the soil dries out on top.


When foliage plants are used for interior design purposes, little fertilizat1on is required, since it is desirable to keep plants from growing excessively. Frequently, a lot of new growth is undesirable, since plants may soon out-grow their location or new growth may be unattractive if grown under less than optimum light conditions.

Application of fertilizers more than once a month is unnecessary. and in most cases four applications a year will be sufficient unless considerable new growth is desired. Many types of fertilizers are available for specialized Indoor use and are frequently more convenient than types sold for yards or gardens. Follow directions given on containers when using pre-packaged products sold specifically for "foliage plants". Many types of specialty fertilizers are available including liquids, tablets, and powders. Regular garden fertilzers, such as 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 can also be used; 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of either of these materials is sufficient for a plant in a 5-inch pot when applied every other month. More house plants suffer from an excess of fertilizer than from a lack of it. Over-fertilization will cause a slowdown of growth, stunted plants, burned or dried leaf margins and wilted plants.

Cleaning Foliage

When foliage plants are grown indoors, dust and other undesirable residues will accumulate on foliage and become unsightly, but most foreign matter can be removed by syringing or wiping foliage with a soft, moist cloth. A small amount of hand soap may be added to the water when stubborn spots are encountered. Don't fold, crease. or rub leaves too hard, as they may be damaged.

Many people prefer plants with shiny foliage, a character than can be obtained by using a commercial "shine" compound. These are available in aerosol containers or as a liquid which is wiped on foliage. A cloth moistened with a little milk can also be used to obtain shiny foliage if rubbed gently over foliage of smooth leaved plants.

When Things Go Wrong –

Improper culture may result in foliage plants that are unattractive and lack desired characteristics. Some of the more common troubles and conditions which may cause these symptoms follow:

Prepared by: Broward County Agricultural Agents' Office