LET THERE BE LIGHT – Black Thumb Series Part 2
As I stated in Part One of this series, I don’t believe that anyone has a “Black Thumb.” Part one was all about watering, so now let’s look at another aspect of houseplant care.
Proper lighting is very important. If a plant is a “high-light” plant and you place it in a dark corner it may not die, but it will sit there and languish, and its appearance will suffer. It may develop spindly weak stems and its color may fade. Conversely, if it is a “low-light” plant, and you place it in a sunny window, it won’t like that very much, either. Whatever its placement, you should rotate it about once a week so as to provide equal light to all sides of the plant, otherwise it will “lean” towards the light and become lopsided.
Did you ever wonder how a plant ‘reaches’ for the light? I found the explanation fascinating, so I thought you might find it interesting as well. Auxin is a growth hormone found in plants. In green plant tissue, auxins concentrate on the shady side of the plant, causing the cells on that side of the plant to elongate. As the cells on the shady side get longer and the cells on the side of the plant exposed to light remain the same size the plant begins to bend in the direction of the light. When you rotate the plant and expose the shady side to the light, the auxins immediately decamp and scurry around to the new shady side and infiltrate the cells there, where they then begin stimulating those cells to elongate. So to promote even growth on all sides of your houseplant, give it a turn every once in a while.
Most plants that are used as houseplants come from tropical regions. When some people think of the tropics, they visualize sandy beaches and palm trees. Not a lot of shade there. But there are such things as tropical rainforests, too, and many plants used as houseplants grow beneath the dense canopy of huge trees where they never encounter direct sunlight. Oh, they get light, just not intense light, and they have evolved to thrive in the shade.
Plants usually come with care instructions when you purchase them, the instructions will tell you what kind of light the plant prefers. If you don’t have instructions, you can always look the plant up online. If you do look it up online, consult several sources, as much as I hate to admit it, there is misinformation online sometimes, so check several sites and go with the most popular information. If three sites say “low-light” and one says “direct sunlight,” low-light is probably right.
So what do you do if you have a “high-light” plant, but no appropriately bright place to put it? Well, you can always use supplemental lighting. Although some plants will adapt acceptably to an incandescent or fluorescent light, it would be better to invest in a grow light. These are available in many forms, although a high pressure sodium or metal halide light would probably be overkill for regular houseplants. Grow lights in the shape of a normal light bulb or fluorescent tube can be purchased inexpensively, which you can then use to “spotlight” your plant. Turn it on for at least six to eight hours each day and turn it off at night (or if you’re somewhat absent minded, as I have a tendency to be, put it on a timer), plants need a rest period, too. It will make your plant stand out and your plant will love you for it.
Some people like to put their houseplants outside for the summer (although this defeats the purpose of having them to cleanse your indoor air – see previous post Why Have Houseplants). If you decide to do this, a word of caution: Plants can get sunburned just like people can!
So if you take a plant from a spot inside where it gets no direct sunlight, you need to place it in a shady place. After a week or so you may move it to a spot where it gets a little direct sunlight each day (providing, of course, that it’s a “high-light” plant), then a slightly sunnier spot the next week, and so on. Please make sure you don’t forget to do this, as you very possibly could lose (read KILL) your plant.
Part three of the ‘Black Thumb’ series will be coming along in a few days, and it will be discussing yet another facet of plant care.
Happy Indoor Gardening, and y’all come back and see me, ya hear?