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Last week, we passed the autumn equinox. The day when we enter a period of more night time than daylight. Many people have also started working away from home as pandemic restrictions are eased and employers invite their staff back to the office. With this in mind, please spare a thought for your houseplants.
18 months with the lights on
It is exactly 18 months since the country entered its first lockdown and the majority of office workers were told to work from home. The advice lasted for 16 months and now, slowly, offices are getting busier and more people are spending their working hours away from home.
We are also entering autumn. This means a lot less daylight, as a result of shorter days, less intense sunlight and far fewer hours of daylight. It also means that the lights at home are off. On a dull day in an unlit house, light levels may be very low only a short distance from the windows.
For houseplants, this can be tricky - they need light to photosynthesize, so prolonged darkness can cause problems.
However, there are ways to minimize those potential issues.
By the windows
If you haven’t already filled every available gap on your window sills with plants, now is the time to move some of your smaller plants a bit closer. Those that are sensitive to direct light (even at this time of year) such as Calatheas and Alocasias can go on north-facing window sills.
If you have a conservatory, and some room, some of your other plants might welcome a change of scene. Again, be aware that some species might not appreciate direct light, and watch out for cooler nighttime temperatures.
Many species, especially those with their natural origins in the undergrowth of a tropical rainforest, will be able to cope with the lower light levels quite easily without needing to be moved and without the need for additional lighting.
Be smart with your lighting
A lot of people have embraced smart technology and can control much of their home through an app or smart speaker (such as an Amazon Alexa or Google Home device). Smart lighting is one way of giving your houseplants a light boost, and as many lights use very little energy, they won’t add too much to your energy bills (and may save the cost of replacing some plants). A few extra hours of lighting whilst you are away from the home can easily be programmed, and you can also programme your lights to be on when you get home. Having your lights turn on and off throughout the day can also be a useful security benefit.
If your smart bulbs have different light quality settings, use daylight (sometimes called cool white) at the highest brightness during the day, and then change to a more comfortable warm white when you get home. You probably won’t need the lights to be on all of the time, but some species that do best in higher light conditions might benefit.
Images: smart bulb. Daylight (L), Warm white ( R )
Cut back on water and feed
If you are spending more time away from the home, the chances are that as well as light being diminished, your home might be a little cooler as well: there is no need for the central heating if no-one is home.
If that is the case, your plants will be metabolizing a little slower, so they won’t be needing as much fertilizer and water as usual.
Always be guided by your plant - water according to the plant’s needs, not to a timetable. You can probably do without fertilizer until the spring as well.
If you have your houseplants potted in our foli8 coir pots, that will certainly help regulate the water given to the plant. Adding water to the decorative pot and allowing it to soak gradually through the coir pot is an ideal way of managing the amount of water in the soil, reducing the risk of the roots becoming saturated.
Most houseplants have their natural origins in the tropics and sub-tropics, where there isn’t much in the way of seasonal variation, much like inside a building. This is the main reason why native species of plants cannot cope with the indoor environment - they need seasonal variation to trigger different processes, such as flowering time or leaf drop.
However, when there is a seasonal change, some tropical houseplants will respond and you might notice more in the way of leaf drop than usual, especially on plants such as Ficus benjamina and other small-leaved tree species. Unlike temperate trees that tend to drop their leaves in the autumn, tropical species drop leaves continuously as they grow old, but you might find that if light and temperature levels do fall, they might drop more leaves as a result.
If this happens, don’t be alarmed (unless they drop all of their leaves). They will start producing a lot more foliage in the spring.
Houseplants are pretty resilient. Breeders and growers have selected species and varieties over time to ensure that they can cope with the indoor environment. The last year and a half has probably given many houseplants a bit of a boost, but they will adapt to emptier, darker homes quite quickly.
By Kenneth Freeman