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An Introduction to Potting Mixes for House Plants

By Paddy Phillips Subscribe to RSS | June 17th 2012 | Views:

Keeping house plants looking strong and healthy is not an easy task. There is no one-for-all remedy that will ensure all plants are happy. Some plants, for instance, will require more water than others. There are plants that require lots of sunlight, while others prefer to be kept in the shade. Others still will need the humidity in their environment to be higher than the humidity another group of plants will appreciate.

Using the right Type of Soil

Another vital part of keeping house plants safe and well nourished is the type of soil they are planted in. One mistake many plant owners make is to use garden soil for their pot plants. While this may seem to be a cheap and easy alternative to going out and buying a bag of suitable potting mix, it may actually do more harm than good.

Garden soil has three major problems no house plant should ever be exposed to if it is to remain healthy. To begin with, garden soil may be full of weed seeds. This will not only result in making the pot look unsightly once the weeds start to thrive, it will also rob the plant of nutrients and water.

The second problem is insects. Like it or not, garden soil will have insects, worms, snails and who knows what in it. These little critters may be good for the soil in a garden, but they may do serious damage to a potted plant.

Finally, garden soil will compact into a tight mass when packed into pots. As a result, air can not circulate around the roots of the plant, subsequently starving them of vital oxygen. For these reasons, it is of great importance to get a good potting mix designed specifically for house plants.

The Advantages of Potting Mixes

The majority of commonly available potting mixes consist of a base of partly decomposed materials, such as bark or peat moss, for example. Other ingredients - like, for instance, vermiculite, sand and/ or perlite - are added to the compost to aid air circulation and drainage.

Potting compost will not only provide plants with the necessary support to stop them falling over, it also stores water and the nutrients the house plant's roots need. Additionally, compost provide better drainage, preventing the plant from getting water-logged, as well as permitting air to circulate freely around the roots, ensuring an adequate amount of oxygen is continually available to them.

The Functions of Potting Mix Components

Peat moss - Serving as the basic ingredient of most house plant compost varieties on the market today, peat moss - a brown, coarse powder - consists of partially decomposed, ground up bog plant material. Perfect for African violets, begonias, ferns and other plants with a preference for moist environments, peat moss improves the retention of water and keeps the compost light.

Sand - Horticultural sand, or well washed sand, is free from unwanted impurities and salt likely to harm house plants and dries out quickly. It is added to the mixes for cacti, various succulents and palms used to sandy native habitats to provide speedy drainage, as these types of plant require little water.

Bark - The large chunks of composted bark, twigs and so on stop the tight compacting of a potting medium, thereby assisting drainage and keeping air circulation optimal. This type of material is typically added to mixes for bromeliads, orchids and similar plants.

Perlite - The little white puffs found in potting mixes designed for house plants are perlite, a substance made from expanded volcanic rock. Thanks to thousands of minuscule air pockets, perlite is able to rapidly soak up and then release water, which is perfect for drainage and overall water regulation. Potting mixes for succulents have a particularly high quantity of perlite added to them for this very reason.

Vermiculite - Produced from natural deposits of minerals, vermiculite looks similar to tiny flakes of gold. It is added to many potting mixes to assist aeration and absorb water and minerals, which are then slowly released into the medium. This material can soak up and eventually release multiples of its own weight in minerals and water.

In short, which type of potting mix to use ultimately depends on the requirements of any given house plant to be potted. Taking a little time to learn about these requirements and take note of the ingredients of a bag of compost before purchasing it will help to ensure a happy, healthy life for house plants for years to come.

Paddy Phillips - About Author:
Paddy Phillips not only tries to highlight the plight of the world’s endangered species in her blog Earthdragon’s Endangered Species, she also provides a few tips on how to look after house plants and more.

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