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"May, with alle thy floures and thy grene, Wel-come by thou, fair fresshe May." GEOFFREY CHAUCER.
The florist takes every precaution against the growth of his plants being slowed down from any cause, including temperature changes and too dry a soil. It is standard practice for the grower to paint the inside of his greenhouse with light-reflecting white, and to paint temporarily the outside of his glass or to use shades to restrict the heat-bearing rays of the February and March sun. Automatic ventilators also take away much of the midday heat. Here are the measures you can take to protect your home garden.
The air in your home is probably more unfriendly to plants than it is outdoors; usually it is too dry, which is the reason for some of the suggestions in the previous chapter. It will be better for you, and for nearly all of your plants, when it is more humid. Other steps you can take to obtain this extra humidity include:
1. Attach a humidfying device to the radiators or stand containers of water on them; replenish the latter as it evaporates.
2. Group your plants. Do not have a few at every window: rather, gather them into a few windows. In this way, the evaporation from one pot and the material on which it stands will help all of them.
3. Spray the leaves of most of your plants, and wash them in tepid water every few days. Most will benefit from this.
Our homes are darker than most of us appreciate. If you are an amateur photographer this fact will be obvious to you: when you take pictures indoors you have to open up the diaphragm of your camera and give a far longer exposure than when you work outdoors. The light entering a television studio would get the viewer nowhere; substituted for daylight are banks of fluorescent lamps necessary for the cameras to pick up the scene.
The growth of plants depends entirely upon light-not necessarily sunlight, but the bright light from clear skies and reflected from clouds.
But some plants do moderately well in a fair light; it is fortunate for us that their requirements vary. Those that do well against a north window, though the sun's rays never enter directly, are often forest dwellers in the wild state like philodendron and monstera.
The average house plant prefers a south, east or west window, where it gets more light and even some hours of sun. Many of the flowering plants prefer sun, and geraniums need all they can get.
Adequate light enables plants to grow to their normal height, but reduced light often causes them to grow taller and to produce lighter green leaves. We use this principle when "forcing" or growing out of season and in the dark to produce the white shoots of chicory or French endive, sea kale or the longer, sweeter pink stems of rhubarb. You may have overlooked a plant in your cellar, and weeks later have found the long-drawn-out yellow plant straining to get to the window. The reduced light in a fairly dark apartment may give you longer leaves than you should have, and that is why our list of the things you are likely to need includes a number of thin bamboos. Insert these in the soil around the sides of a pot, and tie from one to the other two or three strands of soft twine or lengths of raffia, enclosing in a fence the plant which otherwise would not be able to maintain its leaves in a normal upright manner. Also, in such a dark apartment do not attempt sun-loving subjects like gardenia, geranium or poinsettia; have instead ivies, ferns, philodendron or violas. You may get some help from several folding screens of paste board covered with aluminum foil; use these as reflectors on the room side of your garden to bounce back the light rays. Additional lighting as suggested in Chapter i will be very worth while.
The average temperature of the home is too high for most plants, and it may not be too good for us either. The temperatures under the separate varieties in Chapter iq are those of the conservatory or greenhouse in which each grows to perfection. The night temperature is given, for that is more readily under the control of the gardener.
Sudden cooling in your room garden may cause a check in the growth of some of your plants. To cool a room garden you may open a window for a short while -not one near your plants but
elsewhere in the room; you may turn off a radiator for a spell; you may use a fan to blow some of the warmer air away from your plants into the room-but don't let it blow onto the plants. You may even consider having a partition with glass doors built in the garden itself and placing heat-loving subjects on the inside, coolrequiring plants on the window side.
Thermometers should be in various places in your room garden. A master one is a self-registering kind that florists use: a Ushaped column of mercury pushes two small floating markers within the tube to indicate the highest and lowest temperatures reached in the hours since you last adjusted the markers. You adjust them by using a simple magnet-furnished with the thermometer-to draw each marker to the mercury's level on both the heat- and cold-indicating sides of the column.
Cinerarias, calceolarias and many others need a night temperature of 45° F., 60° F. by day; African violets, poinsettias, begonias and geraniums may have 60° F. at night, 70° F. by day; cacti and most tropical plants will stand up to 70° F. both night and day.
A radiator top may serve as a plant table if you place a nonflammable pad under a deep tray containing s inches of gravel.