Growing houseplants in Mumbai is a challenge, expert offer tips

26 January,2024 10:30 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Aakanksha Ahire

Having plants at home doesn’t just improve the air quality but also boosts mood. However, many plant parents and gardening enthusiasts face challenges in keeping their indoor plants alive. To help with this, Mid-day only got city-based plant experts on board to offer solutions

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Setting up a little home garden is known to boost the mood of family members, and help manage stress. For Ananya Chowdhury, a software engineer by profession, gardening enthusiast and anthophile, the love for plants and flowers blossomed during the pandemic.

Many scientific researches have proved multiple times the benefits of indoor plants. Besides being instrumental in improving the air quality of homes, houseplants also offer many physical and health benefits.

"After taking intensive care of the plants, when they start bearing vibrant and healthy fruits or flowers, it is indeed a great satisfaction. Additionally gardening during stressful times of the pandemic helped me calm my nerves and relax my mind."

So far, Ananya has planted different varieties of flowers and plants that include Hibiscus, Roses, Jasmine, and Amanda and indoor plants like Money Plants, Pothos and Devil's Ivy, Jade, Spider Plant, Rubber Plant, Coin Plants, Lucky Bamboos and Aloe Vera. She says, "It is easier to start with small plants which are locally available. We can grow herbs or leafy veggies like Coriander, Fenugreek, Basil, Oregano, Mint, Curry Leaves, Spinach, Red Amaranths or Lettuce."

Being a city girl, Ananya shares that she does face some challenges. This makes choosing the right equipment, soil and location to grow plants of utmost importance. Mid-day Online got Mumbai-based gardening experts on board to share an easy guide to taking care of houseplants in city homes.

According to Dr Ekta Chaudhary, PhD in ecology, founder, GardenUp - a company that provides plant maintenance and plant setup services for offices and homes in Mumbai, having plants at home offers a variety of benefits, purification of air being the most common. "Most plants work in removing Formaldehyde. It is a toxin that is commonly found at home and emitted by lubricants and wall paints. Similarly, carbon monoxide is another toxin found in homes that comes from emissions from vehicles. Thus plants like Peace Lilly or Rubber plant absorb these toxins efficiently ensuring pure air at home."

For Shaan Lalwani, director, Vriksha Nursery, plants are more than just decorative pieces used to enhance the aesthetics of your homes. He says, "Besides purifying air, indoor plants go a long way in calming the mind and helping cope with anxiety."

Additionally, Aniish Shah, founder, Earth Harvests states, "Having edible plants at home is especially beneficial as it ensures fresh and clean produce free from chemicals and pollutants."

Plants to grow at home
To be able to make the right choice, one must consider key factors. Chaudhary mentions two key categories of plants - one that are ornamental or decorative plants and the other that are edible plants. Decorative plants are also generally of two types, ones that have leaves and ones that have flowers.

The plants that are grown for flowers have certain limitations. They cannot be planted in some places, especially in most homes in Mumbai. Given the space restrictions most Mumbaikars face, Chaudhary states, "Not every house in Mumbai receives abundant sunlight given the fact that most of the homes are north facing and they hardly have any sunlight coming in."

For homes that don't get abundant sunlight, it is always preferable to grow plants with leaves like Peace leaf, Fiddle-leaf fig, Monsteras, Pachira, Snake plants, Areca palm, Dracaena, English Ivy, Anthurium, or Pothos.

If your home gets sufficient direct sunlight and wind then consider opting for Star Cluster plants, Bougainvillea, Tulsi, Aloe Vera, Ficus plants, Office plants or Vinca plants. You can also grow edible plants like tomatoes, spinach, fenugreek, and coriander. These can be planted on the balcony or windowsills if you have three to four hours of direct sunlight, which can later be harvested and used in the kitchen.

These are some plants that can be easily grown and cared for at home.

Common challenges
Talking about the challenges, Aniish Shah of Earth Harvests and Shaan Lalwani of Vriksha Nursery list down three common ones that you must know about:

1. Sun availability which is scanty in Mumbai homes.
2. Air conditioning is a part of every home in Mumbai. Plants find it difficult to adapt to changing room temperatures.
3. The leaves of the plant turn yellow or wither due to insufficient sunlight and essential nutrients from the soil.
4. Insufficient watering of the plant results in its death.

To avoid these challenges, Shah states, "It is essential to mix the soil properly so that the roots of the plant can breathe easily, and no excess water remains at the bottom of the pot. By getting the right size pots with drain holes and using a good potting mix (soil, manure, compost, cocopeat, perlite), and lots of love, one can give a fresh boost to their plants."

Further, Lalwani mentions, "People are always on the run with many travelling for a week. Thus there the pant is often left unwatered. Using self-watering planters is a simple effective way to make sure your plants are watered when you are away."

Considering the dropping air quality in Mumbai about plant protection, Shah says, "Indoor plants are best for purifying polluted air and they help absorb all the bad particles. Nothing happens to plants in the polluted air as long as they are taken care of in the right way."

Plant care depending on climatic conditions
In every climate (winter, summer and monsoon) plant care is different. The most important is watering the plant right in every season and the water evaporates from the soil differently. Check how long it is taking for the top two inches of soil to dry. If not watered properly, the plant will die. This is how you will know when your plant requires water.

They can vary across the climates. Extra care of watering the plants must be taken during the summer season. Further activities like pruning to get fresh growth are usually done during the winter season. This cannot be done in any other season. Further, to keep the plant healthy during monsoon, the use of organic material for the soil is essential instead of liquid fertilisers.

One has to change their plant care routine as per the climate.

Plant care and common mistakes to avoid
When considering plant care, what many fail to recognise is that it is not about the leaves of the plants and how they appear. It is about what goes underneath that - the soil. It is essential to fix the soil to ensure good growth. Have a well-draining soil. What this means is that, as you put water into the plant, it should flow out immediately. If that doesn't happen, you need to fix it.

Using the right kind of water is also key. Water high in dissolved solids should not be used. Use purified water or get plants that are tolerant to these solids present in water.

Add fertilisers, using vermicompost that has micro-macro nutrients once in three months, and add seaweed solution once in three months. These help the plants to grow and introduce good microbial growth in the soil.

Clean your leaves once in 15 days. Mumbai is a city where constant construction work goes on which leads to lots of dust getting deposited on the leaves. The dust particles block the stomata (pores that help plants leave the water.)

If you get a new plant at home, do not repot it. This will result in your plant going into a shock because just like humans, it takes time to adjust to new settings. By doing this, you also make the plant's life difficult by removing it from one pot and putting it into the other.

Don't over-water your plants. Many new plant parents have this habit. Observe your plants. The more you observe the growth of your plant, the more you will know what is the right thing to do. There is no step-by-step guide that applies to all plants. Each plant is different and requires different, specialised care.

A beginner's guide
1. Get a plant without investing too much money into it. Buy a simple Money or Snake plant. These are strong plants so even if you happen to kill them, they have a chance of revival.

2. Start observing, and see when the leaves turn yellow or start drooping. That is a sign that your plants need water. This will teach you how your plant drinks water.

3. Start propagating the plant after you have learnt how to make your plant survive. This will give you confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

4. After you learn to take care of your Snake or Money plant, you can graduate to bringing in Lilly plants and Zz. Further, you can start growing edible plants. These plants can be used for consumption as they also offer multiple health benefits.

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