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Looking After Plants

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Looking After Plants

We all love nature, and many of us want to include plants within our workspace environments. But consider the plants for a moment! They are being taken into a relatively hostile world without direct sunlight and cleansing rain, full of pollutants but short on humidity. And if these plants already have pests and diseases, these problems are likely to get worse in an indoor environment. All this combines to add to the poor plant’s stress. Faced with all these problems, we shouldn’t be surprised that even the healthiest plants in the best environments will slowly die and need to be replaced. However, recognizing and correcting plant disorders on time can help delay the need for replacing your indoor plants.

Causes of disorders

When a plant’s environment is out of alignment with its physiology, it will start to show signs of stress. This could be caused by the careful balance of light, moisture and temperature being disturbed, or the plant being the subject of outside interference or damage. It can be tricky to find the cause of a disorder, because many disorders exhibit similar symptoms. However, if you carefully examine and establish the details of a plant’s history, you can usually work out the cause of a problem and develop a strategy to overcome it. Plant disorders can usually be placed into one of three categories.

  • Disorders caused by pests and diseases.
  • Disorders caused by nutritional imbalances in the soil.
  • Disorders caused by environmental conditions.

Disorders caused by pests and diseases

Indoor plants may be attacked by various pests and diseases. This can lead to varying levels of damage, and indeed the symptoms are not always obvious. Insects and mites usually cause physical damage to the plants by feeding on them. Sap sucking insects plumb into the vascular system of plants and extract sugars and proteins whilst, at the same time transmitting viruses. Damage is caused by the removal of vital fluids from the plant and the destruction of tissue.

Mites and thrips damage plants by puncturing cells on the leaf surfaces and sucking out their contents, thus killing the cells and leaving a permanent scar on the leaf. Caterpillars and weevils feed by biting and chewing plant tissues. Vine weevil larvae, for instance, feed exclusively on roots and you won’t notice the damage they cause until the plant suddenly wilts. Unfortunately, by then it is too late.

Bacteria and fungi also attack plants. They often invade the plant through wounds or by the pores in the leaves (stomata). They damage the infected plants by feeding from its tissues and releasing enzymes and other growth substances into the plant, often causing distortions and unusual growth patterns.

Disorders caused by nutritional imbalances in the soil

Indoor plants are usually grown in lightweight growing medium such as peat. They are in containers, so you must provide all the nutrients that they need. It’s a careful balance. If you provide too much or too little nutrition, then a plant may exhibit symptoms. Unfortunately, symptoms of too much and too little nutrition are often similar, so detailed chemical soil analysis may be required to determine the precise cause of the problem.

Not only does the concentration of nutrients in the soil have an effect, but so does the proportion of the nutrients and the soil pH. Too much of one nutrient may prevent the plant from extracting another, so symptoms of deficiency may be seen. The pH (acidity) of the soil also affects the uptake of nutrients, regardless of the quantities present and may have different effects on the uptake of individual nutrients.

Disorders caused by environmental conditions

Indoor plants are often kept in an environment that lacks natural wind and rain. If there are pollutants in the atmosphere, these cannot be blown or washed away, so their effects may be more severe than when outdoors. Additionally, indoor plants are exposed to pollutants that no wild plant would experience, such as volatile organic compounds or ozone from electrical equipment.

Light, temperature and humidity all influence a plant’s health. Sudden changes in any of them may result in plants showing signs of stress. This is especially important in offices that close for long periods during holidays when lights and heating may be switched off.

We want to make sure everyone is able to look after office plants. If your plant is beginning to show signs of distress, the following pages may help you to identify what is causing the problem and provide advice on how to care for your plants to help prevent future disorders.

Further Information

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