A digital camera can tell you all you need to know to grow happy, healthy indoor plants.
Let's shed some light on the subject of houseplant growing. For plants to thrive, they need proper sun exposure. To figure out how much you have, you'll need to measure it. Have a digital camera? Great -- if it has an aperture priority setting (many recent models do). How about a large piece of white poster board? Get one at an office-supply store. Then, follow our easy instructions to gauge your room's light. Now you can pick your plants (see our lists of bright-, medium-, and low-light species) and shake that "black thumb" label forever.
Make sure the camera's flash is off (E), and then turn on the aperture priority mode (A). You should see an "A" or "AV" on the camera's screen. Next, set the ISO speed setting (the image sensor's sensitivity to light) to 100 (B). Finally, set the aperture value to 4.0 (C). (Use the diagram, left, as a guide, using the owner's manual if necessary. Manuals are often online.)
Place the white board where your plant will sit. On a table or shelf, prop it vertically (you may need help). On a windowsill, lay it flat (left).
Stand as close as possible to the light source (window) without blocking the light or casting a shadow. If you are reading windowsill light, you may need to stand on a stepladder.
Point the camera at the white board, as if taking a photograph. The board must fill the entire frame without the camera zooming in. Push the shutter button halfway.
The bottom number of the shutter-speed reading (D) approximates the amount of light received in foot candles (fcs). Bright light will register 400 to 800 fcs; medium, 250 to 400 fcs; and low, 50 to 250 fcs.
Record this reading every day for a week, at various times of day. Then calculate the average by adding your readings and dividing by the number of readings you took. You can repeat this process in all seasons for greater accuracy.
The key to success with pomegranates is to simulate their Mediterranean habitat as closely as possible: plenty of bright, direct sun the whole year through, with excellent air circulation and cool (55 degrees) temperatures in the winter. Flowers appear throughout the summer. Never allow soil to dry out completely.
Closely related to edible asparagus, this plant isn't a fern at all; rather, it is in the lily family. It requires bright light to maintain its dense columns of foliage but can tolerate short periods of dryness and low humidity. For best growth, water regularly and mist in wintertime.
A wide variety of philodendrons are suited to indoor culture. All are tropical and need ample moisture and high humidity. This handsome vine requires bright light to preserve its silver spots and looks best in a hanging basket or a tall pot.
This sprawling plant with unusual variegation is a bit of an oddball: The red-and-lime markings will actually fade if there is too much light, so medium light is ideal. Do not let the soil dry out, and keep leaves clean with frequent misting or washing.
Don't have a green thumb? This tough customer (center) is almost impossible to kill. It's long been called the barroom plant for its tolerance of darkness and poor air. Water when dry, and dust the leaves. Since it's a perennial in Zones 7 and warmer, you may find it in regular nurseries.
Although the plants themselves can tolerate low light, they will be less likely to produce their unusual white flowers in such conditions. The plant should not be allowed to dry out, though it can recover very well from drought stress. If the plant wilts constantly, repot with fresh soil.
As with most low-light-tolerant plants, variegated forms will fade or become muddy in very dim environments. To keep this plant looking good, water thoroughly during the growing season and less in winter. Try to provide some humidity, if only through occasional misting.
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