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Indoor gardening: How to train your houseplants

Indoor gardening: How to train your houseplants
Training can make the difference between a nondescript plant and a magnificent one. Here are some top tips for training your houseplants
Many houseplants look more appealing if their growth is controlled as it develops. Training can also be used to encourage flowering, prolong a plant's life, or simply improve its shape by keeping it neatly within bounds.
"Many houseplants look more appealing if their growth is controlled as it develops"
Training is best done in early spring, when growth is rapid. The specific method used depends on the habit of the plant: bushy, climbing or trailing.

Training a standard

An indoor plant in training
Shrubby plants such as fuchsias or heliotropes can be trained to form elegant standard plants with a tall single stem and bushy crown. Give the stem support right from the start, particularly for the trailing types of fuchsia, which will form a spectacular umbrella-like head but tend to have weak stems.
  • Insert a strong cane into the pot and secure the stem to the cane using string tied in a figure-of-eight.
  • Check the ties regularly as the shrub grows, and loosen any ties before they start to constrict the expanding stem.
  • Remove all sideshoots until the stem has reached the required height and then pinch out the tip.
  • Allow an evenly spaced framework of sideshoots to develop, usually about six to eight, and pinch out their tips when they are in balance with the main stem.

Encouraging a bushy shape

Pinching out the growing tips on young stems of coleus (Solenostemon) and pelargoniums, for example, encourages more sideshoots and bushier growth. Unless training as a standard plant, pinch prune after a shoot has made about three leaves, and repeat several times early in the season. This technique delays flowering, and should not be done when the main crop of flower buds appears.
"This technique should not be done when the main crop of flower buds appears"
Plants such as upright-growing figs (Ficus), oleander, cordyline and dracaena can become leggy on a single stem if left to their own devices. To avoid this, remove the tip of the main stem when it reaches 45–60cm (11⁄2–2ft) in height. This will encourage branching from near the base, creating a bushier plant that will retain its lower leaves for longer.

Coping with climbers

Without regular attention to training, the shoots of climbers can grow very long and get into a terrible tangle. Training keeps the plants tidy but, more importantly, it also encourages flowering. When young, pliable-stemmed climbers, such as jasmine, passion flower (Passiflora), wax flower (Hoya) and stephanotis, can be controlled by winding their stems around a wire or cane hoop.
Climbers can also be grown through a wrought-iron support to make a screen or room divider. For this, the plants should ideally be grown in a long trough, but if this is not possible place individual pots close together. Suitable plants are cissus, ivies (Hedera) and philodendron. For the best effect use only one plant type. Stiff-stemmed climbers such as bougainvillea can be also trained as a standard.
For a few years, it is possible to continue winding and weaving pliable climber shoots around and through the hoop or room divider, but there comes a time when there is just too much growth. It becomes unwieldy and more permanent training becomes necessary over a more robust support. At this stage of maturity, it is best to tie the stems to horizontal wires or trellis fixed to a solid wall in a conservatory. To maximise flowering, train the stems horizontally and then downwards once they reach the top of the support.
Moisture-loving climbers
Some tropical and sub-tropical climbers such as swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), epipremnums, syngoniums and philodendron produce aerial roots that, in the wild, are used to support and feed them as they grow through tall trees towards the light. These roots can look untidy but resist cutting them off. Instead, train the stems round a moss-covered pole. These are available from most garden centres, or make your own with a cylinder of wire netting filled with moss.
Keep the pole moist by spraying. Tuck aerial roots into the moss or into the compost in the pot.
Tying a houseplant
Ivy and other temperate plants with aerial roots can also be trained up moss or foam-covered poles.
Training a permanent climber
If a climber grows top-heavy and too big for its support, as with this jasmine, untie the stems and remove the hoop or support wires. Do this after flowering and be very careful not to damage stems or leaves. Attach a strong trellis panel or a series of horizontal wires to a sunny wall indoors against which the climber can be trained.
Cut back any damaged, diseased or dead stems to healthy growth. Repot the plant in a container 5cm (2in) bigger in diameter than the previous pot, using John Innes No.2 compost. Place a larger outer container beside the sunny wall.
Set the climber pot inside the larger container and fill the gap with shingle for stability. If the outer pot has no drainage, first place a 2.5–5cm (1–2in) layer of shingle in the base. If you cannot attach trellis to a wall, insert the support in the shingle.
"Continue to train and tie in the new shoots as they appear"
Encourage the stems of the newly pruned and repotted plant to climb the trellis by tying the stems to the supports. Continue to train and tie in the new shoots as they appear.
So cut down on the mowing, plant some bee and butterfly-loving plants, put in some wild flowers and let your hedge go shaggy. You’re saving the world and shedding your garden guilt as part of the bargain.
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