Thursday, 17 February 2022 14:35

Gardening with Peter Bowden: Houseplants

By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden
Photo Provided by Peter Bowden Photo Provided by Peter Bowden

Winter has seemed a bit longer this year as we endure what we hope are the final days of this miserable pandemic. It won’t be long until the freedom of spring and a return to our outdoor gardens. Until then, the houseplants in our sunny front windows get lavished with appreciation and attention. 

I’ve learned that the #1 way that folks kill their houseplants is by drowning them. Often we’ll put a saucer under a plant to keep water from ruining our floors or furniture. These saucers don’t do the plants any good. If you leave a plant standing in a saucer of water overnight, you just drowned about 30% of the roots. Once drowned, those roots are dead forever. The plant’s leaves will start to brown at the tips. Naturally, most folks see these brown tips and think the plant needs MORE water and continue to drown it over and over again, eventually killing the whole plant. 

Most plants tolerate dryness better than sogginess. Remember, plants “breathe” with their roots as well as their leaves. If air in the soil is constantly displaced by water, they drown. Think of it this way: you can survive a lot longer without a drink of water than you can under water without any air. The same is true for your plants. It is much safer to let your houseplants get a little wilty from dryness than keeping them wet all the time. Roots that are a little dehydrated can bounce right back, but drowned roots are dead forever.

During the shortest days of winter (November through January) I don’t feed my houseplants at all. The days are so short, the plants aren’t growing...they are kind of on hold. I concentrate on ignoring them so I won’t overwater. At the beginning of February, the plants start to show signs of new growth as the days get a bit longer. This is when I start feeding them again. I feed them lightly at first by diluting the plant food at 1/4 the strength the package recommends. I’ll feed the plants only once every three weeks or so. Don’t overdo the can cause more harm than good.

Insects on houseplants aren’t as common as they are outside in the garden, but when they do show up, they can be a BIG problem. I use Insecticidal Soap outside as an organic contact killer. When using these sprays, it is important to spray once a week for 3 weeks. Be thorough, paying particular attention to the bottom of the leaves. The initial spray will kill any adult insects but not any eggs. Three sprayings will ensure that any insects that hatch will be killed before they have a chance to lay more eggs. 

We need to dust our plants as well. Dust on leaves cuts off some light and clogs their pores making them less efficient, and the plant can suffer. For plants with soft leaves a feather duster will do the job. For plants with smooth, harder leaves, you can use a leaf polish. Leaf polish will help remove dust and leave the leaves with a clean and shiny surface...a clean leaf is a happy leaf! 

Thanks for the read!

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