Monday, September 10, 2012
How To Care for Houseplants
After years of being too afraid to care for houseplants, I took the plunge. I discovered that I have a black thumb as opposed to a green thumb. Years later, after trial and error and still not getting it right, I decided to follow some instructions. (Duh) I learned that there were many things I was doing right, and some things I was doing very wrong :(
I knew that using good soil mixes for each type of plant is really important. If you go to Walmart or Lowes, you'll see that potting mixes vary towards the type of plants you're trying to grow. It's sickening how some folks can grow plants in anything, but that doesn't work for me, so I have to be careful with soils and containers. Containers need drainage holes to drain water and allow air in to lower soil areas.
Besides saucers to catch runoff, I place soft knitted dish clothes under my plants to protect the furniture they are on. Clay pots are porous and it's a good idea to liberally rub petroleum jelly onto the inside of the pot before filling with soil and plant. Plastic and ceramic pots allow no air through so they are good for small plants where rapid drying is a problem. Saucers for large floor plants can be purchased with casters that help them move easily. Always clean old pots and planters really well before using them. After cleaning with hot sudsy water, I even rub my pots with hydrogen peroxide to ensure that no diseases are left.
If the plant looks top-heavy or there are many roots coming out of the bottom of the pot, it's time to repot the plant to a bigger container or divide. A plant wilting between waterings or undersized new growth is a signal too. New leaves should grow to the same size or even bigger than older leaves.
When potting, a small layer of stones or pea gravel should be placed towards the bottom for proper drainage--a half inch for small pots or 1-3 inches for pots over ten inches in diameter. Cover the drainage pebbles with a layer of potting mix and firm lightly with your fingers. Fill to the level that will allow for the depth of the soil ball of the plant and a half-inch space between the soil surface and the rim of the pot.
Remove the plant from the old pot by turning the plant upside down and tapping the rim of the pot firmly against a solid surface. Gently lift the root ball out by firmly pulling up on the trunk. Center the plant in the new pot and hold in place with one hand while you add the remaining soil. Firm the soil by lightly pressing downward with your fingers.
Water the soil slowly from the top, or set the pot in a saucer of water for an hour or so. Let the plant drain and then place it in indirect light for a few days while it adjusts to its new home. After that, move it into the amount of light that is right for it.
Repotted plants do well if they have not been moved to a pot that is too large. If the pot is too large, the plant will spend its energy putting out new roots instead of new growth. If the plant doesn't need repotting, it should have it's soil replenished yearly. Remove top 2-4 inches of soil with a fork; avoid harming fragile feeder roots. Refill with fresh soil mixed with slow-release fertilizer, and if desired, top with grit.
This is mainly what you need to know about houseplants. I've had trouble with mealybugs and I'm writing a post on Rx for Houseplants next. If only I had just studied up a bit, a lot of plants could have been saved. But I'm renewing my effort to have beautiful, healthy plants that provide much needed oxygen for my home.