February 13, 2008
Deserve a Valentine
Loving care of your
houseplants will reward you with radiant
blossoms, shiny healthy foliage, and beautiful, luxuriant growth. They
deserve a valentine at least once a year. More is better, here.
is a time of year when your houseplants would really appreciate a
little extra attention. I assume they’ve been inside since before the
first frost of the fall/winter season, that is, if they had the
pleasure of summering out of doors.
days begin to lengthen noticeably, check your houseplants to see which
needs repotting. This is an important step in their care. The object is
to separate the root or soil ball from the pot as neatly as possible.
Holding the pot firmly in one hand and straddling the main stem between
the middle and ring fingers of the other hand and inverting the pot
usually accomplish this. The entire soil mass should slide out into the
hand straddling the stem. A hint or two here might make this task
easier: Tap the sides of the pot gently, rap the rim sharply against a
table, or insert a very thin bladed knife and run it around the edge of
the pot. If the soil at the surface is especially loose, you might also
cover it with a sheet of paper or aluminum foil to keep it together.
in your hand, look closely at the root mass and see if it is twisting
or twirling around the base or growing out of the drainage hole. Either
case indicates the plants roots are seeking more room to grow and will
benefit from a larger pot. Select a new pot that is one size larger,
usually a pot whose diameter is an inch or two wider. Too large a pot
and your plant will spend most of its upcoming future growing roots
rather than providing healthy top growth.
potting soil and a shallow layer of drainage material at the bottom of
the pot are essential. I like to add a piece of screen or mesh over the
drainage hole to keep soil from washing out of it. Top the drainage
material with a layer of the fresh soil, tease out the twisting roots
and insert the root/soil mass, press gently into the awaiting soil,
then add potting mix into the sides of the pot and gently tamp down.
Try to keep the soil firmly tamped down and the level of the top of the
root ball at the same level as it was in the old container. This way
new roots will form and grow into the awaiting soil and not hit air
pockets, which can dry them out and cause damage to the plant.
Transplanting or examining root masses from large pots can be easier if
two people work together.
of your plants may not need repotting, but you will have already
given them their first Valentine’s Day hug and kiss.
each plant from its usual location to a table again, and spend a few
minutes with each, one on one. Remove any dead, dying or withered
leaves with a sharp cutting tool or a clean razor blade. If you need,
put on the magnifiers and examine each plant carefully for dust. Dust
interferes with photosynthesis and transpiration; dust serves as a
matrix for certain insect pests and it might hide their presence. A
spray bottle of warm water with a teaspoon of mild soap added to it
works wonders at dislodging many of these and cleans the plant, too.
Don’t forget the undersides of the leaves.
plants can be wiped with a damp cloth or sponge. They can even be
rinsed in a gentle shower of tepid water. To do this, simply encase the
plant’s pot in a plastic bag and use a twist tie or piece of string to
secure it around the stem. This will keep the soil from washing out of
the pot or splashing around. Wipe the leaves dry immediately if you
have hard water to prevent mineral spots.
(hirsute) leaves like African violets or piggyback plants should not be
subjected to getting wet indoors. Use a soft dry cloth or soft brush to
clean the leaves while gently supporting them from beneath. Turn the
leaves over to clean the undersides. There. You’ve just shown your
houseplants that more than the floor or furniture needs an occasional
cleaning. Valentine hugs and kisses again. Your plants will reward you
in return with their own gifts of affection.
back again on the table for the one on one. Close inspection using the
magnifiers if necessary. There are five small animal pests that you
need to be watchful for. All of them are imported into the house from
outside. They might come from your own back yard, or a local nursery or
shop. They are easily brought inside if you aren’t very diligent. The
five are aphid, scale, whitefly, mealy bug and spider mite. I mentioned
above that dust might camouflage the presence of some of these. Spider
mites leave a very fine web that can easily be mistaken for dust,
especially if the leaves are dusty to begin with. All of these five
will take advantage of the dust by using it to hide. They are there to
suck juices from your plants and survive and propagate. Close
examination and frequent cleanings and showers can arrest the spread of
plant feeding pests. Get to know what these pests look like and the
best ways to control them. Stopping insect feeding damage and
eradicating future threats are powerful valentine hugs and kisses.
guess is that some of your houseplants are showing new growth. Any that
are now actively waking from the short days of winter and putting out
signs of increasing vigor, I would suggest fertilizing. Use half the
recommended strength once a month. By May you can progress to full
strength and follow fertilizer label directions. Another valentine hug
and kiss for your loved ones.
leggy houseplants like Dracaena (dragon tree, corn plant),
Dieffenbachia (dumb cane), and Ficus elastica (rubber plant), for
example, can be shortened and brought down to more manageable size
after a period of air layering. This propagation technique that will
provide a new plant after a few months where each pruning cut will take
place. New plants? Who doesn’t want a new plant? For neighbor, friend
other treasured companions may be
longing for more company. They are social, you know. None of them grows
in isolation. If you have the space, it’s a wonderful idea to increase
their numbers by beginning to root cuttings of your favorites. The
increase in humidity in the general vicinity, what with all of them
giving off moisture to evaporation, will be appreciated and help their
performance as well.
Happy Valentine’s Day
The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on
February 13, 2008
2008 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.