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Pinedale Online > News > March 2008 > Dig It! Houseplants
Dig It! Houseplants
by Sage & Snow Garden Club
March 1, 2008

For those of us who love to garden, this time of year can be a bit trying. One way around that cabin fever is to focus on your houseplants. If you have friends who have several, you might ask for a start. If you have several or some that need repotting, you might share them (there's nothing more gratifying than sharing plants…unless it's sharing recipes). You could go to the library and see what new books they have on houseplants or chat with plant-lovers on the internet (much of the information for this article was gleaned from the Better Homes and Gardens Garden Notes forum). Of course, you can always come to a Sage and Snow Garden Club meeting where we love to talk plants!!

This is a good time to repot houseplants and here are some signs that tell you a plant needs repotting:
• The growth rate slows.
• The soil seems to be drying out too quickly.
• Roots come through the bottom of the container.

Repot into a container slightly larger than the one it is in and make sure there are drainage holes. Loosen the roots of the plant, place it in the new container at the same depth as before, and add additional soil or potting media. Water thoroughly. Wipe away mealy bugs or other insects by dabbing the insects with a cotton swab dipped in full-strength white vinegar. Look again the next day for missed insects and "hit" them again. Here are some additional cures for insects:
• Put the plant in a clear plastic bag, add a few mothballs, and seal for a week.
• To kill worms on plants, stick the sulphur ends of matches in the ground around the roots or mix a little fine tobacco with the soil in each pot.
• Mites or red spiders may be controlled by increasing humidity in the plant's room.
• Fungus gnats (tiny, black gnats about 1/8th inch long on or flying around your plants) thrive in moist conditions. Simply try to not overwater your houseplants and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. After a few weeks if this doesn't cure the problem, spray with Pyrethrins.

Houseplants should be turned and pruned regularly to keep them shapely. Pinch back new growth to promote bushy plants. Since dust reduces light penetration into leaves, give foliage plants a bath now and then by letting them sit under a shower for a few seconds.

More plants die from overwatering than any other cause, so do some research to ensure you provide the correct amount of water. When you overwater, the soil gets soggy so oxygen cannot reach the roots. Soggy soil also encourages the growth of bacteria which can cause root rot. To revive an overwatered plant, first withhold water. If that doesn't work, repot when the soggy soil has dried a little. Rainwater, well water, and bottled water generally agree best with plants. Tap water is usually alright if it is not too hard, but avoid softened water that contains salt, which builds up in soil. If you do use softened water, replace the soil yearly, scrubbing all deposits from the pots. Fill your watering can after each watering session and let it sit until next time so the water will reach room temperature. Water in the morning to let moistened foliage dry out during the day. Water less during a plant's dormant period; most plants grow rapidly in spring and summer and stop growing (go dormant) in winter. However, there are some for which the opposite is true.

Watering tips:
• For most plants, test the soil by dipping your finger an inch into the soil. If it is dry, add water. If moist, recheck later. Wet-loving plants may need water once the soil surface dries. For desert plants, let most of the soil dry.
• Use a long-spout watering can to reach all sides of a pot easily, to avoid spills, and to avoid getting water on the leaves. Saturate the soil around each plant with tepid water. Pour until the water runs out the drainage hole. Let the plant drain, then dump the excess water from the saucer. Water left to stand more than a day or two can cause roots to rot.
• If you've forgotten to water a plant and its soil has pulled away from the sides of the pot, push the soil back in place before watering.

Most homes are too dry for plants to thrive (especially if you have central heating or air conditioning), but you can raise the humidity around your plants. Cacti and succulents enjoy low humidity, but most other plants don't. A simple technique is to run a humidifier or small vaporizer near your plants. Grouping plants helps increase humidity, but be sure to allow good air circulation around the plants to ward off disease. Leaves of individual plants should not touch. You can spray plants with a fine mist of tepid water in the morning to increase humidity. Place an individual plant or group of plants on a tray of wet pebbles to raise the humidity around them. Fill the tray with water until the water's surface is just below the pot bottoms. "Double pot" for more humidity: place a potted plant inside a larger pot, fill the space between the pots with sphagnum moss, and pour water over the moss until it's moist.

Most houseplants do well in average house temperatures without hot or cold drafts and enjoy a 10 degree (F) drop in temperature at night.

Light is essential to plants, but each type of plant demands different amounts of it. Experiment with each plant until you find the spot that yields the best performance. Here are some general rules, but they all have exceptions.
• For the most part, flowering plants need more light than foliage plants.
• Most plants with thick, fleshy leaves need little light, yet cacti and succulents thrive in bright light.
• Some plants flower according to how long light is present each day, rather than how intense it is, such as Christmas Cactus.

If you think you have a black, rather than green, thumb for houseplants, there is information in the 2/10/08 Casper Start Tribune on houseplants that are "good bets for … hostile environments": the Snake Plant, Peace Lily, Corn Plant, Heartleaf Philodendron, and Chinese Evergreen.

Contact the Sage and Snow Garden Club at Box 2280, Pinedale, WY, 82941 or The Garden Club meets at noon on the second Tuesday of each month in the Pinedale Library. The next meeting will be March 11, 2008.

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