Healthy houseplants don’t only add beauty to your home, but they can actually help rid the air of indoor pollution. They can even contribute to a sense of peace and tranquility in your home or office. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
I know we’ve all been spending more and more time indoors these days, due to colder weather and COVID, and indoor air pollution can become an issue. Many offices and newer homes have tighter construction, sealing the building from the outside air. While this is a great energy saver, it can lead to indoor air pollution. Indoor pollution can build up in any confined space, but gases from synthetic materials that are used in construction, furnishings and household cleaners are just some of the things that can lead to “sick building syndrome.”
So here are a few basic tips to help keep your houseplants at their best, which may even help you stay at your best.
Containers and soil: Healthy plants need healthy roots and this begins with a good potting soil. Just because the bag says potting soil doesn’t mean it’s right for your plant. My favorite potting soil Foxfarm Ocean Forrest which can be found at several local garden centers.
Watering: Over- or under-watering is frequently the cause of many houseplant problems. Most houseplants like to be kept fairly moist, but not waterlogged. Drooping, and yellowing of lower leaves is associated with plants that are over watered.
Pots with drainage holes in the bottom will help alleviate this problem. Once the plant has drained, don’t let it stand in water for more than an hour or two. Excess water can be sucked up with a turkey baster and put back into the watering can.
Just as over watering can be a problem, under watering can also cause problems. Wilting leaves or brown, crunchy leaf tips can be a sign of under watering. However, excessive salts will also produce this reaction.
Touching the soil before watering can reveal a great deal about the soil moisture. Poke your finger into the soil up to about your first finger joint. It will probably be easy to tell if the soil is dry or moist. Most plants prefer to be watered when the soil feels slightly dry to the touch.
One more thing. Don’t water or wash your houseplants with cold water. They appreciate tepid water as much as you do.
Salts: Unfortunately, our tap water contains larger amounts of salts than most houseplants prefer. Over time, watering will cause the salts to build up in the pot, which could lead to problems. It’s a good idea to occasionally leach the plant by watering until the water runs freely through the drain holes. Setting smaller plants in the sink or the shower is a great way to rinse off the plants while leaching water through the soil. Repotting using fresh soil may be necessary if the pot has a build up of crust around the rim.
Fertilizers: A little fertilizer goes a long way in the winter months. Over fertilizing or low light conditions can result in “leggy” or tall spindly plants. I prefer a fertilizer that I can mix in my watering can and simply water it in. Miracle-Gro® Miracid is great for interior plants in our area. Just be sure to follow the label directions when mixing it.
Clean leaves: Clean leaves are a must if you want a truly healthy happy houseplant. Dust and dirt not only looks unsightly on your plants, but it clogs the breathing pores of the plant. Sunlight can also be blocked by soiled leaves, reducing photosynthesis of the plant. Both of these factors will weaken the plant, which can lead to insect attacks or disease.
Small plants can be placed in the sink or shower and rinsed with warm water. Larger plants can be cleaned with a feather duster. Dampened paper towels or a sponge soaked in a mild soapy water solution and wrung out can be used to wipe the leaves clean. If you do use soap, test a leaf for leaf burn before cleaning an entire plant. This is an opportune time to inspect the plant for insects. Leaf shines are not recommended.
Insects: Strong chemicals are usually not needed to control insects in the home. Many insects can simply be washed off. Dipping a Q-Tip or cotton ball in alcohol and dabbing it on the insects is also effective. An organic soap such as Safers Insecticidal Soap or Neem oil can control many insects. With that said, some houseplants can be sensitive to these products so test it on a small area of the plant and wait a few days to see if there is any adverse reaction before applying it to the entire plant.
Spider mites, which produce fine webbing on the underside of the leaf or near the center of the plant, can usually be controlled by washing the plant (as described earlier). Soaps and Neem oil also work well to control mites. Spider mites love plants that are kept too dry so increase moisture if they are a problem.
So why not give houseplants a try and see if they don’t brighten your smile.