Indoor dwelling houseplants are pampered pets compared to their outdoor cousins. Even so, they can be feeling the effects of summer in a number of ways. Back in January we wrote about a selection of houseplants. Now it’s time to consider summer houseplant care.
Summer light quality is more intense, and the sheer quantity is greater too. Sun may shine in windows that are not sunny the rest of the year. Some houseplants can even get sunburned. This shows as dead patches in the middle of an otherwise healthy leaf. Move plants out of direct light.
Some homes have less light in summer due to shades or screens. In this case, move your houseplants to where they will get enough light. Low light levels cause weak, spindly growth as plants stretch toward light. Termed etiolation, this sickly growth renders plants more susceptible to pests.
The longer days of summer generally encourage plant growth. To help ensure the new growth is healthy, you can fertilize your houseplants. Almost any brand of fertilizer is good for indoor plants — in moderation. Excessive fertilizer can kill plants directly, or lead to salt build-up in the soil, killing plants slowly. I prefer to use compost as fertilizer. Remove about a half inch of potting soil and replace it with a layer of rich compost. Watering brings the nutrients in compost down to the roots.
Given more light and higher temperatures, summer is the active growth phase for many indoor plants. Thus, summer is the right time to repot them. Ideally, the new pot should be around an inch or two larger in diameter. Don’t go too much larger all at once, as it can lead waterlogged soil and root rot.
This summertime active growth phase is ideal for pruning or shaping your houseplants. Clipping off the growing tips of most plants encourages them to branch and thus become fuller in form.
Plants forgive a great deal of abuse, but over-pruning can kill them. Remove a maximum of one-third of a plant at one time. Less is just fine.
Moving air dries houseplants out. Air conditioning, ceiling fans, floor fans, evaporative coolers — all can dry houseplants out. Check the water needs of your plants more often in summer.
If you have a thrifty nature (or perhaps a thrifty spouse), the thermostat might be set higher during the summer. Saving energy is a good thing, but higher household temperatures are felt by houseplants. A mere 10 degrees might not seem like much to us warm-blooded creatures, but to some houseplant species, the difference is extreme. Again, check the water needs of your plants more often in summer.
R & R – Rest & Relaxation
Houseplants are refreshed by a cool shower. The rain-like experience washes off house dust and debris that can clog pores and ultimately harm plants. Put plants in the tub or on a well-shaded porch for their rinse. Cool is the operative word here. Ideally the water is around 75 degrees.
Pests usually are not a problem on healthy, well maintained houseplants, but that’s not to say that you couldn’t ever get any. If you notice plant pests, quarantine the affected plant before the infestation can spread. One of the safest insecticides to use is insecticidal soap. Mixed correctly, it clogs the breathing pores of most plant pests and kills them. Do not use insecticidal soap on succulents like jade plants, aloes, or cacti; it clogs their pores and kills them.
As always, moderation is key. Avoid doing too much to any one houseplant at any one time. If you move it, give it a chance to acclimate before pruning. Wait two weeks between repotting and fertilizing. Give it several weeks after repotting before you prune.
Houseplants will do fine in the summertime. All they need is a little TLC.
Plan now to come to the wonderful weekend event “Southwest Festival of the Written Word” in Silver City, New Mexico, October 4-6 2019. (more information here).
On October 6, I will be reading some of my gardening essays and signing books, including “Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada” (Cool Springs Press). Note – this is a link to Amazon and if you buy the book there we will get a few pennies.
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