The hardest time of year for garden enthusiasts is now, when the winter weather makes it too cold to do much outdoors. Now is the perfect time to garden indoors by providing a little tender loving care (TLC) to your philodendrons, ferns, and other indoor plants. Here are five signs that your houseplants could use some help.
Pale Leaves and Long Stems
Sunlight is plant food, so getting enough sun is important for healthy growth. The most obvious sign that a plant is starving for light is when the stems become long and spindly and are leaning toward any available light source, however distant it might be. Other less-obvious signs are little or no growth, or never flowering.
You can correct this by moving your plant closer to a south-facing window. To help it return to an upright position, rotate the plant weekly about a quarter turn every time you water. Don’t have any sunny windows? Buy a florescent lamp with a bulb that provides full-spectrum light. Look for bulbs that are labeled “for plant and aquarium use.”
A Top-Heavy Plant
Over time, a healthy plant grows taller and broader. Sometimes this means the lower leaves age and drop off. The plant can become so big and heavy that it’s all too easy to brush past it and cause it to fall over, spilling potting soil and making a mess. Time for some TLC.
Your plant has outgrown its container and either needs a bigger pot or should be divided and replanted. Select a new pot at least two inches wider and deeper than the current pot. Make sure the new pot has adequate drainage holes and comes with a saucer for water overflow. Purchase a new bag of quality lightweight soil to renew the soil and encourage new growth.
Regular watering is key to maintaining the health of your houseplants. Most plants will signal they are drying out with drooping leaves and stems. The lack of water will shrink the plant tissue, causing it to droop.
Ironically, the same symptom of drooping leaves and foliage can be caused by too much water. When the potting soil is soggy, there is no air in the soil and the roots cannot work correctly. Damaged or dying roots will fail to provide water to the above-ground plant, causing it to droop.
The solution is both cases is correct watering. For most houseplants, a thorough watering once a week is about right. Most plants are ready for more water when the top inch of the soil is dry but there still is moisture beneath. If the top layer is still damp, wait a few days before checking again. More houseplants are killed from overwatering than anything else.
When the surface layer has dried out, water enough that some comes out the drainage hole into the saucer beneath. Allow to drain for a few minutes and then remove excess water.
Crusty Formations Around the Pot Rim
After you’ve had a plant growing in a pot for a year or more, you will probably begin to notice cream to golden crusts forming along the inside rim or down in the drainage saucer. This is the accumulation of salts from the water and fertilizer you’ve been using. It rarely is a problem for the plant but it looks rather ugly.
Because plants in containers are fertilized more often than those in the earth, the fertilizer salts can slowly build up, leaving a light brown crust around the inner rim. Eliminate this by using an old knife to scrape the residue off the pot and saucer. Then set the plant in a utility sink and water thoroughly, allowing the water to flow freely out the drainage hole and down the drain to flush excess fertilizer deposits away.
A more thorough cleaning can be done with a vinegar bath. Remove the plant and potting soil from the container and give it a quick rinse. Then submerge it in a mixture of water and household white vinegar – about once cup of vinegar to every quart of water. Allow to soak for an hour or two to let the vinegar dissolve the crusting. Remove the pot, give it a good scrubbing, and restore your plant to its home.
When Insects Attack
We love having a bit of nature in our home or office in the form of ferns, creeping Charlie, or other houseplants. But when signs of insects in the form of stunted leaves or stems with white cottony goo appear on our treasures, we’ve got a little too much of it indoors.
To combat these insects remove the plant to a sink or bathtub and spray thoroughly with insecticidal soap or Neem Oil insecticide. Pay attention to the underside of leaves and stem joints where insects can hide. Repeat every 2 to 3 days until all remaining eggs have hatched.
For persistent problems, consider using a systemic insecticide. A systemic insecticide is applied to the soil and drawn into the plant through the roots, making the plant poisonous to sucking insects. It gives off an odor for several days after application, but it’s worth it if you are in danger of losing a prized plant.
It might be winter outside, but inside we still can do some gardening. Use these five tips to help you rejuvenate your houseplants for the coming year. They will love having a little TLC.