A GROWING CONCERN: Take care of your dusty houseplants

I’VE HEARD FROM some of you that you’re getting a little tired of the long dark days, having been stuck indoors for too long, however enjoying the moonlight of the blue and red full moon was fabulous at 3 a.m.

But a true gardener has a tendency to also have indoor plants, so let’s turn our attention to our growing beauties inside the walls of our homes.

Did you know that when light falls below an individual need for each indoor plant, the cells mutate and grow much faster?

When there is both a bright and dark side near a window, the plant gets pushed toward the light by an accelerated growth on its back, or darker side.

If that plant is away from a window, falling entirely below its minimal light requirement, there is no window to push it towards.

Under this depleted level, it will form a gangly, stretched, spindly growth throughout the entire plant.

So in winter, particularly, when sunlight is naturally diminished, one of the prime objectives is to find ways to minimize or intensify light indoors.

First, go take a shower.

That’s right, if you have been out walking the dog or cleaning out the horse stall, you’ve gotten all grimy, and coincidentally, so have all of your houseplants.

Your houseplants need to hop into the shower and rinse off too.

During winter, especially after a snow-filled or cold spell, with fires lighted, doors shut and windows tightly closed we need a little breathing room.

That means naturally occurring dust will be far more abundant in your home, if you haven’t noticed the extra dusty bunnies scurrying around the floors lately.

The Christmas tree and holiday traffic only added to your plant’s dirt buildup.

Furthermore, I would bet very few of you actually wipe off your plants’ leaves every few months, so the grime has been steadily building up to the detriment of your light-starved foliage.

Typically a thorough washing of all the leaves with lukewarm water is needed, by spraying in every direction (up, down and sideways) to clean up the plant.

This can get a little messy on the floors and carpets in your home, so towels might be necessary if you’re doing this chore with the plant in place.

If packing the plant is manageable, save yourself the trouble and take it to the shower and watch the gray, dirty water run down the drain instead, restoring your plant’s foliage and cleaning the leaves’ pores too. The plant is now unplugged and better able to exchange atmosphere.

Its food production and health will be immediately improved.

The amount of sunlight that can actually shine on the chloroplasts will be increased as a result.

A real key in winter care, is keeping your houseplant’s leaves free of dust.

A monthly trip to the shower during winter is an easy way to keep your plants healthier.

A yearly winter drenching of their soil is also greatly beneficial to your plant’s salty and nutrient-deprived soil.

As time passes, your plants’ soil has not only compacted, but has formed a surface crust as well.

Then, too, all the previous year’s watering have left a salt residue on the pot and in the soil.

Many times with houseplants, you can actually see the white film on the edges of the pot, or in severe cases, on the soil itself.

This salt accumulation and residue is harmful to the soil and hinders your otherwise healthy plant.

Taking a long shower with these plants once a year, letting the water wash over and through the soil for several minutes, we’re talking 5 to 10 minutes, will leach out this salt.

Double bonus round: I prefer two long showers an hour apart to make sure the salt is washed out, so adjust your tasks accordingly.

After letting them drip dry, cultivate the soil in order to help it breathe and water pass freely.

You can take an old metal fork and bend the prongs halfway down, at a 90-degree angle, making your own mini hand cultivator.

With short, ¼ inch bites, move forward, tilling up the pot’s soil as deeply as you can, while rotating the pot (or you) around until the entire soil is worked loose.

Now take that rich, organic potting soil that you bought and top dress the pot with the new soil, leaving a ¼ to ½ inch lip, in order to water properly.

Make sure before you top dress your plant, removing all dead leaves and twigs from the soil and off the plant, but do not prune or pinch your foliage plants now.

It is also inadvisable to transplant into a larger pot — as moving a plant into a larger vessel should be done in a few months when the light increases, allowing, at a later time, to “wake up the plant,” timing a stimulating spring growth.

Do not fertilize your foliage plants now either, just wash them puppies down.

January and February are not the months to stimulate growth in your indoor plants.

Get out your long lab coat, your rubber gloves, or strip down and get naked with your plants in the shower—you both deserve a good wash down, well at least your botanical booties do!

Now hasn’t the botanical bath made you feel better about keeping your plants indoors during the winter?


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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