A GROWING CONCERN: Time to dust off the houseplants

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a week can make.

The snow is gone, melted by the rain, so the plants are watered and the grass is green.

But what about your houseplants, which didn’t see a drop (or flake)?

Today, I want to emphasize that when light falls below the required level with any indoor plant, the cells mutate and grow much faster than normal.

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 dark side.

When the plant is far away enough from a window for it to entirely fall below its minimal light requirements, there is no window to push toward.

Rather, it will form a gangly, stretched, spindly growth throughout the plant.

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

First, go take a shower.

That’s right, you and all your houseplants need to hop into the shower and rinse off.

Naturally occurring dust is far more abundant in your home, thanks to the Christmas tree and holiday traffic.

Furthermore, I would bet few of you actually wipe off your plant’s leaves every few months, so the grime has been steadily building up.

Spray the leaves in every direction (up, down and sideways) to clean up the plant.

As the gray, dirty water goes down the drain, not only is the color and shine restored, but the leaves’ pores are cleaned out as well. The plant is then unplugged and better able to exchange atmosphere.

Its food production and health immediately improve.

The amount of sunlight that can actually shine on the chloroplast increases as well.

A real key in winter care is keeping your houseplants’ leaves free of dust.

A monthly trip to the shower during winter is an easy way to keep your plant healthy.

A yearly drenching is also greatly beneficial to your plants’ 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 years’ waterings 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 plant or, in severe cases, on the soil itself.

This salt accumulation and residue are harmful to the soil and hinder healthy plant growth.

Taking a long shower with these plants once a year, letting the water wash over and through the soil for several minutes (five to 10), will leach out this salt.

I prefer two long showers an hour apart to make sure the salt is washed out.

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

A great trick is to buy a cheap serving fork and bend the prongs halfway down at a 90-degree angle, making a mini hand cultivator.

With short fourth-inch bites, move forward, tilling up the pot’s soil as deeply as you can.

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

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

It is also advisable to transplant into a larger pot. This should be done in a few months.

Do not fertilize your foliage plants either. January and February are not the months to stimulate growth.

Next week, we will learn how to properly fit these plants into saucers and provide for their humidity requirements.

Buy saucers, gravel, marble and wooden blocks if you have not already done so.

________

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] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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