NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR OCTOBER 27, 2007

 THE WATERING, FEEDING, AND CARE OF HOUSEPLANTS

BY GLADYS JEURINK  

A major cause of houseplant death can be blamed on water.  Too much and roots rot making them unable to send moisture to the leaves who droop first and then die.  Too little and the roots cannot pick up moisture.  The symptoms in both cases are the same.  Since different plants need different amounts of water, we need to know as much as possible about the plant:

1.     What climate did they come from?

2.     Are the leaves adapted for saving water or those that breathe out water vapor?

3.     Is the plant sensitive to hard water, for example BROMELIADS AND CACTUS?

4.     Do you have a tropical plant that will react if you use cold water?

5.     Many plants must have resting periods so will use less water and tend to get root rot during that rest period.

6.     Do you water from above or below? If you water from below, the fertilizer salts will also move up and concentrate in the top so you need to water from above to take it back down.

7.     Do you let water stand in the saucers? A good way to get root rot if you do.

8.     Do you sprinkle from above and leave drops on the leaves? If in the sun, blotches or gray spots can appear from the calcium in the water.

9.     Do you water often with just a little water? If so the roots will stay in the damp part and never go down deep to develop well.

10. Do you always water in the same spot? If so the roots may grow only on one side of your pot. If you forget to water and the soil has pulled back from the side of the pot, you will need to dunk the pot and all in a bucket or old dishpan until bubbles donít appear anymore. Then let it drain.

Feeding has just as many questions as there are plants, as all are so different.  We are all acquainted with the lawn fertilizers and know they have 3 basic nutrients listed-N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium). But what about our houseplants? Are those 3 all they need? Again you need to know your plant!!!

        Is it for foliage?

        Is it for blooms

        What does it really need?

        Is it a desert plant?

        Is it a bog plant?

        Does it like full sun, or shade?

        Is it a fast grower or a slow grower?

Many potting soils already have fertilizer in them.  If you add more you will burn the roots. There are fertilizers you can buy containing all the trace elements. A number of houseplants have their own specialized food formulas such as ORCHIDS, BROMELIADS, and AFRICAN VIOLETS. Some fertilizers are labeled ďfor flowering plantsĒ while other say ďfor foliage plantsĒ In general foliage plants like high nitrogen fertilizers while flowering plants like high phosphorous fertilizers.  Phosphorous is good and needed for flowering and production of fruit.

During long day and high light months (summer) the plants will be active and need goodly amounts of food. (When in doubt, DONíT FERTILIZE.) Then when the days are short, with plants inside in much dimmer lighting, we generally do not feed.  Donít fertilize a dry pot as it will burn the roots. Make sure the plant has been watered well before adding fertilizer. Also donít feed a sick plant. Find out what your plants like!!! CACTI donít use much fertilizer while ROSES are heavy eaters.

          Light is another important factor in good looking houseplants.  Think of the difference in intensity when you take your plants out and then when you bring them in.  To prevent burning in the spring, I like the North side of the house for a week or two while for some the East side will work. Before bringing them back into much less light, I like the North side again. I have some picnic benches out there (the table fell apart long ago). Many plants respond not only to intensity but to day length.  Florists treat plants such as POINSETTIA, KALANCHOE, and EASTER LILY to get them ready for a holiday.  Some of your plants could never stand a South window as they are shade plants in nature. My SANSEVERIA (also known as snake plant and mother-in-laws tongue), my PEACE LILY, and my AGLAONEMA all come into a North window for the winter.  My others are either first or second row of a South window.

          Temperature is another major factor. For this you need to know where the plant is a native.  Tropicals are very popular right now and most of them should not go below 45 -50 degrees F. Some may have a resting period such as during the dry part of their native country. For example, my DESERT ROSE (Adenum obesum) stores water during rainy season in odd shaped stems and blooms. Then during the dry season the leaves are dropped to conserve water loss.  We could panic when this happens if we didnít know the plant habits.  I have a dwarf POMEGRANATE that requires a rest period during winter as early winter it drops part of its leaves and in general looks like it might die.  When the days get longer and warmer it perks up, blooms, and makes tiny POMGRANATES. CLIVIA needs not only a cold period but a dry one.  Just before frost I bring it into the garage, which goes down to 35-40 degrees F., and give it water about once the entire winter. Early March I water some and by April it has a tall beautiful orange stalk 18 inches above the leaves.

          Air is just as important to inside plants as it is to field crops.  This is why we donít use garden soil in our pots as it tends to compact and draw away from the sides of the pot. As a result the water will run down the edges and not into the soil. Many potting mixes contain no soil at all but are mixtures of bark, perlite, compost, and/or sand which will not rot fast but retain fertilizer. I do not like peat moss in my soils as it dries out and then becomes almost impossible to wet again. In addition, we are ruining the peat bogs in order to bag it up and it takes many, many years to restore and some can never be renewed. Something I have been using lately is coconut fiber. It is loose, retains some moisture, and is a by-product of coconut production. It comes in compressed bricks that expand about 3 times when placed in a

bucket of water.  I like its brown color, and it never contains weed seeds!!!

          Learn about your houseplant and you will find it is much easier to take care of, and will grow and flower much better for you.

Copyright 2007