THE WATERING, FEEDING, AND CARE OF
BY GLADYS JEURINK
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:
What climate did they come from?
Are the leaves adapted for saving water or those that breathe out
Is the plant sensitive to hard water, for example BROMELIADS
Do you have a tropical plant that will react if you use cold
Many plants must have resting periods so will use less water and
tend to get root rot during that rest period.
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.
Do you let water stand in the saucers? A good way to get root rot
if you do.
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
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.
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.
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
Is it a fast grower or a
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
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.
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.
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!!!
your houseplant and you will find it is much easier to take care of, and
will grow and flower much better for you.