Houseplants add colour, interest, and dimension to homes, offices, shopping centers, and other indoor living areas. Proper maintenance is required to keep houseplants healthy, strong, and vigorous. However, some plants just don’t flourish, even with fertilizing and extra attention; sometimes it is better to cut your losses and toss the plant into the compost bin.
To ensure proper watering practices, check soil moisture levels daily.
- Plants grow best if their foliage is kept dry. Water around the base of the plant when possible, especially when watering plants which are prone to mildew.
- Plants should be watered deeply (until water flows out of the container’s drainage holes) and frequently.
Improper watering practices may cause a plant to become limp or its leaves to turn yellow, wilt, and fall off. Avoid these water-related plant problems:
A. Overwatering is the number 1 killer of houseplants.
Plants take in air through their roots; when the soil is constantly wet, there is no air available for the plant. For this reason, it is important to ensure that plants never sit in drainage water. Overwatering can lead to root rot and eventually the death of the plant.
B. Underwatering is also dangerous, as it causes soil to dry out and plants to wilt.
As plants mature and their root systems expand, more frequent watering will be required. If you are planning a long trip, make sure that someone will be available to water your plants or they may not be alive when you return.
To ensure soil retains moisture, the addition of Soil Moist to the soil prior to planting is recommended. Soil Moist stores extra water and releases it back to plants when it is needed.
It is possible to restore moisture to dried out soil and possibly save the plant. If the container is small enough, submerge the entire container in a bucket of water and leave for several hours until the soil is moist and the air bubbles subside. For larger containers, poke holes into the soil to allow water to reach the roots and then water generously.
C. Low Humidity Levels
Because of Calgary’s dry climate, houseplants may suffer. To combat dryness:
a) Set the plant on a tray of pebbles, marbles, or washed rocks that are sitting in water.
b) Mist the plant’s foliage often.
c) Purchase a humidifier.
D. Salt Accumulation appears as a whitish crust on the soil or the sides of the pots.
Salt can build up over time due to the accumulation of unused salts from fertilizers and/or hard water. Large amounts of salt accumulation can inhibit plant growth. To prevent salt accumulation, water plants very thoroughly at least once a month to flush all excess salt from the plant. Salt can also accumulate in the soil if plants are watered too little, so be certain to always water deeply.
To ensure plants are healthy and looking their best, practice regular grooming.
- Remove all dead flowers
- Trim discoloured foliage
- Prune plants that start to look leggy or ragged, encouraging compact growth.
Plants that are not getting enough light may look pale or spindly, new leaves may be small, or they may appear to be reaching for light. Sun exposure is plant specific. Ensure your plant is receiving the light it requires for maximum growth.
- Near a sunny south or west facing window for exposure to direct light throughout the entire day.
- Near an eastern facing window
- In the interior of a room with south or west facing windows
- Near north facing windows
- In rooms with windows that are shaded by trees
- Areas away from windows
Houseplants are happiest in temperatures without large fluctuations. If exposed to cold drafts, plant growth suffers and plants can lose leaves, wilt, or appear underwatered. Avoid placing plants near doors that are frequently opened to the outdoors and near poorly insulated windows.
Plants that are exposed to excessive heat will become dehydrated, making it very difficult to save the plant. Avoid placing plants near radiators and ducts.
Insects multiply very quickly indoors without predators to keep them at bay. If plants become infested, control and eradication may prove difficult or in some cases, impossible. It is best to catch infestations at an early stage.
Watch for discoloured, curled, mottled, or spotted leaves. Insects can usually be found on the undersides of these leaves, on new growth, or in leaf axels. Other things to look for include:
- Hard shells or scales that are produced by small insects for protection can be found on plant stems.
- Leaves will turn yellow and become covered with sticky, dewy substance. This is caused by insects sucking the sap from plants, weakening the plant.
Beware the following intruders:
A. Spider Mites
- Leaves will have yellow blotches and they may become brittle and fall off.
- Webbing can be seen between the leaves and stems.
- Usually problematic in hot, dry conditions
- (Misting plants regularly can help prevent spider mite attacks.)
B. Mealy Bugs
- Cottony white blobs can usually be found in large clusters on the stems, under the leaves, and at branch joints.
- Wilting and falling of yellowing leaves can be seen.
- Leaves may turn yellow or be covered with a sticky honeydew.
- Small, pear shaped insects can be found on all surfaces of the plant, especially on areas of new growth.
If plants outgrow their containers, the roots will circle around the pot and start to restrict, or girdle, themselves. The plant will seem to need water more often because the ratio of roots to soil is too large.
When re-potting, choose a container that is one size larger (2” bigger) than its original container. Using a container that is too large may cause root rot, since the plant will have to sit in damp, wet conditions after each watering, so ensure that you choose an appropriate container.