Plant Life

Leaves breathe life into your abode

By P. J. Ellison

When I rented my first apartment, Mom insisted I take a couple spider plants and her favourite fern. “This way, you’re not living alone,” she said. And she meant it. Houseplants won’t ask you how your day was or make you brunch in bed. But potted plants listen, they never judge (Is he really staying over? A full bottle of wine? On a Wednesday?), they clear the air (literally), and lend life to what might otherwise be a drab 3 and 1/2.

Indeed, houseplants deserve to be treated better than so much bric-a-brac. Plants aren’t people. No. But they are alive, and all living things need a little TLC. Here are a few tips to consider when delivering that tender loving care.

Don’t ignore the instructions. Your nursery or florist provides the tiny ticket with info on how to care for your plant for a reason. Does your plant need direct sunlight or partial shade? Water once a week or twice a week in summer months? If you inherited the plant from a friend and you have no idea how to care for it, send a photo to the university’s botany department, a nursery or local botanical society with experts who’d probably be happy to help.

Check those care instructions again, and don’t forget to open up the curtains before you leave in the morning.

Healthy plants need to be re-potted in a larger container with fresh potting mix every 12 to 24 months, depending. This is a delicate process. Too large a pot means more soil and that leads to excess water.

Overwatering is probably the number one killer of houseplants. Number three? Curious cats with claws and teeth and an appetite for grass. Nestled between those two plant killers is drainage. Too much drainage and a heavy flow of water flushes valuable nutrients out of the soil. Too little drainage and you get root rot. Stick to a schedule based on season, amount of sunlight, and species’ specifications. All plants appreciate growing conditions similar to those of their native environment.

Speaking of environment, get your hands dirty. A high quality organic soil is best for most green houseplants: dark, rich, loamy and loaded with humus. Feel it. Smell it. It’s going to give life to your new friend. Specialty plants like cactus and geraniums, for instance, need specific soils suited for their needs.

Pests be gone! Examine your plants. See anything nibbling away at your potted pal? Spray all the leaves with a soapy solution (add three to four drops of peppermint essential oil) and keep six-legged invaders outside without the smell and abrasiveness of harsh pesticides.

 

Fall 2016, Vol 8 N°4

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