Sunday, January 3, 2016

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Life-Saving Houseplant Resolutions

I've been told confession is good for the soul. So, I'll admit I've made (and broken) New Year's resolutions at one time or another. The gym three times a week. Actually, I've never even considered that one. The low-carb, no sugar diet. Uh-huh. Quitting smoking (fortunately, not one I ever needed). What about resolutions that will ensure great results with your houseplants? No, it's not one you ever hear, is it?

I will choose the right plant. Hello ZZ
Resolution #1 - (Raise your right hand as you swear) I will not put an indoor plant requiring high light (like a Ficus) in a north window and then be shocked when it drops its leaves. Instead, I promise to get a plant that matches my true light conditions, dramatically increasing my plant's chances for survival. For those really low light areas in my home or office I will consider: Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), Peace lily (Spathiphyllum), palms and the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). I'm really loving this low maintenance "camel" now that I'm growing it.

Resolution #2 - I will water completely, but at intervals that are appropriate for the plant's specific needs. Surprise! Watering once a week is not a universally correct answer to the question, "How often should I water?"
I will remember to empty the saucer
I understand "completely" means applying warm water (not hot, not cold) uniformly around the soil until water runs out the bottom of the container. After 30 minutes (no longer than that) I will empty all remaining water from the saucer. This will prevent the excess water from cutting off vital oxygen to roots and killing them. If I think it's time to water, but I'm not sure, I'll wait another day or two before I do. This reinforces the old maxim, "I can always add water, but if I've over-watered I can't remove the excess."

I will use a pebble tray and cluster plants in groups
Resolution #3 - I will try new ways to increase indoor humidity rather than just misting leaves with a spray bottle. Smart. More long term solutions would be: using the "buddy system" of grouping your plants together. As they give off water through their leaves (transpiration) they're increasing humidity around each other. Another solution would be to place plants on pebble-filled trays with water just below the pebble surface for evaporation. The bottoms of the pots should sit above the water, not in it, so they don't wick water into the soil. Right hand still up?

I will feed only when I see new leaves or flower buds
Resolution #4 - I will not fertilize year 'round if I don't see new growth. I'll fertilize when spring rolls around or when I see my plants actively producing bright green young leaves and/or new flower buds. The more light my plants receive, the more frequently I can fertilize them.

If my plants are in low light sites (north windows) I won't fertilize at all November through perhaps March when our day length and light intensity are so low that plants tend to "rest". I promise to use houseplant-specific fertilizers at the recommended rate.

I will upsize when needed
Resolution #5 - I will repot based on visible need, rather than some psychic sense that it's time. I will check root balls, looking for 40% or more roots in the soil mass before I consider up-potting. I understand most houseplants perform just fine when somewhat pot-bound. If it's determined that I need to move my plants to a larger pot I will increase the pot diameter in small increments, say, an inch at a time. I will not jump 2" or more in diameter at a time.

Your 2016 resolutions are now sworn and witnessed. You may now lower your hand and spend the New Year enjoying more beautiful houseplants and great chocolate desserts!              


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