Okay, the holidays are over with and you are getting tired of the Poinsettia. Chances are it is still in good shape. But it seems out-of-place now that the tree is gone and the decorations are down. Personally, I am going to keep mine until the last touch of red is gone.
But now it is time to look at all those plants that you have neglected over the past couple of months while you shopped and baked and decorated the house. In this column we will take a look at the cultural problems, fertilizer, watering and light and temperatures. Once finished with these, we will learn to identify the insects and diseases of those house plants.
Before going further it is important, to realize that many, if not most, house plants need a rest period sometime during the year, most often during the winter months. During some of those times it is natural for a plant to fade a bit. They just do not look great. Some, such as the African violet go through the seasons without the need of dormancy, while the leaves of another member of the same plant family, the Gloxinia, die back completely. In that case you need to dry off the pot and the Gloxinia bulb in a dark, cool place until fall when it will begin to grow as you start watering it.
Let us start right now by going through the house and lift every plant to see that it has enough water. That generally is the first problem we encounter. If they are really light take them to the sink and run some water through them, slow running, tepid water. Wouldn’t hurt to spray them with the spitzer and get some of the dust off. Like it or not, every house gets a lot of dust during the holiday season. It comes from the tree and the decorations and the people and you get a little more every time you light the fire-place.
By the next day, after the stems and foliage have firmed up because they are full of water, let’s take a good look at them. There are a few easily described situations that can easily be rectified. Unfortunately, most of the problems are caused by just a few things. I always say that more plants are killed by kindness than any other reason. In many cases, that kindness is giving the plants too much water. Plants need to dry out a bit between watering. Keeping them in a saucer full of water, especially during the dark and cool winter months is like giving them a death sentence. We all know that plants, especially pot bound house plants, do not do well in clay or any other heavy soil. They like a loose soil with plenty of space for air to reach the rootlets. Those rootlets need air. By keeping that soil ever wet, air does not get in and the rootlets die. The plant wilts and when it wilts most of us think that it needs more water and so it goes.
Dry air is another detriment to plants and this is tied to water as well. When the temperature is high, as it is in many of our homes, the air can be very dry. As a matter of fact during the other seasons it is not unusual for the humidity in our homes to be above 40 or 50 percent. I now that in my home right now it is in the low 20’s, what happens here is that the leaf pores open and moisture just pours out of the plant and the root system cannot replenish the water to the leaves fast enough and we begin to see dry spots or patches on the leaves. If instead of being dry and crisp, those spots are soft and mushy, the problem is most certainly too much water. And if those spots are white or straw-colored they might have been caused by splattering cold water on the leaves, or damage from an aerosol. How is that for a start?