By Jim Lakin, M.D., Master Gardener
Chances are, you’ll be spending more time indoors over the next few months. So will your green and growing friends – your houseplants. It makes sense then to get to know how to keep them healthy. Healthy plants look better. They have less insect problems. Their chances of making it through the winter and out onto the patio next spring increase. So, what can we do to help them out?
First grow plants in the best possible conditions. Here you will have to do a little research on the preferences of each plant. Match the plant to its light, moisture and temperature requirements. If a plant is struggling with too little light, too much moisture or too warm or cold a temperature, it will not do well.
Second, fulfill your plant’s nutritional requirements. Is your fellow a big feeder or not? Generally speaking, fertilize at half the “recommended dose” for a given plant at the intervals suggested. Fertilizers will be most effective when applied while the plant is actively growing.
Third, water your plants properly. This is a biggie! More plants ascend to heaven (or descend to the compost) from overwatering than any other cause. Over-watering combined with poor drainage can encourage root rot and pest problems. If you water on a schedule, say every Tuesday whether they need it or not, you’ll set yourself up for this problem. Water when the soil is dry, say,halfway up your index finger. Also don’t let your plants stand in water. Water at the base of the plant, not on the leaves.
Fourth, keep your plants clean. Remove dead leaves, stems and flowers. Don’t let them pile up on the soil surface where they can harbor insect pests.
Fifth, use new, sterile potting soil when potting plants. Avoid outdoor garden soil. It probably is chock full of weed seeds and insect eggs. Plant in clean pots and wash off the roots before planting bare-rooted purchases.
Finally, inspect your houseplants frequently for insect pests. They most often tend to congregate on the underside of leaves. Early detection is key. If you do suspect that bugs are beginning to set up shop, check out “Managing Insects on Indoor Plants” on the University of Minnesota website: https://extension.umn.edu/product-and-houseplant-pests/insects-indoor-plants It’s a great aid for diagnosing and treating pest problems.
Observe these few simple procedures and you’ll go a long way to having happy house plants and home bodies!