Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How To: Perk Up Your Houseplants

Some of my houseplants were looking a bit sorry for themselves, so over the weekend I gave them a bit of TLC. Here's my procedure for houseplants.

1. Compost any that are dead, crispy, or in any other way a basket-case. Feel guilty. Promise yourself you will remember to water/not to overwater them in future. Make a list of the species that died and remember never to buy that type again.

Half the secret of success with houseplants is to quickly get rid of any that are dying and look terrible.

2. Gently tip each surviving houseplant out of its pot to see if it needs repotting. If it does, the roots will be thick and visible, tangled inside the rootball. If you can see mostly soil and only a few fine roots, it's probably OK where it is. Remember which ones need repotting.

3. Put a couple of inches of water in the bath with some plant food. Stand all the houseplants in the bath, and gently mist them with the showerhead, so the soil gets wet from the top and the bottom. After an hour or so they should all be feeling much perkier.

4. Repot any plants that need it. Just find a slightly bigger pot, put a little potting compost in the bottom and carefully place the rootball on top. Fill in the gaps with more compost, and put a layer on top, firming it down with your fingers. It's important to give the plant a really good drink, but I don't usually bother with teasing out the roots. The roots seem to manage to grow outwards in their own time.

5. Snip any brown, dead leaves and rotten flowerheads off the plants. My mum used to cut the brown ends off spiderplants, and then trim them back to nice points. She called it "giving them a haircut". She could be a bit odd sometimes...

6. Occasionally when you trim a plant in this way, it only has three or four healthy leaves left and looks rather tragic. In these cases I tend to make cuttings. Snip off the healthy leaves with their stems, or sections of the plant, then push them into small pots of damp potting compost. You can compost the stem and rootball. With luck they will begin to root. You can't tell - don't pull them up to see if they have or not. If they die, then they didn't root, and if they stay alive, well they must have rooted. In a while they will start putting out new leaves and grow. Voila - several new healthy houseplants from one ailing houseplant!

7. You can also take cuttings of any plants which are healthy and thriving, of course, and this is an excellent idea. The other half of the secret of success with houseplants is to learn which varieties thrive under your own conditions and combination of neglect/overattention. Then specialise in that variety. Everyone will say "Oh, she's terribly good with begonias (or whatever)", and they don't need to know that begonias are the only things that survive in your house. Tip: spider plants are almost indestructible.

12 comments:

Chile said...

Great advice! However, my secret to houseplants is to never buy them. If they are given to me, they are welcome to stay as long as they can survive on water once a week. My dog is grateful that I remember to feed her on a fairly regular basis.

Ok, I lied. My hubby feeds the dog...

21st Century Mummy said...

I seem to have had the same experience as Chile. We've not got a dog but two cats. My husband tends to feed them too. The kids get a look-in though. Melanie - I must be a bit odd too, as I always used to trim the brown bits off spider plants and recreate the nice little points. When I was little, spider plants used to be everywhere. Nowadays they're a bit tricky to find.

Nikki said...

You're right about the spider plant - it's suffered a life of neglect for about 10yrs and still hanging in there! I do the trim job on the brown ends too hehe, goign on the comments so far, your mum had great 'odd' company. Peace Lily's do well for me too - poor things are mostly flat by the time I water them and they always come away beautifully. I'm hoping to be a much better carer for my outdoor plants! :)

Yellow said...

After your prompting, I got the kids to open some paper clips and pin down some errant strands of ivy we have in pots hanging in our living room bay window.
I remember the spider plant you had in your room Mel as a teenager. it was huge, and very neglected, and yet in never died.
My childminder had recently given me a spider plant baby which I'm attentively neglecting. Now, where did I put those nail scissors?

Almost Vegetarian said...

Wonderful tips. Once a month or so I drag all my houseplants into the kitchen and give them a spritz with water and loosen the soil and repot and prune where these are called for.

It is a lot of work, but I thoroughly enjoy it. Nothing quite like getting your fingers dirty, is there?

Cheers!

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