Gardening Editor Ruth Hayes is self-isolating but thankful to have the garden to escape to. This weekend, however, she decided it was high time her houseplants received a little TLC…
I was fully intending to spend the weekend in the garden having a gentle potter but it was so blinking cold I reversed my intentions and instead spent most the weekend cooking. One batch of vegetable soup using yet more three-cornered leeks (we really do seem to have an inexhaustible supply) and a rhubarb crumble later, it was time to do something different – give my houseplants a bit of nurturing.
I have to make a full confession here that anything growing indoors in Hayes Towers has to be able to thrive on neglect. It isn’t deliberate, because I genuinely do love to see a room liberally scattered with interesting plants. It’s just that I make a mental note to water/clean/feed them and then get sidetracked by something else for a couple of days, by which point they are at gasping point and starting to look sadly droopy.
Spring is an important time for houseplants because like everything else horticultural, they are responding to longer, warmer (well, it’s all relative…) days and coming back into growth.
During the winter months they need the minimum of care, but now it’s time to reinstate that feeding and watering regime. Obviously the end of March is still way too early to even think about moving them outside for a ‘summer holiday’, but you can move them to lighter places in the house, though be cautious of harsh, direct sunlight as it can scorch leaves.
Feed every fortnight and water when the compost starts to feel dry to the touch. If you are worried about making up fertiliser concentrate at the right strength, there are some excellent products available with precise pump measurements and clear labeling to take the ‘science’ out of it.
I also like to spray my houseplants with an invigorator such as Houseplant Myst or SB Plant Invigorator, an organic products that feed, reduces pest numbers and helps prevent mildew.
And while I can sometimes be a little lax with housework (the day I die I am definitely not going to be regretting not dusting the sideboard in the hall more often) I do make sure my houseplant leaves are regularly wiped free of dust and debris. Clean leaves allow the plant to optimise all available light for photosynthesis and buffing them up gives you an ideal opportunity to check for pests (which love a nice house with its still air and constant temperature).
Use a soft cloth and tepid water – milk is also good for added shine – but avoid dampening the leaves of ‘furry’ plants such as African violets as it will mark them.
Spring is also the perfect season for dividing and repotting houseplants as they start to grow again. Houseplant compost is the best growing medium as it is fortified with added nutrients, but if you can’t get hold of any use multipurpose with added grit or bark mulch to boost drainage.
Never replant into too big a pot as the plant’s roots will just wallow sadly in too much cold and empty compost and your plant won’t look happy. A pot one size up from the existing one is ideal.
Finally, stand all your plants on a layer of constantly damp gravel. It creates increased humidity around the leaves which the plants prefer to dry, centrally heated air and also keeps down number of glasshouse red spider mite, a common houseplant and greenhouse pest.
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