Gardening tips: how to keep your houseplants alive and beautiful!
Garden America’s Tiger Palafox joined Kacey McKinnon and Jason Austell of KUSI to share his expertise on indoor plants.
1. Water your houseplants
All houseplants have slightly different watering requirements, depending on how they are grown and changes in plant growth over the seasons. It is best to water as needed rather than on a schedule. In general, plants grown in well-drained soil in an appropriately sized container should be watered when the top 1/2 to 1 inch of soil appears dry. Cacti and succulents need less water; flowering plants usually need a little more. Overwatering is one of the most common causes of houseplant death. If you’re not sure how much water to water, it’s better to err on the side of dryness than to give your plants too much moisture.
2. Fertilize houseplants periodically
As with watering, there is no simple rule for how much to fertilize: it depends on the growth rate and age of the plant, as well as the time of year. Most houseplants have a growth spurt in the spring and summer, so this is the best time to fertilize them. During the short days of fall and winter, most houseplants don’t need much fertilizer, if any. Follow label directions for how much plant food to use.
As with overwatering, it’s important to avoid over-fertilizing your houseplants. Too much fertilizer can burn their roots and stunt their growth. For flowering varieties, use a fertilizer in which the three numbers on the label (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively) are relatively equal. If the nitrogen content is too high, the plant may produce lots of leaves but few flowers.
3. Propagate houseplants when needed
Several types of houseplants benefit from propagation by division or other methods from time to time. It helps rejuvenate an overgrown plant and encourage new growth. Plus, it’s a cheap way to get more plants from the ones you already have.
Some houseplants, like bromeliads, send up new shoots from the base of the plant or offsets, which you can divide and put into new pots. Climbing houseplants such as philodendron and pothos form new roots where their stems come into contact with the ground, so they are good candidates for starting new plants from cuttings. And you can root new African violets from a single leaf; just put the end of the stem in a little water for a few weeks.
Other houseplants, such as spider plant and strawberry begonia, reproduce by sending out runners with new seedlings at the end. It’s super simple to root them to start new plants; usually just soaking the base of the seedlings in water for a few days will help them develop roots, then you can plant them in the ground.
4. Repot overgrown houseplants
Not sure if your indoor plants need repotting? Check root systems. If the roots are circling around the inside of the container, it may be time to repot the plant. If the plant has outgrown its pot, you can transplant it into a slightly larger container. If you want to keep it in the same pot, cut off some of the roots with a sharp knife and replant it in the container using fresh potting soil.
When you’re repotting your houseplants, it’s also a good time to divide those with multiple stems to create new plants. Spring and summer are the best seasons to repot your houseplants.
5. Remove dust from plants
Almost all houseplants look better with regular cleaning. Dust accumulates on the leaves, so wash them with a gentle shower of room temperature water or dust them with a soft brush if the plants have hairy leaves (which can retain moisture and promote disease) . For plants with smooth leaves, you can also use a cloth to gently wipe off the dust that accumulates on the leaves. Not only does this improve the appearance of your plant, but it will actually help it absorb more light.
6. Trim and pinch houseplants
You can prune any time of the year, but fall is a natural time to get your pruning shears out after a summer of growing. The main reasons for pruning houseplants are to make them look better and to prevent them from getting too big. Similar to propagation, cutting overgrown houseplants to 4-6 inches tall helps rejuvenate them. This technique is effective in encouraging new growth for trailing plants such as Swedish ivy and pothos that may have become bare at their bases. Try making your cuts just above a set of buds or side shoots on a stem you wish to prune. This is where the new growth will begin. Also remove dead or diseased leaves and stems to prevent the problem from spreading.
Pinching means removing the ends of the stems, either with your fingernails or with pruning shears. Pinch off the tip of a stem and the topmost leaves to encourage side bud growth. Plants that grow quickly often look best with frequent pinching to keep them compact and fuller.
7. Dead flowers and remove dying leaves
Cut spent flowers from your plants to encourage more blooms and help prevent disease problems. While you’re at it, be sure to remove any yellow, brown, or wilted leaves. Use narrow-bladed hand pruners or sharp scissors to make a clean cut without tearing the plant’s stem. It’s a good idea to wipe down the blades of your pruners with rubbing alcohol before moving on to another plant to avoid spreading pests and disease.
8. Control insect pests
Several insects commonly attack houseplants. Insecticidal soap is an easy-to-use and effective treatment for most soft-bodied insect pests like aphids and spider mites. A powerful jet of water from the hose also helps eliminate the population of these pests. Rubbing alcohol is effective on insects with waxy coatings such as mealybugs and scale insects; dab it with a cotton ball.
No matter what treatment you use, be consistent. For fast-breeding pests such as aphids and spider mites, you may need to treat the plants once a week for about a month to get rid of the pests.
Fungus gnats are tiny black flies that buzz around the ground and a common pest of houseplants, although they are often confused with fruit flies. You usually see fungus gnats in large numbers when plants are overwatered. Allow the soil surface to dry out between waterings and be sure to remove any dead leaves on the soil surface. In extreme cases, you may want to try repotting your plant in cool soil and a clean container.