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Watering and Feeding
General Care of House Plants

House plants will adapt somewhat to the conditions provided to them (some better than others), but in order for them to thrive, you must understand the individual requirements of each kind of house plant. Needs for soil, lighting, temperature and humidity, fertilizer and water vary. These factors work together to determine the plant's overall health. Consider the conditions you are able or willing to provide plants when buying them, and choose accordingly. Some plants need more care and attention than others. A few basic rules: 

1. Most important - examine your plant. regularly. Check for insects, watering needs and any signs of poor health. 

2. Water according to need, rather than by the calendar. Over watering is the most common problem for house plants. 

3. Avoid fluctuating temperature and stuffiness. Fresh air is essential, but cold or hot drafts will damage a plant. Sun scorch is often a problem when plants are placed on a windowsill in intense sunlight. 

4. Most plants prefer moist air, cacti are an exception. For plants such as ferns, gardenia and citrus, regular misting of the leaves with a squirt bottle can do wonders especially in hot weather. Misters are available at hardware stores or garden centers, but any squirt bottle will suffice.  

5. Keep the plants clean. A regular bathing (every 3 weeks) keeps the breathing pores open, reduces the possibility of insect attack and improves the appearance of the plant. Small plants may be washed in the kitchen sink or upturned and swished about in a bucket of water. Larger plants may be placed in the shower. Large-leaved plants such as Dieffenbachia may be wiped with a soft sponge or cloth.  

However. if you suspect any leaves are infected with disease or insects, hand washing will only spread the problem to other leaves, and should be avoided. Cold water can easily shock the plants; tepid water is better. Using mild soapy water helps cut through grease and grime, and if rinsed off will not harm the plant. Shake the extra water off the plants and do not place them in hot direct sunlight until they have dried off. 

If excess water remains on the leaf for too long, rot or fungus diseases may set in, and hot sun will cause scorch spots to appear on the leaves where they are wet. 

6. Commercial leaf shiners are not recommended. A naturally clean and healthy leaf is more pleasing than a painted glossy one. The mixture also clogs the leaf's breathing pores. 

7. Turning the plant one-quarter turn each week will prevent it from growing unevenly towards the light. 

8. Loosen surface soil if it becomes caked and hard, but avoid damaging the roots. I like to use a skewer, starting at the outside edge of the pot gently drag the skewer through the soil close to the plant, be very careful not to break the roots of the plant.

9. Check the drainage hole occasionally. Clogged drainage holes prevent excess moisture from escaping, which will lead to root rot or suffocation.  

10. Remove dead leaves and flowers. They spoil the appearance of the plant and provide sites for disease to begin. 

11. Repot or top-dress plants when necessary. 

12. Place plants outdoors in a warm gentle rain to perk them up. Hairy-leaved plants are best left indoors, since they tend to become spotted and ragged-looking.  

13. The appearance of untidy and straggly plants can be improved considerably by pruning. This forces the plant to. branch out, encouraging compact, bushy growth. Plants that grow in annual spurts, such as Geraniums and Fuchsias, should be cut back just as new growth is about to begin. Otherwise, they become long and leggy. 

To prune stems, take a cutting just above (about 5 mm) a bud or leaf node, using a sharp knife to prevent bruising. The cut should slant down and away from the bud. 

To maintain a neat, bushy shape for many house plants, pinch off the growing tip of the stem occasionally. this can only be done when the plant is growing actively. Cuttings can be used to start new plants. 

14. When buying plants, choose ones that are short and stocky with dense foliage. Leaves should be evenly green and free from spots. Check the under-sides of leaves for evidence of insect damage. For flowering plants, choose ones that are just beginning to bloom so you can watch them flower and enjoy the full life of the blossoms. Large, showy plants are not necessarily the best choice. They are considerably more expensive and may suffer severe setbacks when forced to adjust to a new environment. 

15. New plants should be given a two to three week adjustment period when you take them home. Keep them isolated from other plants until you are certain they harbor no insects. Water thoroughly from the top and keep them in a warm, moderately-lighted location. It is common for bottom leaves to wither and fall in the shift from store to home, but the plant will soon adapt to its new environment. New plants will not need fertilizer for 4 - 6 months, as the florist will already have given them an ample dose. If you must move the plants in cold weather, wrap the plant carefully, and place it in a paper box lined with several layers of newspaper. 

16. Many house plants thrive when placed outside during the mild summer months. The exceptions are hairy-leaved varieties, such as African violets, which become spotted and ragged-looking.  

Plants kept indoors during the winter are accustomed to weak light intensities and even temperatures. To compensate for this, place them in a shaded,  protected area (such as on the patio or under a tree), preferably where they will receive only mild morning sunlight. They will need at least daily watering. Before bringing them into the home in late summer, inspect them closely for insects. Isolate them indoors for two weeks before placing them near other plants. 

17. In winter, when there is less available light, many plants go into a natural dormancy. or rest period. Growth slows or is halted completely, and some varieties shrivel slightly Flowering plants, except those which flower year-round (African violet, Impatiens) should be given a rest period after blooming. Withhold water and place them in a cool dimly-lit location for two to three months. Plants going through dormancy should be watered sparingly since their roots are less active. The end of the rest period is a good time to repot. 

18. When you're on vacation. the main problem your plants face is lack of water. Automatic watering devices may be purchased. but these are not essential. Plants potted according to the sub irrigating method will remain evenly moist for an indefinite period of time, as long as there is an ample supply of water. 

Some home gardeners leave their plants standing in a saucer of water, but they should not be left like this for any length of time. The soil becomes water-logged and roots will suffocate.

This list is not all inclusive, please check with your local nursery or area plant expert for more advice. Many books are available on the subject of plants.




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