Unless it is the middle of summer and there has not been enough rain, watering your outdoor plants is usually not necessary (or not very often). But indoor plants rely on you as a source of water and extra nutrients in the form of fertilizer. It is important to know the individual water and nutrient needs of each plant to keep them healthy.
As mentioned, individual plants will require different amounts of water to keep them growing optimally. But what all plants do like is moist soil. If you are worried about over-watering your plant, make sure that the pot you choose has a good drainage system. With holes in the bottom of the pot or gravel inside the pot the soil and plant will soak up the necessary water and the excess will run out through the bottom.
If your houseplants are not thriving no matter what you do, there are two things to look into. If you are using tap water to water your plants there may be too much chlorine or salt present. A solution to this is to use distilled or filtered water or you can leave a container outside to collect rainwater. Either option is acceptable and may be the change you need to make to grow healthier plants.
Choosing to fertilize your plants is another way to give them a boost. Fertilizer contains nutrients and elements that plants need to grow. Indoors plants do not need as much fertilizer as their outdoor counterparts do. Because of a slower rate of growth, feed your plants minimal fertilizer. In the winter time you can probably skip this step altogether. The spring or summer time is the best time to fertilize indoor plants. This is during their growing phase when they need the extra nutrients the most.
Winter can be hard on indoor plants. “Low light, shorter days and dry air create a stressful environment for our houseplants while at the same time helping insects thrive,” explained gardening expert Melinda Myers. Myers said not to despair if insects have moved in and plants are struggling with yellow or speckled leaves. She shared these eco-friendly strategies to diagnose the problem and manage insects, so houseplants stay healthy and look their best.
Start by making sure houseplants are receiving the proper amount of light and water. A healthy plant is better able to resist and recover from insect infestations. Check the plant tag, internet or plant book for the recommended growing conditions. Make any needed adjustments to the plants’ care.
Take a close look at the upper and lower leaf surfaces and stems of the plants for clues to the cause of the problem. Here are some of the more common indoor plant pests and organic options, safe for children and pets, for managing them.
Fungus gnats are those small fruit fly-like insects that flit around the house. They feed on plant roots and organic matter in the soil. They usually don’t harm the plants, but certainly are annoying.
Just sprinkle an organic insecticide, like Summit Mosquito Bits, that contains the active ingredient Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis on the soil surface. This naturally occurring bacterium only kills the larvae of fungus gnats, black flies and mosquitoes.
Aphids are common pests of indoor and outdoor plants. These small teardrop shaped insects suck plant juices, causing the leaves to yellow, brown, wilt or become distorted. They secrete a clear sticky substance known as honeydew.
Mites cause similar damage, but are too small to see without a hand lens. If mites are suspected, shake a leaf over a white piece of paper and watch for specks, the mites, moving across the paper. Don’t wait until webbing is visible to control these pests. At that point there are thousands of mites making it difficult to control.
Both these types of pests can be managed in the same way. Start by placing plants in the sink or tub and knock the insects off the plant with a strong blast of water. Follow with several applications of insecticidal soap to kill the adults. Repeat as needed. Or suffocate all stages of the insects with a lightweight horticulture oil like Summit Year-Round Spray Oil.
Bumps on the stems and leaves of plants that can easily be scraped off with a thumbnail are scales. Their shells protect the adults and eggs from predators, weather and most insecticides. A similar pest, mealybug, has white waxy strands on its body for protection. Mealybugs can be found on stems, leaves and area where leaves and stems meet.
Both types of insects suck the plant juices, causing leaves to yellow and plants to decline. And just like aphids and mites, they secrete honeydew. Both are difficult to control and require persistence.
For mealybugs, remove the hard scale covering with an old toothbrush. Use a cotton swap dipped in alcohol to dissolve its waxy covering and kill the insect. Then spray with insecticidal soap to kill the immature insects. This takes time and persistence to control these pests.
Or apply a lightweight horticulture oil, like that used for mites and aphids, to suffocate both the adult and immature stages of these pests. Continue to watch for outbreaks and treat as needed.
No matter what products, natural or synthetic, make sure they are labeled for the plant and pest that are being treated. And always read and follow label directions carefully.
Investing time in managing pests as soon as they appear means healthy and more attractive plants to brighten the indoors now and for years to come.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her expertise to write this article. Myers’s web site is http://www.melindamyers.com.