Submitted by Candy Venning
As we continue to collect daylight minutes and hoard seeds, I thought now might be a good time to share a few houseplants tips.
Despite never buying a plant, I have somehow collected Aloes, Oranges, Agapanthus, ferns, spider plants and clinging tenaciously with their nubbly roots – a few orchids one of which blooms every year for months (I do not use, or recommend the ‘ice cube’ method). My all-time favourite indoor plant, for its furry rootlets and ability to survive me and a Canadian winter indoors, is ‘Rabbits Foot Fern’ / Davallia Fejeensis. A native of Fiji and delightful epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, i.e., numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests). My lowly spider plant stays fit because I regularly trim any raggedy leaf, the Echevaria live in the sunny window, are blooming their faces off now, merely from an immersion bath every month or so. Not much care required really.
Although it’s tempting to add fertilizer — don’t! Plants are in low light conditions and going dormant. Fertilizing is more appropriate in March as light increases (A plant in a south-facing window will only receive 10% of the light that it would get outside.) Also, when in doubt – err on the side of under-watering because once roots have rotted… sadness.
Pests – Ed Lawrence of CBC recommends this recipe for infestations of Aphids, Whitefly, and Spider Mites: 40 parts water, 1 part liquid soap – usually dish soap (need not be a particular brand or colour) This is messy when spraying, or even using a soppy washcloth, so it’s recommended to apply the treatment in the bathtub (spray from underneath or wipe leaves) Don’t be shy, your patient should be dripping wet. You can also cover the soil tightly with a bag and your hands as you flip it upside down and gently swish – rinse with clean water after you feel every pesky bug has expired. There will be insect eggs, so in a few days or as soon as you see new signs of crawly life — repeat!
Appearance – I’m talking about that crusty, dusty, scabby soil, no need for ugliness! If you haven’t re-potted in ages or never plan to, just add an inch of fresh potting soil then cover with Sphagnum moss, use pine cones to make a pretty ‘mulch’ OR use pebble & shell collections around the stems of any plant, even marbles or glass beads, all with the added benefit of discouraging pets from using the soil as a toilet – smart eh?
While I’m critiquing…there’s no excuse for yogurt container lids under your pots. Thrift stores have an endless selection of charming and ornate saucers and plates. Glass microwave trays / plates (also available in thrift shops) have little nubbly ‘feet’ which will keep a larger pot lifted off the floor preventing stains or mould from building up between a porous terra cotta or ceramic pot and hardwood floors/carpeting (also the clear glass makes it nearly invisible and lifting it off direct floor contact looks classy!).
I try not to feel guilty when I kill a plant; I reverently place the hapless victim gently in the compost and silently thank it for trying to survive despite my feeble and sometimes criminal neglect. Honestly, it’s ok to let certain plants (Poinsettia I’m looking at you) go, and for frigg’s sake, do not trade or give away a plant that has mealybug, scale or any other infestation.