Houseplant Care: What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned lots since I decided to replenish my collection of houseplants almost two years ago. I had given up on them years ago when my boys were young, mainly because my middle son destroyed most of them by pouring stuff into the pots. I even caught him urinating in one once. Houseplant care is a learning experience.

Facebook Groups

I have to admit, most of my new found knowledge of houseplant care has been gleaned through a few Facebook groups I joined. Houseplant Help is just one of many, simply submit a request to join on their page.

From this Houseplant Help group, I discovered Will Creed, an expert on the subject. I have ordered his book, cannot wait to read it. Most of the information I share in this blog post is advice I learned from him.

Pandemic restrictions have spawned many of these groups, a therapy of sorts for some of us not used to being stuck at home.

Insect Infestations and Houseplant Care

Houseplants do attract bugs, so if (tiny) bugs flying around gross you out, houseplants may not be for you. These tiny bugs include fungus gnats that love wet/damp soil, spider mites, thrips, you name it.

There are, however, numerous ways to combat the bugs, depending on how big of an infestation and how many houseplants you have.

Repellers

I have not yet tried the repellers but like the idea. They work using sound waves, so no chemicals, radiation, smell etc. They are more expensive than other methods as you need one per room; they simply plug into an electrical socket. They also deter other pests like mice, spiders and other unwanted guests you might not want in your home. I might consider these to keep mice, chipmunks and squirrels from the cozy warmth inside our cottage.

Sticky Traps

A second, less expensive option, are sticky traps. Like their name implies, the bugs get stuck on the sticky surfaces of these traps. Some people might find the sight of the bugs stuck to the traps offensive. The traps come in many shapes, I have this butterfly version in my home. My husband is one of those people that hate the sight of them covered in little black dots. The bonus to these is that they work for fruit flies too, something (I’m sure) everyone finds bothersome in the summer. I keep one stuck to the underside of my kitchen cabinet above the spot I store bananas. Works wonders, and you don’t see the proof that they work…

Insecticidal Soap

Another way to minimize insect infestations on your houseplants is to spray the soil and leaves with insecticidal soap. This is especially important when transferring plants from the outdoors to inside your home. Here in Canada we like to put our houseplants outside for the summer to let them flourish in the fresh air, rain and sunshine. When frost threatens we bring them back inside to overwinter. However, if you fail to treat the soil and leaves before bringing them inside, you will bring in much more than just the plants!

Watering Tips and Houseplant Care

Most experts will tell you overwatering houseplants is the fastest way to kill them. To determine how often to water them, stick your finger in the soil of each potted plant to determine how dry the soil is. Each pot will be different based on the type of plant, type of pot (clay pots dry out faster than plastic), where in your home it is located (sun exposure), and even what the weather is like outside (plants need less water in cooler months here in Canada).

Some plants need to dry out considerably before you add water. Others should only dry out to the top half inch of soil. Do your research to see which ones prefer which method.

Repotting Do’s and Dont’s

One of the biggest mistakes I made was repotting my houseplants into pots that were too large. Apparently you must only move up one pot size at a time to avoid root rot. I lost several plants going too large too fast; my impatience got the best of me. I chose large planters to complement my decor, not to suit my plants.

I have since managed to salvage a few of these mistakes by removing the struggling plants from the large pots, then tucking them into smaller pots. I have several small pots sitting on top of the larger, decorative pots that I purchased. Eventually, they will fit into the large pots…

Unfortunately, the plant on the left did not survive in the too large pot.

Another repotting tip involves washing the roots of your plant before repotting it. Root washing is especially helpful if the plant was not thriving in its previous pot. This practice of washing the roots is also recommended when planting perennials and annuals in your outdoor gardens and containers. Although I have just started to do this in my outdoor gardens, I can see how root washing is beneficial to remove excess fertilizer and relieve root bound plants, not to mention flushing out any diseases or pests inadvertently transported home from the nursery or a friend’s garden.

Did I forget anything? Do you have any tips for houseplant care that I did not mention?

Overwintering Annuals, Take Two

October blooms

A few years ago, I shared my plan to overwinter some frost-tender tropical plants from my outdoor collection. I was not successful with the bougainvillea featured in that post, but I’ve learned a lot since then, mainly from a group of experts on Facebook.

Washing Roots

It is advised (by said experts mentioned above) to shake the outside dirt off of the roots and then to give them a good rinse with a strong jet of water from your hose before bringing the plant inside. This practice loosens the root ball so the roots can stretch out in their new location.

This works especially well on houseplants that need to be repotted to larger pots too. When examining the roots of tender annuals and houseplants, remove any rotted or dead roots.

Prevent Bugs From Overwintering in Your House Too

The last thing you want to welcome into your home for the winter is bugs. Adult bugs and their eggs will come in if you do not treat the plants, soil, and roots that you bring in. I don’t mind the tiny (the size of fruit flies) buggers flying around, but my husband and grandchildren hate them.

There are several ways to eliminate both the adults and eggs. Insecticidal soap or a solution of hydrogen peroxide works well on the plants and soil. Sticky traps will catch adults preventing them from laying any more eggs. These sticky traps also work well on fruit flies.

Tropicals I’m Attempting to Overwinter this Season

This fall I pulled up three tropical plants that I used as the thrillers in containers.

I find it frustrating (and sad) that these beautiful plants are just achieving that mature, settled-in look when frost ruins them in our zone 4 to 5 gardens. This year I decided to remove the thrillers, rinse their roots with water as advised above, spray them several times with insecticidal soap, then bring them inside.

My biggest challenge was finding sunny spots for them to overwinter. My south and east-facing windows were already houseplant-loaded. It took a bit of shuffling to find spots for three (more) large plants.

Hopefully, they survive until I can reuse them in the spring.

Taking Cuttings

I also took more cuttings from fully mature annuals this fall. Like the tropical “thrillers” in the center of my containers, the fillers and spillers were gorgeous this year too. Especially the coleus, which continues to be my favourite annual for containers in shady spots.

They are all set up in perlite on my basement counter; as soon as roots form I will pot the baby plants up so I have a collection to use in spring. For those of you not familiar with perlite, it is a form of volcanic glass with a high water content, used to propagate plants without soil.

Digging up Dahlia Tubers

Another new thing I am trying this year is digging up the dahlia bulbs I planted in the spring. I have always admired dahlias in everyone else’s gardens, so decided to try them myself this year. My granddaughters loved the various colours and shapes that bloomed right up until this past week when our first frost descended on us..

I followed the same guideline with the dahlia tubers as I did for the roots of the other annuals I am overwintering. Digging up and rinsing well with a hose. The difference here is that I had to leave these lying in a single layer on the floor of my garage to dry before storing them in a box in a cool, dark spot.

Overwintering Annuals, Take Two
dahlia tubers

All of my overwintering preparations are complete, now I just have to wait until spring to see how successful I have been. Have you had any success with overwintering frost tender plants?