Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Recognize Houseplant Stress


How to Care for House Plants

Steps for Indoor Plant Care to Reduce Houseplant Stress

I should have been more aware of the houseplants I brought in for the winter.  I wasn't  So imagine my dismay when I finally looked at the few houseplants I have, and recognized the signs of improper care.
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Spider Mite Webs
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Yellowing Leaves of  Pothos
This is a Golden Pothos.  One of the easiest,  most carefree houseplants there is.  Suddenly, (Or maybe not so suddenly) the leaves had turned yellow.  And the spider webs were entangled within.

I had the plant hanging from a hook in a west facing window for its winter home.  So I was pretty sure the light was not the problem.  Pothos can tolerate low light even from a north facing window.  I had watered this guy in the days previous, so I didn't think it was suffering from thirst.  Pothos can go for long periods of dryness. Watering every 3 – 4 weeks will not harm it.

In fact so many houseplants suffer and die from the over-watering by well-meaning caretakers.  Wet feet – water standing in the container – can cause molds, and harbor diseases.  If the soil is soggy water fills the soil pores and pushes out oxygen the roots need. The soil should have a chance to drain, and dry out between watering. A moisture meter can determine when your houseplant needs watering for proper care.
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Gold Pothos

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Safer Insecticidal Soap
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Water Spray to Wash Plant Leaves

The Safer Insecticidal Soap was the second step to treating the spider mites that had infested my Pothos with the webs.  The first step was a spray in the sink with a warm blast of water on all the leaf surfaces.  This water shower can wash away some of the pests, and also gives the leaves a bath. By removing dust and dirt from the leaves, the plant can breath and better use the Carbon Dioxide it takes in, and transforms this CO2 to clean oxygen. Take the time to care for your indoor plant.  Plant leaves need to be cleaned periodically throughout the season.

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Insecticidal Soap Spray for Spider mites
I then sprayed the entire plant, tops and bottoms of leaves, stems, and I even hit the soil with the Insecticidal Soap.  This step may need to be repeated in a few days if I see any new webs forming. 

The next step in my attempts to save this sickly plant, was to check a resource I frequently refer to – Jerry Baker’s Great Green Book of Garden Secrets.  Not only can I  look up the symptoms of a plant problem, but this book gives me safe, easy, inexpensive remedies to care for my ailing houseplant.

A note in Jerry Baker’s book caught my eye. Water softener water should NOT be used on plants.  This water is salty and salts can build up around plant roots causing major problems.
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Water Softener Valve
I make a habit of turning the water softener on by-pass when I’m out in the yard, but I must admit, watering indoor plants just didn't get the same care.  I encourage you to use filtered water and avoid fluoridated water as well.  Fluoride can cause tips to turn yellow, and other chemicals in the city water can form a crust on the soil.



So I've devised a method to treat my houseplants better, and reduce their stress.

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Charcoal Filter
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Water Filter in Refrigerator
I’ve got a charcoal filter insert for the coffee and tea maker so I use the water from the tea compartment for a good source of filtered water.  The fridge also has a filter.  Both of these options filter water but the tea water is hot, and the fridge water is too cold.  Let the water sit till it is room temperature before watering your house plants.
The yellow leaves were still a concern.  I had the right lighting, and the water source was room temperature and filtered.  So I continues to research Jerry Baker's book and found that ‘if the mature leaves were turning yellow, the plant is starving.’
This pothos was outside all summer.  And besides the rain or rain barrel watering, this guy was on his own.  Duh – months of growing with no food.  Months of flushing nutrients through the potting mix with no nutrition.  I am so embarrassed!

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Liquid fertilizer mixture
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Compost tea
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Water Soluble Fertilizer
Feeding houseplants with fish fertilizer is my first choice.  The water soluble organic fertilizer is great for a quick uptake by plants. A compost tea would also have been a good option.   But, I had used up my supply and so I resorted to another source for this emergency. 


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Brown Spot on Leaf
The brown, dead spots on leaves indicated a Magnesium deficiency; so out to the shed for the Epsom Salts.  A tablespoon of Epsom Salts per gallon of water should remedy this problem too.

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Epsom Salts for Added Magnesium
 

Watering houseplants with a weak solutions made from a used tea bag and a few drops of dish liquid will give nutrients to maintain a healthy plant.  The tea is slightly acidic which plants like, and the soap makes the water wetter, so it disperses through the soil and to the roots of the plant.
 
Jerry Baker has an All Purpose Houseplant Tonic in his book, Great Green Book of Garden Secrets that I am sure will carry the plant through the winter months with less stress.  
2 tbsp. of whiskey
1 tbsp. of hydrogen peroxide
1 tbsp. of Fish Fertilizer
1/4 tsp. of instant tea granules
1/2 tsp. of unflavored gelatin
1/2 tsp. of liquid dish soap
1/2 tsp. of ammonia
1/2 tsp. of corn syrup
1 gal of warm water. 
Mix all of the ingredients, and use this instead of plain water on your houseplants.

The ammonia is a source for Nitrogen, and the corn syrup adds carbohydrates for the plant’s food source. 
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Golden Pothos

Houseplant stress can be reduced by smart watering practices, and adequate light.  Room temperatures between 65 degrees and 72 degrees is optimal to reduce houseplant stress.
 
I love to have plants indoors over the winter.  Finding plants that are easy to care for and also aid in indoor air quality will be addressed in the next few posts.  Houseplants in the office can also have benefits we will discuss.

Thanks for your visit today.  What houseplants do you have?  What problems do you encounter in their care?  Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.
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