Now that the vegetable and flower gardens are taking a long winter’s nap, it’s time for us to turn our attention to what’s growing inside our homes. Houseplants are not only a nice way to add some fresh and natural accents to an otherwise static environment, they also are purported to clean the air and exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen with their human caretakers. Houseplants also give plant lovers some much-needed gardening distraction when the out of doors is dull and gray.
Speaking of care taking, I’ve recently been given nanny duties for an array of large and beautiful houseplants while their mother is on a months-long trek across the country. I cannot fall asleep at the wheel while caring for these! Even though I am a long-time houseplant gardener, I haven’t had any specific plant care plans. These new houseplants offer me the opportunity to implement a basic care regimen based on what houseplants need—attention to light, water, soil, nutrition and hygiene.
Different plants require different amounts of light. For instance, as much as your anthurium in the glossy red pot would look great in that dark corner, it will need medium to bright light to keep it in flower. Plants typically fall within three general light requirement categories: low, medium and high, with “low” being that dark corner and “high” being near a sunny window. If you can’t provide a sunny spot for that anthurium or other high-light houseplant, consider a plant light—or reconsider your plant.
There’s something about human nature that when we see a plant with curling leaves, we immediately rush for a watering can. You might be surprised to learn that the No. 1 cause of houseplant death is overwatering, not underwatering. Rule of thumb: Touch the soil’s surface to make a judgement about its moistness before you reach for that water. A second rule of thumb: Know what moisture conditions your plants need for successful growth. Some prefer moist soil while others wish to be kept on the dry side. Know before you grow!
Speaking of being kept dry, the type of potting mix you use can make a big difference in how often you need to water. Mixes with compost and organic matter help retain a moist rootzone, while those with more inorganic materials (perlite, for example) hold less water. Again, know what type of rootzone conditions your plants prefer.
Just as your tomato plants grow bigger and produce a better crop with the addition of nutrients, so too will your houseplants produce more flowers and foliage when you see to their nutritional needs. Whatever fertilizing method you choose—compost tea, worm castings, or perhaps a commercially available fertilizer—do keep this in mind: Houseplants grow more slowly during the low-light months of winter and will not need frequent fertilizer applications. If your bottle of “Joe’s” Liquid Fertilizer says to apply weekly, for example, cut back to every other week or even once a month. You’ll keep your soil from building up salts, and you’ll also save money by using less fertilizer.
As the saying goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” By maintaining good plant “hygiene,” you are enabling your plants to live their best lives. What is good plant hygiene?
- Removing yellowing and dead leaves.
- Checking leaves and treating for mites and other pests, if necessary.
- Removing the pot from around the plant’s rootball to check the condition of the roots.
And while your plant is out of the pot, you might decide to add or change out the potting soil, upsize the pot or even prune off some roots to encourage new roots to grow. Letting the pot dry down between waterings could also be considered good plant hygiene because it helps to control fungus gnats. Don’t forget, we recently told you about applying a half-inch layer of Organic Mechanics Pure Rice Hulls on the pot’s surface to help deter fungus gnats.
How Worm Castings Can Help Houseplants
We produce a product that touches several of the houseplant needs mentioned above. Our Worm Castings help maintain a moist rootzone by providing a good dose of organic matter. Also, because earthworm castings encourage microbial life, they can aid in nutrient breakdown and nutrient uptake. Add a ¼-cup of earthworm castings to the surface of a 1-gal. potted plant or make a “compost tea” using earthworm castings and water with this tea monthly.
Pro Tip! Making “compost tea” from earthworm castings is easy! Just mix 1lb. of Worm Castings in 1 gallon of water. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, let castings settle to bottom, then pour off a fraction of the liquid solution. Stop before pouring out castings particle. Repeat until tea turns light brown in color, then pour out any remaining castings and use as mulch.
Our Stance On Peat
We mention repotting your houseplants as part of maintaining good plant hygiene. If you use any of our Organic Mechanics potting mixes, you’re also being a good steward of the planet. That’s because our mixes do not contain peat, a natural product used in horticultural products to maintain soil moisture. We use compost and coir (coconut husk fiber) to replace the peat in our soil blends. The harvesting of peat from peatlands throughout the world is detrimental to the climate. That’s because upwards of 44% of the world’s soil-locked carbon is located within these large swaths of peat*. Disturb the peat reserves—whether for use in the horticultural trade, for “reclaiming” land for agricultural use or for other reasons—and you release that carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing to the slow warming of the Earth.
Keeping existing peatlands intact, as well as rebuilding former peatlands, is key to slowing climate change, as was explained in a recent Washington Post article on climate change. If you’re serious about slowing the planet’s warming trend, you’ll reconsider peat’s role in the process.
The United Kingdom is concerned enough about peat’s contributions to climate change that they will ban the sale of peat to gardeners beginning in 2024. Let’s all get serious about climate change. We can do our part by making smart choices. We at Organic Mechanics are proud to be one of these smart choices that helps keep carbon in our soils and out of the atmosphere!