G ifts for Gardenr
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By Lyn Chimera

Did you know that improper watering causes more plant problems and premature plant loss than any other factor? You water them once a week and they seem to live (except for the ones that don’t make it). Basically, house plants are no different than plants in your garden; give them the appropriate water and growing conditions and they will thrive.

I used to water every Sunday morning like clockwork until I learned that was about the worst thing to do to a poor houseplant. I felt like a bad mother! What a difference it made when I changed my watering methods.

Why is it so bad to water on a once a week schedule? Various house plants have different watering needs. Overwatering deprives the roots of oxygen, causes the roots to rot, and eventually will kill the plant. Underwatering weakens the plant and makes it susceptible to disease.

When should you water? The best answer is, it depends! There are many factors to consider: the type of plant, location, temperature and humidity within the home, type and size of container used, weather conditions, and season of the year (most houseplants take up less water in the winter months). The exception to this is plants in bloom; they need more frequent watering.

How do you know when a plant needs watering? The simplest way to tell is to stick your finger into the potting soil down to the second knuckle (at least a healthy inch) and feel if the soil is moist. Another indicator is the color of the soil. It will be a lighter color when dry. Also, the pot will be a much lighter weight if you pick it up.

If the soil is moist, don’t water the plant. In general, it’s best for most houseplants to let the soil dry out somewhat between watering. If you are unsure how to judge the moisture content of the potting soil, you can buy a soil moisture indicator. These can be helpful in learning how to judge the moisture level of your houseplants. However, heavily fertilized plants may cause the moisture indicator to be inaccurate.

Of course, there are exceptions every rule. Plants such as the Boston Fern and Caladium don’t like dry soil. They should be watered often enough to keep the soil surface from becoming dry.

Cacti and succulents are another exception. They like dry soil and should be allowed to dry out well between watering. The best way to learn what moisture level your houseplant prefers is to check the tag when you buy the plant. If there are no care instructions with the plant, check online or in a good book on houseplants.

How much water should I use? The general rule is to add enough water so that a small amount runs out of the drain hole in the bottom of the pot. This guarantees that all the roots get properly watered and washes some of the excess salts (fertilizer residues) out of the pot. The salt residues cause that whitish grey buildup on the outside of clay pots and on the surface of potting soil. Salt buildup can cause browning on the tips of the leaves and eventually loss of the plant. To avoid a buildup of salts in the soil, take the plant to a sink or tub and water it two or three times, letting the water run through.

If you use trays under your pots to catch excess water, make sure you empty them after watering or you can put pebbles in the trays to keep the bottom of the pot from sitting in the excess water. If your pot doesn’t have a drain hole it will need less watering as the excess water can’t drain out. It’s usually advisable to use pots with drainage holes.

Watering from the bottom is the suggested method for African Violets and other “hairy” plants that don’t like water on their leaves. Just be sure not to let the pot stand in water once the soil surface is wet.

What type of water should be used? Tap water is fine but it needs to be at room temperature. Allowing tap water to sit out for a day or two before using lets the additives evaporate, which is equally important. These additives (chlorine, fluorine, etc.) can cause the browning of plant leaf tips and other problems.

Rainwater is great to use if you have a rain barrel or other means of collecting it. Water from a softening system is not recommended for use on houseplants as there is a high salt content from the softening process.

So for happy, healthy houseplants, know their growing preferences and water when they need it, not just on Sunday mornings!

Lyn Chimera
Lessons from Nature

To contact me at Lessons from Nature, call 652-2432 or e-mail at lyn@lessonsfromnature.biz. I can e-mail or mail the gift certificates.