Sunday, February 12, 2012

How to Care for Houseplants -- Water, Warmth and Nitrogen Smoothies

Last week he set out for his first solo road trip. Minus his sleepy co-pilot, Dad joked that he'd always driven alone anyways.  But we all know it's not the same.

It hasn't been that long at all.  "I've lost half of me" he says matter of factly when I ask how he is. That about sums it up.  Still, my father is doing amazingly well.  Rarely complains and he's learning to cook.  One night he had us over for a pasta dinner which far exceeded expectations.  But then, so has he this past year. If you'd asked me one year ago to wager on the likelihood that my strapping father's Christmas gift list would have included a cookbook, I'd have put the odds near being kidnapped by aliens.  He needs a little work with his houseplants though.

Carol's twenty year old poinsettia
"I thought they were fake?"  This was the excuse offered as I removed two crumbling poinsettia from atop the china cabinet.  Same fate as the pansies and mums.

The prime culprit is overwatering.  Too much of anything can cause complications.  Outside, in nature, there's accomodation for absorption and run off that's simply not available in the dining room without causing serious water damage.  Dad's plants were swimming in a pool of H20 without life vests.  Well intended, but roots need oxygen--not soggy soil. 

The closest to natural irrigation is the kitchen sink.  Set the faucet on spray setting, and aim lukewarm water at the base of the plant, avoiding the leaves.  Other than fern, which like a fine mist on the leaves, plants all drink from their roots.  Water on the leaves indoors may cause spotting or mildew as drying winds and open sunlight are not in abundance. Leave the plant in the sink overnight. Repeat each three to five days when the soil no longer feels spongy or damp to the touch.

Second is location.  No direct sunlight, but plants can't survive tucked in a dark corner or windowless room either. Rotate the plant each time it is returned from a water break to encourage fullness.

Tropical plants crave steamy conditions so steady warmth and humidity are needed to flourish.

Finally, keep an empty plastic milk or juice container stored below the sink.  Add a teaspoon of plant food, put the lid on and shake.  Every third watering  give the roots a dose of this "smoothie."

The rest is no different as if the plant were outdoors.  Pinch back when leggy, remove spent blooms. 

It's tough to send a teenager further than the supermarket,  much less a lone octogenarian across five states.  There are some things you just can't think about too much.  Overattention can smother tender roots and signal a contagious lack of confidence.  The key, as in anything, is balance. 

Later, the call comes--the happiness in his voice a welcome relief.  An uneventful yet cathartic journey. 

"By the way, did you water my houseplants?"

Articles of Interest:

Perpetual Poinsettia -- How to Care for a Poinsettia

Layered Planting -- Should I Cut Back Faded Bulbs?

Yellow Flowers -- Blooming Sunshine