House Plant Tips

ired, worn-out soil has been the ruin of many a houseplant.

Potting soils are made mostly of peat moss and are not designed to hold up over time. Peat breaks down after just a few years, leaving plant roots with insufficient soil to grow properly.

The solution is to re-pot with fresh soil. If the plant is pot-bound, with large roots growing along the inside edge of the pot, step it up to a larger pot. If you wish to use the same container, simply scrape away some of the old soil from the bottom and sides of the root ball. Set the plant back in the same pot, adding fresh soil along the bottom and the inside edges.

Choose a quality potting soil with a mixture of peat, perlite and vermiculite. High quality potting soils will be more expensive, but are well worth the cost.

You can also make your own potting soil by purchasing separate ingredients in small bags at garden centers and nurseries. Mix equal parts of peat, perlite and vermiculite to make your own potting mix. If you're potting cacti or other succulents, replace the peat with sand.

A buildup of salt goes hand-in-hand with tired soils. Over time, salts from fertilizer and tap water accumulate in the pot. They appear as a white crust on the soil surface, the inner pot rim and the outter surface of clay pots. Too much salt can cause plant leaves to burn around the margins and fall off.

Pots with heavy buildup of salts should be discarded.

Salts can be leached out of the soil by watering heavily to dissolve them and wash them out the drainage holes. First, water the plant with the normal amount of water. Wait a few hours until the salts dissolve. Then, water again heavily. As water flows through and out the pot, salts will be washed out.

Over watering, especially during winter, will cause plant leaves to yellow and drop off. It will also result in a stunting of the affected plant. Water-soaked roots will eventually die, killing the plant.

Potting plants in a well drained soil mix will help prevent injury from over watering. It's a good idea to allow plants top go a little longer between watering than you would normally. Most potted plants are not actively growing in the winter and so do not need as much water.

Using a moisture meter to determine when the plants need water is a good idea. Moisture meters are inexpensive and available at most garden centers and nurseries. They really do work!

Watering with  cold tap water can damage plants, especially tropical houseplants. This is a problem in winter when water pipes running into the house become cold. Always use water that is at room temperature or slightly warm. Some plants are also sensitive to chemicals added to our tap water. These include chlorine and floride. Letting the water set overnight will allow these chemicals to evaporate and make the water safer to use for your houseplants.

If you leave on vacation, be sure your plants are provided for. Have a friend come in and water when necessary. Also when you're away, don't set the thermostat too low. Many tropical plants will chill if temperatures fall below 60 degrees F.


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