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Houseplant Habitat

The days are getting shorter and cooler. Your garden has just about given up for the season and is ready to retire for a winter nap. If you want to keep that alive feeling in your home, get some houseplants. Not only do they brighten up and create beauty in a room, they also help filter the very air you breathe. Our homes often have chemical residue from paints, new furniture, molds, carpeting and cleaners. Keep in mind they can’t do much for tobacco smoke and dust. In fact most plants really don’t do well at all in a house that has a lot of tobacco smoke. Having plants in your home acts as lungs, just as the forests and jungles are the lungs of the Earth. The more rigorous the plant life is, the more it can filter. Some of the best natural air filters are Boston ferns, philodendrons, spider plants, Pothos, Gerbera Daisies and Chrysanthemums.

Keeping them healthy and strong
Once you have these wonderful plants in your house, you need to keep in mind a few things to keep them healthy and strong. You can’t plunk a plant in a pot, water it whenever you feel like it and expect it to do well. If you can do just a bit of research on your plants to make sure they are in the proper lighting, are adequately watered and are fertilized when they are ready, you and your little green lovelies can have a wonderful life together.

Some of us don’t have green thumbs so it may seem daunting to bring plants into your home. The number one plant killer is overwatering. It is a good idea to only water your plants, as they need it. Let the soil dry a little between waterings. We think, “Oh, look that plant’s wilting; lets give it some water.” Then a few days later you see it drooping and turning a bit yellow. “I’ll give it more water,” you think and you give it some more. The yellowing spreads. You are overwatering. The roots have sucked up enough water and now keep doing their job due to the water, but the cells in the leaves and stems are stretched to capacity and can take no more, so they burst. The plant begins to die. Sad, sad. Allow your plant to “tell” you when it needs watering. How will you know? You will see slight wilt in the leaves and stems. In succulents and cactus, you will notice slight shrinkage or wrinkling. At this time you want to give the plant a good soaking. Let the water drain off a little and then soak again, letting the water drain off yet again. You will notice within a few hours, that wilt disappears and you have a happy perky plant. Or maybe you have a plant that sits in the corner, is barely looked at and looks as if it’s about to start coughing and wheezing, which it probably is. When was the last time you watered it?

A resting period
From the months of November until about February, plants go to “sleep.” It is their resting period just like the plants outside. During this time, they don’t need fertilizer, should not be pruned or transplanted. Right now is the time to get those root-bound plants into bigger pots. Generally you want to go two inches up from what they are in. Say you have a Philodendron in a four-inch pot that is root-bound and top heavy. You want to repot it using good soil in a six-inch pot.

What is good soil?
Well a good combo is one part potting soil, one part peat moss and one part vermiculite or sand. Mix this up and you have a good balance that provides good moisture and good drainage for your plant. Once repotted you want to wait about two to three weeks for it to establish itself and get over the shock. Then you will want to fertilize.

We have a few choices here at the Co-op. One of them being Terracycle brand fertilizer. It is made up of a vast array of macro and micronutrients, humic acids and beneficial microorganisms from worm poop. Why is that great? Because worm castings have been used for a long time to help plants grow. It is the worm’s job to make the soil beneficial. It is organic and completely safe to use. TerraCycle is basically liquid worm poop. The humic acid in TerraCycle plant food extracts toxins and harmful fungi and bacteria from the soil. It is easily absorbed giving it the ability to help plants fend off disease. TerraCycle has a high microbial content with over 70,000 different species of microbes, which help your plants, absorb beneficial organic molecules and minerals. Not to mention this product is packaged in used sterilized soda bottles. So you have a great product packaged in recycled materials that can be refilled with the two-liter refill bottle. Once that is empty, you can then recycle that bottle. You are not only helping your plants, but also Mother Earth and, in turn, yourself.

We also carry a few other fertilizers—Down to Earth’s Bloom formula and Grow formula. Like I said before, this would be the last month to fertilize this season, so you could fertilize with each watering, but you may want to decrease the proportions that are recommended on the package. I am no expert on plants, therefore it may be a good idea to get a houseplant book or two and check out some of these things yourself.

A little light reading
One book entitled How Not to Kill Your Houseplants by Ann Pregosin is witty and easy to read. It is full of valuable info on caring for your houseplants, and can help even most novice without taking up a lot of your time. If you are looking for something more in depth and species-particular, you may want to check out the Houseplant Expert. It breaks down lighting, fertilization, watering and general care for almost all houseplants that you might find on the market. The Houseplant Expert Two goes into more detail on specific plants, how to group them, make lovely plant displays and advanced plant design tecniques. Both of the Houseplant Expert books have beautiful color photos of plants--how they should look, and how they should not look. And, they have great tips on plant problems and how to solve them.
Plants are wonderful to have around, and with a little reading, some special attention and a little practice, anyone can have strong, healthy plants.