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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Make Friends with Your Houseplants

Make Friends with Your Houseplants

Not all of us who garden are blessed with a “green thumb.” Many gardeners, myself included, have something much closer to a “gray thumb,” a color made up of both green and the brown of plants that have succumbed to disease, periods of terminal dryness, or the onslaught of hungry bugs. In other words, plants held under the thumb of a less-than-perfect gardener.

When it comes to vegetables, I like to think my thumb is more green than brown. As for my houseplants, though, you might as well just call my thumb black. Far more quiet, and frankly, less productive than my garden plants, my houseplants tend to slip into the background — sometimes permanently. This isn’t to say I don’t love them. I just don’t seem to have the natural gift for growing them that I do for vegetables. And, like many, I’ve struggled to find the time to make up for this lack of talent with some homegrown skill. But what better time than the New Year to turn over a new leaf?

Why not start by making friends with your houseplants? Remember all of those skills your mother taught you for making friends with people? Try a few of them on your houseplants, and you may just turn that most useful of all fingers one shade closer to green.

How are you? My name is. . .
Isn’t it funny how we can grow accustomed to seeing some of the same people every day, but never feel obliged to learn their names? A similar situation can occur with our houseplants. We see them every day, water them, and even repot them, but for whatever reason, we have never learned what type of plants they are. Learning your houseplants’ species will help you to better care for them. You can search online, use a book, or take a sample of your friend to your nearest nursery for some ID help.

Where are you from?
Once you learn your plants’ names, you will be able to find out where they are from. More likely than not, the majority of your plants come from a tropical climate, and prefer tropical conditions. So take the time to research where your plants come from. You will gain a greater appreciation of what your houseplants need, and what they have given up to make your living room a little greener.

Are you comfortable?
Just like your garden plants, your houseplants will vary in their needs for sunlight, warmth, and moisture. Once you know your plants’ names and natural environment, you can turn a critical eye toward your own home and figure out whether your plants are getting everything they need. Examine which rooms are darkest, and which windows provide direct sunlight. If any of your plants are displaying signs of unhealthy yellow or brown leaves, stunted growth, or “leggy” stems, you may want to consider relocating them, or adjusting the conditions in your home. Sudden changes in temperature may cause leaves to turn yellow. Does your home go down to 50 degrees at night, but stay 70 degrees during the day? Is your plant located next to a drafty window or a heater? Put yourself in your plants’ place to help yourself understand what might make them more comfortable.

Would you like a glass of water?
You will also want to address how much water your plants need. The most common mistake, actually, is to over-water. Yellowing leaves are often a sign that your houseplant has been sitting in water for too long. If leaves are yellowing and falling off all over the plant, check the soil to make sure it’s draining well. If the soil is fine, try lengthening the time between watering.

How about a snack?
It’s important that your houseplants have nutrient rich, loamy potting soil. After time, however, your plants will want some of those nutrients to be replaced. When feeding houseplants, natural fertilizers like compost teas are a good choice. Though tempting, it’s best not to fertilize houseplants during the winter, when they are dormant, but during spring and summer. Make sure to read your plant feed instructions carefully. Too much food, like too much water, can be harmful to your plants.

Do you have enough space?
If you have a plant that seems healthy but hasn’t grown much in a while, make sure it isn’t root bound. This is when there are far too many roots for the pot the plant is in. Sometimes plants that are root bound will drop leaves as a way to balance out what they have at the top and bottom of their stems. Make sure to repot the plant into a pot that is no more than 2 inches bigger than the one it is currently in. For really big, hard to repot plants, try refreshing the top two inches of soil and feeding it. Don’t be surprised if the plant wilts, as repotting can be a shock. Even if that happens, the plant should rebound soon enough, and begin to show some healthy new growth.

It is so good of you to be here!
Finally, show your plants some good old-fashioned appreciation. Just like people, your plants like to be acknowledged and shown gratitude. So the next time you give them a drink, or clean up their leaves, make sure to thank them for all they do!

Until next time, keep growin’

Need even more houseplant help? Try buying one of these housplants anyone can grow!

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.