Natural Healthcare for Houseplants

by Don Trotter


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Hello fellow Earthlings and welcome to the living room. Houseplant care is the topic of conversation today. I have been asked by many of you why I don't often write about these lovely furnishings, and I honestly have no excuse. So in order to fix this injustice, we're going to discuss some natural ways to care for the indoor garden.

Houseplants are probably the one type of plant that we will all get a chance to care for at some time in our life. They are often plants from more tropical parts of the world and require temperatures similar to what we consider comfortable. There is only a couple of limiting factors when choosing a houseplant, light and humidity. Light is important because certain plants require more of it than others do. Humidity is important because we often use dry heat to warm our houses. This low humidity will limit our houseplant choices, especially when considering houseplants that are used to the high humidity of the jungle or the greenhouses where they are commercially grown. Knowing the light and humidity available inside an area of your home where you would like to put a plant and choosing an appropriate type of plant for these conditions will greatly increase your chances for success. Light can be defined in pretty basic terms; low, medium, bright light and sunny are commonly used terms when describing the indoor light conditions for plants. Humidity is a little trickier, however it is safe to say that most homes have low humidity indoors.

Feeding of houseplants can also be done with natural materials without driving your domestic pets crazy or making the entire house smell like a freshly manured farm. There are several products that will feed your houseplants very effectively without stinking up the joint. One of my favorites is a tea made from fully decomposed compost or worm castings. This tea is made just like the sun tea you love to drink and I think of it as sun tea for my houseplants. I make it by putting about a half a cup of compost or castings in an old nylon stocking and put it into a gallon bucket of water. Let it sit in the sun for a few hours and it's done. If you are not inclined to take the time to make this concoction there are some ready to use materials available that work very well. Alfalfa meal is a product that can be purchased at many nurseries and garden centers or is available at your local feed store. Any leftovers can certainly be used to feed the outdoor garden as well. Alfalfa meal is a very rich source of almost every nutrient known to produce healthy plant growth and is a far more complete food for plants than those colored crystals you melt in water. It is also rich in organic matter and will enrich the quality of potting soils greatly extending their life expectancy. You don't use much, it's cheap, and it lasts a very long time. So it also cuts down on you work load, especially at this time of year when you're scratching for seconds. Another very good product that will provide an abundance of minerals to your houseplants is liquid kelp extracts or kelp meals. These materials do not provide much (if any) nitrogen to your houseplants but they do provide very important minerals that strengthen and invigorate your plants. I like to mix alfalfa and kelp meal at a two parts alfalfa to one part kelp ratio and feed it to my plants to ensure they are getting all of the nutrition they need. I use it at a rate of one tablespoon for every three inches of pot diameter sprinkled evenly on the surface of the soil immediately after watering. I then water again lightly to evenly moisten the dry plant food. This mix lasts for two months to three months per feeding and really works well on large specimen and smaller plants alike. Liquid kelp extracts are wonderful plant revivers and can restore your plants to health after any kind of stress including water stress or smoke from a Cohiba. Kelp extracts are very easily absorbed by your plants and can also be applied directly to foliage after dilution to half of the strength suggested on the bottle. This stuff really kicks sickly plants back into growth mode as well.

Pest control on you houseplants does not need to include hazardous chemical toxins. Insect pests on houseplants can be a real bummer, but that is no reason to break out the napalm. Soaps that are made from olive oil, (Castile) are rich in potassium salts that dry out the protective cuticle of insects are very effective controls. Neem seed oil sold at most nurseries is also an effective way to control pest insects. I still use rubbing alcohol applied with a Q-tip to certain resilient pests like mealybugs. It kicks their butts. The old axiom "The best way to control pests and disease is to grow healthy plants" is especially true for houseplants.

We all love to see healthy plants growing indoors and it is one of the few places where we all have fairly similar climates. See you in the Garden!


Got questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net. Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. For more tips check out Don's books, Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener, available at your local bookstore or at all on line booksellers. All are from Hay House Publishing hayhouse.com.

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