Step-By-Step Health Check for Your Houseplants
All of us catch the spring-cleaning bug at some point during the change of season. We feel the urge to refresh and renew the space around us. How can you spruce up your houseplants this spring? Check out our step-by-step process!
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How to Check the Health of your Houseplants
Step One: Leaf Cleaning
Cleaning the leaves of your houseplants with a damp, soft cloth is an excellent way to remove dust and evaluate your plant’s health.
Before wiping the surface of your plant, make a close inspection of the backs of the leaves. Many pests choose to live or lay their eggs here. Notice any leaf discoloration. Pests, such as spider mites, feed off of leaf pigment.
Wiping with a soft, damp cloth is the best solution for many types of infestations, especially if you have a chemically sensitive plant, such as the Crispy Wave Fern. Plants with an active infestation will need to be quarantined from other houseplants. They will need to be wiped down again in 1-2 weeks. If the infestation is severe, you will have to consider treating your plant with chemical insecticides.
The size of your plant’s leaves often indicates if it is getting sufficient light. If you notice that leaves appear deformed or smaller than usual, your plant likely has a light deficiency.
Use clean scissors to remove any dead leaves or debris. Shape up your plant by removing any branches that are an appropriate length to propagate. Place these in water to replant later.
Step Two: Repotting your Houseplants
If you are confident that your plant is healthy and has enough space to expand during the growing season, repotting is unnecessary. Feel free to skip to the next step: fertilization.
However, evaluating the roots of your plant is a beneficial exercise. It also gives you the freedom to relocate your houseplants to a larger or smaller pot.
Wait to complete this process until your plant requires water. Then, drench it thoroughly the night before. Doing this will ensure you can inspect and separate the roots without needlessly damaging them. If you are repotting a plant that does not require frequent watering, the dirt may be ‘hydrophobic.’ Meaning your soil repels water instead of absorbing it.
To saturate hydrophobic soil, place your potted plant in a bowl of water for 20-minutes. Water will soak through the drainage hole and drenching the soil. This method is also beneficial for removing plants from clay containers because it moistens the pot’s surface, making roots easier to remove.
After you have prepared, start by removing your plant from its current pot. Take care to wear gloves if you are handling a plant that causes skin irritation, such as the Tradescantia. If you have difficulty removing your plant, follow the pot’s edges with your hand, pulling the roots away from the container’s surface.
Evaluate the root-ball. Roots should look white and healthy. Remove any brown, soft roots with clean scissors. Your root-ball should be proportionate with the amount of foliage on your plant. If you have chosen to propagate a fair amount of your plant to maintain its size, you can trim away a portion of its roots, even if they appear healthy.
Either place your plant back in its existing pot or replace it. If you upgrade to a larger container, it should be 1-2 inches wider and deeper. It is unwise to use a pot that is too large, as it contributes to root rot. Your houseplant’s root system must be large enough to soak up the moisture contained in the soil.
Remember, you do not have to upgrade to a bigger pot. If your root-ball appears water-logged or swampy, consider placing your houseplant in a smaller pot. Similarly, feel free to put your plant in it’s existing container if you’re confident it has enough room to grow for the season.
Refresh your houseplants by providing it with new soil. Take care to massage existing dirt out of the root system and place fresh dirt in the bottom of your container. The top of your plant should be at the same depth as it was previously. Once you fill in the pot’s sides with fresh soil, tap the container on the ground to settle the dirt, instead of pressing it with your hands.
It is crucial to thoroughly water your repotted plant. Afterward, place it in a location with indirect light and adequate ventilation for the day so that the moisture can evaporate from its leaves and stems. Plants, such as the Tradescantia, are vulnerable to stem rot if you do not give them proper care after repotting.
Step Three: Fertilizing
Do not fertilize newly repotted plants for the first 1-2 months. Your plant must properly root in its new soil before it’s ready for fertilizer. Additionally, most premade potting mixes already contain nutrients.
If you chose to skip repotting, your plant needs fertilizer to nourish it for its growing season. Using a liquid-based fertilizer every 2-3 months will encourage your houseplants to grow full and lush. Make sure to research your plant’s growing season and what strength of fertilizer your plant’s needs. Using too much or too strong of fertilizer will burn your plant’s root system and cause brown spots on your plant’s leaves.
Step Four: Modifying Care
Houseplants need increased levels of light during the growing period, which is the Spring-Summer for many plants. Move your plant to an area where it can get an increased level of light. Consider placing some of your hardier plants outdoors for the mild part of the season.
Growing houseplants also require more frequent watering. Instead of maintaining a weekly or bi-weekly routine, regularly check the moisture in your plant’s soil. Many plants require water when the first inch or two of the soil is dry, but research your plant’s specific needs. While not ideal, it is always better to underwater a plant than overwater it. If you feel uncertain, wait a day or two.
By making the extra effort during the spring season, you will prepare your houseplants for a successful growing season.