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I Could Use A Drink!

It would be lovely if your plants could talk to you. “Hey, you…a little water here!” or “This pot’s too tight…can I have a bigger one, please?” But then, on the other hand, your plants may be the only the living things in your house that don’t give you any grief.
There are two approaches you can take to watering houseplants. You can insist that plants only get watered on Saturday, at your convenience, or you can poke around the soil in every pot and see when the plants would like some water. The first approach works if you don’t mind killing your way through a bunch of plants until you’ve found the ones that are happy with your system. Problem solved.
However, approach number two allows you to keep plants that you’ve chosen for their beauty, or size, or color, or some other attribute other than ease of care. If you don’t mind--or even enjoy--spending a little time each day in tending to your indoor garden, your plants will thrive on this kind of custom care. After all, plants dry at rates determined by their species, size, container, and location (light, humidity, temperature, etc.) A tiny 3” pot of philodendron will be on a different watering schedule from a Ficus tree in a 14” pot of soil.
Over watering is the number one killer of houseplants. While my own plants tend to die of drought (I’ve lost interest in plant care by the time I get home), most people seem to pour water through the soil whenever the notion hits them. Wet plants get wetter and wetter until they begin to droop from over water, at which point their owner pours some more water through to solve the “droop” problem. Plants can recover from a little drought, but root rot is fatal.
Feeling the soil with your finger is the best way to determine water needs. However, sometimes you cannot get a finger into the root ball. Boston ferns, for example, generally cover the entire surface with fronds, and the spines on some cacti discourage poking around the soil. Also, very large pots are too deep for you to accurately gauge the water level with your finger. A moisture meter can solve the problem. 
Other ways to tell whether your plant is moist or dry include leaf color or texture, weight of the root ball, and the coolness or warmth of a porous pot such as terra cotta. These take a little experience, but you’ll get the hang of it. Judging moisture by droopy leaves is not the best method since plants can droop from too much, as well as too little water. Some plants will also droop during the hottest part of the day just from the heat.
Once you’ve determined when a plant needs water, apply the water slowly and evenly around the surface of the root ball, so that the potting medium has a chance to absorb it. Water until you see a little begin to fill the drainage saucer, but stop before the saucer fills up. Watering thoroughly means that the entire root ball receives adequate moisture and that any damaging soluble salts get moved away from the roots. A build up of soluble salts can damage roots, showing up as brown tips or edges on leaves. To remove these salts that are found in fertilizers and in our municipal water systems, leach the soil occasionally, pouring water through the root ball for a few minutes.

If you’re really into indoor gardening, try to water with day-old water, refilling your watering can after each use, so that it has sat open for a day or more before it’s needed again. This allows chemicals that the city or county has forced into solution to become a gas again, leaving the water more “plant friendly”. Also, room temperature or slightly warm water is more easily absorbed by the root ball than cold water. If you like to use rain water, remember to let it come to room temperature in the winter before pouring it through a nice warm root ball.

Posted: 6/14/2013 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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