Friday, January 7, 2011

Houseplant Resolutions

A few days ago, I wrote about some personal New Year’s resolutions that I would try to honour so I can be a better person, feel good about myself, yadda yadda yadda. Today, I’d like to include some of the things I resolve to try and do for my houseplants this year, which will provide them with better care...


I resolve to try and...

...inspect my plants more often.

I tend to slack off on this and my plants become very vulnerable to pest invasions, some of which could be avoided, others that could have been eliminated if caught in the early stages. In the past few years, I’ve dealt with spider mite infestations that could have been avoided, and in one year alone I threw out six plants that were plagued by mealybug (only nuclear weapons would have annihilated these pests). Perhaps if I’d checked my plants regularly for problems, I could have lost only 1 or 2 plants to mealybug instead of 6. I hope I’ve learned my lesson.

...inspect plants thoroughly before purchasing.

This will avoid what happened to the mealybug-infested plants that I mention above. These evil pests were brought home on a Cycas Revoluta (Sago Palm) that I did not inspect – at all - before purchasing. This careless act rocked my plant world. How? Well, up until the purchase of that plant, I’d never, ever had to deal with mealybug, not in all my 20 years of houseplant growing. Really. I considered myself lucky to have evaded this horror. And now? Ugh. Now I live in fear. I fear that the ‘evil ones’ are around here somewhere. Lurking. Watching. Plotting.

…check humidity levels regularly.

I have four hydrometers at home that I hardly ever check, which I should because our winters (in collaboration with our heating systems) can produce some awfully dry days. My humidity-loving plants hate me for not checking the hydrometers. And they double hate me when I finally check but do nothing to increase humidity that the hydrometers tell me has dropped to desert levels. And they would triple hate me if they knew that I have a humidifier (stored in some closet) that would easily solve this problem. I’m obviously an insensitive plant owner. Now I have guilt. patient with new purchases.

I have this terrible habit of tossing out new plants that do not perform as well as expected within a certain period of time, even though I know that they need an adjustment period, which varies from plant to plant. I don’t know how I became this impatient. Maybe I have too many plants and can’t keep up with all of them. Maybe I’m just heartless.

...soak the poor Tillandsias more often.

I tend to take easygoing Tillandsias for granted. Even though I know they need to be soaked on a particular day for a few hours to hydrate properly because they’re getting quite thirsty, I (purposely?) neglect this responsibility for at least a few more days. Why? I don’t know; there’s no good reason. I probably expect them to tolerate the mistreatment, which they always do. Despite my inconsideration, they continue to grow happily without any complaints. I should be ashamed of myself for taking their good nature for granted. Ashamed. only healthy plants.

I’m not much of a sympathy purchaser but I do bring home a substandard plant now and then, mainly because it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time. Most of the time it turns out okay; once in a while it doesn’t. The discounted, slightly unhealthy Cycas Revoluta (Sago Palm) was infested by mealybugs that I failed to notice, which in turn ended up infesting a few other healthy plants at home. This is an example of a not okay ending.

...remove dead foliage and faded flowers promptly.

I never fail to notice yellow or dying leaves, or dead flowers; I just fail to remove them in a timely manner. The plants in question sometimes end up looking untidy and unattractive for a couple of weeks, until I finally clean them up. My plants suffer from low self-esteem. It’s sad.

...fertilize more carefully – and properly.

I don’t always feed properly. It’s not because I don’t know how. And it’s certainly not because I don’t have what I need on hand. I just don’t feel like making individual recipes for individual plants. Instead, I apply a general method: my entire plant kingdom gets fed every 2 to 3 weeks during the active growing season with an all-purpose fertilizer that is diluted to half strength. Or they don’t get fed at all for over a month, sometimes longer. Several plants are demanding to be fed less; others are howling that they’re starving. I say “That’s how things work around here; deal with it”. I should try to feed more responsibly, but I think this resolution might just remain at the trial period for a long time to come. I expect a revolution at some point. more patient with cuttings.

I sometimes start new plants from cuttings - and almost always end up tossing them out at some point. I don’t seem to have the ability to wait for small plants to root and get to be big plants. I am very impatient with this and usually end up buying a full-grown specimen. I will try to give new cuttings a chance to grow.

That’s about all I can think of. The list is reasonable and achievable, so I will certainly try my best to live up to some of these resolutions. My houseplants are not holding their breath, though; they know me too well. Sigh.


  1. I suffer from a few of those things. Recently I pulled a few plants from around the house and moved them to the office near a humidifier so I can keep an eye on them.

    With cuttings, I have a nasty habit of sticking them in pots with other plants, but I have a few large pots with cuttings all stuck together such as coleus and persian shield. Of course, I also have a random holiday cactus cutting stuck in one of the pots because I wasn't bothered to sort out a new pot for it even though I actually have a pot of holiday cactus with room for it... Bah.

    I don't think it's so bad to use a dilute fertilizer. I fertilized a few weeks ago and I'm sure it would have disturbed a lot of gardeners. I took one of my large tub trugs, dumped small amounts of different fertilizers (e.g., seaweed, cow wow, another organic all purpose...) and filled the tub with lots of water. Then I just put plants in the water to soak in the mystery fertilizer concoction. So far so good. However, I won't be able to recreate what I did if it happens to be the best formulation ever. At least it got done and nothing died.

    I don't think I throw enough plants away. I treat sickly plants as some kind of experiment and try to bring them back around. Of course, I don't do a whole lot to nurse them back to health, but it's interesting to see what rebounds and what doesn't with my general care/neglect.

    Maybe it's better to find plants that fit your gardening style rather than tailor your gardening style to suit every plant?

  2. You managed to make a houseplant todo list clever and humorous... kudos! I've had the mealybug conundrum before. Your tillandsia comments just made me resolve to get some so that I can neglect them, too.

  3. NotSoAngryRedHead, you're probably right; it may be better to find plants that fit your gardening style rather than the other way around. However, I do like a challenge, so I always end up picking up something that will give me a run for my money. Plus, some of the more challenging plants are also the most beautiful, so it's hard to resist them at the greenhouse. We'll see what 2011 has in store for me. I'm taking an interest in citrus type plants...oh boy...


    Thanks, Eliza @ Appalachian Feet, I'm glad you enjoyed my list. The mealybug experience has been the worst thing yet. I haven't seen any for a long, long time, so I hope I'm rid of them. They're gross...and evil!