Houseplants appreciate special summer care

Houseplants carefully nurtured can give pleasure for years. The dracaena on the right is 39 years old and the begonia on the left is 26.

With all the beautiful flowers and the developing vegetables, berries and fruit in the garden, it is easy to forget our old dependables — our houseplants.

Houseplants sometimes seem to fade into the woodwork. They provide a green essence all year long; we especially appreciate them during the gray winter days. Summer care will ensure that they decorate our homes for years to come.

We live in a very windy place, and most of us dust our furniture every week, but how often do we dust our plants? Now is a good time to go one step further and give the plants a bath. I put my portable ones in a lukewarm shower and let them drip dry. I spread a drop cloth around the big, venerable ones, and wash them thoroughly with warm water. Soap is not necessary.

Plants need their leaves washed to help them photosynthesize in the weaker light in our homes. And clean leaves will not provide a nesting site for pests such as red spider mite or scale insects.

Many houseplants die from overwatering. Those annoying little black gnats on the plant’s soil are a sign you are watering too much. A soil probe that measures water content is an inexpensive purchase that may save your plant’s life. Rather than watering on a set schedule, watering when the soil is dry protects the roots from rotting.

If you have a northwest exposure in your garden, many houseplants appreciate the greater light intensity outside during the summer. Water carefully if there are no drainage holes in the plant’s pot. In the fall, when you bring the plant into the house, stir a little systemic pesticide into the pot’s soil to make sure you have not brought in overwintering pests. Taking plants outside and putting them in the edge of your automatic sprinkler system is a means of maintaining houseplants when you go on vacation.

If you leave for more than 10 days, the houseplants will survive inside provided that the temperature in the house stays cool to prevent excess evaporation. I drench the plant’s soil then tent the soil with kitchen plastic wrap to slow the evaporation from the soil.

Fertilize plants during the summer and early fall. Plants produce whippy growth attractive to sucking pests during winter’s meager light, so between October and April plants do not need to be fertilized.

Remember, if you select a new houseplant from a garden center or other store, place the plant in quarantine for at least two weeks. You do not want to infect your original houseplants with whitefly or scale insects. Keeping the new plant in a separate room is a way to monitor the health of the newcomer.

I hope your houseplants give you as much pleasure as mine do.

A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit wwrld.us/cdmg or call 667-6540.