Miss Kirby's KommonSenseTips for
Selection and Preparation
1) Make certain that the plant you select has been grown in 63% or better shade. If not in shade since birth, ask to make certain that your new interior plant has been in 63% shade or better for at least 8 months. It takes that long for the cellular structure of the leaves to change from vertical to horizontal. When the cells of the leaves are vertical they cannot pick up enough light inside to do their photosynthesis and live. Shade-grown or properly acclimated is of the utmost importance.
2) Select a spot to place your plant where it is at least 10 feet (3 yards) from an outside light source. Some plants may be grown with fluorescent lightening only.
3) Remove any and all granular fertilizer that is in evidence on the top of the soil. Granular fertilizer produces soluble salts, and that is just fine as along as irrigation or rain water is continually leeching the salts out of the soil. But interior plants are given just enough water to keep the soil moderately moist, so the salts accumulate.
4) Somewhere outside, in a shaded area, rinse the soil. This is accomplished by putting some sort of a water breaker on the end of the hose, filling up the container with water and letting it drain out from the bottom of the pot. Fill and drain the pot about 15 times, which will remove the majority of the granular fertilizer. Just to make certain that the plant has consumed all of the granular fertilizer, we suggest that you do not begin liquid feeding for one month. If you note that during this process you have developed air pockets in the root system, just rinse some quality potting soil into these spaces.
5) Find the top of the root system of the plant. Don’t assume that your plant is at the correct potting level. Often, during the process of growing, plants sink in the soil. As long as the plant has plenty of fresh air circulating and drying out the top layer of the soil, this happens quite nicely outside so stem rot doesn’t usually occur. But, when you put the plant indoors, the air circulation and rapid drying of the top of the soil slows down dramatically. Of course, never put moisture holding materials on the stem of an interior plant.
6) Top-dressing the soil of the interior plant is generally done with Spanish Moss and sometimes sheet moss, but a premium shredded cypress mulch repels bugs and would be better.
Watering Interior Plants
1) When you water (never with water that has gone through a water softener since it contains salt) or apply fertilizer water to interior plants, pour slowly and evenly around the top of the root ball. Water according to the size of the plant in relation to the size of the pot (a large plant in a small pot will require more frequent watering) and your interior air conditioning and fan conditions (a plant in a breezy location will require water more often than one in an area of less air movement).
2) Select a decorator container that will allow you to put the grow pot inside so you can slide your hand down between the decorator and the grow pot to check the soil for moisture at the bottom of the pot. If that’s not an option and you’d prefer to use a moisture meter, place the moisture meter in 3 to 5 different locations of the root ball and take an average before you water. Don’t use a moisture meter that is too short; the meter can’t measure what it cannot touch. Or, you can place a long-handled wooden spoon in the container and leave it in place for about an hour. If the handle is wet when you pull it out, the plant doesn’t need water; if the handle is dry, water the plant.
3) The bottom 1/4 of the soil should never feel like mud, nor bone-dry, but moderately moist. Generally, if a plant is being over- watered, the roots will be rotting and the top leaves will be the first to go. The plant dies from the top down, and will probably be mushy. If the plant is under-watered, the older leaves will be the first to yellow and shrivel, and the plant will look dry and be very soft and dry to the touch.
4) If you get behind schedule and your plant goes bone-dry, it will take a few hours for the soil to re-hydrate. It’s perfectly fine to let the plant sit in the saucer with water during this time, before you pour off the excess water. If your plant is too big for you to pick it up to dump the excess water, pour small amounts of water every 15 minutes or so until some water is in the saucer. Go back in an hour and if the water is all gone, add just a little more. Before you water the next time, check the soil in the bottom of the pot to make sure it’s just moist. When a plant is allowed to dry out completely, especially if it’s been dry for a time, the roots implode from the lack of water to keep them plump. When this happens you lose those roots and the plant must grow new roots. In other words, the plant has less roots and will therefore require less water volume, but possibly more frequently to keep the soil just moist at the bottom of the smaller root system, which may not now reach the bottom of the pot.
5) Since interior plant root systems are put through a tremendous amount of root stress, even the professionals have challenges in this department. We recommend the DynaGro 3-12-6 with high minor elements. Interior plants are not being asked to grow so they don’t need an excess of nitrogen (the first number). But their roots are always under stress, and the high middle number is the portion of the food that deals with root growth, stem strength and flower, so this formula is best for most plants. (It’s also a very good food for your exterior blooming plants.) Some interior plants (ficus, palms and spath) need just a little more nitrogen, so we recommend DynaGro 7-9-5 with high minors. This is the first liquid plant food we’ve found that not only comes in a liquid form (no messy blue powder and stain all over the place) but also contains all of the minor essential elements. One small bottle makes 175 gallons, at 1/4 teaspoon per gallon once per month or 1/8 teaspoon every time you water. Just as you eat regularly, you’ll find that your interior plants will do much better with small regular feedings. Your interior plants will do well when fertilized with the 3-12-6 at each watering and the 7-9-5 once every month or so.
1) One week’s worth of dust will cut the amount of light available for the plant’s photosynthesis by 20%. So when you dust your furniture, dust your plant. And, while you’re dusting, twirl your plant l80 degrees. How would you like to be forced to have your back to the wall all the time? If not turned, the part next to the wall will become very unsightly, if for no other reason than lack of air movement. Turning your plant will also assist it to grow straight and tall as opposed to growing toward the light.
2) A plant’s natural habitat is outside, where Mother Nature gives it a rainwater bath periodically. You enjoy your baths; so will your plants. After you’ve dusted and twirled your plants, give them a spray of water, or water mixed with a little bit of Safers Insecticidal Soap. Spray from the bottom of the leaf up. Bugs always are on the underside of the leaf, which is the roof of the bug’s home. Inspect the underneath sides of your leaves for bugs so you can kill them ASAP before they get several generations ahead of you. Good choices for the interior are Safers Insecticidal Soap, Concern or Schultz’s pyrethrin spray. When using any of these products, be sure to follow the label instructions and safety guidelines.
3) It’s unusual for interior plants to get fungus, unless of course you are over-watering. If it happens, Captan is an excellent choice.
4) In closing, just remember that Mother Nature designed plants to be outside with lots of air movement and rain. As people have moved indoors and need the air-cleaning ability of plants—much more natural than ozone machines and it’s proven that people feel better in an environment with live plants—we’ve removed them from their natural habitat. A quality foliage plant should last in an interior location for at least a year and a half, and many live for 20 and 30 years. If you feel that your interior plant needs a little outdoor vacation, always put it in a very shaded area, never in the sun. It will sunburn, just like the unexposed parts of your anatomy would.