If you like houseplants, you may have a particular day you like to care for them. I’ve found it’s easiest for me to relax with a morning plant ritual every Saturday. After I wake up, I eat a light breakfast and, if I’ve slept well, ride my exercise bike. Then, the real fun begins: I visit with my houseplants.
Saturday mornings are my favorite time to tend plants because I’m not working and the weekend is still new. I get to look at greenery while enjoying the peace and hope of a free open day. I don’t feel rushed. Near the plants the light’s usually bright, maybe even sunny. And oftentimes with late-sleeping teenagers, the house is quiet. I have this time all to myself. It’s just me and my plant pals.
What Comes First, Second, Third, etc.
I have to confess I use a system. It’s not really a system but a ritual with a set of steps I prefer. As I arrive at my plant cluster area, I take a deep breath and soak in the sight of the various foliage. Already I feel a touch better. Usually, I greet them out loud because well, I’m weird and I like talking to them. They’re my little green babies and I want to make sure they know I’m there for them. Also, if I’m in a lousy mood, I tell them what’s on my mind, which surprisingly makes me feel better afterward.
Scanning the Collection
First, I scan an overview of my plant collection. I have the ones that like similar conditions clustered together. For instance, I have about five African Violets. Because of this, I can easily see when one is yellowing or sagging or blooming. Plus, this cluster of similar looking plants pleases me. When they’re blooming in unison, the area bursts with deep purple, pastel pink, strong magenta, etc.
Second, I examine the leaves of each plant for pests like scale and mealy bugs, which have been most common for me. You may find other insects depending on where you live. You may have spider mites or aphids. If you’re not sure what you have, here’s a list of the most common houseplant insects. If after reviewing the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves, I douse a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol and gently rub the leaves so the alcohol kills the bugs and they stick to the Q-tip. It may take several Q-tips but after I’m satisfied any insects are gone, I toss the Q-tips in an outdoor yard waste bin. Some experts recommend dumping the top layer of soil as well. I don’t. That’s too much work so I simply monitor the situation.
Tidying as Honoring
As I check the leaves, I of course find several browned or broken leaves and stems. Also, spent flowers. With houseplant snips (though clean scissors will do), I cut off any brown material. This also discourages pests and keeps the plant focused on putting energy toward its healthy stems only. Also, you’ll be left with gorgeous healthy leaves that gleam and please the eye. This in turn creates a visceral sense of satisfaction. You’ve honored your plants by taking care of their needs. And by tidying up, you’ve honored yourself. Just ask Marie Kondo.
Who Needs What?
After I examine and check and tidy, I assess any overall issues with each plant. Which plant might need to be shifted further into the sunlight, which needs to be pulled out of direct light? Sometimes a plant will put on new growth on one side and not the other so I rotate the pot so the weaker side receives more light. If it’s the dead of winter, I’ll turn on a grow bulb that I have in a nearby desk lamp (like in photo). I also take a damp cotton washcloth and wipe down the plant leaves that are dusty (though not succulents). Then I decide what plant looks like it’s outgrowing its pot and might need to be transplanted to a larger container.
Time for a Drink
Lastly, I fill a watering can with water and several drops of fertilizer. Plant experts will advise you to only fertilize in spring and summer but I’ve found in the overcast Northwest, my houseplants need a boost of nutrients to stay healthy. I don’t fertilize every week but about every other week. Then I soak the pot’s surface with water, careful not to water the leaves as best I can.
A lot of newbie plant owners will pour half a glass of leftover water in the pot. This doesn’t ensure all of the roots get water and is usually far too little to keep the plant going, especially if it’s larger and has lots of leaves. So give it a good soak, but beware that your tray may overflow. I pour lightly in a rotation, so that by the time I’m done with the last plant, I can go and check the tray on the first and see if it needs more. If the tray is dry, I pour a bit more.
A Simple System of Tools
After I’m finished, I park my watering can on the lowest shelf of my étagère. It has scant light down there so instead of struggling to grow a plant, I just display a decorative watering can. From time to time, I also store a faux plant down there, which adds a bit of greenery.
Beside the watering can, I have a small decorative bucket that I use to put my plant clippings in. This bucket isn’t used for anything else since, as I mentioned, I might have pests and I don’t want to spread those insects. Periodically, I wash the bucket with a spray of rubbing alcohol and water.
Behind the bucket and watering can, I store my snips. If I used them on the plants and suspect they have a disease or pests on them, I wipe them with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol.
I should mention that some folks might store a spray bottle of water here as well. They mist some of the plants as some of the more tropical houseplants like humidity. However, after I read that misting doesn’t really work, I gave up this practice. A better strategy is to set a small humidifier nearby.
Attention to a Worthy Activity
If you’re a houseplant parent, I encourage you to take advantage of their destressing benefits. I’ve found the above ritual takes me all of a half-hour to an hour, depending on what extra care might be needed. But as I said, caring and tidying for your plants honors them as well as yourself. You’re giving your attention to a worthy activity and demonstrating your love. Because after all, our little plants are our pets and we all love our pets, right? If you let them know that, they’ll reward you with pretty growth and relaxing beauty.
In my next post, I’ll talk about destressing by cultivating a relationship with one houseplant.
Photo by Sanni Sahil