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5 Tips for Indoor Gardens

| 8/18/2008 3:59:00 PM

Question:  I’ve been successfully growing plants and flowers outside for a few years, it’s easy!  But when it comes to indoor plants, even ornamentals, I’m lost.  The leaves get dusty and brown, gnats are EVERYWHERE, and my cats are constantly conducting business in the larger pots.  What do I do? – Lacey, Kansas


5.  Don’t water straight from the tap

  Indoor plants, unlike outside ones, maintain a fairly consistent temperature.  Adjusting to the correct water temperature directly from the tap is nearly impossible, and too much heat or cold can shock something called the thermoreceptors (thank-you college biology credit!) of your plant.  Also, the browning in leaves and leaf tips on some of the more sensitive plants, especially lucky bamboo, is caused by something called salt burn, the plant equivalent of chemical poisoning.  To kill two birds with one stone, fill a CLEANED milk jug with water and leave at room temperature for at least 24 hours, without the cap, before watering.  The exposure to the open air releases some of the chemicals (not totally scientific, but hey-ho, it works), and the temperature normalizes.  After watering, refill, and set it out for weekly use.

4.  Schedule a watering regimen

A lot of indoor plants die for two similar reasons:  Too much watering, or not enough watering, but there’s an easy way to avoid both.  Depending on the amount of sun or the type of plant, your watering time might be varied.  First, lightly touch the top of the soil to see if it’s moist, if it isn’t, grab a shish-ka-bob poker to see if it’s wet below the surface.  For most plants, you don’t want the soil to be bone-dry but not drowning, either.  Take notes for a few weeks while you observe how often and how much your plants need watered.  Record the trends and water accordingly.  Simple enough, right?  But, be aware that certain plants, like orchids, have special needs.  It’s always best to check the tags or do a quick internet search depending on the plant.


3.    Like shampoo and conditioner, planters and saucers should be two different things

The planter + attached saucer combo seems to be the latest trend in indoor garden design, and people think they’re saving money by purchasing two for the price of one.  The problem? Drainage.  My mint pot had an attached saucer, and after a few weeks, I started noticing a curiously fetid smell coming from an otherwise great-smelling herb.  When I noticed that water didn’t seem to drain into the saucer, I got worried.  Stagnant, brown liquid had gathered under the pot and was blocked from draining evenly into the saucer.  Like me, if you already have such a planter, simply take a hammer and cover with a folded cloth or use a rubber mallet to lightly tap off the saucer.  I tapped on all four sides of the planter to make sure it came off evenly, and if you’re lucky, it will.  If not, tap off the sharp edges, and buy a terracotta saucer.  Jiggles the Gnome now has a reason to smile.

2.  Cinnamon, your one-stop pest control

The soil in many of your freshly planted or transplanted herbs can be home to myriad insects, but because you have pets, you shouldn’t be spraying a lot of pesticides inside your home, especially if your animals are showing an interest in your herbs.  Lucky for you, both insects AND animals hate the smell of cinnamon.  Just sprinkle a thin layer of ground cinnamon (NOT cinnamon oil) on the top of the soil to suffocate the eggs and burrowed insects.  To quickly kill residual bugsters, fill a bowl with soapy, sudsy water and set it under a small lamp to leave overnight.  I have also spread cinnamon under the carpet around my baseboards to fix an invading ant problem.  As for the cats, because their urine has such a high concentration of ammonia, it can be caustic to your peace lily or selloum-philo.  The good news is that cats almost ALWAYS smell where they’re about to go, and they won’t want to go on a layer of cinnamon.  As a triple threat, cinnamon is composed of about 35% of the element manganese, which is essential in photosynthesis and also a common ingredient of most fertilizers.  When the cinnamon breaks down after multiple waterings, it feeds your plant.  Reapply as needed.


1.  Use banana peels to give indoor plants a straight-from-the-florist shine

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