When to water a houseplant is often a problem for amateurs. You may test the dryness of the soil by tapping the outside of a clay pot with a pencil or your knuckles. If it makes a dull sound, the soil is still moist. If there’s a sharper, hollow sound, the pot needs watering. You can also tell by crumbling the soil with your fingers if it is dry.
The truth is, a foliage plant roots will be much healthier if they are watered only when they need water. However, they must never be allowed to dry out. When you water your plants, water them thoroughly with tepid water, not just on the top. Do not let surplus water stand in the saucer under the pot for more than an hour. The plant has all the water it wants, and the surplus water will just make the soil soggy and perhaps rancid.
In removing a plant from a pot, be careful not to injure its roots. If the ball of earth is moist, the roots won’t cling to the sides of the pot. Spread the fingers of your left hand around the plant and to the rim of the pot. Then invert the pot and tap or knock the top edge of it against the edge of the table until it drops out into your hand.
Sticking a table knife down the inside edge of the pot will loosen the soil if it is too stubborn. In repotting the plant and adding fresh soil or potting mixture, be sure to leave enough space at the top for water. The soil should be neither too loose nor too firmly packed. Transplant only in the spring or fall, if a plant needs repotting. It is usually best to shift plants to pots just a size larger than their present ones.
Keep your plant leaves clean. This means spraying the foliage plants or going over each one with a moist cloth. A soft camel’s-hair brush, such as a soft paint brush, is suggested for brushing the hairy leaves (African violet, gloxinia, etc.) to clean them.
Foliage plants can be effectively combined, as to color and leaf form, for table decoration or for window boxes. Plants which live in water can be combined in an attractive plant arrangement. Suggestions for such a combination grown in water are: Chinese evergreens, variegated dracaena, sedum, small grape ivy, red coleus and philodendron. Needle holders may be used to hold the plants in position. The tall plants are usually in the middle, the small plants near the outside, and the vines trail artistically over the edge of the container. Charcoal may be kept in the water to keep it clean.
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