Caring for Houseplants

Philip Aubury was director of Birmingham Botanical Gardens for many years so it was no surprise to find that he was exactly the right person to talk to Ticknall Garden Club about the care of houseplants at their February meeting.

Apart from beautifying the home, houseplants also help to filter out pollutants from the air. Ivy, peace lily and spider plant are particularly good. The virtually indestructible aspidistra, beloved of Victorians, served the same purpose.

Despite the wide range of houseplants available, their care is broadly similar. Watering weekly with tap water is a rough guide but more plants are killed by overwatering than underwatering. Check by touching the soil or feeling the lightness of the pot and leave them on the dry side. Feed on a weekly basis. Green leaved plants thrive on baby bio and flowering plants need phostrogen. It is important to provide humidity in our centrally heated rooms. This can be done by resting pots on a bed of damp gravel and clustering plants together for mutual humidity. Misting weekly is also very beneficial.

Where plants are positioned is important. Cyclamen, primula and daffodils need cool conditions. Streptocarpus and African violets need a warmer spot and poinsettia will thrive in centrally heated rooms. Dark green foliage plants will cope with poor light. The majority of plants need good light but not direct sunshine. However there are some like hoya, lantana and plumbago that do need direct sunlight.

Most plants will be happy in a mix of three parts moss peat to one of sharp sand enriched with Vitax 4 or slow release granules.

Philip moved on to demonstrating different methods of propagation. Nodal tip cuttings taken from a geranium were dipped in hormone rooting powder and placed round the edge of a pot and covered with a plastic bag. Internodal cuttings taken from a fuschia treated in the same way. Leaf cuttings from an African violet, butterfly cuttings from a streptocarcus and “bunny ear” cuttings from a Christmas cactus made it all look so easy to increase ones supply of plants or make a lot from a little.

Pests are normally tackled quite easily: A rose fungicide can treat mildew. A soap solution made from fairy liquid in water can be sprayed on aphids. Hang up insect traps in winter for whitefly. However, he did recommend biological control for the efficient management of pests such as mealy bug, scale insects and vine weevil because nematodes work most efficiently in the confined conditions of a conservatory, greenhouse or home.

The popularity of houseplants is very much in vogue at the moment so this visit from an undoubted expert was very timely. It was good to be reminded that they not only enhance the home but also with a bit of tender loving care can go on doing so for a very long time.

The next meeting of Ticknall Garden Club will be on March 13th at 7.30 pm in Ticknall Village Hall. John Stirland from Radio Nottingham will talk on the topical subject of The Winter Garden.

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