Help your houseplants

Lush, vigorous plants can brighten a room and even improve indoor air quality. * In the dead of winter, the colossal blossoms of an Amaryllis can enliven a room, the graceful boughs of a Boston fern can provide abundant greenery and the delicate flower of a prickly cactus is a rare treat. In essence, plants bring a bit of nature into our homes. According to the practitioners of Feng Shui, a traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy, plants also bring good energy into our homes. As living objects with a life force of their own, plants are said to encourage new growth and opportunities. Unfortunately, plants did not evolve to live in pots indoors so keeping them healthy can be a challenge. They are susceptible to disease and insect infestations. The following tips can help you keep your plants alive and well.

There are four essential factors to create a healthy environment for your plants:

  1. Moisture Most plants 'breath' through microscopic pores called stomata on the underside of the leaves. Indoors, chemicals and particles from smoking, cooking, carpet, clothing and even dead skin cells can all clog the pores of plants making it difficult for them to exchange gases. Outdoors, plants have wind and rain to remove of much of the dust and dirt that can accumulate. You can help your indoor plants breath a bit easier by misting them frequently with water from a spray bottle.
  2. Fertilizer Plants rely on the decomposition of organic matter, minerals in the soil and microbes for their natural fertilizer. Because indoor soil is relatively sterile, you need to add a prepared fertilizer. Follow the manufacturer's directions and be sure not to over-fertilize as it may 'burn' the roots.

Common Pests

From tiny spider mites often too small to be seen with the naked eye, to cottony mealy bugs to sticky aphids, it can be a veritable jungle of wildlife living on your plants. These pests can stunt the growth of a plant or even kill it. The best protection is prevention, so by ensuring adequate light, water and fertilizer, you should minimize the threat of common pests, but if you do encounter pests on your plants, treat the problem as quickly as possible.

Aphids

Aphids suck sap from stems and leaves weakening the plant and causing new growth to be stunted. Look for aphids on the undersides of leaves and at points where the leaves join the stems. Aphids typically cluster in groups. Another sign of an infestation is the presence of a sticky liquid on the plant or on the surface below the plant (e.g., residue on a table top). In nature, ladybugs and other insects help to control aphid populations but indoors you will need to use some form of insecticide. Smaller plants can be dipped in a sink full of water and insecticide soap (diluted according to the manufacturer's directions) or sprayed with Malathion. A natural alternative is to use essential oil of pine. Put 20-25 drops of the oil in a litre of water and spray on the infected plant once a week.

Spider Mites

If a plant is infected with spider mites, you may notice fine webbing covering the underside of leaves. The leaves will most likely start to lose their green colour and begin to appear bronzed or faded. Once a plant is infested with mites, control will be difficult, if not impossible. As soon as you notice any sign of trouble, isolate the plant so that the mites will not spread to others. Dip the plant or spray it with a solution of insecticide soap once a week. Oil of pine (as described above) may also help to control spider mites. Regular treatments can be effective if used soon enough.

Mealy Bugs

Because mealy bugs look like little white tufts of cotton, they are often mistaken for a disease. They are normally found on the undersides of leaves or near the points where the leaves join the stems. Mealy bugs produce a white, waxy coating that protects them from sprays, making control difficult. Try touching the bugs with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. It is easy to miss the eggs, so you will need to repeat the treatment weekly. Another option is to buy a commercial insecticide such as Safer's End-All. Follow the manufacturer's directions and spray the bugs until they are thoroughly coated.

An ounce of prevention can help you avoid insect infestations and the need for soaps, chemicals and other treatments. A healthy plant that receives adequate light, water and fertilizer will be naturally more resistant to insects, leaving you with more time to enjoy the good energy of your flourishing plants.