Coming up this third week of September is National Indoor Plant week. My attitude toward houseplants is quite harsh. I refuse to grow an indoor plant that is finicky about the pH of the water or must only be given a tablespoon of water every three days. To live in my house, you have to be tough!
Late spring of every year, I return my houseplants to the outdoors, where they often thrive and grow exponentially in size. Sitting on my patio they soak up the dappled sun and natural rainfall, the plants seem to revel in being released from the drab, drafty corners of my house.
National Indoor Plant week serves as an important reminder for us neglectful houseplant owners, as this is the time of year when we need to begin to transition our summer-vacationing houseplants back inside. My process begins by placing the potted plants under the full shade of our maple tree. I also become very mindful of predicted nighttime temperatures. Often when I see the temperature dip under 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the plants get moved into the garage. Once nighttime temperatures are reliably in the lower 50s it is time to get the plants inside the house.
Before moving plants inside, they all get a thorough cleaning. Outdoors during the summer, you may notice all types of insects take up residence on your houseplant, but you likely do not want those bugs moving into your residence. Outdoors natural predators such as wasps, aphid lions (green lacewing larvae), spiders, disease, and many others control most houseplant pests. Those predators won't be in your home, which allows pests like aphids, scale, or whitefly to overwhelm plants.
Fortunately, it is very easy to rid your houseplant of common pests. Using a hose I shoot sharp streams of water, blasting the leaves and stems of the houseplant, knocking off most, if not all pest insects. Inspect the plant leaves (top and bottom) and the stems for any lingering critters. Additionally, the container is wiped clean with soapy water.
A word of caution - inspect the inside of the pot closely. One spring when helping my father move a large houseplant outside of the family cabin we came face-to-face with a large black snake wrapped around the inside of the pot. The snake may have come in the previous fall with the plants. On the plus side, there were no mice that winter and the snake was now back outside.
Repot houseplants that have become root bound and to make sure other soil-dwelling critters aren't also brought indoors.
If pests such as aphids become a serious problem, spray plants with a horticultural soap or oil labeled for use on indoor plants.
And if you are wondering what indestructible plants have survived my care:
- Rubber tree – I propagated this thing while attending SIUC in 2005. It hasn't died yet.
- Pothos – Same as the rubber tree, and it looks healthy to boot.
- Jade plant – I've only had this one for two years. By winters end, it looked ready to give up the ghost, but being outside has created an incredible flush of new growth. I also repotted into fresh potting mix and worm castings.
- Aloe – I killed the top growing portion of this plant because I placed right in front of a vent. A Master Gardener commented, "How do you kill aloe?" After putting the half-dead plant outside, new growth emerged from the soil. It is now happy and healthy. Ready for round two!
- Dracaena – This plant should be dead. It takes my neglect and smiles back. The only time this plant was questionable, is when, having no other location, I placed it near a vent. After closing the vent, the plant perked back up. That is a common theme of houseplant care, avoid heating and air vents.
- Philodendron (vining type) – This plant has come back from the brink more times than I can count. The plant's winter home is in my office where it often goes forgotten for a month, if not longer.