When a recent move to a new office meant I had to downsize, some plants that were formerly all over my much-larger desk had to be taken home.
It wasn't enough that I already have more indoor plants than my windows can hold. Bringing in more didn't just mean wider plant tables, it also meant crowded conditions and practically required a spreadsheet to schedule time closest to the window and watering itineraries.
My husband handles all of that. Since his retirement, we have virtually reversed roles. He cooks, vacuums, feeds the dogs and waters the plants and I go to work. So I admit that sometimes I don't bother with trivialities, including paying attention to the indoor plants.
And then one day I came home to find my miniature ficus tree sitting in the sink looking quite sad. Every leaf and stem was practically facing the floor, as if they banded together to create a simultaneous frown. I knew the plant was potbound, but I was waiting for early spring to move it to a larger container. When a plant's roots take up more room in the container than they should, soil disappears. Without soil, the plant can't get an adequate supply of water or nutrients. That's what I thought was wrong with the ficus.
It wasn't long before leaves started dropping off, first a few and then in great numbers. By the time the small tree finally began to recover, it had lost more than half its foliage and the remaining leaves still weren't happy.
I pulled the plant out of the pot. It all came out in one clump, roots and remaining soil. I knew it had to be repotted soon or it wasn't long for this world. And then one day I came home from work to find the small tree sitting in a spot usually reserved for more attractive-looking plants, the center of the dining room table. And it looked happy! Still thin from its leaf-drop disaster, the slender stems and sparse foliage were actually perky and looked now as if they were smiling. And I hadn't yet repotted it.
''The ficus looks better,'' I told my husband.
He merely shrugged and answered mildly, ''I moved it away from the register.''
Why didn't I think of that?
We meet people every day who claim ''I have a black thumb. I can't grow anything. People know better than to give me plants unless they want them to die.''
But ''black thumb'' isn't an affliction. It is simply the same thing I experienced with the ficus. Sometimes we just don't know any better.
The most common occurrence of black thumb disorder is that we simply love too much - so much so that we are constantly tending to our plants, watering every week in winter or feeding when the plant is trying to get some rest.
Just as the ficus looked like it needed more water when it just needed to get away from the blowing register, an overwatered plant will wilt and drop its leaves. What do we do when we see a wilted plant? We get out the watering can. Big mistake. In winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, our indoor plants compensate by slowing down. When we water too often or fertilize, indoor plants can suffer. In winter, our houseplants survive on less attention rather than more.
Overwatering also causes stem, root and crown rot. Houseplant containers should always have drainage holes. I have found many cute containers without holes that I have either passed on buying or used a porcelain drill bit to make my own holes in the bottom of ceramic or clay containers. If there is no way around buying that container or if it was a gift, keep the plant in a smaller container and set it inside the cute one. Never let the plant sit in standing water.
Not all plants are equal and some may need more light than others. Most dark-leaved and highly variegated plants don't need as much light as those with medium and light green leaf color. If your plant looks as though it is leaning toward its light source, it may need to be moved closer or put in a south-facing window. If the leaves are turning yellow or brown on the side closest to the light, it may be too close.
Plants breath through small openings on their leaves called stoma. Stoma aid in the elimination of excess moisture and enable the plant exchanged gases. When the leaves get dusty, the stoma can get plugged and the plant will suffer. Keep your plants dusted and be sure to pick up any dropped leaves and debris that might decompose in the container causing unwelcome bacteria and fungi to grow.
If your plants are crowded in those windows, check them regularly for pests, such as spider mites and whitefly. Spider mites are tiny red spiders and are often evident by the thin webs they spin from leaf to leaf. If , when moving your plant or rustling the foliage, a cloud of tiny white insects begin flying around, you know you have an infestation of whiteflies. If you do notice a few indoor pests on your plants, rinsing in the sink at regular intervals will usually do the trick.