Water. We need it to live. A human can go without food for three weeks, but we cannot survive much more than three days without water. Perhaps this is why we can’t stop ourselves from watering our plants to death.
We have the best intentions. We bring home a plant full of determination to be the best plant caregiver the plant has ever seen. Unlike children or fur babies, a plant isn’t very demanding. Once you’ve found it a spot in your home where it will receive the proper amount of sunshine, there isn’t a lot left to do…except water it. And so we water it and water it and water it.
Plants need water (some more than others) but they also need oxygen. Keeping the soil constantly wet is like holding our head under water. Yes, we need water to live, but we need air even more.
When it’s not being oversaturated, soil has natural pockets of air for roots to hang out in. When all these pockets become dense with moisture, the oxygen disappears and the roots can no longer breathe. While plants can survive these conditions for far longer than a human, eventually they will start to die. Alarmed at our plants shrivelling leaves and blackish hue, what do we do? We water it some more of course!
Every plant has varying needs when it comes to moisture, oxygen and sunlight. An orchid, for instance, is best watered by placing three ice cubes on the surface of the soil once a week.
However, for most plants basic care almost always means allowing the plant to dry out between watering and then watering it well.
Lois Hole, a long-time professional gardener, nursery owner and best-selling author-once noted that she went to a greenhouse grower’s workshop where the speaker suggested tasks such as watering be delegated to inexperienced staff, allowing the owner’s more time for attending to “the important” things.
Lois recalled how she practically received a standing ovation when she rose to say how there was no task more important to growing healthy plants than proper watering. Leaving such a pivotal task in inexperienced hands could prove disastrous.
Check your plants by inserting the tip of your finger into the soil to feel if it’s dry or wet (or ideally in-between). After awhile this will become intuitive. You can also learn to tell when a plant needs watering by simply lifting the pot. If the pot is light, water it. If it is heavy, give it time and space to air out.
When you do water, water like you mean it. Don’t just dribble a bit of water on the surface (unless it’s the aforementioned orchid). Take the pot to the sink and water until the excess starts pouring out the bottom. Not only does this ensure the plant is fully watered, but it flushes out any salts that might be building up in the soil. When water has stopped running out the bottom, place it back in its saucer and allow it to slowly dry out again. Water-oxegyn-water-oxegyn and so forth goes the happy green cycle.
Fertilizer can be added once a month for most plants (or once a year for aloes and most other succulents). Many houseplant enthusiasts find it easier to add fertilizer at every watering, but at only a quarter strength. Again, research your particular plant to see what sort of fertilizer (if any) it needs. Many plants thrive on the nutrients gleaned from sunshine alone.
More on how sunshine feeds your houseplants in tomorrow’s post!