How to get your House Plants Thriving

On the 20th September we were pleased to welcome Jane Perrone.  Jane is a freelance journalist specialising in plants and gardening.  She writes for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Financial Times, Gardens Illustrated and The English Garden.  Jane is a house plant expert who presents and produces an indoor gardening podcast entitled “On The Ledge”.  She is also a member of the Royal Horticultural    Society’s Advisory Committee on Houseplants.  So a very good person to advise us on how to get the best out of our own specimens. 

Jane was full of enthusiasm for her subject and was very knowledgeable. She brought with her a range of house plants with which to illustrate her talk and many of them were for sale at the end of the evening.  Jane’s first rule when choosing a house plant is to look at it carefully.  The thickness of the leaves will give a clue as to its care.  Thick, fleshy leaves like those of the Jade planet are an indication that the plant is able to store water and therefore able to cope with drier conditions.  Whereas thin, papery leaves like those found on the Oxalis triangularis suggest that the plant will require more water.  Silvery, furry leaves leaves enable the planet to deflect light back from the plant and protect it from the heat giving an indication that the plant will be able to tolerate warmer, sunnier, drier conditions.

As well as looking at the leaves Jane suggested that we take a plant out of its pot and examine the roots. This will tell us a lot about the health of the plant.  If the plant roots have an unpleasant smell this may be an indication of root rot. Roots need air as well as water.  Stab the soil with a stick to introduce more air especially if the plant is too large to repot.  The  family of plants which do not mind sitting in water are the carnivorous plants, of which the Venus flytrap and pitcher plants are examples.   However, always make sure that the water they sit in is rain water or distilled water.  Getting the water and light right are the most important aspects of successful house plant ownership.  Potting mix is important and roughly one third to a half of grit to house plant compost is a good ratio for most house plants.  Jane had a good tip for ferns and other moisture loving plants.  Put a piece of cord through the bottom of the pot with one end right up into the compost and the other end in a pool of water – the plant can then take up the water it needs.  Most plants will need less water in the winter period and this particularly applies to cacti which need a period of dormancy.

Following Jane’s talk there were numerous questions.  What to do about mealy bugs – rub off with alcohol soaked cotton buds or use a biological control.  When to pot on – when the plant is actively growing and then only into the next size up of pot.  When to feed – weekly but weakly.  Can you chop off the roots of a plant if they are growing out of the bottom of the pot – yes.  To a question on orchids – if the roots are a silvery colour the plant is dry and can be watered, if the roots are green there is sufficient moisture in the pot.  Jane has a book out in April of next year “Legends of the Leaf” profiling 25 iconic house plants, charting their history and giving tips on how to help them thrive in your home.  Many thanks to Jane for a very informative talk and for providing answers to our queries.

Please join us next month on Tuesday 18th October when Nick Bailey – a well known face from BBC 2’s Gardeners’ World will be joining us to offer advice on how to achieve “365 Days of Colour in our Gardens”.  The meeting will be open to all  members, new members and visitors.  We look forward to seeing you then.  
                                                                                                Linda Truscott 
New members and visitors are always welcome.

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