My parents use a word that encompasses the heart of Dutch culture. The Dutch tend to love anything that is “gezellig.” It is a word that cannot be easily translated to English. It’s more of a feeling than it is a word. It’s a mix of cozy and nice, comfortable and enjoyable, gregarious and quaint, warm and friendly all rolled up into one word. It’s the cherry on the top of an ice cream sundae.
Well isn’t this gezellig.
You have to practice the pronunciation to get it right. A gutteral “gha” with a “zell” wrapped up with a “lich” at the end that sounds like you’re clearing your throat. Gha-zell-ich. At least that’s how I learned it. And stay away from a place that is ongezellig. “I don’t like going over there, it’s just so ongezellig.” Gezelligheid is a desired and respected condition the Dutch love and if you have it in your home, all’s right with the world. Gezellig is an atmosphere you know and recognize when you feel it.
During a pandemic you are confined to home. It’s a lock down. Just like our house plants we all needed a quarter turn, to see the light, a change of scenery. At times it wasn’t gezellig, it was gloomy. The walls close in on you. Once again it was vegetation to the rescue. Houseplants can change the entire atmosphere, environment,mood and improve the air quality to boot. And they did as houseplants, already popular and embraced by many, they saw rock star status once stay at home, work from home, quarantine and distance from other humans with pandemic mitigation techniques in place. It was comforting and reassuring. With your maidenhair fern you were among fronds.

Calathea Lancifolia

The resurgence of interest in indoor plants is led by the Millennial generation, those born between 1981 and 1996. If it is true that the now famous Millennial generation is more into “experiences” than things or consumption then it only goes to reason they were driving a resurgence in plant interest. I had 3 Millennial kids and watched them grow up. I would remind them that when I was a kid we didn’t have wood chips or padding in the playground. The swing, slide and monkey bars were above asphalt. We didn’t have plastic slides, we had steel and metal slides that on a hot August day would be hotter than a pancake griddle and burn your backside. These are my “experiences” and I share them which is usually followed by an eyeroll.

I love to watch the connection made between people and plants. When purchasing the plant I see some people hold it with 2 hands. Not by the lip of the pot, not by the stem but with 2 hands cupped under the plant. A nurturing hold from the start and a blossoming relationship has begun. They are their plant “babies”. No diapers. Plants don’t poop. Plants don’t cry. They do throw up via guttation but it’s not nearly as dramatic or smelly. They don’t drink or eat much. You have to change a kid’s pants, but with vegetation you CAN change your plants as often or as little as you want. You can talk to them but they won’t talk back to you. You can show them off to friends. Post your nurturing prowess in social media. These are new plant parents. Plant parents or helicopter parents who touch, move and water their plants everyday.Your baby is beautiful. And the plants certainly aren’t as messy or demanding as a pet. Just ask Gary Dahl the 1970’s inventor who became a millionaire selling ordinary rocks after listening to friends complaining about having to care for actual pets. He sold 1.5 million rocks at $4 each to people searching for companionship in a 6 month fad during the Christmas season of 1975.

There is a national take your houseplant for a walk day commemorated each summer and why not? If they have to be cooped up inside they should get a chance for some fresh air too. Extra light and air and a chance to bond with your plants. You’re a proud plant owner why not show them off a little bit. As part of the “new plant culture” I noticed taking plant walks being promoted complete with carrying cases and strollers. Their approach is that there are more plants under “house arrest” withering and sickened by being forced indoors and airing out your plants is “the responsible thing to do.” There is no demographic for plant lovers. No age group, ethnic culture or gender preference. Plants are like good food. They feed the soul.

Example of grower pots inside a decorative cache pot

Sometimes you really need to just get out of the house. Stress relief. The dissident’s challenge the establishment. If the authorities (that’s you) force confinement of a plant they may challenge the establishment. Then trouble starts hanging around and bugs drip sticky residue on your floors, carpet and upholstery. If they don’t want to be there things will go downhill fast. Think about it, even your front lawn naturally relieves stress through a process called guttation. Leaf blades or plants for that matter in summer under night time conditions of high humidity, cool air and warm soil have root pressure that can move water to the leaves. Since the stomata are closed at night, transpiration can not remove water from the leaf as it does during the day. The pressure builds and hydathodes, located on leaf margins near the ends of tiny veins, exude droplets of water to relieve the pressure.

Only dead fish go with the flow.

Are you experiencing sickened and wilting plants? You may be experiencing root rot. It’s a disease called pythium caused by overly wet soil and growing conditions. This soilborne pathogen is one of the main causes of root and basal stem rot. Pythium spores are good swimmers and move freely in wet soil affecting the root tips first. Soon it colonizes the root systems resulting in root loss. As a result, your plants will yellow, wilt, foliage will drop and the plant will slowly die. As a reaction we see the wilting plant and run for the watering can exacerbating the problem. Eventually the plant is killed by kindness. Hold off on that water, only dead fish go with the flow. Even a walk in the park isn’t going to fix the stress that plant is under. Check frequently but water less. A lack of light and overwatering has been the demise of many plants under house arrest.

Forgive me I’m only humid

Humidity doesn’t bother me. I like hot weather. Forgive me I’m only humid. I’m just like a Boston Fern. The sword fern Nephrolepis exaltata are known as “Boston” because a pioneering Florida nurseryman years ago shared them with a friend in Cambridge Massachusetts where they were propagated by a local distributor. The ferns are notorious for wanting high levels of humidity and if they don’t get it they have a bad hair day excessively dropping leaves and making a mess. They like hanging out on the front porch but are generally not used in interior landscaping for that reason. Summer air conditioning and winter heating is not conducive to a humid environment. Ficus, Palms, Schefflera and many other tropical region plants benefit from high humidity because it reduces transpiration or water loss, browning of the edges of foliage and can discourage spider mites who love it dry. They let you know when they’re not happy. Some plants are acclimated to dry arid air with little humidity. Generally these plants like succulents have thick waxy leaves and other adaptations for water retention, not the paper thin leaves of a fern. In summer I like to put them under an awning for some stay-cation time in the warm humid air. Make sure they have some protection from wind and direct sunlight. And if previous to summer they’ve been acclimating to your indoor setting taking them into the direct sun will burn them just like you would by spending a June day on the beach after having been homebound all winter.

Grower pot inside a Cache pot (click on image to enlarge)

If you are asked by a friend to help with a failing or suffering plant it’s a real opportunity. You see in this world there are things that give people a feeling of power. Money, investments, exotic vacations, a fancy car, holding office, property, social status…..but we have learned my friends that nothing gives people the feeling of power more than…..

BRINGING A PLANT BACK TO LIFE FROM THE BRINK OF DEATH.

Some house plants tend to live long enough to be passed down from generation to generation. If Grandma gifts you an heirloom plant there is a lot of pressure to keep it alive.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)
Jade Plants (Crassula)

I have been told that for 3% of people who buy a plant it dies the same day. That doesn’t seem possible. I do know that browning of leaf tips and slow decline of a houseplant is a frustration for many people. I am convinced aside from the light factor that the watering issue is the struggle that results in the decline of the plant more times than not.

In lieu of knowing when and how to water, the indecision causes us to water small amounts often, such as daily, instead of deep watering when needed. We move from short term solution to short term solution but never get to the true root of the problem. It’s a metaphor for life when we trade what we want most for what we want in the moment. Don’t be a “I can’t figure it out so I’ll water it often but just a little bit” person. What you will get is soil and roots where the upper portion is wet and drowning and the lower portion is dry as dust. And we wonder why the tips of the foliage are turning brown? It is true that a good safe approach in life is to never test the depth of the water with both feet. However your fledgling foliage is suffering because the top half of the soil media is wet but the bottom half is dry.

Proper watering technique
Avoid wet soil at the top and dry soil on the interior

In root bound plants the water runs along the dense root mass at the top and down the sides of the pot and the dry contracted soil. Another good life analogy: When opportunity dries up you contract and have to do something about it. Dry soil contracts from the side of the pot and moisture runs down the sides. Both you and your plant are missing out because the core or center is not nourished or hydrated. You might look good on the outside but you’re dying on the inside. Slowly but surely it starts to show. On plants “scars tell stories” and in many ways people are the same way. Those are lessons learned by experience.

Here’s the thing. The bottom line. The suction pressure that exists within the water conducting cells arises from the evaporation of water molecules from the leaves. Each water molecule has both positive and negative electrically charged parts.The main driving force of water uptake from the roots and transport up into a plant is transpiration of water from leaves. Transpiration is the process of water evaporation through specialized openings in the leaves, called stomates. It’s almost as though the process defies gravity. If the plant is not transpiring due to cool temperatures or lack of light the “suction” doesn’t take place. As you pour more water on the soil and roots, they begin to rot. Don’t panic, if an indoor plant needs water and starts to “flag” you have much more time to react than the plant that is outdoors in the wind, sun and exposed environment.

For many people I have been able to solve the mystery of watering a captive houseplant by employing the help of cachepot. A cachepot is just a decorative container that holds a potted houseplant. Think of it as a pot inside a pot. The cachepot does not have drainage holes and holds the growing pot with drainage holes inside its walls. Margin for error is now improved and you can slide the growing pot out to observe and maintain the plant. When you pull the interior pot you can learn by the weight of the plant and the saturation level of the growing media. Mister bottles of water are not the solution. Do you mist your face when you’re thirsty? Of course not. Mister bottles are like a pistol grip nozzle on a hose, good for watering a car or cleaning the patio furniture but not effective for landscape plants.

Maybe a ZZ plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, native to Africa, is for you. You may only have to water it 9 to 12 times a year. That’s why some people call it a Bachelor plant. The closest thing you can find to plastic in a living plant. The plant can truly handle indecisive drought or neglect.

Sansevieria

Consider the weeping fig or Ficus, this is a plant that sheds copious amounts of foliage when stressed. Who can blame it, with stressful transitions in its life in a short time. It is potted and grows in the field in a balmy paradise southerly location, is loaded on a truck pointing north, sold in a store environment, loaded in a car and finally placed in a home where the light can significantly vary from season to season and the air can be conditioned cold or heated dry. The plant does what it has to do. It is going to shed some foliage while it acclimates, sometimes as much as fifty percent of the foliage can shed when it decides to pout. Get out the vacuum cleaner. You’re about to get a less in “modification.” When we see that we run for the watering can and over water the plant. Soon it’s over.

For both plants and people acclimatization commonly requires modification of activity. The adaptive changes permit us to handle seasonal variation and, on occasion, to move in wholly new environments. The ability to become acclimatized differs greatly among species of plants and human individuals. Some are quite versatile in this ability, whereas others are narrowly restricted. The key word here is “modification.” Are you up for it? Modification is a big word for change. I need to change my plants.

I need to change my plants: When you change your attitude from “I wish” to “It’s time to plant” you’re cultivating change.

Let me shed some light on this

1. With houseplants “low light” doesn’t mean a totally dark room. Some people have unrealistic expectations for plants…..you can’t be in the dark all the time.
2. Most houseplants do not like direct blistering hot sunlight magnified through the glass.
3. That is why “bright indirect” light is the best choice for a houseplant in the home.
4. If the plants start to stretch and get leggy it’s a good sign they are not getting enough light.
5. If artificial light is the only option then locate the plants as close to the light source as reasonable.

You can do this. And it’s OK to be transparent and vulnerable when things go wrong. A lady in California was willing to do just that in the spring of 2020 when she had 6,000 shares and about as many comments on a social media post when realizing and admitting she had been watering a fake succulent for 2 years. She only realized it was fake when she went to repot it and discovered it was plastic with no roots. She said, “I feel like I have been living a lie.”

Ficus Elastica

Let me put it this way. When you’re “barn blind” you think all the animals in your barn are better than they really are. That’s the beauty of your plants. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks….they’re YOUR plants.
You CAN kill a Cactus
People use self deprecating one liners to lower expectations going into something. It gives them comfort to expect the worst at the outset so there is little disappointment when it happens. How many times have I heard the line “I killed a cactus”. Well if we’re going down that road let me show you how.

Not just plants. A lifestyle

 

It’s a jungle out there

How to kill a houseplant (the natives are restless):

Keep them isolated with no humidity. Clustering is a great way to keep houseplants happy. They benefit each other when clustered. Strength in numbers. We’re in this together. This is especially true with ferns. They need to know they are among fronds.
Put your plant where it looks nice instead of near the correct light source.
Leave it in your car or the garage
Cold drafts (we’re not talking about your favorite brew on tap my friends)
Dry air. At a minimum dust the foliage occasionally which improves on available light to the plant
Air conditioning. Some homes are air tight. A healthy home breathes. Open some windows!
No drainage hole.
Water your plant according to a schedule that suits you instead of when the plant needs it.
Poor quality potting soil mix.
Don’t inspect the plant for bugs. Aphids, mealybugs, mites will sneak up on you fast without warning.
Give it the silent treatment. Talking to your plants is healthy…..for you. Sure the plant enjoys the carbon dioxide while it’s improving your indoor air, but talking to your plants builds YOUR relationship skills. It’s when they start talking back that you’re in trouble.
Don’t over fertilize. Fertilizer makes plants work. With a houseplant the nutrients don’t leach through like they do with outdoor plants. You don’t want to make them work harder, just thrive.
Go on vacation.
Move.

It’s OK if you kill a plant occasionally. If you haven’t killed any plants you’re not trying hard enough. And I realized this past year I’m a lot like plants. I started off as a green shoot, then grew into maturity trying to stay grounded. Eventually I’ll decline and wait for the final harvest. This metaphor was used effectively by Shakespeare as he described the autumn and then the winter of man’s lifespan, the pale ashes and dying embers of a fading fire. A little too dramatic? OK, I guess I’ll water my plants. As stated so eloquently in Ecclesiastes, for everything there is a season, a time to live and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest.

 

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