I Just Wet My Houseplants

In my book ‘I Just Wet My Plants’ I note that water is the number one killer of houseplants. Usually too much. We kill them with kindness. I took the following pictures to illustrate a couple of easy tips to improve your watering practices that maybe you haven’t considered. As an example it is a popular practice to put a houseplant in a coffee mug for desk, office or kitchen counter. Avoid planting directly into the coffee mug.

Use a cache pot with drainage holes inside the coffee mug

Coffee is hot. The coffee mug for obvious reasons has no drainage holes. Good for coffee but no so much for your plant.  A cache pot is a decorative container that holds a potted houseplant. Think of it as a  pot inside a pot. The cache pot does not have drainage. The “grower pot” inside the decorative pot has drainage holes. By using a cache pot combined with a grower pot with drainage holes the plant will be healthier and it will make both watering and maintenance easier for you. Everybody wins.

An additional watering tip is to avoid making the mistake I often see people make. They give up trying to figure out when and how much water to apply to their houseplant. What they end up with is what they believe is a compromise. They pour on a “little” water frequently. They meet their desire to water on a schedule (frequently aka kill it with kindness) and the end result is the soil in the upper half of the pot remains wet. The roots in the upper half of the pot rot while the roots at the lower portion of the pot dry out. The plant quickly displays its displeasure with browning leaf tips and decline. The sight of the plant suffering causes the owner to water even more which speeds up the decline. The appropriate way to water is when the plant needs it (indoor plants like outdoor plants have seasonal needs). In winter lack of light, day length and humidity causes the plants to “slow down” compared to their vigor in spring and summer.

For smaller pots you can tell if the plant needs water based on the weight of the pot. Pick it up. You can learn to tell when it’s time to water. Then when you water, water thoroughly so the water is available to the soil at the top, in the middle and at the bottom of the pot. Because you have provided for drainage with your cache pot grower pot technique, the excess can drain out the bottom. Now allow the soil to dry and wait until the plant needs water again. Remember in winter you will be watering far less frequently than when the days are longer and the light is bright in spring and summer.

Example of grower pots inside a decorative cache pot (click on image to enlarge)




The word essential in the dictionary includes as part of the definition the phrase “being such by its very nature or in the highest sense; natural; spontaneous” such as essential happiness. It causes me to think that quintessential then represents the most perfect or typical example of what is naturally essential. The definitions are basis for the debate that developed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis on whether or not greenhouses or garden centers, plants and gardening should be considered “essential” activities. In some states in the US they are deemed essential. In Michigan they are not. I consider hands in the dirt and plants to be both essential and quintessential. 

One season ends another begins. Photo taken April 9, 2020 Chiondoxa Glory in the Snow (click photo to enlarge)

I read that the World Health Organization predicts anxiety will be a leading health issue in the coming years outranking other issues like obesity. Much progress has been made in the past decade by many good people and organizations to make mental health no longer a stigma. Plant based diets and an environment of plants can affect our mental health positively. It is well documented the presence of plants can lift the mood of the office, the spirits of someone ill, and the disposition of someone sad. For example I am a person who enjoys talking to my plants. I still stand by that principle and not just for the beneficial carbon dioxide they derived. I think the vibrations and comforting tones of the voice of a “frond” indeed encouraged them to do better. I don’t have scientific evidence to back this up but I know at least I felt better. 

People react differently to stress and setbacks. Like humans, plants undergo a series of hormonal changes during a stressful period. Production of gibberellic acid in a plant decreases during the stress of a drought. This gibberellin setback to a plant can affect its growth not only for the short term but for the long term as well resulting in problems years later. A stressed plant tends to mope making it a target for disease. Plants like people are often a reflection of their current environment.

Soil is something we often take for granted but it is vital to health. It seems not only plant health but people health too. I continue to read of scientists revealing that soil can have both antidepressant qualities as well as antibiotic characteristics. It seems dirt naturally has an understanding of antibiotic competition because it is teeming with bacteria. We continue to learn there is good bacteria and there is infectious or bad bacteria. In their quest for new therapeutic compounds it’s only natural one resource would be dirt. 

Shinrin-yoku is Japanese for forest bathing. No it’s not taking off your clothes in the woods and taking a bath. It is immersing oneself in nature taking in the forest atmosphere as a gentle path to wellness. Considered by some to be trendy I think it’s a great healing practice rooted in culture and history. A practice of taking in the forest atmosphere and breathing as a form of medicine. Scientific studies are now proving what we have always intuitively known, that nature can reduce stress levels in humans. Moods are improved and healing is accelerated. 

We now know it is more than the peace of the forest, the unplugged feeling of fresh air and the exercise of a quiet hike through the trees. We now know that phytoncides, the essential oil produced by plants, has been credited with lowering stress and cortisol levels. Aromatic volatile oils are produced by trees like pine and hemlock as protective agents and are credited with the ability to lower blood pressure. The phytoncides released by trees and plants into the surrounding atmosphere is to protect themselves from disease and harmful organisms. Inhaled phytoncides from a walk in the woods can last days in the human body. This goes way beyond the scented pine tree hanging from your rearview mirror masking the odd odors in your car. These natural oils are bathing you in stress reduction resulting in a healthier you. It’s the gift that keeps giving.

20 reasons Plants, Gardens, Landscapes are even more than essential….they are quintessential. 

1 First, foremost and most obvious….Plants are food. And we should have more of them in our diet. Eat more plants. We can boost the immune system with healthy vegetables, fruits and herb plants.
2 Plants improve air quality. And as we’ve learned we all want to breathe a little easier. And that’s both outdoors and indoors as indoor plants or “jungalows” improve our air at home and work too.
3 Gardens and landscapes reduce community crime and provide a common space for community cohesion. Residents feel greater pride in the beauty of where they live and rally together to maintain it. Plants bring people together.
4 Time outdoors in the landscape improves human performance and energy. Spending time in nature gives people an increased feeling of vitality, increasing their energy levels and making them feel more animated.
5 Reduce stress. Participation in gardening and landscaping activities is an effective way to reduce levels of stress.
6 The garden, landscape and natural environments can improve mental health. People who spend more time outside in nature have a significantly more positive outlook on life than people who spend a great deal of time indoors.
7 Therapeutic effects of gardening. Gardening can have therapeutic effects on people who have undergone either mental or physical trauma. I would go so far to say that flowers improve relationships and build compassion. Plants and flowers affect the level of compassion that people feel towards others. Studies have shown that people who spend more time around plants are much more likely to try and help others, and often have more advanced social relationships.
8 Plant roots reduce soil erosion. And bare soil is not a natural condition, something is going to grow there so be proactive. It may as well be beneficial.
9 We can reduce storm water runoff and improve water quality with plant material. Green spaces absorb water in two ways: above the surface through the leaves and below ground through the root system.
10 How about your wallet? Energy savings anyone? Planting trees and other ornamental plants around a building can significantly reduce the sun’s radiation effect on the temperature of the outer walls and lower the associated cost of energy for heating and cooling. Plants provide insulating windbreaks in winter.
11 Health and recreation. Plants reduce health care costs. Residents of an area with urban green spaces benefit from improved physical fitness and exercise.
12 Most cities are largely composed of cement and asphalt, which absorb heat from the sun’s rays during the daylight hours. These “heat islands” can be offset with a balance of plant material.
13 Plants reduce noise pollution.
14 Flowers generate happiness.
15 Concentration and memory. The calming influence of natural environments is conducive to positive work environments by increasing a person’s ability to concentrate on the task at hand.
16 Plants are like many other topics….we never stop learning and that’s a good activity to promote.
17 Plants can accelerate the healing process. Trees, plants and flowers have a practical application in hospitals: the presence of plants in patient recovery rooms or outside the window have been shown to reduce the time necessary to heal.
18 Plant material attracts wildlife. As an example the protective cover plant material provides wild birds visiting our yards.
19 We are always looking for ways to celebrate. To acknowledge others. Plants and flowers make the perfect gift.
20 Plants provide materials to harvest. To build. For construction. Shelter. Agriculture, trees and plants always have and always will be an important part of both our local community, state and national economic health and commerce creating jobs for many people across our nation.


The Gift That Keeps Giving

Legend has it there are Schlumbergera, better known as Christmas or Holiday cactus that become family heirlooms passed on from generation to generation. The gift that keeps giving. I know this to be true and it creates pressure for those receiving the inheritance. You don’t want to be the one breaking the cycle of care for the beloved family species. In the wild, the species of Schlumbergera grow either on trees (epiphytic) or on rocks making them very different from what you would normally consider a cactus. The stems are composed of segments. The segments are strongly flattened cladodes which means a flattened leaf-like stem with “wings.” The modern genus Schlumbergera is credited to Charles Lemaire in the mid 1800’s. It is named after Frédéric Schlumberger, who had a collection of cacti at his chateau near Rouen France.

Read the captions on the following pictures for my best advice on care for a Schlumbergera or Holiday  (Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter) Cactus.
Considering this plant thrives in a Brazilian rain forest setting, it is accustomed to having a bit of a covering from the sunlight. This includes in summer when you have it outside, filtered shade is best.
It does best in a daytime temperature of about 70 degrees and a nighttime temperature of 60 degrees. Keep away from heat sources (heat register and fireplace) can you say Brazilian Rain Forest?
Watering. Yes the plant needs water however the tendency of most people will be to OVER water it. Being an epiphyte the plant roots if they remain wet will rot. The roots are smaller proportionately than the plant itself giving less margin for error (wet soil). Repot into a good well drained cactus succulent soil for best results.
The initiation of flower buds on the Schlumbergera  is triggered by both temperature and day length (shorter days of fall). If it receives more than 12 hours of light in a day, it will not bloom. The vernal equinox occurs on Sept. 21, so all days after that date have less than 12 hours of light triggering flowering. Plants also respond to the cooler days. After exposure to either cool temperatures or short days for six weeks, flower buds will appear.
The plant should be fertilized in spring (onset of longer days) and its growth cycle. You can continue to feed it in summer like you feed your flowering annuals. Discontinue feeding when the shorter days return and initiation of buds.



Tough as nails

As the day length begins to shorten, kids head back to school and the outdoor air temperature cools, we begin to think about moving plants indoors again. Without proper care these plants can feel they are under house arrest. Never fear. There are two foliage houseplants that are as tough as nails. As always some stress will reveal character and in the case of plants show how well grounded they are. Plants with fibrous and shallow roots tend to be less adaptable or easy to grow than those with tuberous, thick or rhizomatous roots. Both ZZ and Sanseveria plants have tuberous thick roots. Both are native to Africa. If you’re the type to over nurture these plants might not be for you. If you lean towards neglect they might be perfect. 

Sure they need care but are a couple of houseplants that are the closest living thing to plastic known to man. The Zamioculcas zamifolia and the Sanseveria plant. Often seen in office environments or airport terminals these two seem to thrive on neglect. Both have thick waxy leaves and low rates of transpiration. You have to however look at the business end of these plants to see thick roots, in the case of a ZZ plant tubers allowing it to go long lengths without water.

ZZ Plant

Adaptable to harsh environments the ZZ plant is native to Africa and found from Kenya to Zimbabwe to South Africa. Considering its native environment you can see the plant adapted to long periods of drought in between wet seasons. That’s probably why some call it the “Bachelor Plant” as legend has it they only need to be watered 9 times a year. For those restless, easily bored or with a great need to nurture this is not the plant for you. Unlike a vine this plant is slow growing and content to simply exist in a well lit corner. Pest resistant and a stable household friend, homeowners tend to kill it with kindness. Kindness as in water, too much of


it. They feel they have to do something to demonstrate they care resulting in a permanent rainy season for the plant. I recommend talking to it or better yet get it a card and rotate it a quarter turn from time to time. You’ll both feel much better. It’s an expensive plant to kill because it is a slow grower. Because it takes time to get to size growers charge more for the plant. Similar to Aspidistra also known as Cast Iron plant, or Rhapis excelsa known as Lady Palm their methodical slow growth make them durable but expensive for the homeowner. If you’re just going to kill them with water they might not be the plant for you. 

Sanseveria is a colorful character known for their diversity, usefulness and lasting quality. The genus Sanseveria consists of numerous species and varieties with flamboyant often variegated sword like foliage as flashy as the man they were named after. Raimondo di Sangro Prince of Sansevero was the world’s most interesting man long before the advent of beer marketing, or at least Raimondo would tell you that. It is said he dabbled with numerous inventions from super lightweight cannons to fireworks, hydraulics and waterproof capes and other bizarre experiments. He was the Prince of Sansevero and lover of knowledge willing to testify of his prowess and fame. He would have been pleased that a Swedish botanist named the Sanseveria plant in his honor. A tough hard to kill houseplant it lives as long as the legacy of Raimondo provided you don’t kill it with “kindness.” A renowned office plant ideal for indoor air purification qualities, its tough, dogged obstinance and resolve is reflected in its common names Snake Plant, Snake’s tongue, Devil’s tongue or Mother-in-laws tongue.

As we fill our homes with plants this fall remember to consider these characters…..they are tough as nails.



Colorful Chaotic Coleus

Now that the weather is getting hot the colorful Coleus are about to put on a show in our containers. Coleus seems to take the approach the more chaotic the better! In hot weather they thrive. It used to be they were considered a shade only plant but with all the introductions in the past 10 years they love the spotlight and love the sun. Native to the tropics bordering the equator and with a botanical name like Solenostemon scutellarioides you’ve got to know they love summer time! Coleus were born to be in containers and put on a show. No waiting for buds and blooms these plants let the foliage do the talking. On a warm humid late June day I took my phone and snapped these random pictures of their response to heat basking in the sun. This is a Victorian parlor plant that has made a stunning comeback in popularity in the 21st century on decks and patios everywhere.