By Jimmy Deaton
This month we are going to focus on the health of your indoor plants.
Keeping your plant healthy goes a long way toward keeping pests and diseases at bay. A majority of the time those little buggers and diseases will attack a weak or stressed plant before a healthy one and a healthy plant that is attacked has a much better chance of surviving.
Plant Health Tips:
Choose plants suited to your growing environment. The indoor plant environment can be fine-tuned with the help of grow lights, humidity trays and fans but it’s up to you to decide how much you’re willing to take on. You’ll soon learn that some plants can do well with your degree of attentiveness and some won’t. If a plant fails despite your best efforts, don’t take it personally, and don’t beat a dead horse. Learn from your mistake and move on.
Monitor the health of your plants: Daily care allows you to monitor closely and make timely adjustments. Note any changes in your plant and its environment.
Provide the right amount of light: An ideal indoor location should offer consistent light whether that is natural, artificial or a combination of both. For example, the light that comes in through a bright southern or western window might be enough to keep your plant alive in the winter whereas a day lengthened to 12-14 hours with the help of artificial light might actually help it grow.
Provide Ventilation: Air circulation provided by a fan especially a ceiling fan can help tremendously with the exchanges of gases that a plant needs as well as keeping mold and mildew in check. It also helps the plant to take up more water and promotes the drying of the soil which will help avoid the dreaded root rot. When the weather is nice, open the windows and allow them to get some fresh air or if it’s balmy – like the weather we had a few weeks ago – put them outside for a few hours. Just remember to put them in a shaded and protected spot if you do this to keep them from getting sun or wind burned after being in a sheltered environment.
Maintain good sanitation: Keep the plant pots free of debris like dead leaves and blooms, which could harbor insect eggs or larvae and promote diseases. Remove dead leaves or stems from the plant itself as well.
Deal with pests as soon as you notice them. The most common ones are fungus gnats that are smaller than fruit flies and harbor in overly moist soil. Drenching the soil with Gnatrol is an effective way of dealing with the larvae has they hatch. The product lasts about 48 hours in the soil and usually takes 2 to 3 drenchings to get all the hatches in an infestation. Remember to treat any plants in the vicinity of the infected one as they don’t play favorites where they wish to breed.
Mealy bugs are often identified by the cottony white masses that accumulate on a plant. Both Neem and horticultural oil can take care of them. Just make sure to spray the plant completely and don’t overdo the application of horticultural oil. An accumulation of oil on the plant’s foliage can suffocate the plant. Personally I would rinse the plant with plain water a few days after treatment to remove excess oil, dead bugs and knock the dust of them as well. Remember Neem and oils work by suffocation of the bugs so don’t spray the plants unless you actually see the bugs. Neem oil is good for fungal infections as well.
In the spirit of all of the Star Trek hoopla, Spider mites are the dreaded “Borg” of growers. They can be identified by the leaves looking stippled or dusty and bleached in color. The telltale sign of webbing on a plant is usually a sure sign. The mites usually feed and breed under the leaves. If you flick a leaf or branch over a white sheet of paper look for any dark specks that move. The spider mites have a tendency of breeding and being more active when the air is dry so misting your plants every so often not only provides the humidity levels inside winter plants need but helps slow down the mites from being overly frisky and mating. Neem oil is also great for getting them under control.
Insecticidal soaps contain potassium salts of fatty acids. A thorough spraying effectively kills most pests on contact. Do not use in direct sun or heat, because it may burn the foliage. You can make your own but DO NOT use dish soap. This is a pet peeve of mine big time. Dish soaps such has Dawn, etc. even if they are biodegradable are made to cut through grease and are chemical based. Repeated applications can strip the protective layer off a plants leaves leaving it susceptible to attacks or just killing the plant. If you do wish to make your own, Murphy’s Oil Soap which is fatty acid based is safe to use. Just do 1.25 oz. per gallon of water. Basically 2 tbsp. to a gallon of water and you’re good, or do 1 tbsp. to half a gallon of water if you need a lesser amount.
In the coming months we are going to be starting the 2016 season outdoors so stay tuned for what is going to be the best year yet here on the Urban Garden. We will be shooting to beat some records this year. Our sunflower record is 16 feet 6 inches, tomato (Black Krim) at 12 feet, Del Ray Cajun chili at 6 feet tall and almost 8 feet wide and our cut and come again Zinnia’s which have peaked over 6 foot fences with ease. What will this year bring?
Please send any plant/garden questions you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org with Urban Garden in the subject line!