I remember an old aunt, now sadly no longer with us that used to survive on a cigarette for breakfast, lunch and tea. She didn’t take care of her body but she was a dab hand at looking after plants. There may be no scientific basis for the term green-fingered but Auntie Grace seemed to have the magic touch. Her apartment was stuffed full of odd cuttings that she was given or had taken from other gardens. She would almost throw the cutting in a pot and the next time you saw her, the plant would have grown to twice its original size. Did she have green fingers or were the plants all thriving on the toxins in the smoky atmosphere? Auntie Grace’s apartment was very well lit with large windows on both sides of her living room. That is one of the obvious but often overlooked requirements for most pot plants. “Why is my plant dying?” I am often asked. “Where is it in the house?” I reply. “On the television.” It often turns out that it’s a position well away from a window. There are plants like Philodendron scandens and Scindapsus that will tolerate low light levels but as these are usually the ‘plain green’ varieties and pot plants chosen are usually flowering or more colourful and need plenty of light. Plants really should be placed in a bright spot near a window although the light should be filtered through a net curtain or be in a window that doesn’t get direct sun. Direct sunlight will scorch the leaves.
The other obvious (to some) factor is watering. I have known people to mention that the plant has died or is withering only to discover that it hasn’t been watered for several weeks. Others say that their plant at home is watered every day and is now beginning to die and smells a bit. This also happens with office plants where tea, coffee or other waste drinks have been poured in to the plant container. “I have been watering it a bit.” Oh, dear. Too much water this time.
Two classic plants that are subjected to over watering are the rubber plant and the Yucca. With both plants, yellow leaves may appear. The owner thinks that they are not watering enough so on goes more water. More yellow leaves appear, are you beginning to get my drift? Unless they are placed in a very warm, bright position they need only a minimal amount of water. A quarter of a cup per week is often enough. There is a digital method for checking how moist the soil is in the pot. When I say digital, I mean that you should stick a digit ( finger) down into the soil to see how moist it is. If the soil is dark and sticks to your finger it’s probably moist enough. If it looks light coloured and is powdery, the more water may be needed. Another method is to feel the weight of the plant. If it is very light in weight it could be too dry. Check it in its dry and moist state to feel the difference and you will have an easy way to know whether you need to water or not.
Instead of simply pouring water in to the pot cover or plant pot, it is best to sit the whole plant and pot in a bowl of water and give the soil a thorough soaking for half an hour. Avoid wetting the leaves of African violets as they will discolour. Make sure the plant is thoroughly drained before replacing it in its pot cover and remember that plants away from a bright window position will not need to be soaked like this very often.
Finally, there will be the odd leaf that turns yellow. Simply pinch it off or snip it off with a pair of scissors. Those are the very basics. The plant will last for years with this very basic care. Larger plants can be properly planted in to a suitable container with some additional compost to prolong their life. Some containers even have a self-watering unit. This is a water reservoir with a level indicator and filling tube for ease of watering.