By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

There is no official plant person in Petunia’s office. The janitor occasionally will water a plant that he notices appears to be dry. As a result, most of the plants were barely hanging on, that is until Bruce was hired. He not only was good at his job, but he was also a Master Gardener and specialized in house plants. He discovered the biggest problem with the office plants was not only were they not getting watered properly, the water was softened. And they were watered once a week whether they needed it or not.

People who complain that they kill plants are overwatering them, or watering on a schedule, or even using softened water. All big no nos. Just what is the right way to water your house plants? It’s important to catch them before there is any sign of wilting. That doesn’t mean keeping the plant wet all the time. that just leads to root rot and dead plants. 

First the water. Never use water from a softener. It has salts in it and will eventually turn your plants into mush. If you use city water and your plants get brown tips, it’s from the fluoride in the water.  If possible, use rainwater, melted snow or bottled water for the best results.

Cacti and succulents can be allowed to get quite dry between waterings. However, if they are in bright light, they will thrive on a bit more. Plants with tough leathery leaves, like the old-fashioned rubber tree or ponytail palm, can go for quite a long time between waterings.

Foliage plants, the kind that make up most office plants, don’t do well if they are subject to wild swings from extremely dry to drowning. If the surface of the soil feels dry, stick a finger into the soil.  If the tip of it feels damp, hold off on watering. When you do water, water until it is coming out the drain hole. Let the plant sit for a few minutes then dump any water sitting in the saucer.

Now about the soil, always use potting soil. It has different sized particles, so it drains well. The higher the peat content, the more water the soil will hold. Don’t bother putting pebbles or charcoal in the bottom of the pot. It does nothing to help drainage. If you are concerned about soil spilling out the drain when you re-pot, put a piece of newspaper or a coffee filter on the bottom of the pot before you fill it.

Most of your house plants are tropical or semi tropical. When it rains the water is relatively warm. When you pour cold tap water on them, it’s a shock.  It’s like you stepping into an ice-cold shower. Let the water warm up to room temperature. And never, never put an ice cube in the same pot as your orchid, no matter what the instructions say. Let the cube melt and come to room temperature first. The idea of the ice cube is so you don’t overwater your new baby.

Keep a watering can full of water so it will always be at room temperature. Problem solved. Do keep it out of traffic lanes, and if you have a cat, on the floor. If the earth was flat, cats would have pushed everything over the edge by now. They just can’t resist.