Management Of House Plants

There are some general rules that will apply to taking care of all

plants in the house; then there are several groups, the different sorts

in which are handled more or less alike; and lastly there are the

individual requirements of the plants in the several groups to be


Information about all these varieties, as given in the usual way,

results in a more or less confusing mass of detail. It is for the

purpose of getting this information into as plain a form as possible

that the instructions in the first chapters of this book have been given

in such detail; and those instructions should be used in conjunction

with the following pages. The beginner cannot expect to fully comprehend

the suggestions given until the plain everyday operations of plant

growing have become familiar.

Much of what has been said in the previous pages has borne upon the

several points of managing plants successfully in the house. It will be

of use, however, to have those various suggestions brought together in

condensed form.

In the first place it must be remembered that at best it is hard to get

conditions in the living-room that will be suitable for the healthy

growth of plants. Every effort should be made to prepare a place for

them in which such conditions may be made as nearly ideal as possible:

plenty of light, evenly regulated temperature; moisture in the air.

For most house plants the temperature should be 50 to 55 at night and 65

to 75 during the day. An occasional night temperature of 45 or even 40

will not do great harm but if reached frequently will check the growth

of the plants.

Air should be given every day when the temperature of the room will not

be too greatly lowered thereby. Avoid direct drafts, as sudden chills

are apt to produce bad results. Even on very cold days, fresh air may be

let in indirectly, through a window open in an adjoining room or through

a hall. It is better, when possible, to give a little ventilation during

an hour or two, than to rush too sudden a lowering of the temperature by

trying to do it all in fifteen minutes.

The amount of water which should be given will depend both upon the

plant and upon the season. During the dull days of winter and during the

"resting season" of all plants, very little water will be required. It

should be given on bright mornings. During early fall and late spring,

when the pots or boxes dry out very rapidly, water in the evening. In

either case, however, withhold water until the soil is beginning to get

on the "dry side" and then water thoroughly. Water should be given until

it runs down through into the saucers but should not be allowed to

remain there.

Sometimes it will be beneficial to moisten the foliage of plants without

wetting the soil. Just after repotting and in fighting plant lice, red

spider and other insect enemies (see Chapter XVII) this treatment will

be necessary. A fine-rose spray on the watering-can may be used but a

rubber plant-sprinkler costing about sixty-five cents, will be very much

better, as with it the water will be applied in a finer spray with a

great deal more force and to either the upper or under surface of the

leaves--a point of great importance.

Plants growing in windows, where the light strikes them only, or mostly,

from one side, should be frequently turned to prevent their growing


Also do not hesitate to use knife, scissors and fingers in keeping them

symmetrical and shapely. One of the greatest mistakes that amateurs make

is in being afraid to cut an ungainly or half leafless branch. Instead

of injuring a plant, such pruning frequently is an actual benefit.

If neglected, dust will quickly gather on the leaves and clog their

pores, and as the plants have no way of breathing but through their

leaves, you can see what the result must be. Syringing, mentioned

above, will help. They should also be wiped clean with a soft dry cloth,

especially such plants as palms, rubbers, Rex begonias. Do not use

olive oil or any other sticky substance on the cloth. Always remove at

once any broken, dead or diseased leaf or flower. Do not let flowering

plants go to seed: nothing else will so quickly bring the blooming

period to a close.

Do not try to force your plants into continuous growth. Almost without

exception they demand a period of rest, and if you do not allow them to

take it when nature suggests, they will take it themselves when you do

not want them to. The natural rest period is during the winter. During

this time a very little water will do and no repotting or manuring

should be attempted.

It is, however, desirable in some cases, as with many of the flowering

plants, to change the season bloom, as we want their beauty during the

winter. In such cases they should be made to rest during the summer,

by withholding water and keeping them disbudded.

Many beginners get the idea that as soon as any plant has filled its pot

with roots it must be immediately shifted to a larger one. While this is

as a rule true with small plants, being grown on, it is not at all true

of mature plants, especially those wanted to bloom in the house. When a

shift has been given, at the beginning of the growing period, no

further change should be necessary during the winter. It will, however,

be well, if not imperative, to furnish food in the form of liquid

manures when the soil in the pot has become filled with roots. It should

be applied from one to three times a week--the former being sufficient

for a plant showing ordinary growth.

All the animal manures, cow, horse, sheep, hen, etc.,--are good to use

in this way, but cow manure is the safest and best. Place three or four

inches of half-rotted manure in a galvanized iron pail, fill with water,

and after standing a few hours it will be ready for use. The pail can be

refilled. As long as the liquid becomes the color of weak tea it will be

strong enough to use. Give from a gill to a pint at each application to

a six-or eight-inch pot. The other manures should not be made quite so

strong. For liquid chemicals see page 19 or mix up the following: 5 lbs.

nitrate of soda, 3 of nitrate of potash and 2 of phosphate of ammonia,

and use 1 oz. of the mixture dissolved in five or six gallons of water.

At the beginning of the growing period and at frequent intervals during

the early growth of plants they must be repotted. The operation is

described on page 40.

As soon as danger of late frost is over in the spring the plants should

be got out of the house. It is safest to "harden them off" first by

leaving them a few nights with the windows wide open or in a sheltered

place on the veranda. Those which require partial shade may be kept on

the veranda or under a tree. Most of them, however, will do best in the

full sun and should, if wanted for use in the house a second season, be

kept in their pots. The best way to handle them is to dig out a bed six

or eight inches deep (the sod and earth taken out may be used in your

dirt heap for next year) and fill it with sifted coal ashes. In this,

"plunge," that is, bury the pots up to their rims. If set on the surface

of the soil it will be next to impossible to keep them sufficiently wet

unless they are protected from the direct rays of the sun by an overhead

screening of lath nailed close together, or "protecting cloth"

waterproofed. Where many plants are grown for the house such a shed,

open on all sides, is sometimes made.

Care must be taken not to let plants in "plunged" pots root through into

the soil. This is prevented by lifting and partly turning the pots every

week or so. They will not root through into the coal cinders as rapidly

as into soil and better drainage is secured. Watch the soil in the pots,

not that in which they are plunged, when deciding about watering. For

most plants a thorough watering, tops and all, once every afternoon

ordinarily will not be too much.

Plants such as geraniums and heliotrope, which are wanted for blooming

in early winter, should be kept rather dry and all buds pinched off. Do

not shift them to new pots until two or three weeks before time to take

them in.

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