Being a gardener and a worrywart puts me at a distinct disadvantage. I get concerned for just about everything: a plant showing poor growth, leaves yellowing, curling or falling, and other problems houseplants tend to have. I have, on more than one occasion, repotted at late hours of the night with the hope of saving a sick plant, a task that can very well wait until the next morning. Such impulse actions, in all fairness, do bring me some peace of mind. Whether these are symptoms of a compassionate gardener or an over-nurturer is a matter of opinion I suppose.
The biggest cause of my heartache recently is a disease that has suddenly reached an epidemic level in my greenhouse, now threatening to kill most of my orchids which were up till now healthy and most ready to bloom. Although I am not sure, but upon referring to some resources on orchid care, the disease is probably a root and leaf rot, now spreading from one orchid to another. How it started is a mystery to me, but I can think of two external factors which could have contributed to the level it has reached; First, the portable heater which is the source of heat in the greenhouse broke down and went unnoticed for several days; second and the most crucial is that many of the orchids, unfortunately, are growing in plastic containers with just a few drain holes in the bottom and therefore got waterlogged due to excessive watering on my part. Keeping my optimism up, I have repotted all of them to the best of my ability.
Overwatering, we know, is probably the number one reason we lose houseplants. While our intention is sincere, we end up doing more harm than good by providing water when not needed. An old tried-and-true trick, therefore, of figuring out the right time to water is the “finger test” when a finger is poked in the soil surface of the container; if the top inch or so feels dry, then one can be reasonably sure that the plant could use a drink of water, except maybe in certain cases. Another way of knowing is by lifting the pot in question; if it feels relatively lighter, then it is fairly safe to presume that the soil is dry.
Applying excessive fertilizer to houseplants is another mistake we often make as a way of showing love; in addition to money being wasted, too much fertilizer creates salt buildup in the soil, at the same time puts stress on plants especially during winter months when overall need is less because little or no growth occurs.
“More is not necessarily better,” is the message plants give us. But the nurturer in us tends to ignore it. However, wintertime is a time when houseplants could indeed use that extra pampering: since the floor of the home is cold, houseplants, particularly the tropical ones, begin to show signs of stress when kept directly on the floor. Therefore, placing them on something higher rather than the cold, bare floor itself will be appreciated by the plants and keep the gardener happy, too!