Pests and health,  Plant care basics

Post winter tidying session

Over the winter it’s fair to say that I lost the motivation to keep up with all my plant care.

It could have been the short sluggish days and gloomy weather. Or the seemingly interminable series of lockdowns that has made every day seem much the same!

But the end of January the amount of sad or dead leaves hanging off my plants, or collecting under bookshelves was becoming a little overwhelming, and it was definitely time for a spring clean.

What’s the deal with dying leaves?

There’s something immensely satisfying about going around having a good prune of your plants – especially when you’ve let them build up over the past few months!

Pretty much all indoor houseplants drop leaves all the time – they retire, as Darryl Cheng says.

Generally our indoor conditions are darker than we think, and not the tropical rainforest conditions, so they’ll always be in ‘sub optimal conditions’.

Over the winter with shorter, darker, and cooler days, most plants slow growing. Some go into some kind of dormancy where they drop older or even all leaves (looking at you, alocasia!).

It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong, just that the plant is doing the best with what it’s been given (like all of us!).

If you’re concerned, there are a couple of things you can check for when you see yellow leaves:

1 | Overwatering

During darker days, plants photosynthesise less, and need less water – so hopefully you eased back on your watering over winter. It’s worth checking that the soil isn’t permanently damp and soggy, which is more likely with plants in darker or cooler spots. If it is, there is a chance they’ve developed root rot. Here are some simple steps to saving an overwatered plant.

2 | Pests

Plants seem more susceptible to pests during the winter. Probably in part because they’re not growing so well or maybe aren’t as healthy. And if you’re like anything like me, you tend to pay less attention to them! Check for common pests on your plants like spider mite, thrips and fungus gnats.

3 | Local climate changes

There may be spots in your house that are particularly inhospitable to plants. One of our rooms drops to below 12C at night, which is why some of my tropics-loving philodendron were looking pretty sad in there! Get a thermometer that will tell you the night time lows, which will help you with moving plants to somewhere more suitable, temporarily. Keep an eye out for cold draughts from windows, and blasts of heat from the radiators too.

As long as it’s none of the above, you can likely relax knowing that your yellow leaves are probably just normal, natural aging. Especially if they’re the oldest leaves on your plant.

Spring tidying your plants

I find it easiest to get all my equipment together to go around the house in one go:

  • a pair of clean clippers
  • an old bowl for the dead leaves
  • a spray bottle with water in to spray dusty leaves down
  • paper towels to wipe leaves clean
  • a chopstick to gently poke into dried soil
Dead leaves collected in a bowl

I spot check the tops and undersides of plant leaves, mainly for pests and dust. Trim off any mostly or fully yellowed or brown leaves, and spray and wipe down any particularly dusty looking ones.

I then have a look at the soil to check what state its in. If you’ve not watered much over winter, it’s probably looking a bit dry and crusty, and has maybe pulled away from the edges of the pot.

Gently poke the chopstick into the soil and wiggle it a bit to add air pockets back in. This combats soil that has settled and hardened around the roots, and means the soil will more readily absorb water.

Then your plants are ready for a good watering, and you should in the coming weeks and months start to see signs of a fresh flush of growth.

Time for a quick shower

While I was pootling around, I was horrified to find just how much dust had gathered on the plants that sit on the shelf above our headboard in our bedroom.

Dust on leaves prevents light from reaching plant cells, and affects their ability to photosynthesise. This is especially important for plants that are already struggling for light because they’re in shadier spots.

It’s easy to deal with though – just take them to the bathroom or kitchen for a quick DIY rain shower.

Various houseplants in the bath ready for a shower and clean.

Take them all out of their external pots, so that any water can drain away. Turn on the shower to a lukewarm temperature and gentle head setting.

Then give everything a nice soft rinse – aim to get both the tops and bottoms of leaves. And don’t worry if water falls in the soil – it’s good to flush through the soil with water every now and again to remove any build up from hard water and so on.

The before and after difference is pretty shocking!

Leave the plants to drain and dry off a little, and then pop them back in their homes – much cleaner and happier as we move into the warmer weather and growing season.

Plant giveaway competition

Finally, if you’re on Instagram, you might have seen my plant giveaway to celebrate reaching 1,000 followers. It was so lovely connecting with lots of new plant and Southsea based people – and spreading the plant love to two lovely folks picked through a random generator:

Gemma | @dustybird_southsea

Ciara | @thetinytoucan

To see more, you can follow me (and them) on Instagram πŸ₯°

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