So far each installment of Houseplant Hacks has offered advice about various ways to save space and money when it comes to your houseplant collection, but we can’t forget about saving time. Plants require care and care requires time—it’s that simple. Today I’d like to outline some useful tips to help you better manage the care of your houseplant collection so that ultimately you can use your time wisely while trying to keep your plants healthy.
1. Know your plant’s needs
It’s one thing to bring home a plant from the store that’s healthy, thriving, and possibly even blooming. But it’s quite another thing to care for that plant, keep it healthy, and encourage it to re-bloom in the future. Before you even start taking the time to care for your houseplants, you need to understand their basic needs.
Back in an early installment of Houseplant Hacks, I talked about resources you could tap into to research your plant’s care requirements beyond what the tag says on the pot. Look on the Internet, skim through a book, or ask an expert friend. The more you learn about your plant, the better you will be able to care for it.
After learning light, temperature, fertilizer, soil, and water requirements of your green friends, you will need a way to help yourself remember it—especially if you have more than just a few plants. I keep a spreadsheet of all my various houseplants’ needs, but you could also jot notes down in a notebook, keep bookmarks in your web browser, or mark the pages of a guide book. Whichever way you do it, the point is to get the information you need, remember it, and be able to apply it.
2. Keep basic records
Experienced gardeners will be the first to tell you that keeping good records of your plants will not only help you remember what you did in the past, but will also help you plan care in the future. With our busy lives, it’s easy to forget when we might have repotted our orchid last year, or how long it’s been since our African Violet bloomed.
Within the spreadsheet I mentioned above, I have a special section where I keep notes of major ‘milestones’ in my plant’s history, like when I repotted it last, what kind of soil I used, when and for how long it ever bloomed, and so on. This way I can keep track of special needs, understand basic cycles, and ultimately use my time more efficiently.
3. Schedule plant care
When it comes to regular and frequent plant care like watering or fertilizing, I cannot stress enough how useful it is to plan or schedule it! Although every person will have to do it a little differently depending on their actual houseplants and their lifestyle, it’s still important to realize that in general, planning or scheduling the care of your houseplants will be a big time saver.
Whether you pick a day and time slot during each week that will be your ‘plant watering’ day, or you keep a printed schedule of when you should fertilize various plants, it goes without saying that having any kind of schedule will be beneficial. Use a calendar or write notes in your daily or weekly planner. You’ll be glad you scheduled your houseplant care because you’ll never forget anything, your plants will be healthy, and you’ll maximize the use of your time.
Keeping a schedule will also help you plan ahead for when you know your life will be more hectic or you know you will be gone on vacation. I use my planner to schedule everything for my plants so I can keep on top of their needs and avoid any stress caused by last-minute planning.
Spotlight on the African Violet
So far in my spotlight series, I’ve talked about fairly forgiving plants in terms of care. This week I want to introduce the African Violet, a plant that despite its popularity can often be a little tricky to care for. If I am remembering correctly, I’ve actually killed three African Violets in the last two years. However, despite my failures with these finicky flowers, I’ve also managed to successfully raise and maintain about ten others. With a little trial and error, you too can grow this ever-blooming, space-saving, and all around beautiful houseplant.
- Light: Bright indirect sunlight is best. Too much sunlight causes leaf burn (leaves turn yellow) and can lead to an unhealthy and stressed plant. Not enough sunlight can lead to root or crown rot and the plant will not likely re-bloom. I place my African Violets in a south-facing window, but I use a sheer curtain to block direct sun rays.
- Temperature: Normal home temperatures are fine.
- Water: Water when dry. Overwatering is the number one killer of African Violets so be careful! Watering from the bottom (pouring into the tray) is best since water splashing on leaves causes brown spots to form. Don’t leave water standing in the tray for too long.
- Fertilizer: For strong, frequent blooms, fertilizer is recommended. Try to use fertilizer that contains no urea Nitrogen, as this is harmful to African Violets. Unfortunately, most commercial African Violet fertilizers contain urea. I use Optimara 14-12-14 African Violet Fertilizer and give my plants a diluted solution of it every other watering.
- Soil: Regular potting soil is usually too heavy for African Violets. You can purchase premade African Violet soil (lighter) or make your own mix (peat moss with perlite and vermiculite is what I use).
- Repotting: It is ideal to repot African Violets every 6 months to one year. Wait until the plant is finished blooming to repot it so the stress is minimized. When repotting, remove the large older leaves around the outside of the neck to help the plant have a fresher start. Then bury the exposed neck into the new soil.
- Propagation: Take single healthy leaves and plant them into a very light soil mix. Do not fertilize or overwater. After a few months, babies will begin popping up through the soil surface. After some babies have reached a good size, you can detach them from the mother leaf and repot them into their own pot.
- Toxicity: Considered non-toxic.
- Pests: Powdery mildew can form on the leaves and blooms if there is not sufficient air flow or if the plants are too crowded. Spray plants with a fungicide if the problem persists.
- Miscellaneous: Rotate plants regularly so they get an even amount of sun and can grow in a balanced symmetrical fashion. Also beware of commercial African Violet self-watering planters as these can often lead to root or crown rot due to overwatering.
Hopefully by now we’ve figured out how to organize our space, time, and money when it comes to our houseplants. Next week we’ll switch gears a little to talk about how we can save money buying the supplies necessary to care for our green friends.
How do you manage the care of your houseplants to use your time efficiently? Does anyone raise African Violets and want to offer any tricks of the trade?