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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.

houseplant-needs

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.

houseplant-records

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.

fertilizing-schedule

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. african-violet-laughing-annaThis 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. african-violet-cuttingsAfter 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.

What’s next?

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.

Reader Reflection

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?

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Last week I offered some useful money-saving tips with regards to buying new houseplants. This week it’s time to carefully assess how we are using the space in our homes to display our new green friends. Simply squeezing all our plants on the window sill won’t suffice—not only will it look (and be) cluttered, but most plants need a little ‘personal’ space for proper air flow to prevent disease and encourage healthy growth.

Below I’ve outlined five easy methods you can consider to use your precious space more efficiently. Keep your plants happy, keep your home uncluttered, and keep yourself stress free.

1. Purchase smaller plants to begin with

If you have a space issue right off the bat, consider buying houseplants that just don’t take up as much room. For example, a little African Violet is tiny compared to a large Norfolk Island Pine. small-plantNot only will you free up space, but you will save a little money too since smaller plants often cost less.

2. Reduce the size of your existing plants

Is a plant getting too big for you? Then trim it down to size. One way is to simply give it a hair cut. Another way is to restart the plant altogether from cuttings. Every once and a while I have to trim or restart some of my aggressively growing houseplants because they just get too large! And one great benefit of downsizing is that plants often do better afterwards because they are getting a fresh start with new healthy growth.

3. Rotate your plants

Let’s say you only have one small south-facing window, but you have several houseplants that need the high quality sunlight coming through that glass. Do you just have to pick which plants will get the sunlight and which won’t? Not exactly, especially considering the fact that the plants that don’t get the sunlight they need will likely not do very well. A more creative solution is to rotate your plants. Give one plant a week in the window and then swap it out with another. That way all the plants are getting sun at least some of the time. This practice will work with many houseplants, but be sure to experiment first because some sensitive plants might not enjoy sharing the sun.

4. Find creative places to put your plants

Not all plants need to be sitting on a window sill. For example, you could buy or build a little stand to set on your kitchen counter so more plants could get sunlight out of that window. You can also try hanging plants from hooks in the ceiling. Finally, take note which plants really don’t need to be in the window and put them somewhere else. Golden Pothos, for instance, will do just fine sitting several feet from a light source, and getting it out of the way will free up space for your sun-loving plants.

5. Get rid of some plants

This last tip is a little obvious (if you have clutter, get rid of it, right?), but sometimes it’s hard to part with houseplants we’ve cared for and enjoyed for a long time. In the end you will just need to make a choice. Are you willing to deal with the clutter? If not, then perhaps you need to get rid of a few plants. Consider giving them away to friends or family—that way you won’t feel like you are just letting them die after all that work. Furthermore, take heart that while you had the plant it most likely benefited you in more ways than you might even know.

Spotlight on the Poinsettia

Last week I talked about a timely houseplant (the holiday cactus) that you are probably seeing a lot of in stores these days. poinsettiaThis week I want to talk about another plant popular this time of year, the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima hybrids). Whether you will buy one yourself or expect to receive one as a gift, it’s good to know how to take care of it so it will last the season (and hopefully even beyond!).

  • Light: Indirect sunlight is best.
  • Temperature: Normal home temperatures are fine.
  • Water: Keep slightly moist, but do not overwater.
  • Fertilizer: There is no need to fertilize your poinsettia if you only plan to keep it for the duration of the holiday season. If you plan to keep for longer, however, then it might be a good idea to feed it a normal houseplant fertilizer after it finishes blooming.
  • Soil: Any good potting soil is fine.
  • Repotting: Again, if you plan to toss the plant after Christmas, then re-potting will not be necessary. If you want to keep the plant, then re-potting in the summer is best.
  • Propagation: If desired, you can take stem cuttings and root them in pots to keep outdoors in the summer.
  • Toxicity: Now considered non-toxic by most, although it was once thought to be poisonous. Use caution. The milky sap may cause skin irritation, if anything.
  • Pests: Uncommon.
  • Miscellaneous: To prevent early bract dropping (i.e. the pretty colored ‘leaves’), you need to make sure you transport the plant safely from store to home, not allowing it to get too cold for too long. Also be sure to take the decorative wrapping off the pot as this can often lead to root rot due to overwatering. Finally, as stated above, most Poinsettia owners only keep the plants through the duration of the holiday season. However, if you are looking for a challenge and you live in a warm climate, then you can attempt to get the plant to rebloom the following season. After repotting it, keep it outside in the summer. Then beginning in October, it must be subjected to at least 14 hours of darkness each night to initiate budding.

What’s next?

Now that you’ve figured out where to put all your plants to use your space the most efficiently, it’s important to think about using your time efficiently. Next week we’ll talk about how you can manage and schedule the care of your houseplants.

Reader Reflection

Have you found any creative ways to display your houseplants?

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Last week in my introduction to Houseplant Hacks, I talked briefly about the benefits of houseplants and the reasons we might choose to invite them into our homes. If you plan to buy a houseplant for the first time or if you are looking to add a new plant to your existing collection, then today’s post will provide you with some useful pointers to consider before going out and buying anything.

Every plant has unique attributes that you need to know about and understand ahead of time so you don’t end up with a dead plant a few weeks later, or worse—a dead pet. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as just picking out the plant that you think is the prettiest. I’ve identified four questions you should ask yourself before buying a plant, followed by a few resources to help you get your questions answered.

1. Do you have room?

This is the first mistake I made when I went out and bought a bunch of plants for our new home—I didn’t consider the space! We had plenty of room in general, but when it came to space in front of windows, I quickly realized that I had a problem. Plants need light and usually that means they need to sit as close to a window as possible.houseplant-windows

In addition to considering the space you have in front of your windows, be sure to also consider the matter of clutter. Depending on the plant’s size, imagine adding it to a room in your house…is there a spot for it? Will it fit? Will it make the room look more cluttered? Will it be in the way? While a houseplant has its benefits, it can also quickly turn into something that just creates unsightly clutter. Perhaps you should settle for that little African violet instead of the large palm.

2. Do you have time?

Owning a houseplant takes time. You need to water it, repot it every once and a while, and possibly fertilize it. Neglecting the plant’s basic needs may cause it to die. So if you live an extremely busy and hectic life, then perhaps you should consider a low maintenance plant rather than, say, an orchid.

Another aspect of time you will want to consider is how often you go out of town. I’m not talking about a weekend here and there, rather long vacations or even whole seasons away. If you want to keep plants, then you’ll need to find someone who will take care of them while you are away. And if you are living in a home seasonally, then you’ll of course need to take the plants with you whenever you move.

3. Do you have children or pets?

Having children or pets in your home complicates the houseplant situation, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have plants at all. However, it’s important to consider a few things first. Before you choose your plant, you need to find out whether it is poisonous to either children or pets (or both) because you will soon discover that curious children and animals might try to eat the plant when you are not looking.cat

Beyond making sure that the plant you buy is poison-free, you can also try to keep plants in rooms where the children or pets are not allowed or in areas they cannot reach. For example, we keep all our houseplants in rooms that our cat cannot access. We know he’d try to eat them if he could because whenever he escapes into these forbidden lands, the first things he goes for are the plants!

4. Do you have suitable conditions in your home?

Many outdoor plants do well indoors because our homes simulate the plants’ natural living conditions. For example, tropical plants tend to enjoy the same temperature and humidity levels as we do, so they live well in our houses. But not all plants are that adaptable, especially when it comes to certain characteristics. Before choosing a plant, consider the following:

  • Climate: While it’s true that your houseplant will live inside your house, it’s important to understand how your climate affects the conditions within. For example, if you live in a northern climate, you may have short winter days with little and possibly low-quality sunlight.
  • Light: Most plants need a lot of good sunlight, especially if you want to have a plant that blooms. Evaluate the sun exposure of your windows. South windows are best, but east and west are also good.
  • Temperature: Some plants like it warmer than others, so your home temperatures might not be ideal depending on the plant. Additionally, some plants need cooler nights to initiate blooming.
  • Humidity: Certain plants enjoy higher air moisture levels than others, while some plants love it dry. And consider that air conditioners and heaters tend to dry air.

A few useful resources

Most plants don’t come with very much information about how to care for them when you buy them, so you’ll need to find the answers to your questions elsewhere. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask Google. Google your question and you will undoubtedly find your answer. For example, if you Google “are anthuriums poisonous?” you will find soon enough that the answer is yes.
  • Visit a forum. When I was trying to figure out the answers to all my questions early on I spent quite a bit of time on useful forums found on such websites as GardenWeb and the UBC Botanical Garden. These sorts of communities have experts that are willing to share their wealth of information with you.

Spotlight on the Golden Pothos

Each week I will spotlight a specific houseplant at the end of the post and this week it is the Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum). I have four of these in my house and let me just say that if you are looking for an easy-going plant that will tolerate neglect, this is a great choice! Here is some quick information regarding the care of this popular houseplant:golden-pothos

  • Light: Moderate light, but will tolerate low light (I keep some of mine fairly far from any windows and they do very well).
  • Temperature: Normal house conditions are fine.
  • Water: Water when dry. This plant prefers to be dry rather than overwatered.
  • Fertilizer: You can fertilize pothos, but it is not necessary. I do not fertilize mine.
  • Soil: Regular houseplant soil is fine.
  • Repotting: Repot every few years when the plant appears to be growing out of the pot or the soil begins breaking down.
  • Propagation: Very easy to propagate—simply take cuttings of any healthy stem, place them in water, and wait for roots to begin growing. golden-pothos-cuttingsAfter roots appear, plant the cuttings in soil.
  • Toxicity: Poisonous (non-lethal) to pets. Sap causes burning sensation in the mouth and may lead to digestive problems.
  • Pests: Uncommon.
  • Miscellaneous: You can trim back a large plant’s vines to produce a fuller look. These plants work very well on high shelves where you can run the lengthy vines around and along the edges for decorative accents. Keeping them up high and out of reach also prevents your pets from accessing them (see toxicity warning above).

What’s next?

If you’ve determined that you’ve got suitable conditions for houseplants in your home, then you are ready to buy! Next Monday I’ll offer a few money-saving tips when it comes time to make your houseplant purchase.

Reader Reflection

Do you have any creative solutions to some of the problems one might have raising houseplants?

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Today marks the beginning of an exciting new series called Houseplant Hacks that will be featured here at Lifestyles of the Organized on Mondays for the next two months. Houseplants Hacks is something I could have used two years ago when my husband and I moved into our new home and I quickly discovered that I could now own plants (prior to that I was moving around too much for it to be practical). One houseplant turned into two houseplants which turned into three houseplants, and so on. Pretty soon I had built up quite the collection and I found myself a bit overwhelmed with all the intricacies that make up being a houseplant owner.

Even if you own just one houseplant, you will quickly realize that it costs you money, takes up some of your space, and requires a little bit of your time if you want it to go on living. Add a few more plants to your collection and it becomes almost essential to have a plan in place to successfully manage them so they don’t manage you! After I rapidly accumulated all my houseplants, I needed advice. I needed organization. I needed houseplant hacks.

Why houseplants?

Perhaps you aren’t a total plant nut like me (I took botany classes in college for FUN), and you’ve always wondered why people bother to have one more thing in their homes to further complicate their lives. Here are just a few reasons why houseplants are great to have around:

  • Houseplants are pleasing. I for one will be the first to tell you that a good houseplant just brightens my day. Plants are beautiful living things and can have calming, pleasing effects on human beings, boosting morale and even productivity.
  • Houseplants add a little ‘summer’ to your home in winter. If you live in a climate like mine, you begin to miss outdoor green life when snow continues to fall month after month. Having houseplants indoors can help you get through those long winters and keep a little ‘summer’ around when you need it the most.
  • Houseplants make great decorations. Any interior decorator would tell you that a plant can be the perfect accent to a room. A beautiful houseplant adds color, interest, and even style.
  • Houseplants are healthy. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and in turn release oxygen, maintaining more healthful levels in the air we breathe. Furthermore, plants help purify air by filtering out chemicals and pollutants.
  • Houseplants are great teaching tools. There’s no better way to teach your kids (or yourself!) basic skills when it comes to caring for a living thing than with a simple houseplant. What’s more, plants also have the ability to teach their owners a bit about patience.

What to expect from Houseplant Hacks

Each installment of Houseplants Hacks will be in two parts. The first part will outline a particular topic regarding houseplant management and organization. Look for time-saving tips when it comes to care schedules, money-saving tips when it comes to buying plants & supplies, and space-saving tips when it comes to choosing plants and arranging them in your home.

The second part of each installment will spotlight an actual houseplant. I will choose houseplants that are popular, fairly easy to care for, and ideally stress-free so you can have some good ideas about which houseplants might be best for your lifestyle.

Overall I hope that Houseplant Hacks can help you enjoy your plants without any hassle. I’ll be sharing from personal experience about what worked and what didn’t work—with the ultimate goal of helping you maintain an organized lifestyle even with something as simple as the little green friend your keep on your nightstand.

Reader Reflection

If you own a houseplant or two, I’d love to hear your reasons why. Please feel free to share here.

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