In my final installment of Houseplant Hacks today, I’d like to once again offer some useful money-saving tips. But this time, instead of buying plants, we’re buying plant supplies. All houseplants live in a pot and require good soil. All plants need to be watered. Many plants like to be fed fertilizer. Occasionally a plant is stricken with a pest and needs to be sprayed with a fungicide or insecticide. All of these actions cost money! We don’t want our houseplants to burn a hole in our wallets, so how can we save? Fortunately, there are several creative ways to cut cost when it comes to houseplant supplies.
1. Buy inexpensive pots
I adore looking at all the beautiful ceramic pots at flower shops and even department stores, but I try to resist buying them due to their high cost. While it isn’t bad to buy a designer pot every once and while, don’t break the bank and try to pot every single one of your houseplants in the most expensive pots out there. You can still get a nice-looking pot for cheaper.
2. Reuse plastic pots
Continue to reuse your old plastic pots and try sticking with the plastic pot the plant came with. You’ll save big and you might find that your plants actually prefer their cheap plastic pots. If you want to spice up a boring pot a little, consider decorating it yourself. Try wrapping it with ribbon, or even painting it!
3. Evaluate the potting mix you use
Potting mixes come in many different shapes and sizes. Be sure you aren’t spending more than you need to. For example, check your regular potting mix and see if it contains added fertilizer (= added cost). Do the plants you use this potting mix for need that fertilizer in the first place?
4. Make your own potting mix
An interesting (albeit a little more challenging) alternative to the pre-packaged potting soil is to make your own potting mixes. Several stores sell individual potting medium ‘ingredients’ like perlite, vermiculite, or sphagnum peat moss. Figure out what your plant prefers and make the mix yourself. You will save money ultimately because the fancy mixes often come with a higher price tag.
5. Consider cutting back on fertilizer
Related to point number 3 above, ask yourself if you really need to fertilize certain houseplants. For example, I only fertilize my orchids and my African violets even though all my guide books suggest I fertilize most everything else too. But these other plants are doing just fine without fertilizer! So experiment a little and see if you can save yourself some money (and time!) by cutting back on fertilizer.
6. Use home remedies for pest control
A houseplant owner’s worst nightmare is to discover a pest infestation on their plants. There are tons of commercial insecticides, fungicides, and other pesticides that you can buy to help control your problem. But sometimes your problem can be alleviated by just concocting a home remedy using ingredients under your kitchen sink. The Internet is a great resource for recipes for homemade mixtures people have used with success.
7. Buy in bulk
Last, but not least, just like many products, buying houseplant supplies in bulk will end up saving you money in the long run. If you can purchase a 25 lb bag of potting soil (and have a place to store it), then why not buy more now if you know you will ultimately use it all. In the same way, buying a larger bottle of fertilizer or pest control might be more economical. Just keep in mind the product’s expected shelf life so you don’t end up with waste.
Spotlight on the Phalaenopsis (Moth) Orchid
Have you ever gone to a greenhouse or flower shop and just marveled at the beautiful orchids? I used to stare at these intricate and fascinating flowers wishing I had the necessary expertise to raise them. You see, I thought that all orchids were highly complicated to grow, not to mention difficult to work with in my Zone 3 climate. But I was mistaken! Like many others, I have discovered that not all orchids are extremely hard to grow. The Phalaenopsis, or Moth Orchid, is increasing in popularity as a houseplant, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s inexpensive, easy to care for, and the gorgeous blooms can last for months.
- Light: On average, bright indirect light is best. Although in my Zone 3 climate (short winter days), I keep my moth orchids in direct light in southeast facing windows and they do great. Light-green colored or even yellowing leaves may indicate too much sun, while dark leaves, a noticeable lack of blooming, or root/crown rot may indicate not enough sun.
- Temperature: Normal home temperatures are fine.
- Water: An effective way to water a moth orchid is to hold the plant over a sink, thoroughly watering it so water flows through the pot and out the bottom. Then wait for plant to nearly dry out before watering it again. Be extremely careful not to overwater and you should never let a moth orchid stand in water. When watering, be careful not to pour too much onto the crown and try to avoid using softened water. Water early in the day. Finally, moth orchids enjoy humidity, so consider a light misting every once and while or add an outer humidity tray (filled with water) underneath your regular dry tray.
- Fertilizer: Recommended. Use a balanced fertilizer or a high-nitrogen fertilizer if you are growing the orchid in fir-bark. Weak fertilizer more often is better than strong fertilizer less often. Non-urea nitrogen could be better depending on the medium. I use 30-10-10 (N-P-K) every other watering from January to August (1/2 tsp per gallon) and 10-30-20 Blossom booster from September to December or until buds are visible (1/2 tsp per gallon).
- Soil: Moth orchids need to be potted in a bark mixture. There are special orchid potting mixes that you can buy, or else you could purchase plain fir bark medium and amend it with perlite and sphagnum moss.
- Repotting: Re-pot your moth orchid once every 1 to 2 yrs in the spring or after the flowering period ends. When doing so, remove all the old medium, trim soft and rotted roots, and treat rotting root ends with cinnamon. Moisten the new bark a little and spread at the base of the pot. Add the plant, then work in more moistened bark to fill the pot. Keep the plant slightly drier for 2-3 weeks to promote new root growth.
- Propagation: Propagating moth orchids is not particularly easy, nor is it particularly common. On rare occasions, moth orchids will grow young plantlets (called Keiki) on their flowering spikes. These can be carefully removed and repotted.
- Toxicity: Considered non-toxic.
- Pests: Fungus gnats can collect around the surface of the potting bark if medium is too wet for too long. Allow the bark to dry out well before watering again. Spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale are also possible, but not too common. They can be treated with insecticides or home remedy mixtures. If you put your orchids outside for the summer, be sure to carefully inspect them before introducing them back into your house.
- Miscellaneous: Moth orchids desire high humidity and enjoy slight air movement. Allow roots that come to the surface to stay there – they are beneficial aerial roots (see above photo). To encourage a second blooming on an existing flowering spike, cut off only the flowering segment of the spike when all the blossoms have expired. 80% of the time the plant will flower again within 90 days. After the completion of the second flowering, cut the entire spike off and repot the plant. If you want to encourage possibly fuller blooms next year, do not try for a second bloom on an existing spike. Just cut it off after the first bloom and allow the plant to regain maximum strength for the next season.
The Houseplant Hacks series is officially finished! Hopefully by now you’ve got some great tips to organize your space, time, and money when it comes to your prized houseplant collection. I’ve enjoyed this series and I hope you have too!
How do you save money when buying houseplant supplies? Do you have any special soil mixes you use or any interesting pest control concoctions? Does anyone raise Phalaenopsis orchids and want to offer any tricks of the trade or show off any beautiful blooms?