Salisbury Press

Wednesday, July 8, 2020
PHOTO BY EMELIE SWACKHAMER African violet is a popular houseplant. PHOTO BY EMELIE SWACKHAMER African violet is a popular houseplant.

Growing Green: Buy houseplants with care

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 by LEHIGH COUNTY EXTENSION Special to The Press in Focus

Picture a tropical paradise: sun warming the earth, a fresh moist breeze blowing in from the ocean. A refreshing early morning shower passes. Dappled shadows appear under tall palms as the sunshine returns to dry the rain.

Well, that pretty much describes the environment of most of our houseplants in their natural state: warm temperatures, moist breezes and plenty of bright light.

It's no wonder that adjusting to our household environments is quite a challenge for tropical plants. And it's amazing how many of them can flourish if given the basic care that suits their needs.

Careful inspection of any houseplant before purchase is a must for success. Clean, unspotted foliage indicates that a plant was carefully grown and was not sprayed for insects or diseases that were active just prior to shipping from the grower. Yellow or dark colored spots on leaves or stems can be an indication of damage during handling or certain fungal diseases that may be impossible to eliminate.

We all know that carrying little insect passengers or pathogens home on a new plant almost guarantees problems in short order. So, take the time and a magnifying glass, if necessary to look for bugs before you buy.

Any evidence of clear, sticky residue on leaves is pretty good evidence that there are mealybugs, scale insects, or possibly mites on the plant or one right nearby. In fact, if there's anything on the plant that doesn't look right, that jumps or moves or scrapes off with your fingernail, you're probably seeing an insect pest.

Don't pick a plant that's wilted or has yellow leaves even though you feel sorry for it. It's showing signs of stress either from under-watering or from an existing root problem. You'll never be able to doctor it back to perfect health.

Instead, chose a plant that has plenty of crisp, healthy looking light colored roots either white or yellow or orange, but never dark or soft or mushy. Look at the drain holes near the bottom or sides of the pot to check the roots.

Adequate light, proper watering, warmth and occasional fertilizer is what we can offer our houseplant friends. But, if our efforts to keep a plant healthy fail, as sad as it seems, the best thing to do is compost the poor thing, and start again with a fresh, healthy new houseplant.

"Growing Green" is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.