Organic Care for Houseplants

Providing organic care for indoor potted plants is important to gardeners who wish to minimize their exposure to chemicals indoors.

Organic gardeners may treat their potted plants as an extension of the natural garden, and therefore they strive to use the same nontoxic care methods on these indoor plants. However, houseplants experience some unique growing conditions that demand a change from the usual care give to outdoor plants.

Selecting Healthy Houseplants

Most houseplants are tropical plants, and therefore they are raised in greenhouse conditions. Greenhouses harbor specific pests, so gardeners must look for signs of insect infestation when choosing a new houseplant to bring home.

Examine the leaves of the new houseplant closely at the store. White, fuzzy clusters can indicate mealybugs. Give the plant a gentle shake. This will disturb any whiteflies that may be infecting the plant. Scale insects are difficult to identify, as they are tiny and stationary. Stunted or yellowish growth may indicate a scale problem.

Keep new houseplants quarantined for at least 2 weeks before introducing the plant to the rest of the indoor plant population. This can allow the gardener to determine pests that were missed before introducing the new specimen to the collection.

Houseplant Fertilization and Maintenance

Houseplants rely on the nutrients found in the pot for the duration of their existence. For many houseplants, this means life relegated to a quart of sterile soil with an occasional dousing of chemical fertilizers.

Organic gardeners can bring the same beneficial soil microbes to their houseplants that keep their outdoor gardens lush. When repotting houseplants, add a scoop of compost to the soil mix to introduce beneficial microbes and trace nutrients into the soil. Earthworm castings also make an excellent soil additive for houseplants, improving the tilth and texture of the soil.

Over-fertilization can cause rank growth subject to disease and pest infestation. Gardeners should fertilize houseplants during March through September, which is the period of active growth for indoor plants. Alternating dressings of fish, blood and bone meal with liquid seaweed every 2 weeks will provide the full range of major and trace plant nutrients.

Control Houseplant Pests

Gardeners can control small outbreaks of mealybugs by swiping them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Larger infestations may require treatment with insect soap.

Whiteflies are attracted to yellow sticky traps, but gardeners can also suck the weak-flying insects from plants with a handheld vacuum. Pyrethrins and insect soap also stop whiteflies.

The waxy body of scale insects affords them protection against many organic sprays. Gardeners should remove the infected plant parts if possible, but scrubbing with a soft toothbrush and mild dish soap may dislodge large colonies of scale insects.

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