by Flo Whitaker
Post Christmas gloom? Brighten up your home with houseplants, says Flo Whitaker
Now is the perfect time to rescue those neglected houseplants that you pushed into dark corners during the Christmas upheaval. January brings a welcome increase in daylight hours which will trigger plants into growth – but they cannot flourish with dusty foliage.
Plants with large, shiny leaves can be washed using cotton wool balls dipped in cool water. Support each leaf underneath with one hand while using the other to gently wipe the leaf surface. Smaller-leaved plants will enjoy a lukewarm shower. Secure the pot tightly inside a plastic bag to prevent water flooding the compost, stand the plant under the gentlest shower setting for a minute, then allow to ‘drip dry’. Furry-leaved plants hate getting their foliage wet – water droplets become trapped in the hairs, causing leaves to rot. They can be gently cleaned using a soft brush, (a cosmetic blusher-type brush is ideal.) Most of our houseplants hail from tropical climes and take a rest during winter. Don’t be tempted to repot or feed them until they are in full, active growth in March-April.
Houseplant problems can often be attributed to the wrong location. A windowsill that was warm and sunny in July may be cool and shady in November, so take note of the seasons and move your plants around to suit their needs. They can suffer badly from fluctuating temperatures, especially in winter. Plants trapped behind closed curtains have to contend with chilly glass that becomes even colder when the central heating goes off – remove plants from your windowsills before drawing the curtains!
Sun-worshippers such as Musa, (banana), Aloe, Pelargonium and Kalenchoe enjoy a brightly-lit location in full sunshine, whereas Begonia rex, African Violet, Monstera, (Cheese plant) and the majority of the fern family are shadier characters who thrive when positioned away from intense light. Say ‘cacti’ and we immediately think of scorching heat, but deserts can be severely cold places. Some cacti and succulents will happily overwinter in a cool porch or conservatory, so long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 5°C.
Draughty hallways and landings are challenging environments for plants. Asplenium, with its thick, waxy fronds will probably cope, as will the Asparagus fern, along with almost indestructible ivies that usefully come in many varieties with different leaf shapes and colours. The handsome Aspidistra isn’t known as the ‘Cast Iron Plant’ for nothing and will survive in places where other plants fail. Once an essential feature in Victorian parlours, they positively thrived in the noxious air caused by coal res and gas lamps. However, be warned; Aspidistra owners are in it for the long haul. Spectacularly long-lived, some plants have been bequeathed in wills. It’s the horticultural equivalent of inheriting a parrot or tortoise – your Aspidistra will probably outlive you!