Even plants need a spa day

How to freshen up houseplants in the shower

newDonnawebDo you have a layer of dust on your indoor plants from the pre-Obama era?

As the sun shines on my plants, I can see it’s been too long. If I can write my name on the leaves in dust, I know it’s time to send my greenery to the shower.

Light levels are so low in February in Calgary that any extra interference, like dust, slows houseplants down and blocks the already limited light. If leaf tips are browning or whole leaves yellowing, the plant is probably cutting its losses by getting rid of the lazy leaves that are too shaded to give back.

In nature, regular rains wash leaves clean, but in your apartment or house, plants need a helping hand.

A quick wash of most tropicals will dislodge the almost-invisible spider mites and aphids as well as the light-limiting dust from your once-pristine plants. If your plants are few or small, wash the leaves with water and a soft cloth. A drop of soap in the water will help if your plants haven’t been cleaned since the Clinton era.

Leaves of palms, hoya, clivia, figs and philodendrons will all benefit from a winter shower to remove dust and lingering bugs. Fuzzy plants like African violets are better brushed with a soft brush than washed.

While washing by hand, support the leaf underside with your left hand while wiping the leaf top with a soft cloth. Like dust wiped off a mantle, washed leaves will glisten and immediately drink in more light.

When hand-washing plants becomes too labour-intensive, it’s time to put the whole plant in the shower. Avoid drowning the roots or clogging your drains with soil by first wrapping each plant pot in a plastic bag. The bag will act like a shower cap – except it’s tied around the base of the plant, not the mop on top.

 Like dust wiped off a mantle, washed leaves will glisten and immediately drink in more light.

This is one time you don’t want to save water by sharing the shower with your plants. The perfect temperature for you is going to be cooking hot for your plants as it will quickly turn tropical leaves into boiled spinach. Imagine a warm rain in Costa Rica, and then adjust your valves accordingly.

Lift the plant into the tub or push it into the shower stall. Dust sits on leaf tops, but bugs lounge on stems or leaf undersides so use a hand-held showerhead to wash leaves and stems thoroughly.

After cleaning the leaves, let plants drip dry in the tub before setting them back in their spot by the lamp and couch.

Warning! If your plant is a weeping fig, expect a rebellion and sudden loss of leaves if the pot is placed in a new spot or new orientation to the window after the shower. To avoid trouble, mark fig pots with a piece of tape so the plant is returned to exactly the same place as before the shower.

Now everyone is happy and it’s time to dust the mantles and coffee tables. Just kidding!

Donna Balzer is an enthusiastic gardener and entertaining speaker. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.gardenguru.net or follow her on Twitter @NoGuffGardener.

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