Don’t Mist Your Plants–Try This Instead

So it’s getting colder by the week–and indoors, it’s getting drier too. We feel it and our plants feel it.

Common wisdom has been to mist your plants if they need extra moisture, but that’s always seemed pretty silly to me. Let’s think about this for a moment.

If you’ve ever been to a dermatologist, they tell you to put on lotion to seal the moisture into your skin within 5 minutes of getting out of the shower. I’m not sure about you, but that 5 minutes goes by pretty fast, if you think about it–I never get lotion on me in time.

But if you keep your bathroom door closed (and don’t run a fan) that room seems pretty steamy compared to the rest of your house as soon as you open the door. But once you open the door, that “steamy” feeling goes away pretty quickly–by the time you go back after getting dressed, it’s usually gone, pretty much.

So think about the effects of a mister on your house plant’s leaves. You can drench the thing–and your table or rug–but how long will that last in your dry home? Perhaps as long as the effects of a steamy shower in your bathroom–several minutes or so.

I used to put bowls of water out next to my most vulnerable plants. This would allow the water to evaporate around the plants and to humidify the air on a full time basis.

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Then another blogger suggested this brilliant idea to me. This is a boot tray. It was originally suggested to me as a way to protect windowsills. But I use it as a giant humidity tray.

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You can see that I don’t take a chance that I might over-fill the tray and drown the plants by having their roots sit in water. I fill the tray with lots of water–and I have each plant either in a separate saucer or a decorative pot so that there’s no chance that it’s going to be sitting in the water in the boot tray.

So far this is working really well for all these marantas and calatheas that love humidity. What I am going to do about the fact that they love temperatures in the 70s and I only heat my home to the low 60s? That I haven’t figured out yet.

A Digression for a Really Cool Tree

I know I said that it would be all house plants all the time henceforth, but something happened this past weekend that only happens once a year and I think it’s cool enough to post about.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get the “before” photo, but on Saturday morning, when I walked the dog, this tree was in full leaf.

On Sunday when I walked her, it was completely bare.

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Even prettier, the ground is covered in this puddle of gold leaves. The tree literally defoliated overnight. And it does this every year. I’ve been watching for this because I know that it happens. It usually happens right around this date–November 15th.

This year it was slightly earlier–overnight November 9th. I can only think it’s because we are having such unreasonably chilly weather. It was 22 degrees on Saturday November 8th for a low–so that probably caused the early leaf drop.

What tree does this? It’s the gingko biloba. And yes, this is a female tree, so it makes fruits. I have heard all sorts of things about how one should only plant male trees because the females are incredibly stinky but as someone who has walked dogs around and under this trees for 25 years, I’ve never noticed an unpleasant odor–even when the fruits are all over the ground and crushed. Supposedly it is the butyric acid in the rotting, crushed fruit that makes these trees smell.

I can’t say that I have ever noticed that–but I can say that the fruit is uncommonly attractive to schnauzers. Most of mine have eaten it with no trouble. The current one loves the fruit as well but it doesn’t agree with her. Must be that pesky acid. And yes, I recognize that it is NOT a recommended dog treat.

So I try to give the tree a wide berth and admire it from across the street with this particular dog–but I do admire the tree.

Habits of Tropical Plants

Let’s face it: unless you live in the southern hemisphere, we are going into some dark, cold and dry times for our house plants. And what are house plants? They are mostly tropical plants that live somewhere else in their “other” lives (IRL if we were texting).

Many of the plants that do well in our homes actually are what we would call “understory” plants. If we are outdoor gardeners, we would probably call these “shade” plants but in the tropical forest, it might be a little more complicated than that.

Some of the plants have actually adopted cool features to help them in this “understory.” Some of the plants we grow in hanging baskets like philodendrons might actually grow on the trunks of trees.

Have you ever noticed that philodendrons have large, aerial roots? Those adaptations are to help them grow on trees “in the wild”–almost in the same way that orchids do. They also have terrestrial roots–on the same plant–to anchor them, either to the ground or in our case, in the pots!

But of course those aerial roots are completely wasted in our homes unless we are growing philodendron as a climbing plant–and most of us don’t do that.

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There are a few varieties that stay low for awhile and then shoot up dramatically–this is one of them–you can see that it doesn’t quite know what to do with itself and I don’t quite know what to do with it!

This is philodendron neon. It stays quite low for a year or two–and then it shoots into the sky, like so. Don’t be fooled by the cute little images you see of it in 4 inch pots.

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If you prefer a better behaved version, try its bronze cousin, “Prince of Orange,” which stays lower but needs bright light to maintain its nice coppery color. Since our bright light is gone now until spring, it is a little faded. That’s why the new leaf also looks stunted–they tend to do that if they’re not getting the light they need.

Come March, everything will resolve–the bright colors will return and the leaves will look much better too!

While We’re On The Subject of Misunderstood Plants….

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Okay, this isn’t the most glorious looking poinsettia you’ve ever seen but what if I told you this is its third year blooming–and it’s blooming here in July?

So what does that say about these plants? First, that you don’t have to put them in dark closets or under a box to get them to bloom–you can see that this one is sitting on a file cabinet in my office.

Next, that they are so much more than the finicky plants that we buy at the holidays and then discard. They actually grow into shrubs in tropical countries like Mexico and central America (so, no putting them in closets or putting boxes over them there, clearly).

So that’s myth number one–that poinsettias need to be kept in artificial darkness to rebloom.

The next myth gets us toxicity–a subject I touched on with respect to children and pets on Monday. While it’s just never a good idea to eat any plant unless you’re sure of its consumability (there are a few truly toxic plants out there–I even own some!) poinsettias are not toxic. They may give you a stomach ache–but they won’t kill you.

And despite all sorts of articles all over the web from completely reputable sources (here ite all sorts of articles all over the web from completely repurable sources (here ite all sorts of articles all over the web from completely repurable sources (here is one from the Poison Control Center, for example) this myth persists.

In fact, I would have to say that it is second only to hydrangea questions for me. Again, if I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, “Oh, I can’t have a poinsettia, because I have a dog/cat/child,” I wouldn’t be posting about this, I would own a place on a warm sunny island where I would no longer worry about poinsettias or winter!

If fact, if you don’t want to believe the poison control center, perhaps you’d prefer what doctors at the Mayo Clinic have to say about poinsettias. Again, they can cause mild irritation, some stomach upset, a skin rash–but then again, so can any plant in the euphorbia family.

And as we know, lots of plants, such as the dreaded poison ivy, can do far worse to those susceptible to its oils.

So please, people, let us stop the craziness. And if you like these plants, please buy them and enjoy.