Happy Houseplant Day: How Not to Kill Your Plants

Confession time. While your Boozy Gardener does an excellent job of tending outdoor plants, she has a long history of murdering houseplants. Since today is Houseplant Appreciation Day, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to tell you what I have been doing wrong.

For those who don’t know me I’m a Pisces with the accompanying superhero tendencies. When I see something hurting, I come to the rescue. Thus, for many years, I felt badly for my indoor plants. I wasn’t the only one fading under the dim Midwestern winter skies, and since I couldn’t share a G&T with them (I’m not that clueless), I thought water would perk them up. Daily. Watering.

For those of you savvier than me, you already see where this is going. For the beginners among you, let me explain. Most indoor plants need very little water, especially in the winter.

Last year, this led to the death of my jade plant (R.I.P.). I noticed something was amiss when the leaves started falling off and the stems withered. I sent my sister a picture of the dying plant, and she asked, “It’s water-logged. How often are you watering that poor thing?”

I pled the 5th and added Jade to the compost heap. Silently, I vowed not to make the same mistake this winter, which leads us to:

Current houseplant residents:

  1. A Pothos named Hermione. She was a gift from my sister and is pretty much impossible to kill (thanks, Claire!). image3
  2. A Christmas cactus named Trike (like a Triceratops, get it?). After residing in my BF’s garage for approximately two months, he gifted the plant to me (Thanks, Baby!). As you can see, Trike needs some help. Christmas Cactus
  3. An Aloe named Beachy Keen that was also a resident of BF’s garage. Beachy may be in worse shape than Trike. Aloe

I know how to care for Hermione; I water her once a month or when she starts to look peaked, but I was clueless with Beachy and Trike. After doing some research, I discovered how to properly care for the two:

Caring for an Aloe Plant

Aloe plants fair best in soil that drains easily, so you will want to use a sandy soil for big pots or a good potting soil for smaller ones. When choosing your pot, make sure to pick one with a drainage hole and place a tray underneath it to catch the draining water (something I often forget; I’ll spare you photos of my window sill).

Aloe plants need to dry out in between watering, so only water your plant when the soil is dry. If you are like me and need to keep things on a calendar, make a note to yourself to check the soil every other week. To check, stick your finger in the soil, and if it feels moist two inches deep, your plant is fine and does not need water (if it’s moist, the soil will stick to your fingers–yes, I can feel you all cringing at my repeated use of the word “moist”).

Another way to check the health of your aloe plant is to look at the leaves.

  • Aloe leaves are supposed to be erect, so if they are hanging limp (like mine), it means the plant is not getting enough light (may be time to invest in a sun lamp).
  • If the leaves are thin, the plant is not getting enough water.
  • If the leaves are brown, the plant needs less sun.

Since my aloe is suffering from all of the above, I am hoping repotting the plant in proper soil and trimming the dead leaves will at least give it a chance to recuperate.

Caring for a Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus is the common name for Schlumbergera bridgessii, and I have found, the plant is a bit pickier about conditions than the pothos or aloe plants. It needs light to flower—but not too much light or its leaves will burn. It requires frequent watering, especially in the spring and summer, but it can never sit in water or too-moist soil. Maybe I should change Trike’s name to Goldilocks.

During the flowering season (in the spring and summer), the Christmas cactus prefers humidity and warm temps (between 60 and 70 degrees F, or 15 to 21 Celsius for anyone reading outside of the U.S.).

After it blooms (generally around Christmas–hence the name), you can allow the plant to go into dormancy by finding a place in your home that’s cooler (50 to 55 F or 10 to 12 C) and darker (allow 10-12 hours of darkness per day).

Outside of light and temperature, though, the real trick of the Christmas Cactus is watering. Don’t let the word “cactus” fool you. This plant actually hails from tropical rain forests—not the desert. Thus, the plant will die if the soil gets too dry, but the leaves will fall off if you water it too often.

To solve this problem, you can keep your pot in a tray filled with pebbles and water. This will add humidity to the plant. In between waterings, allow the topsoil to dry out and then make sure you’re watering at the base of the plant. Again, if you need things on your calendar, simply make a note to check the soil each week.

Any tips?

If you have any tips or tricks you would like to suggest, feel free to comment below. I will keep you all updated on Trike’s and Beachy’s convalescence.

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