Our plants require a spring clean, too

Spring fever affects people in different ways. We gardeners get itchy fingers and feel the urge to get our hands in the dirt.

You also may find that your house needs a spring cleaning, and when you tend to that task, don't forget about your houseplants. They may need to be cleaned, too, as well as require other care.

Dust is an enemy of plants. It spoils the appearance of plants and blocks leaf pores so the plant can no longer breathe properly. Dust blocks the good effects of sunlight, too, so it is necessary to remove it when it becomes obvious on the foliage.

Small plants can be spritzed with clean water; larger ones can be wiped with a damp, soft cloth or sponge. If the plant has gotten very dirty, dust it first, so you don't end up making mud pies. Remember to support large leaves with your hand while washing them.

Cacti, succulents and plants with hairy leaves, such as African violets, should not be sprayed, but instead brushed with a soft brush — an artist's brush or small paintbrush works well.

Some plant foliage, even when clean, can begin to look dull as it ages. Leaves can be made shinier by using a plant polish. Homemade concoctions containing vinegar, milk or beer can be used, but will not produce a shine, and olive oil is an absolute dust magnet. It is best to purchase a product intended for this use — wipe-on and aerosol versions are available — and use only on older leaves.

Spring is a good time to re-pot houseplants. Most houseplants rest a bit during the winter, and the appearance of new growth is a sign of spring. As a general rule, houseplants will benefit from re-potting every couple of years.

There are many variables, so do some research on your particular plant to discover how it signals that it needs a new home. Bromelaids, for example, should never need re-potting, while African violets may produce so many young that the pot becomes overcrowded and inhibits bloom. Other plants will bloom only when they're pot-bound. So if you are re-potting, do not automatically assume it needs a bigger pot. It may just need fresh soil.

While you are doing your research, check to see whether your houseplant is one that will enjoy spending the summer outdoors. Most will not want full sun but will thrive in dappled shade of an arbor or under a tree or shrub. My Christmas cacti enjoy life under the grape arbor until frost threatens. When you bring the plants in, remember to check carefully for insect hitchhikers.

My favorite houseplant reference book is "The Houseplant Expert," by Dr. D.G. Hessayon, which will guide you in raising a great variety of houseplants.

Coming up: Master Gardeners Monica and Steve Farnsworth will teach a class about raising more vegetables using the French Intensive Gardening method. The class will meet from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 to register.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.


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