! s t n a l p e s Happy Hou door Keep your in om plants free fr th problems wi our guide...
Most houseplants will thrive in a well-lit, draught-free spot with an even temperature and reasonably high humidity. However some plants have specific needs. For instance, flowering plants and those with variegated foliage need m o r e light than plants with plain green foliage, while ferns like a darker position. Cacti, succulents and carnivorous plants like a bright windowsill, but avoid putting on a south-facing sill in summer, where they could scorch. Orchids prefer bright, indirect light and if possible, lots of fresh air and high humidity. Generally, if growth is poor and spindly, flowering plants are shy to flower or variegated plants revert to plain green, improve the light conditions.
Most houseplants are killed by overwatering. Aim to keep the compost moist but wait until it has almost dried out before rewatering. You can check by pushing your finger into the compost. Water from above and put saucers under plants to allow excess water to drain away. Generally plants will need watering more during the spring and summer growing seasons, than when dormant in winter. Tap water is fine for most houseplants, but some specialist plants, such as orchids and carnivorous plants are fussier. Water less in winter than in summer when actively growing.
Ferns, orchids, bromeliads, calathea and other tropical plants enjoy a daily mist with a hand-held spray. Grouping plants on a tray of damp gravel will also help.
Most houseplants can survive being left for a couple of weeks with some preparation. Water all pots thoroughly before you leave. Plants in large pots will be fine left in a shady room. Those in smaller pots, the very potbound and plants that enjoy humidity will do better in the bath, lined with an old towel soaked in water. If direct sunlight falls on your bath, shading the window will also help.
Many plants will grow without feeding, but flowering plants are very hungry and will do best when given a weekly dose of liquid feed. When moving plants into bigger pots, add a few granules of slow-release fertiliser to the compost, but follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to avoid overfeeding.
Most plants are easy to look after. Pinch off dying flowers with your thumb and forefinger and remove any damaged or yellowing leaves. Remove wayward branches with secateurs if necessary.
Dust can quickly build up on leaves This isn’t only unsightly but also prevents plants from growing properly. Clean with a piece of cotton wool dipped in water.
If the plant is lacking in vigour, check for tufts of white fluff. This is either mealy bug or woolly aphid, pests that suck the sap of houseplants. Remove with an organic soft soap spray. Tiny limpet-like bugs on stems or leaves of plants are a sign of sap-sucking scale insect. Rub off by hand with a piece of cotton wool. Fine webbing at the tips of plants and yellow speckling on leaves is a symptom of tiny red spider mites. They thrive in a warm, dry atmosphere - cut off the affected parts and mist around the plant to prevent another outbreak.
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SOLTIMES AUGUST 2010
the early bee gets the best pollen! A study has found that bees are better at learning new odours in the morning. This early brain power may have evolved to help the insects sniff out flowering plants and forage for nectar more efficiently. An experiment in which a team tested more than 1,000 bees is described in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology. Previous research has shown that most flowers accumulate their nectar during the morning, so this would be the period during which learning many new odours would be most useful to the bees. The process of memorising the new odours released by flowers is very energy-intensive for the bees’ brains, so being a little “less clever” later in the day could help the insects to conserve that energy.
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