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29 Secrets Your Houseplants Would Tell You If They Could

Now you can best tend to your houseplants' needs.

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Read the newspaper to your plants

It may sound a little ridiculous, but this can benefit them in two ways. First, the carbon dioxide from your breath may energize their gas exchange cycles. Plus, if there’s enough natural light in their location for you to read by, you’ll know that the plants are getting the minimum amount of light needed for growth.

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Don’t move plants around for short periods of time

Sudden changes can cause droopy leaves, increase susceptibility to pests and diseases, and cause flowering plants to drop healthy-looking buds. Start out with these 10 tips for planning an indoor garden.

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Know your light

When you’re deciding where to put a plant, keep in mind that south-facing windows receive much more light than north-facing ones. Because light is more intense in the summer than in the winter, you may need to move plants that are particularly sun-sensitive from a west-facing window to an east-facing window in the hotter months. Remember that brightly colored foliage need more light than others. Remember, if you don’t have a lot of natural light in your home, you can always get low-light indoor plants.

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Keep the light even

Turn your potted plants a half-turn every day or two to keep the growth of your houseplant even. Foliage automatically bends toward the light. Here’s a handy guide to growing your own herbs.

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Don’t overheat your house

Your plants won’t like it! The ideal temperature for houseplants is between 55˚ and 70˚F. Cooler temperatures are always better than hotter. Don’t have a green thumb but still want plants in your home? These fake plants will bring any room to life.

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Going on vacation?

Water your houseplants thoroughly and arrange them (without saucers) on a damp, plush towel in your sink or tub. Make sure the drain holes are in contact with the towel. Then, turn on the cold tap until the water drips slowly onto the towel and leave the water on; the roots will draw up the moisture in the fabric.

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Use a humidifier instead of misting

Misting foliage is actually not an efficient way to increase humidity for plants. A humidifier works much better! However, misting is a good way to keep leaves clean and fresh, and it’s a good way to provide moisture to cuttings that are slowly developing new roots. Use room-temperature water that is low in minerals. Mist in the morning and never mist plants that are exposed to full sun. Looking for more plants to spruce up your space? These are some of the best indoor plants for every room in your home.

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Feed your ferns

Schedule an occasional teatime for your ferns, gardenias, and other acid-loving plants. Substitute brewed tea when watering, or work wet tea leaves into the soil to give the plants a lush, luxurious look. Here are some hard-to-kill plants anyone can grow.

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Increase humidity for indoor ferns

To increase humidity for ferns and other plants that can’t tolerate dry air, set the plant on a dish of pebbles and add just enough water to touch the bottom of the pot. These are the best plants for purifying your air.

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Give plants a group shower

Group together plants that need high humidity and enjoy being spritzed with water. Keep them separate from cacti and fuzzy-leaved specimen like African violets, gloxinias, and gynuras, whose foliage will discolor if subjected to slow-drying droplets. P.S.—if you love fruit but don’t have the space to plant a tree outside, here are the best indoor fruit trees for your space.

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Make flower pots hold water longer

If your potted houseplants dry out too quickly after watering, try this simple trick for keeping the soil moist longer. When repotting, tuck a damp sponge into the bottom of the pot before filling it with soil. It will act as a water reservoir and may help prevent a gusher if you accidentally over water. Don’t forget to check if you have these poisonous plants growing in your home.

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Shampoo your houseplants by hand

Houseplants get dusty, but they need to breathe. Make a soapy solution by adding a few drops of dishwashing liquid to a pot of water, dunk in a cloth and wring it out, and then wipe those dusty leaves clean. Growing plants is good for you, too. Don’t miss the 10 surprising health benefits of gardening.

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Make sure to trim

Regularly remove all faded flowers, dried leaves, and bare stems. When you cut brown tips, leave a small brown border. Cutting into live tissue will cause more drying and dieback.

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Give your plants a mineral bath

Don’t throw out leftover club soda: use it to water your indoor plants. The minerals in the soda water help green plants grow. For maximum benefit, give your plants a drink of club soda once a week.

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Hydrate your plants with egg water

After boiling eggs, don’t toss the cooking water down the drain. Instead, let it cool and water your houseplants with the nutrient-filled liquid.

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Use ice cubes to water

Place them around the soil, but not touching the stem. The ice will melt slowly, releasing water gradually and evenly into the soil.

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Lure fungus gnat larvae with potatoes

When you water your houseplants, do tiny gnats fly into the air? They are fungus gnats, which will be less of a problem if you let the soil dry between waterings. Meanwhile, you can use a potato to trap their larvae, which are tiny worms that often injure plant roots. Push slices of raw potato around the base of the plant, leave them for two days, and then start over with fresh bait.

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Brighten up houseplants

Don’t use wax or leaf shine products, they can clog the pores and make houseplants look fake. Wipe down each leaf with a soft cloth dipped in half-and-half mixture of warm water and milk. You’ll get enough shine, but there won’t be enough residue left behind to clog the leaf pores. Or if you prefer, you can use the trick that professional florists use to keep leaves shiny and clean. Just rub a tiny amount of mayonnaise on the leaves with a paper towel and they will stay bright and shiny for weeks and even months at a time. These are more secrets florists won’t tell you.

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Start buds early in a dark bag

Want that Christmas poinsettia to look gorgeous by the time the holidays arrive? Speed up mother nature by placing the poinsettia in a large, dark garbage bag for several weeks to wake up the plant’s buds.

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Kill bugs on a potted plant

To exterminate bugs on a houseplant, put the plant in a clear plastic bag (like a cleaning bag). Add a few mothballs and seal for a week. When you take the plant out of the bag, your plant will be bug-free!

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Tired of ugly dirt?

Use small ground covers, such as creeping fig or Swedish Ivy, at the base of large houseplants to dress up the bare soil. Chose a plant with the same cultural requirements as the houseplant and pot them at the same time.

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Here’s when to repot

Repotting can be done at any time, but the best time is just before growth begins, which is in spring for most houseplants. Here are four signs a plant is ready for repotting: 1) New leaves appear slowly and are very small compared to older leaves. 2) Soil dries out very quickly, or water runs down the inside of the pot without soaking in. 3) Roots are growing out through the drainage holes, or are appearing above the soil’s surface in the pots. 4) Roots are so tightly coiled that when you pull the plant from the pot, you see all the roots and no soil. Check out these indoor hanging plants that’ll liven up your home.

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Never pull on a plant’s head

To help loosen a plant from a pot, water it well, then run a table knife around the inside of the pot. Sometimes you’ll need to break a pot to get the plant out. When this is necessary, tap the pot gently with a hammer to avoid damaging plant roots. Here are 19 things your landscaper won’t tell you.

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You don’t have to repot big plants as often as small ones

Instead, give the soil new life by removing an inch or two of the old potting mix from the surface. Then replace it with fresh potting soil to the original level. With rubber plants, palms, or Norfolk pines, you can incorporate timed-release fertilizer at the same time.

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Fertilize your houseplants regularly during active growing and flowering

These periods typically occur between March and September. Reduce the fertilizer dose to half of the recommended amount in fall. Don’t fertilize at all in winter.

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Have a spring propagation party

Most houseplants make the most of their new growth in the spring, so that’s the best time to divide and propagate them. If you think you’ll send up with more plants than you want, invite some friends over and have a propagation party!

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Be considerate to shedders

Repotting, moving to a new location, or even a change of seasons can traumatize some houseplants, such as the weeping fig or Boston fern. They show their displeasure by shedding leaves. Let them sulk, clean up their mess, and be patient. If the plants otherwise receive good care, they will recover from their bad mood.

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Prevent your pets from digging in large potted plants

Place inflated balloons on top of the soil. After popping a few balloons with its claws, the cat won’t be tempted to return. Or cut pieces of bubble wrap to cover the soil, leaving slits for water to get through.

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Keep plants labeled

Always keep the plant label even after repotting, so you won’t forget the plant’s name or the care it needs. Next, read about these plants that can detoxify your home.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest International Edition