Why Your Home Needs a House Plant
Having spent nearly 10 years working on TV makeover shows, it’s clear to me that interior designers don’t make the best use of indoor plants
I love them – they soften a room, bring the essence of life indoors and add an extra quality to the home.
The Victorians got it right, filling their houses with luxurious palms, bottle gardens, terrariums and ferns that are so beautiful they take your breath away.
It seems that today there’s a stigma attached to pot plants! In Holland they are treated as longer-lasting cut flowers – when they are past their best they are binned and replaced in the same way as cut flowers.
Here we see things differently. That cyclamen we bought two years ago is still on the windowsill with one dodgy leaf left and a dying flower, and when it’s gone we chuck it in the bin and say: “I’m never buying another one from that place!”
Are we being realistic here? We know that these plants’ natural environment is not a centrally heated home with poor light – which is what our homes are like in winter. So it’s fair to assume they will deteriorate and eventually die.
But, follow my tips and you’ll help them to survive indoors and perk up your interior surroundings during winter.
- Most pot plants are put on windowsills because these are nice bright spots but, unfortunately, they’re usually just above a radiator. Dry air scorches the plant, so to minimise this effect, add gravel to a saucer then sit your plants on the gravel. Add water but ensure the pot isn’t touching the water. As the temperature in the room rises, the water evaporates and creates a humid alternative to the dry air.
- Never leave plants sitting in water thinking they are well watered. Peat has a capillary action which will absorb water and saturate the pot displacing the air and putrefying the root ball. Most plants die this way. In the trade we call it ‘death by kindness’.
- Remember where the pot plants originally came from and protect them. A poinsettia bought at a supermarket at Christmas may suffer from frost on the way to the car or during the journey home. Also, think about how it will be affected if it’s left in the hall by an outside door that’s regularly opened and closed.
- Flowering plants need light to perform well, so move plants to bright areas during the winter.
Just a few simple steps taken for you to see, and smell, the benefits!
Unusual Planting Techniques
Having spent a great deal of my time working in garden centre advisory huts when I was younger, I have accumulated many unfamiliar feeding techniques, hints and tips on caring for plants with unusual objects. Over my lifetime I have catalogued them into my very own bible of hints and tips using household items to feed and care for your plants. This helps in a variety of different ways.
- Is a quirky way of looking after your plants and entertaining chat around the dinner table
- It’s saving you money because you are using standard household items
- It is recycling too which helps our Mother Earth
All these hints and tips are practical for your garden and plants. There are many products on the market to help the growth and vitality of your plants. But stop a minute and consider some of my unusual ways of helping plants to grow healthily!
All these hints and tips are practical for your garden and plants.
Believe it or not Viagra does have an active involvement with plants specifically if your blooms start to wilt. Picture this, a vase a wilting cut flowers drop in a standard Viagra tablet. Hey presto, it stiffens up your blooms a treat. Now it actually only needs 1 mg of an standard 50 mg tablet to do this but it does re-stiffen the blooms in a vase, believe it or not. Soluble aspirin acts in a similar way and also does the same job. If you're got wilting blooms, a touch of Viagra or a tablet of Aspirin and it re-stiffens your blooms for another day or so.
Teabags are great plant food; my favourite brew is PG tips! If you finish a cuppa tea and your tea pot has gone cold. You can use the tea from the pot to water into plants, it is a very good source of nitrogen, and it is also quite acidic. It is very good for those Azaleas on the windowsill.
Another option is to use teabags broken up in the bottom of hanging baskets, window boxes or containers. It is all a good source of food and of course it’s recycling too.
Teabags & Ralgex
Something different is the use of Ralgex and teabags. Perhaps you have difficulty with the neighbours’ cats coming into your garden to do its business and looking for a humane way of deterring them from coming in. Get hold of a teabag and a can of Ralgex/deepheat. It’s the spray you use when you have muscular problems usually around the back area that you spray on, you get that warm heat feeling but you get that smell that nobody wants to come within 100 yards of you. It works the same with plants.
Spray over the teabags and put them in the places where cats come into your garden. Maybe down by the shed, or a little spot at the end of the border or on the grass. The cats come, get a whiff of something that they don’t like, meow and off they go. It doesn't harm the cats at all it just acts as a deterrent. Over time as the rain and the elements break it down, so you may need to redo it to keep that deterrent going. A week of treatment should help the situation.
Eggs help in a variety of different ways, it is not the content of the eggs it is in fact the shells themselves and it does three really good things for the keen gardener. If you put all the egg shells into a bucket of water, leave to stand for at least 10 days and then use that water to water in and around your tubs and containers. It has a very high calcium content from the egg shell but also has some minor trace minerals too.
You can also break up egg shells and put them in the bottom of your basket of tubs to add content that the plant needs. Another way is to take all your egg shells, place in a bowl and put them into a microwave for 2 min. This dry’s the skin inside the egg shells, the inner epidermis, so it enables you to crush the egg shells really fine which has a great benefit.
You can use the egg shells to sprinkle over sensitive plants like Busy Lizzies, Mesembrianthems etc. that the slugs love. The slugs hate crawling over sharp items; it is like you or me having a stone in our shoe. They hate it, so it is a great deterrent against slugs. I love this option.
I did a talk on egg shells to a live audience at the Ideal Home Show and a little girl came up to me and said ‘My mum uses egg shells, when we finish having a boiled egg, we scrape the inside out, she puts a bit of toilet paper at the bottom of the egg shell, and sprinkles in a bit of cress or grass seed. Water the area, get a felt tip pen, draw two little eyes, a nose and a smiley face on the front of the egg shell and it grows its own hair.’
It feeds you plants, protects your plants, entertains the kids, is recycling, and costs you nothing, great results with little effort!
A broom is fantastic for watering. I kid you not. It's not the broom bristles themselves it’s the other end, the broom handle. Normally when you water plants that are very, very dry you get that crust due to the heat on the soil and the water just seems to just roll off the surface of the soil. Using a broom handle, poke a few holes around your containers and shrubs in the border and it effectively increases your effectiveness of watering. The water falls down the holes you make with the broom handle and seeps deep down into the roots rather than washing away. Would you believe it, broom helps you water plants.
Vodka is a great favourite of mine, and pretty good for looking after your cut flowers!. Sounds great, but what does it actually do? Cut flowers in a glass vase create algae; it starts to turn green where the algae begin to grow on the stems of the flowers. Your vase is now looking a bit manky and the flowers start to deteriorate quickly. If you put a small tot of vodka into the vase, this stops the algae growing, vodka doesn't affect the plants themselves and keeps the vase fresher for longer.
Nails are really good plant food, not the galvanised ones though as they will not work. We are looking for nails that have not been galvanised so they will rust. Push them into your plant pots with Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellias or Heathers and they break down producing iron. Nails are very good if you got a very limey soil because lime locks out the plant’s ability to take up iron. By adding nails it does keep the leaves a great deal greener and helps considerably.
You can either do this by poking a few nails in your pot Azaleas that you get for Mother's Day or whenever you plant Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Heathers or any acid loving plant. Nails work and it is the same with scouring pads. Those Brillo pads or anything that rusts is good, you can drop them all into a bucket of water, wait till it turns rusty brown and water accordingly. Alternatively you can just push the nail into the bottom of the hole; it's as simple as that.
Socks & Tights
Don’t underestimate the power of socks or tights when gardening, they are great when looking after young trees that you planted or any other plant that needs a bit of support or training.
Normally you put a stake into the ground and then you use what you buy from garden centres, a tight band. If you don't loosen that band and buckle then the plant actually gets constricted. But if you use tights and socks you don’t have to spend any money. Take the old socks, tie them once round the tree itself, then around the stake but not in between stake and the tree, it holds them steady. Saving money, time, effort and also supports your plants too.
Washing up liquid
Washing-up liquid is a great emergency fix if you suddenly get an attack of Blackfly or Greenfly in the garden. Simply add a bit of washing-up liquid into one of the little hand held misters and then spray over your plants. The detergent means that the bugs cannot actually hold onto the stem and slowly slip away and fall to the ground. A lot of eco environmentally friendly insecticides have this detergent base and it works as a pretty good quick fix to protect your plants during an infestation of green or black fly.
Now for just a bit of fun.
Bamboo canes, I use bamboo canes as a pretty good deterrent against slugs. Basically take a walk into the garden, see one and use a bamboo cane to flick it next door.
If you haven't got a bamboo cane, Badminton or tennis rackets work the same they are particularly good with snails. Make sure the neighbour is out or you could end up with a glancing blow on the back of a head with a mollusc.
Alternatively salt, grit, copper tape, no slugs will dare cross the line!
Bananas are a great source of potassium for roses. Some people also use them with tomatoes too, it is not the banana itself it is the skin that does the trick. Again it’s recycling and money saving. Peel off the bananas, cut up the skin and lay them fleshy side down at the base of your roses and it will do them a treat.
Soap is fantastic. For any of you who plant bulbs and then all of a sudden those cheeky squirrels dig down and scoff your bulbs, it’s a pain. All you need to do is get hold of some soap; you can get this free at most hotels. Literarily plant your bulb, grate the soap using your cheese grater over the bulb and surrounding area. The squirrels visit the bulb area on a day out just after you planted them. As they dig down for lunch they get a taste of detergent and go to the next-door neighbours’ restaurant to eat there. Works a real treat giving you a great show and them a little bit of an embarrassment.
Light bulbs are also a pretty good example on how to take care of your plant bulbs. Believe it or not putting a flower bulb, in exactly the same way as you put a light bulb in is crucial to make sure the flower bulb survives.
You may have planted bulbs in the past and then found that out of 10 bulbs planted only eight or nine of them actually flower. Most of this is due to the fact that as you plant the bulb, there is a little gap in between the base of the bulb and the base of the soil, that’s where moisture gets in and rots the bulb.
When you put a bayonet light bulb in, you ‘push and twist’. If you do the same with your flower bulbs, tulips, daffodils or hyacinths you should push and twist to make sure the base of the bulb is down to the base of the soil. Now water it in, and it roots itself so that each and every one of them will flower.
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