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Keeping Your Plants Hydrated and Happy This Summer

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Summer is here! For many of us it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy time with our families and friends. Whether you’re staying in town this summer or taking a trip, remember that your plants will need some extra care to keep them happy and well hydrated in the summer heat. We’ve got some refresher tips for you just in time for the hottest season of the year! Check out our full watering guide for year-round information.

Check Soil Before Watering

Even in the summer heat this golden rule of watering applies. This season, check your larger plants for moisture every 3 to 5 days and your smaller plants every 2 to 3 days. You’ll likely need to check your containers daily.

To test the soil, dig down into the root ball using a hand shovel to a depth of 4” to 5” and feel the soil for moisture. If the soil is moist, replace the soil and check again later. Moist soil will feel somewhat like a damp sponge. If the soil is dry, water the plant and surrounding soil thoroughly. Until the plants are well established—typically one year after planting—you will need to water more frequently and follow this process of checking the soil before watering.

Water Deeply

We recommend using a watering wand as it directs water most effectively over the roots and surrounding soil. Watering deeply encourages the plants root systems to grow down into the soil, reaching for the deeper water. And plants with deep root systems withstand drought better, making it easier on your long-term watering needs. Sprinklers, gator bags, and soaker hoses can also be effective when used properly.

Make a Watering Plan

Once you get a feel for how quickly the soil dries around your plants, you can make a plan and check them on a regular basis. Be aware that you will still need to monitor weather conditions and adjust accordingly. The best time to water is in the morning as this gives plants the opportunity to become fully hydrated before the mid-day heat arrives. Water remaining on the foliage will also dry quickly in the morning sun, reducing the spread of disease. So, mark your calendar and get outside to give your plants some refreshment before the mid-day heat arrives.

Make Plans with Your Neighbors Before Vacation

Excited to finally take that vacation you started planning last summer? Enjoy! Just remember to set up a plan with a neighbor or friend to water your plants while you are gone. Provide your phone number in case they have any questions.

Back to Basics: Houseplants

Paul Knight, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Growing houseplants is a fun and rewarding hobby that can truly enhance your interior spaces. Houseplants naturally soften the straight lines and hard edges of furniture, cabinetry and other architectural elements, and make your home healthier by absorbing carbon dioxide and providing clean oxygen in exchange.

For many, the idea of growing plants inside the home may seem like an intimidating endeavor. But once you understand a plant’s ideal growing conditions, you will be able to easily enjoy plants that otherwise wouldn’t be able to survive in our area.

There are two important factors to consider when selecting a tropical houseplant: light requirements and moisture preferences. Understanding the light requirements will ensure you choose a plant that will thrive in your location. Understanding the moisture preferences will help you select a plant you can monitor and water regularly.

Light

Just like outdoor plants, light is the most important factor to consider when choosing where indoor plants can grow. Different areas of your home will have different levels of light intensity, depending on the number of windows and the directional exposure of those windows (north, south, east or west). Indoor plants typically require one of the following light levels.

Direct Light: Two to five hours of direct sun, daily

You can find direct light in sunny areas of your home within one to two feet of an unobstructed south or west facing window. In these spaces, the sun should directly touch the plant. Indoor plants that thrive in direct light locations include:

  • Cacti
  • Ficus
  • Gardenia
  • Jasmine
  • Bougainvillea
  • Citrus
  • Hibiscus
  • Succulents

Bright, Indirect Light: Three to four hours of early morning or late afternoon sun

Bright, indirect light is an all-purpose light level in which foliage plants thrive and flowering plants are maintained. You can find bright, indirect light in an unobstructed east facing window or a few feet back from a south or west facing window. In these areas, you will be able to cast a shadow in the room. Indoor plants that enjoy bright, indirect light include:

  • African violets
  • Anthurium
  • Cyclamen
  • Violets
  • Orchids
  • Bromeliads
  • Palms (Areca, Bamboo, Majesty)
  • Aralias

Moderate to Low Light: Two to three hours of indirect sun to light that is not bright enough to cast a shadow

You can find moderate light several feet back from a west or south facing window, or right next to an obstructed north facing window. In moderate light areas, there is enough light to read in the room. You can find low light areas a foot or more away from a north facing window or back from an east or west facing window that receives moderate light. Indoor plants that enjoy bright, indirect light include:

  • Peace lily
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Dracaena
  • Sanseveria
  • Cast iron plant
  • Pothos
  • Snake plant
  • Philodendron

Water

All plants require water to survive. While some houseplants prefer to remain moderately moist, others prefer to be on the dry side. For example, ferns, carnivorous plants, spathiphyllum and citrus (when they’re in bloom) all prefer to be on the moist end. Dracaena, cast iron plant, sanseverias and succulents all prefer to be on the slightly dry side.

There are two basic rules to follow to ensure proper watering:

  1. Before you water your plant, always check the soil first to see if it needs water.
  2. When your plant does need water, always water thoroughly.

You can use a moisture meter, the sharp end of a pencil, a popsicle stick or your finger to check if your plant needs water. Insert your tool of choice into the soil at least 1/3rd deep into the soil. Some plants that prefer to be on the drier side will require that you check the soil at a deeper level. Our greenhouse team will be able to tell you the specific depth at which you should check for any plant you select.

When you insert the tool into the soil, turn it in place and then lift it out of the pot. If the plant is sufficiently moist, you will see light moisture marks and specs of soil. If the plant is dry and in need of water, the pencil will have very little, if any, moisture marks or soil specs on it.

How to Water

When it’s time to water your houseplants, you can either take it to the sink or water it in place with a saucer underneath. If you water in the sink, run lukewarm water over the soil until water runs all the way through and out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. If you plant is on the smaller side or covers most of the pot, try filling up a small watering can or cup with a spot and pour water into the pot to reduce mess.Turn the water off and let the plant sit for a few minutes. Then repeat this method one or two more times. Be sure to allow all of the water to drain out of the bottom of the pot before putting it back in place.

If you water in place, pour lukewarm water over the soil until the water runs all the way through and out of the bottom of the pot into the saucer. Let the plant sit for five to ten minutes. If there is no water in the saucer, pour water over the plant again until it runs out into the saucer at the bottom and let it sit. Repeat this process until the water level in the saucer stops dropping. When done, empty the saucer or wick away any excess moisture.

We invite you to come explore the many different houseplans at our three greenhouse locations. Our greenhouse plant specialists look forward to helping you select a plant that will fit your personality and thrive in your light conditions!

Watering

Don’t let your plants go into winter thirsty!

With the extremely dry fall we’ve had this year, we’re enjoying the rain that is coming our way this week and next. But even with the rainfall, our plants will still be dry and thirsty as we’re down roughly six inches of rain since September.

We recommend supplementing the rainfall by thoroughly soaking your plants as if we had an entire day’s worth of rain.

Don’t worry, you can’t overwater your plants during a single watering session as the excess water that is not absorbed by the plant will simply run off the soil. No plant wants to go into winter dry! If our plants go dormant for the winter while dry, it’s less likely that they’ll thrive in the spring or even survive.

With new plantings, it’s important to follow our planting and watering instructions throughout the fall season and continue to check the plants for water every three to five days, and water as needed. With established plants, check them weekly through the rest of the calendar year and thoroughly soak them when needed.  Broadleaf evergreens such as hollies, rhododendrons and laurels tend to need water the most at this time of year. This is especially true if we have less than the normal amount of rainfall, like we’re experiencing in our area right now.

Remember that it’s not too late to plant your trees and shrubs. You can continue planting throughout the rest of the year and into winter. The only time to avoid planting is when the ground is deeply frozen, which may occur in our area only for only a few weeks in January or February.

As we enter the winter months, we also recommend turning off the water to the outside of your house to prevent hose bibs and pipes from freezing. If we have a warmer day in January or February, remember to turn the water back on and thoroughly soak all of your plants in the landscape, especially new plantings and broad-leaf evergreens. A pocket hose can be a great tool for this type of watering as they roll up and store easily. When you’re done watering, turn the water to the outside of your house back off to prevent the pipes from freezing in the future.

If you have any questions about specific plants and their water requirements, please visit our Plant Clinics at any of our three stores, or call in and speak with one of our plant specialists. We will also update you on our Facebook page with our latest recommendations throughout the rest of the season.

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