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Reviving indoor plants you thought were past saving

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Ever come home to a plant that looks like this, or realize that whatever you try after bring a house plant indoors for the winter just isn't working? Hope is on the way, if you approach the problem objectively.

Ever come home to a Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) that looks like this?  While the plant is survivor that does not need much water, realize that bringing a house plant indoors for the winter can be as stressful as taking it outdoors? Approach problems objectively and most house plants will surprise you.

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If you’ve ever gone on vacation, only to return to a favorite plant you forgot all about, chances are you wish you had one of Harry Potter’s potions, or even his wand.

Caring for potted plants can be a challenge in the best of home environments. Especially when you’re bringing them indoors after they spent an idyllic summer in the shady corner of the patio or hanging on the porch. Giving flowers, herbs, and vines the right light and water requires both a green thumb and a patience many of us just don’t have. But if your indoor garden looks tired, distressed, or droopy, don’t toss the plants out just yet.

Before you can address what ails your indoor plants, first evaluate.

When you’re looking at a plant and it just doesn’t look like it did when you bought it, the first thing to consider is how old it is. If it’s just a couple months or less since you bought it and it’s having issues, it probably has to do with watering, light, air circulation. If you’ve had the plant for more than a few months, the issue might be nutrition, pests, or other problems.

One of the most common house plant demises is the poinsettia left over from the holidays next to the fireplace or in a corner where it gets little lighl

One of the most common house plant demises is the poinsettia left over from the holidays next to the fireplace or in a corner where it gets little light, and perhaps too much or too little water.

Here’s are signs to look for, plus some common sense ways to fix things with simple, sustainable steps that will help your little sprouts bounce back in no time.

Symptom: Soft, yellowing leaves
Diagnosis: Too much water
Cure: Check the soil–if it’s especially damp or wet, water less frequently. Make sure the pot has proper drainage holes in the bottom, too.

Symptom: Brown, crispy leaves that are falling off
Diagnosis: Not enough water
Cure: Try watering until liquid runs out of the pot’s drainage holes, and do that whenever soil is dry to the touch. But don’t overdo it.

Yup, the most common mistake is to under- or over-water your young plant in the beginning and then to switch gears and do the opposite. Consistency and getting water to plants on a timely basis is crucial, and it’s wise to read up on your new cultivar before you do either one. Good for you, you’re doing that now, but thanks to the Internet, you can get very specific, often just by doing a search on the specific Latin name.

Just remember plants need differing amounts of water in different seasons. If you’re running the air conditioner or furnace, for example, potting mixes and soil will dry out faster. While you might not need to water more often, you should up the amount of water you’re pouring into the pot each time, not unlike you would a plant growing outside in the heat of summer.

Symptom: Fine webbing and tiny insects
Diagnosis: Pests
Cure: Three pests that commonly attack houseplants are mites (look for very tiny insects and silky webbing), scales (small, dark, waxy insects attached to leaves and stems) and whiteflies (tiny white or yellow insects that cluster under leaves). These tiny insects can spread from an infested plants to a healthy one in only hours or days, so isolate a sick flower as soon as you see a problem, then actively preventively to potential affected plants.

One organic pest-fighting solution involves diluting rubbing alcohol in water and gently wiping down all leaves and stems weekly for at least three weeks in a row. To avoid stressing the plant even more, keep it away from sunshine and heat as you apply the solution. Stir one teaspoon of alcohol into two cups of water for small plants; for bigger ones; or no more than half a cup of alcohol in a gallon of water.

Symptom: Tired leaves and low soil levels in the pot
Diagnosis: Low nutrition
Cure: Potted plants live in a limited amount of soil you have provide, so nutrients dimish over time. Moreover, dirt gets washed out of the pot each time you water a houseplant. The simplest alternative is to add fresh potting soil or mix.  Trying lifting the plant and the root ball entirely out of the pot and add a little fine mulch to the bottom, or, alternatively, just add a thin layer to the top.

Finally, remember that patience is a virtue whether you’re tending your gardens indoors or outdoors.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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