Five autumn plant health checks

Five autumn plant health checks

There’s no better time to bond with your plants than during lockdown. I find whenever I’m bored or daydream I’m drawn to my leafy companions, as if gazing at them can help solve all the world’s problems. It's one of the reasons why I love plants, they absorb me and provide an escape from everyday life. It’s also when I tend to notice things on my plants that often get overlooked.

Side note: No matter how bored you get, remember not to overwater your plants. With the cooler temperatures, your plants will start to need less H20. Also check your plant is not sitting in any water.

1. Prune damaged leaves

While heavy pruning and shaping should be done in Spring, if you notice leaves that are rotten, yellowing, holey or just nasty, you can trim these off close to the stem to keep your plant neat and promote new growth. Also check the soil with your finger. Is it damp? Or very dry? Lots of yellowing, limp mushy leaves is a likely sign of overwatering - you might even notice a 'rotten' odour. While brown crispy leaves are from underwatering.

If you have any vining plants like the Monstera adansonii or Raphidophora tetrasperma, check if they need staking. You can use a thin tree branch, ruler, or anything you can lay your hands on during lockdown to help support your plant's stem as it grows upwards. 

     2. Move plants

While most houseplants prefer to stay put, it’s time to check their lighting and temperature situation. The sun is getting lower, meaning some plants may be getting more direct sun exposure, which can burn leaves. Also remember to turn your plants around so they get even light coverage or they'll grow all cock-eyed.

Night temperatures are dropping. Remember, most houseplants prefer to remain above 15°C. Check if any of yours are near an open window or door exposed to draughts. If it’s a window or door that can be closed, remember to do so especially at night. Or you may have to move your plant somewhere warmer

       3. Mulch

When I studied landscape design, our lecturer, who was an industry stalwart, repeatedly said when he died he wanted to become mulch. We all laughed at him at the time, but he maintained that it's the most important component of successful gardening. I have come to agree. Mulch (a layer of un-composted organic material like bark chips, leaves or straw on top of the soil) has a myriad of benefits including

  • Regulates soil temperature, helping the root system stay cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • Keeps away pests, especially snails
  • Provides a slow release of organic nutrients as the material breaks down
  • Helps retain soil moisture & reduces evaporation

Just as an example, I have a hibiscus plant that ended up in the succulent greenhouse. Hibiscus are water loving! But, the hibiscus needs LESS water than the succulents, because it is mulched with bark chips. That’s how effective mulch is. A sprinkling of bark chips now will help your plants retain warmth & humidity in the colder months.

TIP: When mulching, be careful not to suffocate the stem by heaping the material around it. Leave a slight gap around the stem.

 5. Beat the Bugs

As much as we love Indian summers, it brings with it potential plant pests. The most common at this time are

  1. Mealy Bugs
  2. Aphids

Mealy bugs

These look like white cottony furry things. They especially love bamboo palms, and can be found hiding low on the stems, leaving a sticky residue. If the infestation is bad, remove the vulnerable branch. Otherwise wipe the bugs with a cloth (if you have rubbing alcohol this helps dislodge them). Spraying with water can also help to blast the little fokkers into oblivion. Spray with a dilution of 1tsp mint oil to 1litre of water as a preventative.

Many plant parents use Neem Oil, a highly beneficial organic insecticide. However, we’ve personally found that too much neem oil can end up damaging the plant severely by clogging the leaf pores, as the oil is really thick. Use only a tiny bit, or dilute with water, and only use on affected areas of the plant, rather than wiping the entire leaf.

Aphids

Tiny little black or green bugs that are found amongst the bottom of the stems, or clustering around buds. Aphids love Alocasias, Caladiums, Anthuriums and Begonias. Remove manually by spraying them off with water, or the same method as above.

5. Soil & fertilising

You can give your plants a final feed before winter. Also check the status of the soil. Does the soil seem constantly dry and losing its rich dark colour? Has the plant been in the same soil & pot for over 8 months? While you should postpone re-potting for spring, you can top up your plant with a layer of fresh potting soil, to keep your baby happy and nourished.