You know how people say, I hope you like dogs or cats, before you visit their house? Before you come to my house, I have to say, I hope you like plants. Because I’ve got a lot of green pals—indoors and out. And I love them all!
Such is the case with indoor gardener Barbara Smith. I recently met Barbara virtually when she wrote to me on the Healthy Houseplants Facebook page about her avocado tree, Mr. Oliver. She’d seen my YouTube video update on my indoor avocado tree, Sam, who’s doing well.
At the time, she thought that Mr. Oliver (pictured below) might be ailing. As you can see, he has some white leaves.
(Photo, Barbara Smith)
Mr. Oliver’s story
“In September 2018, I moved,” says Barbara. “I was devastated when most of my plants died, including my first avocado tree that I grew from a seed.”
Like a dedicated indoor gardener, Barbara watched some videos about growing avocados indoors and decided that if she gave a new avocado tree a name, she couldn’t possibly kill it.
I have to say that naming plants is a great way to ensure their survival! There’s something about personalizing them that makes them go the distance for you.
Mr. Oliver was growing well, until Barbara noted the white leaves and decided to reach out to me. She was relieved and happy when I replied and let her know that Mr. Oliver is healthy, and special.
(Photo, FreeImagesdotcom/Viktors Kozers)
Part-albino avocado tree
It turns out that Mr. Oliver is a part albino avocado plant. The white leaves aren’t a disease. Instead, they indicate that the plant cells lack chlorophyll in those areas. It appears to be a rather rare occurrence among avocado trees, which makes Mr. Oliver really special!
All Barbara need do is continue to give Mr. Oliver, who is now four months old, excellent treatment. In time, he should get more leaves coming out the sides of the trunk that are green. The top may continue to grow out white, which is kind of cool, because it looks like Mr. Oliver has a hat topped with pretty white flowers.
When white leaves on avocado trees are a problem
Of course, there are pests and diseases that can cause white on plants. These include mealybugs. But mealybugs resemble white cotton and attach to plants and feed off them. Here’s a video on my channel about an easy way to get rid of mealybugs.
Other cases when white may appear on indoor grown avocado trees include high salinity, which will cause white around the top of pot rims and on the drainage holes, as well as the top of the soil. (Here’s a good video on my channel about high salt in soil and what to do about it.)
Root rot can also cause a plant to begin molding. If you believe the molding is coming from wet soil, stop overwatering and let the soil dry out some. Then repot in a high-quality organic potting soil.
The good news is that none of these latter problems have anything to do with Mr. Oliver. He has pure white leaves with no signs of pests or diseases. Hooray!
Have you watered houseplants only to watch the water rush right through, and the soil doesn’t get very wet? There are two possible reasons this is occurring.
Number 1—The plant may be rootbound, and there is no longer much soil in the pot. If that’s the case, you need to repot.
(Photo: Freeimagesdotcom/Mario Gonzaga)
Number 2—There may be fissures in the soil where the water is running through and out the bottom of the pot without wetting the soil well. This results in excessively dry roots, which can lead to root dieback and even death. You’ll also find yourself watering the plant again and again just to keep it alive.
The solution to water houseplants properly?
Squeeze the plant pot. Of course, this is only possible with plastic pots. With ceramic pots, you’ll want to pull the plant out of the pot and repot in the same pot with new soil—or a bigger pot, if it’s time to repot.
Back to squeezing the plastic pot! When you squeeze the pot, you move the soil around and break up the fissures. This allows the water to saturate the soil, rather than rushing out the bottom of the pot. Squeeze the pot as you water. This will cause the soil to moisten completely.
How will you know if your houseplants are well watered?
The soil will be saturated. The pot will be heavier. And the plant will be happier! You’ll also have to water much less often.
Dying Easter eggs is always fun—especially if you color them up naturally! In her book, 101 Chicken Keeping Hacks, fifth generation chicken keeper Lisa Steele shares how to create Natural Easter Egg Dyes from items you’ll find in your kitchen and garden.
Steele’s Natural Dyes Color Chart tells you how much purple cabbage to use for bright blue eggs and how much spinach you’ll need to get green eggs—and many more natural color possibilities from your countertop veggie garden.
Steel’s favorite natural dye combination is purple cabbage mixed with turmeric, because it creates bright neon-green eggs.
Here are Steele’s top tips for success with natural egg dyes.
Some of the dye materials online just don’t work, like spinach, coffee and paprika, says Steele.
White eggs work much better than brown eggs. Brown produce murky colors.
Vinegar is necessary to make the color stick to the shell.
Rub a little vegetable oil on the shells after, and they’ll shine and show even more brilliant colors.
In addition to the dye recipes, Steele walks you through cooking the eggs and then dying them. There’s even a technique for boiling the eggs right in the dye water itself. Find out how to reuse the water for subsequent batches, and the best way to store them.
I often get questions about the best soil to use for houseplants. My first answer is whatever you do—pot up your houseplants with an organic potting soil.
There are many reasons for this. One being that soils with organic ingredients sustain your houseplant soil and that sustains your houseplants.
Soils that aren’t organic may contain chemical fertilizers that your houseplants can come to rely on for growth. As I mention when I speak about growing a healthy indoor garden, you are Mother or Father Nature for your houseplants. That being said—you want to act like a responsible parent and teach your plants to become self-sustaining. That’s impossible if you’re feeding their soil with chemical fertilizers—as the chemical fertilizers need to be replaced quite frequently or the plant will literally go into withdrawal.
An organic soil contains organic ingredients, such as alfalfa meal, which contains natural growth hormones, worm compost and mycorrhizae, as well as oodles of beneficial bacteria. No worries about the latter—as these microscopic organisms can’t be seen by the naked eye—but their effects can be. Your plants will thrive when the soil is full of them!
When you use an organic potting soil and organic fertilizers, you create a self-sustaining environment in your houseplant soil. That means that the soil will do the hard work for you. If you forget to feed your houseplants, the soil continues to feed them. Some ingredients of organic potting soil, like mycorrhizae, even make your houseplants more drought resistant.
Mycorrhizae is a marvelous ingredient in potting soil. You'll find it in potting soils such as the Promix line. This is a microscopic fungus that you can’t see, but it does wonders for your plants. These fungi are found outdoors in nature. As a matter of fact, they’ve been around in soil since the beginning of time.
Mycorrhizal fungi are the reasons that plants thrive in nature. They attach themselves to plant roots. The plants allow the symbiotic relationship, because the mycorrhizae go out and find more nutrients and more water than the plants would on their own. And these little fungi make roots grow much larger and longer than they would without them.
Alfalfa meal, mentioned at the beginning of this article, and various sea kelp formulations contain natural growth hormones. Why are natural growth hormones important to houseplants? Because they are a good substitute for chemical growth hormones.
Chemical growth hormones are used by growers to make plants grow quickly and big. The trouble is that once the plants no longer get these hormones—much like steroids in humans—they can have life-threatening problems! Those problems can include atrophy and eventual death. Natural growth hormones in alfalfa meal and sea kelp mixes wean your plants off the chemical plant steroids.
Compost is another important ingredient in a good potting soil. Miracle-Gro Performance Organics contains aged compost that will help sustain your indoor garden. Worm compost (castings) is another great addition to potting soils. This excrement of worms offers your plants a variety of micronutrients. Studies have also found that vermicompost helps make plants resistant to pests and diseases. You can get potting soil with worm compost, or add some to your existing potting mix. It's also makes a good mulch. Sprinkle about a 1/2-inch layer on the top of your houseplants.
If you’ve bought an African violet and enjoyed its blooms only to be discouraged when it doesn’t rebloom—read on. Here are the secrets to getting these stunning plants to re-flower again and again.
Get African violets to bloom continuously
Unlike many flowering houseplants, African violets don’t require bright light indoors. As a matter of fact, they will generally only bud up when placed in a northern exposure window. This is the dimmest window in your house!
Many indoor gardeners make the mistake of thinking that African violets require extra bright light. So, they place them in bright, sunny windows—such as southern or western. This inhibits African violet growth and flowering. Put them in too bright of a window, and you’ll get leaf burn. This creates brown spots on the leaves.
See my YouTube video on how to get African violets to rebloom by clicking here.
If you’re thinking that you’d rather not hide your African violets in the northern windows of your home, no worries! You can get them to bud up in the northern windows. Then place them wherever you want in your home. That way you can enjoy the flowering on your dining room or kitchen table—or in your bedroom or living room, or wherever you wish.
(Photo, Tamara Kulikova/Dreamstime.com)
What else do African violets require to bloom?
African violets require regular repotting. If you want your African violets to bloom continuously, you need to repot them about every six months. This is a lot more often than other houseplants—but it’s what will lead to healthy African violet plants that just keep on blooming.
Repot African violets in an organic potting soil that drains well—but has some weight to it. To further your chances of African violets flowering again, add to the potting soil some worm compost and organic fertilizer designed for flowering plants.
Fertilize African violets regularly
Just as they need fresh soil to rebloom, African violets also require a steady supply of nutrients. Feed your African violets monthly with an organic liquid fertilizer.
(Photo, Tatyana Abramovich/Dreamstime.com)
Keep African violet soil moist
African violets will flower on a continual basis, if you don’t allow their soil to dry out. When the soil dries out, this can push African violets into dormancy mode. They will just sit there and not do much for a time until you water them regularly again. When they are being watered enough again, African violets will start to grow and eventually rebloom.
Water African violets when the top 1/4 inch of soil has dried out, or the pot is becoming lightweight. Always water with lukewarm to warm water.
How to water African violets
You can water African violets from above—just avoid wetting the plant’s leaves. This can lead to fungal disease on the leaves. Or place the African violet in a container that is slightly bigger and let the plant soak up the water from the bottom. Remove the pot when the soil is saturated.
Some people swear by growing African violets with a wicking system. I haven’t had that much luck with such systems, because I’ve found that parts of the soil remain dry. However, if you want to give such a system a try, then do so.
Talk to your African violets
That’s right! If you want your African violets to rebloom, also give them a good pep talk! Promise to treat them right and ask for loads of luscious flowers. You’re sure to soon be dazzled by a brilliant display of gorgeous African violet blooms.
The first houseplant book I wrote years ago, the editor instructed me not to infer that plants are like people. I remember thinking how totally wrong that was! Not only are plants like people—people are like plants. That's why I'm excited about this guest post from ProFlowers.
Discover your plant persona with this fun infographic. You may find that you fit one plant perfectly—or that you have a little bit of a couple plants in you. Either way, it's fun to identify your plant personality.
Many houseplants come from the jungle floors. This means they thrive in high humidity. Trouble is that most homes range from 40 percent to 60 percent humidity. While 60 percent isn’t too bad, 40 percent is on the dry side. Some humidity-loving plants, like maidenhair fern, won’t do well in such dry conditions.
What is humidity?
Humidity is vapor in the air, which consists of suspended water. The term “relative humidity” refers to the percentage of moisture in the air sampled at a specific location, taking into consideration the total amount of moisture that particular air can hold without the vapor becoming fog or rain.
A reading of 50 percent humidity indicates that the air sample contains half of the moisture it can hold before the moisture condenses and becomes visible.
The amount of water that the air is capable of holding is not constant. It’s directly related to air temperature. When the temperature is warm, the air can hold more moisture. This means that warm air can hold more humidity without leading to rain. That is why warm, tropical areas are so high in humidity even when it’s not raining.
This is also the reason that greenhouses can contain high humidity without excessive foggy air.
A temperature of 75 degrees F matched with 50 percent humidity—an ideal scenario for houseplants—carries more humidity than a temperature of 52 degrees F and 50 percent humidity.
Humidity for houseplants varies by region
If you live in a dry, hot area of the U.S., such as the southwest, your indoor air is likely to be dry. On the other end of the spectrum, humid areas of the country, like the Deep South, have more humidity.
The weather will also affect humidity levels. Moist, rainy days will create humid conditions, whereas dry, windy days can create parched conditions indoors.
A hygrometer (humidstat) can be used to accurately measure the humidity level of your home. This instrument measures moisture in the air. Find them at some nurseries, hardware stores and online.
Hygrometers measure temperature and humidity, which gives you the relative humidity of your home. Older types of hygrometers were mechanical and rudimentary, but newer ones are digital and run on batteries. They don’t need to be independently calibrated and usually function with an error of 1 to 3%, depending on product quality.
Digital hygrometers are portable and can be placed throughout the house to get an idea of the humidity levels in various areas. When testing, get a good overall representative reading by testing the air in the room and then the air right near the plant.
Want to grow tasty green onions indoors so you have them on-hand whenever you want them? I’ve got a quick and easy way to do just that.
Get some green onion sets and plant them in soil. Within a few days, you’ll have green onions to add to salads and dishes, like omelets and stir-fries and casseroles.
(Photo, FreeImagedotcom/Melanie Kuipers)
Here are the steps.
1. Buy green onion sets. They generally come in white, yellow and red options. All of them work for growing green onions indoors. They all taste just about the same.
2. Get a plastic or glazed ceramic pot for growing the onions. The size of the pot will depend on how many green onions you want to grow indoors. You want to plant them 1- to 1.5-inches apart.
3. Moisten an organic, well-draining, yet water-retentive, potting soil. Make it moist, so that it holds a ball fairly well, if you form one in your fist. You don’t want it to be sopping wet.
(Photo, Healthy Houseplants.com)
4. Add a small amount of an organic fertilizer to the potting soil. Mix in well.
5. Fill the container for growing green onions indoors with potting soil. Pat down the soil to ensure that there is no airspace in the soil. Fill to about 1/2-inch below the pot rim. Make sure the soil surface is even.
6. Take an onion set and stick it into the soil with the pointy side up. Roots will form at the base of the onion. Push the onion into the soil until the top 1/8- to 1/4-inch of the pointy onion top is above the soil. Firm the soil around the onion.
7. Repeat the process until you have the container filled.
Green Onions Growing Just a Day
(Photo, Healthy Houseplants.com)
8. Water well with lukewarm water. Let the pot drain before placing onto a drainage tray. You don’t want the bottom of the pot sitting in water. This could lead to rot of your indoor grown onion.
9. Place the pot in a well-lit area, such as in an eastern or southern window, or under full-spectrum lighting.
10. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
11. Rotate the pot a quarter turn every few days to keep the indoor onion plants growing straight.
Green Onions Growing 5 Days
(Photo, Healthy Houseplants.com)
12. Begin to use the onions once they’ve reached an inch or so high. You can simply cut off the green part and use it. The onion will grow more green on top.
13. Eventually the green onion top will begin to die back. This will likely take a few months—so you’ll continue to have lots of tasty green onions.
Once the indoor onion plant does begin to die back, cut back on watering. When the green tops are all brown, harvest the onion located in the soil. It will likely be a small onion, but very flavorful. Enjoy!!
Is your plant looking sickly and you’re baffled as to why? If you can’t figure out what is going wrong with your houseplants, it could be high salt in the soil.
Excess salt in houseplant soil is a common problem with indoor plants that have been in the same soil and/or pot for a long time. It can also result when a houseplant has been over-fertilized.
Chemical fertilizers, in particular, are high in salts. In fact, you could buy a plant that has been over-fertilized. Growers try to get plants to grow quickly and end up feeding them too many chemical fertilizers in the process.
How to Spot if a Plant is Suffering from Toxic Salt Buildup
There are telltale signs of high salinity in the soil. Here they are:
1. A white crust around the upper inside edge of the pot, or white crusty buildup on the bottom of the pot around the drainage holes. If the salt buildup is really bad, you'll see salt in large patches on the container--like the picture here.
2. White crusty buildup on the top of the soil.
3.Brown leaf tips. This would be if the plant has been well watered and not allowed to dry out. Brown leaf tips can also be a symptom of low humidity, so you will have to rule these possibilities out. If you do, it’s possible that high salt is the culprit.
4 The plant just looks sickly. It used to look better, but just keeps looking sicker and sicker.
How to Deal with Salt Buildup in Houseplant Soil
There are three things you can do to help a plant suffering from high salt in the soil. This video on our YouTube channel also shows you how to do all three of the following steps.
1. Remove soil that contains salt buildup.
When you remove salty soil, replace (topdress) the soil with fresh organic potting soil. Go down about an inch when removing salty soil.
2. Rinse the plant soil.
This refers to leaching. You want to run an amount of water through the soil that equals at least three times the size of the plant pot. Slowly filter water through the soil, which will help rinse out excess salt buildup. It is a good idea to do this with reverse osmosis water, if possible, as that should be devoid of salts.
Sometimes the soil is so salty that you’re better off just repotting the plant. Take the plant out of its old pot and gently shake off the soil and rinse the roots. Replant in fresh soil in a fresh pot.
If you want to reuse the same pot, wash it thoroughly, scrubbing off any salt buildup.
Wait about a month after dealing with high salinity in the soil to see results. Plants will gradually put on new healthier growth.
If you have an ailing houseplant and have done everything you can possibly think of to help the plant, but it still looks sick, suspect a pH imbalance in the soil. Referring to the soil’s degree of acidity or alkalinity, a proper pH balance is vital to healthy plant growth.
Many houseplant problems aren’t from diseases or insects or insufficient fertilizer. It’s actually soil pH problems—to acidic or too alkaline—that can cause plant demise. When pH is too low or too high in the soil, nutrients can’t release to the plants. So you could be fertilizing, but the plants aren’t getting anything to eat.
(Photo FreeImagesdotcom/Eduardo Schäfer)
Soil pH in houseplants critical to plant health
Phosphorus is commonly hard for houseplants to pull out of soil. This nutrient requires a neutral pH in order to become available to plant roots. Plants won’t photosynthesize without sufficient phosphorus, which means they won’t root or flower.
Chlorosis is another common pH problem. It is particularly a problem on citrus trees growing indoors. It’s actually caused by an iron deficiency, but often there is iron in the soil. The pH isn’t acidic enough to release the iron for the plant.
Other nutrients that can become stuck in soil and cause imbalances and resulting symptoms include calcium, nitrogen and magnesium. Soil pH imbalance can also cause problems with soil microorganisms—all those little guys that help out and create a self-sustaining environment for your houseplants. Tip burn is another problem that can be caused by improper soil pH.
How to fix houseplant soil pH problems
So what do you do about improper soil pH in your houseplants? First, it helps to understand how soil pH works. It runs on a scale of acidity to alkalinity. The range is 0 to 14. Most soil pH comes in between 4 and 8.
Neutral with soil pH is 7. Any readings above that are alkaline, and any readings below are acidic. Many houseplants thrive in the 6.5 range. Citrus and strawberries like it even more acidic—5.5-6. Some houseplants like the soil on the alkaline side. So it pays to find out what your houseplant requires.
A point on the scale may not sound like much, but it is. It turns out that each point is exponential.
Test houseplant soil pH
Most potting soils start out at 7—neutral. But over time with fertilizing and watering, the pH will shift. Your best bet is to test your houseplant soil to see what you’re dealing with.
Do this with a soil test kit or with a soil pH meter. To test, take a few samples from a pot so that you get a good overall representative reading. When using a soil test kit, always use distilled water, which is neutral.
Adjust houseplant soil pH
If you find after testing that your soil pH is too high (alkaline), use soil sulfur to bring the pH down. For soil that is too acidic, use horticultural lime. Follow directions when applying. Wait a week and retest to make sure that the pH is ideal.