MASTER GARDENERS: Healthy indoor gardens require cleaning and care

While March 21 was the first day of spring it does not seem likely we will be out in our gardens soon in the Bemidji area.

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While March 21 was the first day of spring it does not seem likely we will be out in our gardens soon in the Bemidji area.

While we await all the chores of our outdoor gardens we can spruce up our household plants to assure their health. Proper plant care can minimize pest issues and allow you to enjoy your indoor plants.

To begin with, choose the right plants with growing requirements that match your indoor environment. One book that has been very helpful for me is " The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual " by Barbara Pleasant.

Plants cannot fight off pests when they are struggling to grow in too little light, overly wet or dry soil, too hot or too cold air temperatures, etc.

Here are a few tips to follow for healthy plants:


  • Know how much water your plant needs.
  • Water the soil at the base of the plant, not the leaves.
  • Be sure the plant’s pot drains well. Overwatering and poor drainage can cause root rot and encourage fungus gnats as well as other pest issues.
  • Apply fertilizer at half the recommended strength.
  • Fertilize when the plant is actively growing.
  • Keep the soil surface clean of dead leaves and flowers.
  • Wash plant leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust and grime. Never use leaf shine products or milk.
  • Prune out dead branches and stems.
  • Use new, sterile potting soil when re-potting household plants and plant in clean pots.

Early detection is key to managing pests. It is the best way to keep insects at bay. Examine your plants and containers well before bringing them home from the store or indoors for the winter.
If you suspect an insect problem a magnifying lens will help to spot very small pests. Inspect the tops and undersides of leaves for insects, webbing, holes and eggs. If the leaves are discolored this may be evidence of a pest problem. Watch for honeydew — a shiny, sticky substance made by aphids, mealybugs and scale insects.

Check plant containers for signs of pests as well. Isolate new plants one to two weeks when bringing them in the house from a store or outdoors. This year I did have a pest problem so I used the sticky traps to capture the pests. If a chemical is needed to rid your indoor plants of pests follow the guidelines on the packaging to get the best results.

My indoor plants help me get through the winter. I now have geraniums blooming which I brought in from outdoors and they will go out again after I prune them up for the summer. Much of the above information is from articles by the University of Minnesota Extention educators Julie Weisenhorn and Jeff Hahn

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, , or by visiting our Facebook page at .

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail beginning April 1. Call (218) 444-7916, and leave your name, number and question.

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