Metro-East Living

Give houseplants a fresh start: Clean them up and fertilize

By Charlie Giedeman

Q: My houseplants are not looking too great. I do not know what to do to get them healthy looking again. Any helpful ideas would be appreciated. I do not want to throw them out because some of them have sentimental value.

K. W. of Swansea

A: This time of year, your plants should be growing as healthy as they can be. First, clean up and remove any faded flowers, dried leaves and bare stems to help shape up the plant and encourage new leaf growth. Second, check on any damaged or brown edges on the remaining leaves. Cut the brown tips off but leave a little brown edge so you will not encourage more drying and dieback. Right now would be a time to encourage new growth by using a liquid plant fertilizer at the recommended strength unless we have an extended period of overcast days. As days becomes shorter after Sept. 21, reduce fertilizer to half strength until mid-December when you will not need to fertilize until next March.

Do not use any products to shine the leaves and make them glossy. Use a liquid dish water detergent on two sponges to clean off the upper and lower sides of the leaves at the same time. (Make sure this detergent does not contain a de-greaser.)

During the summer, you can help flush out any buildup of salts in the soil and make sure that the inside of the root mass receives enough water. You can place the container with the plant in the sink or in a pail of water for about 15 minutes or until you do not notice any bubbles coming up to the surface. Let this drain for the rest of the day and you will not need to water the plant for about a week after.

If you have any leftover tea, you can also water the plants with this tea water. Ferns and other acid-loving plants look lush a week after this watering.

Also, if you have any leftover club soda, throw the plants a party and give them the leftovers. Just do not give a party more than once a month.

Any time that you boil eggs, keep the water because it contains calcium, which the plants really appreciate. Just remember to allow the water to cool before pouring it over the media.

If you notice bugs on your plants, place a plastic bag over the plant, add a few moth balls and keep it closed for a week. It will be bug free. You may need to repeat this any time you notice bugs or flying insects.

Q: I now have many flowers blooming in my flower beds. I would like to cut them and give them to my friends. Are there any home remedies to keep them blooming longer?

B.P. of Collinsville

A: There are several home remedies for making your flowers last longer. They need an ingredient to keep bacteria from building up and another that contains sugar to nourish the flower longer. To kill the bacteria, you can use white vinegar (2 tablespoons per quart of water), a few drops of vodka, three drips of bleach, a crushed aspirin, ¼ cup of club soda, one copper penny.

For sugar, add 1 teaspoon to 3 tablespoons of sugar or one sugar cube to a quart of water to nourish the flowers.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Do it now

  • Set up water gardens with plants.
  • Plant ornamental grasses when the soil is dry enough.
  • This is a great time to plant perennials.
  • The warm season grasses — Zoysia and Bermuda — will take off now.