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Gardening in the Time of COVID-19

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

Open Door on a Garden - Konstantin Somov (1869-1939)

Just when the sun feels a bit warmer and the days begin to lengthen, and just when early spring flowers begin to bloom, here we are, stuck inside. The seed catalogs have arrived. We are anxious to get outside to see our vegetable gardens and flower beds. Spring arrives but the world situation keeps us indoors.

My friend, Simone, called yesterday to report that her indoor cacti seem unwell. I wanted to pay a visit and conduct a plant doctor “house call,” but we practiced social-distancing instead and I attempted to diagnose the patients over the phone. This inspired me to think of all the indoor gardening activities to suggest while we are stuck inside looking for things to do.

Check the health of your indoor plants

Now is a good time to have a close look at all your house plants to assess their health. Are they dropping leaves? Are your plants looking spindly? Are leaves curling or do they look chlorotic (yellowing) or are leaf tips turning brown? Are your plants generally covered in dust? Healthy plants are more likely to resist diseases and insect infestations.

Check for insect damage and disease

Some insects which attack house plants are easy to spot like mealy bugs, aphids and white flies. Others are tiny and difficult to see, like thrips. Others hide on the underside of leaves, under the rim of the pot, or in the soil.

As well, some plant diseases are easier to detect than others. Powdery mildew, black spot and sooty mold are easy to detect, while root rot and other soil borne diseases are more difficult.

It’s important to inspect your house plants regularly and look for signs of insect damage and disease. Do your homework and treat these problems early to keep your plants healthy. (We will discuss specific diseases and insect infestations and their remedies in future posts.)

Inspect roots

If you suspect a problems with the roots of your potted plants – root rot, soil gnats, problems from over-watering, you can gently tip a plant out of its container, loosen the soil and have a close look at the roots. If the soil is water-logged, place the root ball on layers of newspaper to absorb the excess water. (We will also discuss proper watering in future posts.) While you are inspecting plants and their roots, if the plant is healthy but root-bound, and depending upon the type of plant, this might be a good time for re-potting.

Do a thorough cleaning

If your plants shelves look dusty and dirty with spilled soil and webbing, this is a good time to remove all the plants and do a thorough cleaning. Dead leaves and soil are areas where insects and diseases accumulate. Remove dead leaves from plants and prune back leggy growth. Gently clean leaf surfaces with a damp cloth. A clean environment helps keep plants healthy

Rooted spider plant cutting

Take plant cuttings and propagate

This is fun activity! Some plants are easy to propagate, like the pothos plant, spider plant or philodendron. Simply cut a length of a vining plant, or remove a tiny plantlet from the spider plant, place in a glass of water and wait for roots to form. By the end of the quarantine, you might have new plants to give to your friends or bring to your office!

Many plants are easy to propagate – African violets, many succulents, begonias and even the pit from your avocado.

Continue to make outdoor plans

This is good time to make plant lists, start seeds, or even draw a new plan for your garden. In the northeast, it still too chilly to plant outdoors (it’s snowing as I write this post!) so it’s a good time to do a little research and make plans. Be sure to think about compost and mulch. Do you need new hoses or sprinklers? Have you been meaning to install a rain barrel, start a compost pile, repair a fence, or make a new garden path? The natural world seems to take on new meaning as we are urged to stay indoors. Our gardens are still there waiting for us! Take heart! We will get through this.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions about anything in this post.

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The Somov painting looks like one of my wife's jigsaw puzzles. : ) Lots of items, an inside and outside, and supersaturated colors.

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