Thursday, December 21st, 2006...12:16 pm

Taking care of plants when you are away for the holidays

I was asked the following plant-related question by someone named Sarah:

I saw a suggestion to bury used tea bags in your houseplant soil to retain water in winter.  Any other hints to help keep plants moist when we’re away for the holidays?

I had never heard of burying used tea bags in your houseplant soil to retain water in the winter.  However, it makes sense. Tea leaves help to make good compost and good composted soil is water retentive.  But it would seem to me that it might look unsightly to have your tea bag string hanging out of your flower pot or it might take up precious soil space with the entire tea bag.  Don’t ever throw out your tea leaves. Always save tea leaves because they are wonderful to add to your compost pile and tea leaves will  compost nicely in your potted plants. You can add the entire bag because it is all biodegradeable.  You can pour the cold leftover tea in your potted plants rather than down the drain. (If you use sugar in your tea, I wouldn’t add it to your indoor potted plants in seasons when ants are around.)   
 

There are lots of home remedies written in books and in articles. These home remedies are fun reading and fun trying. Many work, after all great Grandma didn’t have all the products we have today,  and one can often figure out the logic behind them. I don’t know all of these remdies and would love to learn of your, dear reader, favorite home remedy for growing better plants. 
 
One home remedy you may not have heard of: to keep winter narcissus from flopping over when they are in bloom in the winter. Put them in water to root as you usually do. When the stem has grown a few inches, pour out all the water. Then replace the water with 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 or 11 parts water. (Do not use straight rubbing alcohol.) This water/alcohol mixture is supposed to stunt the growth of the narcissus so that it won’t get too top heavy. 
 
Back to the question of water retention in potted plants when one is away. Adding perlite or vermiculite to soil helps in water retention.  There are polymer crystals or gels on the market that replace some of the soil and when water is given to the plant, the crystals or gels absorb the water and release the water slowly. My hardware store had a product called Soil Moist Plus that not only helps retain and slowly release water but also adds a slow release fertilizer.

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