Spring Cleaning: Plant Edition

Spring is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. After a gray, cold winter, spring comes in with warm breezes, brightly colored flowers, and longer days full of sun. (Oh, sweet, sweet sunshine!) This winter has seemed to drag on especially long, with snow coming to Ohio all the way into April.

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April showers bring May flowers…

Another aspect of spring that I love is spring-cleaning. I am a self-professed neat freak and a serious germaphob. Add those two together with my Type A personality and…well, you get the picture. Every spring, I look forward to purging unneeded junk we have acquired over the winter, washing every single sheet and towel in sight, and organizing all of our closets, dressers, and cabinets.

There’s another aspect of spring-cleaning that has been on my mind this year – especially after all of the home renovations we have done over the winter – and that is cleaning my plants. Despite my best efforts to dust them off here and there during the winter, or occasionally give them a good rinse in the sink, many of my plants have a fine layer of drywall dust covering their sweet leaves. With the dust blocking the sun’s rays from the leaves, the plants can’t properly photosynthesize, which inhibits their development and could even cause them to die.

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Poor, dusty leaf…

**I’d like to add that I never thought I would use the word “photosynthesize” in my life – ever – so shout out to Mrs. C, my sophomore year biology teacher, for enduring all of my attitude, eye rolls, and attempted manipulation to not do any work. Turns out I learned something after all!

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Here I am at age 16 with the infamous Mrs. C (dressed as “Proton Woman”), and my BFF – a picture of a picture right out of my high school scrapbook!
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Another shot of “Proton Woman”

Well, that was a fun little aside. *clears throat* ANYWAY….

Needless to say, spring-cleaning my plants has been at the forefront of my mind. However, as this is my first spring with plants, I wasn’t quite sure of the best method(s) to clean them. I read up on many different products and methods, and thought I would give some of them a try!

Spraying with Water

Have you ever watched a four-year-old wash their hands unattended? I watch it – literally – everyday. My son is the worst at WASHING his hands. He thinks that by putting one squirt of soap on his hands and instantly washing it off, he has done his due diligence and his hands are “clean.” (Guys, kids are gross. If you have them, then you understand. If you don’t, then you should be forewarned. Gross. Gross. Gross.)

This is what I feel like happens when I spray my plants with water to clean them. All the water does is move around a little of the dust and dirt on the leaves, but as soon as the water dries, the dust is still there, just dried in the shape of water droplets.

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Old dust and dirt dried in the shape of water droplets on my peace lily

While this method feels easiest and might give you the vibe that something good is happening, I don’t really think it’s very effective in actually cleaning the leaves.

Washing with Water

I have, however, found that washing my plants with water is an effective way to clean the leaves. Typically, I put some water on my fingers or a soft cloth; then gently rub the leaf – both top and bottom – clean. When I’m done with all the leaves, I spray the plant down with the sprayer on my sink, just to rinse off any extra dust or dirt that I might have loosened.

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Peace lily much cleaner and happier after an actual WASH in the water!

I would like to add that both of the water cleaning methods are best done in conjunction with watering. If you wash them in addition to watering your plants, there’s a good chance that they will get overwatered and/or possibly flood.

Dusting Glove

For Christmas, my mom got me a microfiber dusting glove as a joke. She forgot, however, with whom she was dealing. I love the glove, and I actually use it frequently when cleaning around the house. My kids think it’s hilarious, and since the glove is big and blue, we refer to it as the “Cookie Monster Hand.”

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Poor monstera…all covered in dust…

I decided to try the microfiber side of the dusting glove on my plants to see if it might effectively remove dust. I feel like this method is preferable to many of the other methods I tried, and it doesn’t include any products that might potentially block the leaves pores, which clearly does more damage than good.

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All ready to soak in that gorgeous spring sunshine!

Overall, I felt like this method was effective – especially on my plants with bigger leaves such as my monstera, snake plants, or pothos. However, for any plants that have smaller leaves, I’m not sure that the big, bulky glove is as effective, as it can’t get into small crevasses. For smaller leaves, I have found that a microfiber cloth does a great job!

Milk and Water

This is a method that I read about on Instagram. One of the accounts I follow (and please forgive me, I cannot remember whose account I saw this on!) said that she was cleaning her leaves with a mixture that was equal parts water and milk. I had never heard of this (and was also pretty skeptical, as I didn’t want my entire house smelling like sour milk), so I decided to do a little research.

Turns out that this is actually a thing called foliar feeding. Apparently, if you have an empty milk container, you can add water to it before throwing it away and can water your plants with that. Or, you can dilute the milk and spray it on the leaves. (If you have skim milk, you can supposedly put that directly on the leaves.) This process is said to give the plants a nutritional boost; additionally, the milk can serve as an antifungal, and and can even potentially cure some of the fungal issues to which some plants are susceptible. (I found this information here.)

However, there is conflicting opinions about this method. Some people contend that using this method might attract pests and potentially make your house smell like sour milk. (NO THANKS!) Another argument against foliar feeding is that, while using food products like milk might make your plant have shiny leaves, it’s not actually doing anything helpful for the plant itself.

I debated trying this process of cleaning/shining leaves with the milk/water solution, but decided against it. I couldn’t run the risk of my house smelling like sour milk or attracting any unwanted pests. (We are currently facing a “lovely” invasion of springtime ants…so I am currently focused on making my house as un-bug-friendly as possible.)

Vinegar and Water

According to the Garden Report website, a good way to remove hard water stains from leaves is to use a weak vinegar solution (1 part vinegar to 5 parts water). This site claims that if you spray the hard water stains and wipe them away with a soft cloth, this will remove the stains.

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Hard water stains on my Christmas Cactus

I have a Christmas Cactus that I purchased at IKEA that has hard water spots (plus dust on top of that!), so I decided to give it a try. I was really nervous to spray something as acidic as vinegar – even in a diluted form – onto my plants (plus it doesn’t smell great), but I went for it.

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A much cleaner and happier Christmas Cactus

I sprayed the solution on my cactus, and wiped it off with a soft cloth. I was pleasantly surprised to see the hard water spots disappear! I’m honestly not sure if the spots disappeared because of the pressure I used when wiping the leaves , or because of the solution. However, this is definitely a method I would try again.

Treating Scale

I currently have a rubber tree that is fighting scale. It is so sad to watch the spots appear on the under sides of the leaves and then watch the life slowly drain from the leaf. I read online that you can use rubbing alcohol to treat the scale spots, which I have been doing for about a month now. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any improvement.

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Scale up close – GROSS! (Image via BugGuide.net)

My next idea for treating scale was to give neem oil a try. If you haven’t heard of it, neem oil is well known around the plant community, and according to the Today’s Homeowner website:

Neem oil is made from the seeds of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), which is native to India. Since ancient times, the neem tree has been prized as a sacred remedy and important ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine. In the garden, neem oil boasts a powerful insecticidal ingredient, azadirachtin, which makes it a great organic choice for controlling a variety of problems.

Because of all of these fantastic properties, neem oil can be used to combat insects, fungus, and even some kinds of plant disease. Additionally, it’s nontoxic (meaning that it won’t hurt predatory wasps, honeybees, earthworms, ants, spiders, ladybugs, and adult butterflies, as well as being nontoxic to humans, birds, and other animals), organic (meaning it’s plant-based and it’s easy to find a brand that is organically grown), and biodegradable (meaning it breaks down easily and has no lasting residue).

The jury is still out on if the neem oil is going to help with the scale…I’m going to keep applying, though, and will see if I can save my poor little rubber tree!

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After all of these cleaning experiments, I’m pretty sure I have the cleanest plants in Columbus, Ohio. (HA!) But seriously, I have learned a lot, and have gathered some new methods of keeping my plants healthy and happy. I am hoping that all of the cleaning I have done will  help all of my plants have a healthy, happy summer!

What methods do you use to clean your plants? Is there a product that I didn’t try that you swear by? I hope that you’ll take the time to tell me about it in the comments below.

– the {house}plant momma

 

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