Cleaning potted plants takes patience

Q: I’ve recently gotten into houseplants and don’t think any need to be re-potted yet. I do want to get them cleaned and ready for the new year. A couple of the pots are too big to move to the sink to spray them off. How should I clean them? Also, I now have a couple of African violets and was warned that the leaves shouldn’t get wet. How do I clean them? – E.G., Albuquerque

A: If you could get the bigger plants to the bath, place them in the tub and give them a tepid temperature shower – that’d be the most efficient way to clean those big-potted plants. If that wouldn’t be feasible then you get to take the matter in hand – literally.

You’ll need a clean, very soft cloth or sponge, a bucket of warm water, and patience. Get the plant to a space with room to maneuver for this project. First, dampen and wring out the cloth. Then pick a starting point. You’ll want to support each leaf underneath by laying it on your palm and gently, but at the same time firmly, wipe off each leaf. Start at the base of the leaves where they attach to the trunk or stem of the structure and draw the cloth away from the plant. Rinse and wring out the cloth frequently so you don’t spread the dust to the next leaf. For some plants that have gobs of leaves, doing this manually can be very time-consuming but the results are always worth it. You don’t need to and shouldn’t wipe the underneath side of the leaf of most green plants but some plants, such as sansevieria (snake plants) or aloes, are structured so that you can wipe the whole leaf without the worry of a top or bottom. Rule of thumb would be if your plant wears leaves that look like “leaves” wipe the top only. If it’s a stiff structure plant, wipe off the whole thing.

You are correct in thinking that fuzzy-leafed plants don’t like to get wet so getting them to a sink or tub for a shower is not the way to go. Everything I’ve ever learned or researched is to use a very, very soft paint brush and as gingerly as possible brush off the leaf surface. Again, support the leaf in you palm and aiming from the inside to outer tip gently brush off any dust accumulations. Another way to do this is to use a leaf cut off the violet as the brush. Now, if the violet’s oldest leaves are at all mushy or puny looking, snipping them off as close to the mother plant as possible might be the most efficient way of cleaning this fuzzy-leafed plant. Any new foliage put out by the plant would be all clean green and freshly dusted naturally. Just remember to be as gentle as possible and use as soft a brush as you can find when cleaning a fuzzy-leafed plant.

So now is the time to start getting your house plants dusted off and clean so they can continue to grow healthy for you.

Q: I don’t have a lot of space but do have a fairly sunny patio where I think I can garden. Can you grow vegetables in pots that would do OK on a patio in pots? – T.A., Albuquerque

A: There are lots of vegetables that can grow successfully in containers, vertically, for you to choose from as long as you create devices for them to be supported by. Veggies such as tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers are available (or will be as it’s way too soon to start) that have been developed to live successfully in pots. I’ve grown okra in pots and it worked for me. And as long as you have a trellis you can grow pole beans, cucumbers and some smaller squash varieties on your patio, too. As long as you pick things that naturally produce smaller fruit you can grow nearly any vegetable in a pot.

Let me think on this a bit and I’ll bring you up to speed as the season advances, OK? Meanwhile, Happy Digging In.

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.