Episode 79: gadgets for houseplant lovers and a Q&A special

A humidity meter or hygrometer is a useful tool for checking conditions around your houseplants, especially in winter. Photograph: Jane Perrone

A humidity meter or hygrometer is a useful tool for checking conditions around your houseplants, especially in winter. Photograph: Jane Perrone

One of the boons of indoor gardening is that this hobby really doesn’t necessitate a lot of kit: a watering can, some pots and some potting mix will get you started. But as your plant obsession grows, there are some gadgets that will help to keep your leafy charges happy and help you deal with routine maintenance. In this episode I highlight some of the gadgets I have found useful, from soil moisture testers to hand lenses. And I answer three questions: one about Calatheas, another on Aloe vera and a final one about variegation in Monsteras.

Here’s a list of the gadgets I mention in this episode:

  • A hand lens aka a jeweller’s loupe allows you to get a magnified view of your houseplants, so you can check for pests and just check out their cool features up close. Mine is made by Ruper and has x8 and x15 magnification lenses. There’s a useful guide to hand lenses and how to use them here.

  • Listener Marielle has tried a Phonescope which attaches to smartphones to get magnified images of your plants - this costs under £10 and is worth a look too.

  • Moisture meters are widely available but I’ve always believed that your finger is the best moisture indicator you can get. But what about when you have a really big pot and can’t reach the root zone with your finger? You can buy cheap moisture meters for about £5-10 but these generally have terrible reviews. I recently found out about the Soil Sleuth, a moisture tester that also aerates the soil. It comes from the US and you can buy it from soilsleuth.com although I bought it from interiorlandscaping.co.uk. It hasn’t arrived yet but I can’t wait to give it a try!

  • Hygrometers measure humidity in the air. I recently bought the ThermoPro TP50 which measures temperature and humidity and is working well so far.

  • Buying a humidifier is a bit of a minefield but before you invest in one, make sure you’ve done everything you can to increase humidity in ways that are a bit less resource-intensive. If you do invest in one, before you buy, check whether it’s easy to clean (mould buildup can be a problem if humidifiers are not cleaned regularly), how long it will run before needing a refill, whether it will stop automatically when it runs out of water, and whether the filter needs changing and how much a replacement costs. From my research the ProBreeze 3.5litre humidifier seems like a good choice, although I must say this is only based on the reviews of others. If you have radiator heating, do take a look at radiator dehumidifers which work without any electricity: like these metal ones form Wayfair or unglazed ceramic ones from Manufactum.

  • Florists’ snips are a brilliant tool for trimming, deadheading and taking cuttings. The Niwaki range are very sharp and stylish like these Okatsune snips, or try Burgon and Ball. That said, the cutting tool I probably use most on my houseplants is my Fiskars garden scissors.

  • Heated propagators are brilliant for keeping houseplant seedling warm. I have always used the Garland brand and found them fantastic. Heat mats are another option for popping under seed trays, and you can also use them for propagating cuttings: check out Suttons for some good products. Here’s a good article from magazine The English Garden which reviews various heat mats and heated propagators.

Looking sharp: Okatsune snips from Niwaki.

Looking sharp: Okatsune snips from Niwaki.

Got a houseplant gadget you love? Tell me about it in the comments below and I’ll add your thoughts into these notes.

Your questions

  1. Calathea crisis

    If you bought a Calathea this summer and have suddenly hit problems, you are not alone. Sarah got in touch to say her Calatheas are going brown and crispy at the ends and generally looking sad. the cause can be hot dry air caused by heating, and/or spider mites (the latter usually follows the former). Spider mite symptoms include wan leaves, white grains on the back of the leaves and webby coverings on the leaves in a really bad infestation. Isolate affected plants and cut off worst affected foliage, then use a damp cloth to wipe away the eggs. If spider mites are not present and the cause is just low humidity, do everything you can to increase moisture in the air around the plants in the usual ways, including grouping plants, pebble trays, and a humidifer (see above). If Calatheas just won’t perform for you over winter, try swapping to a tougher foliage plant - give aspidistras a try, or Sansevierias.

  2. Aloe vera flop

    Yesterday’s #houseplantappreciationday brought a lot of questions on Twitter: Gillian wanted to know why her Aloe vera was flopping. I suspected that this plant wasn’t getting enough light and was possibly being overwatered: Aloes are very susceptible to root rot, so water extremely sparingly in the winter months. Check the roots and repot if necessary.

  3. Monstera variegation: cream vs white

    Matt wanted to know why the difference between the leaves of his cream and green Monstera deliciosa and his white and green one: I explained that white variegation means there is no chlorophyll or any pigment in the cells; cream variegation means that there is still some chlorophyll present, but pigments such as orange carotenoid pigment and yellow xanthophyll are able to be seen as the leaf isn’t as green as a regular leaf.

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

`Coming up this year…

I am giving a talk on the magic of houseplants at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution on April 9… if you are in the London area do come along! Full details here. There will be more talks and appearances coming up, so stay tuned for more details!

I am also making plans for the 100th episode of On The Ledge which will happen some time in May or June! If you have any ideas as to how to mark the occasion, please let me know…

I’d also like to hear your ideas for episodes: I will be doing another OTL sowalong soon, so order your seeds now - there’s info for UK and US growers on my blog.

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This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops and An Instrument the Boy Called Happy Day, Gokharna by Samuel Corwin, and Water in the Creek by Josh Woodward, all licensed under Creative Commons. Logo design by Jacqueline Colley.