Originally published on August 8, 2019, in Washingtonian.
This time of year, DC weather veers between near-total humidity, sweltering heat, or both. If you have houseplants, whether trendy succulents or low-maintenance spider plants, the erratic summer conditions can threaten their health, especially if you don’t have the greenest thumb.
The team at Very Sad Lab rehabs houseplants in need of some extra love. Clad in earth-toned jumpsuits and working out of an airy studio in a historic Georgetown schoolhouse, Naoko Wowsugi and Valerie Wiseman are gardeners for the millennial age (yes, they gave me a sound bath when I visited).
Wowsugi and Wiseman, who are multi-medium artists brought together by their passion for all things green, share their top tips for caring for houseplants in the heat, humidity, and even bone-chilling AC temps.
1. Know Your Plant
“You have to know your plant,” Wiseman says. It might seem obvious, but put some serious consideration into the kind of houseplant you choose given your home and resources. Live in an English basement? Maybe don’t choose a plant that needs full sunlight. The same goes for plants that need daily watering if you regularly travel for work. Wiseman recommends chatting with employees at your local nursery to determine what meets your needs.
2. Throw a Pool Party
Apparently, we all water our plants incorrectly. For houseplants, Wowsugi and Wiseman recommend a “pool party,” aka a longer, deeper, and intentional watering session. Instead of haphazardly dumping last week’s abandoned glass of water into your plants when you remember them, dedicate several minutes to slowly and carefully watering your plants until the soil is damp. Invest in a watering can and research how often your plants need to be watered—Wowsugi and Wiseman say that many only need to be watered once- or twice-per-week with this method. Lastly, make sure your pots drain properly.
3. Stay on Schedule
Don’t water your plants exclusively when you happen to glance over and discover a shriveled succulent. This is the easiest way to under- or over-water. Check how often they need watering and then set a calendar reminder, write it in your planner, or download an app like Planta, which sends watering reminders and contains plant-related tips and tricks. “Pick a day of the week when you’re not rushed,” Wiseman says. Wowsugi is also a fan of watering balls, the glass orbs that slowly release water into the soil.
4. Spray Away
In the summer, AC and window units can create a dry indoor environment. Many houseplants are native to the tropics, where humidity and frequent rainstorms are the norm. Get a spray bottle and occasionally spritz your plant’s leaves to bring some rainforest vibes into your room.
5. Sun Protection Matters
Plants love sun, but also need to be protected, Wowsugi and Wiseman say. Even for full-sun plants, be cautious with direct sunlight that can burn leaves. Sheer curtains or only placing plants in direct sunlight for set amounts of time (10 minutes, for example) help to manage the strong summer beams. On the other hand, if your plants are in a dark place, consider purchasing grow lights to provide the appropriate amount of “sun.”
With all of these tips, Wowsugi and Wiseman emphasize the key to caring for houseplants is to remember that they are living things. While flowers don’t require the same level of attention that a dog does, a little love goes a long way toward cultivating a thriving indoor garden. And if worst comes to worst, you can bring your plants to Very Sad Lab to recover.