Excerpt: 'Joey Green's Gardening Magic'

Oct. 8, 2003 -- Houseplants

Alberto VO5 Conditioning Hairdressing. Clean houseplant leaves by applying a small dab of Alberto VO5 Conditioning Hairdressing to the leaves with a soft cloth.

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. Neutralize the acidity of potting soil by watering the soil once with a mixture of four tablespoons Arm & Hammer Baking Soda and one quart water. Aunt Jemima Original Syrup. Revive an ailing houseplant by adding two tablespoons Aunt Jemima Original Syrup at the base of the plant once a month.

Bounce. To prevent the soil from leaking out of a planter, line the bottom of the planter with a used sheet of Bounce Classic. Water can drain through the dryer sheet without the sheet breaking down in the pot.

Canada Dry Club Soda. Feed flat Canada Dry Club Soda to your houseplants. The minerals found in club soda are beneficial to plants.

Carnation NonFat Dry Milk. Mix three ounces Carnation NonFat Dry Milk with two cups water and, using a soft cloth, wipe the milky solution on houseplant leaves to give them a fine gloss.

Castor Oil. Rejuvenate a houseplant ailing from a nutrient deficiency by dribbling one tablespoon castor oil into the soil and then watering well.

Cool Whip. Clean houseplant leaves by using a soft cloth to wipe Cool Whip on the leaves.

Depends. If a planter is leaking excess water, set the pot inside a pair of Depends, creating a diaper for the plant. Conceal the Depends diaper by placing the pot inside a second, larger pot.

Epsom Salt. For every foot of a houseplant's height, sprinkle one teaspoon Epsom Salt evenly around the base for better blossoms and deeper greening. Adding Epsom Salt to houseplant food will also enrich the color of any flowering plants and aid in disease-resistance. Or mix one tablespoon Epsom Salt in one gallon water and spray the mixture on the plant. Epsom Salt is magnesium sulfate, which lowers the pH of the soil and provides magnesium.

Geritol. Revive an ailing houseplant by adding two tablespoons Geritol to the soil twice a week for three months. New leaves should begin to grow within the first month.

Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar. To revive undernourished houseplants, mix one tablespoon Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar in one gallon water in a watering can and water your houseplants with the solution. The vinegar neutralizes the pH of the water, making vital nutrients in the water more available to the plants.

Heinz White Vinegar and Q-Tips Cotton Swabs. To remove mealybugs from houseplants, dab the bugs with a Q-Tips Cotton Swab dipped in a mixture of equal parts Heinz White Vinegar and water.

Huggies Pull-Ups. If your planter is leaking water, set the pot inside a pair of Huggies Pull-Ups, creating an absorbent diaper for the plant. Place the pot inside a second, larger pot to conceal the Pull-Up.

Ivory Dishwashing Liquid. To repel insects (like aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites) from houseplants, put a drop of Ivory Dishwashing Liquid in a trigger-spray bottle, fill the rest of the bottle with water, shake well, and mist the leaves and soil of your houseplants.

Ivory Dishwashing Liquid. If you put houseplants outside for sun or while away on vacation, you should kill any insects on the plants before bringing them back inside. Put a drop of Ivory Dishwashing Liquid in a trigger-spray bottle, fill the rest of the bottle with water, shake well, and mist the leaves and soil of the plant well to kill the insects.

Jell-O. Work a few teaspoons of powdered Jell-O into the soil of houseplants to absorb water and prevent it from leaking out of the bottom of the pot. The absorbent gelatin also reduces how often you need to water the plants. The nitrogen in Jell-O enhances plant growth and hastens sprouting, and the sugar feeds the microbes in the soil, producing more nutrients for the plant.

L'eggs Sheer Energy Panty Hose. To prevent the soil from leaking out of the bottom of a planter, place a used, clean pair of L'eggs Sheer Energy panty hose in the bottom of the pot. The panty hose still allow water to drain, without letting soil seep out.

L'eggs Sheer Energy Panty Hose. Using a pair of scissors, cut off the toe from the foot of a pair of used, clean L'eggs Sheer Energy Panty Hose, then cut one-inch strips from the leg, creating circular loops of panty hose. Use the loops to gently tie stems and thin plant trunks to stakes with a figure-eight loop.

Lipton Tea Bags. Before potting a houseplant, place several Lipton Tea Bags (new or used) on top of the drainage layer of pebbles, pottery shards, or panty hose (see L'eggs Sheer Energy Panty Hose above) at the bottom of the planter. The tea bags retain water and provide nutrients for the plant.

Lipton Tea Bags. Put Lipton Tea Bags (new or used) on the soil around houseplants. Every time you water the plants, the nutrients from the decomposing tea leaves work their way into the soil.

Maxwell House Coffee. Add used Maxwell House Coffee grounds to your houseplants to fertilize the soil. The smell of the coffee also repels cats from digging up the plants.

Miracle Whip and Bounty. Using a Bounty Paper Towel, rub Miracle Whip on houseplant leaves to make them shine and to prevent dust from settling on them.

Murphy Oil Soap. To kill pesky whiteflies on houseplants, mix one tablespoon Murphy Oil Soap in a gallon of water, pour into a trigger-spray bottle, and mist the infected plants.

Nestea. Mix up a quart of unsweetened Nestea instant iced tea according to the directions (without adding sugar or ice) and fertilize houseplants with the solution. Or simply sprinkle the powdered mix directly on the soil. As the tea decomposes, the nutrients work their way into the soil.

Pampers. Using a pair of scissors, carefully cut open a Pampers disposable diaper and mix the superabsorbent polymer flakes with the potting soil. The polymer flakes absorb three hundred times their weight in water, keeping the soil moist for your houseplant. The gelatinous polymer also stores nutrients, slowly feeding the plants.

Reynolds Wrap. Increase the natural light for houseplants during the winter months by wrapping a sturdy piece of cardboard with Reynolds Wrap. Position the plant between the homemade mirror and the window, with the foil-covered side of the cardboard facing the window. The aluminum foil will reflect the sunlight, causing the plant to grow more evenly.

Reynolds Wrap. Wrapping Reynolds Wrap around the bases of houseplant containers keeps humidity high and prevents the soil from drying out as quickly.

Saran Quick Covers. To prevent water from dripping all over the floor while watering hanging plants, place a Saran Quick Cover around the bottom of the hanging planter before watering. The plastic cap catches the drips. Wait one hour before removing and save the Quick Cover to use the next time you water the plants.

Saran Wrap. To revitalize a wilting houseplant, water the plant thoroughly and then loosely wrap Saran Wrap around the leaves and the base of the plant, creating a miniature greenhouse. Remove the plastic wrap after a few days.

Smirnoff Vodka and Q-Tips Cotton Swabs. To remove mealybugs or scale from houseplants, dab the bugs with a Q-Tips Cotton Swab dipped in Smirnoff Vodka. Or mix one part Smirnoff Vodka to one part water in a trigger-spray bottle and spray the plants. Repeat two weeks later to kill any newly hatched mealybugs. (Before treating the entire plant, test this alcohol formula on one of the plant's leaves and wait one day to make certain the solution doesn't burn the leaf.)

Star Olive Oil and Bounty. To shine the leaves of a houseplant, put a few drops Star Olive Oil on a Bounty Paper Towel and gently rub each leaf, then wipe off the excess oil.

Star Olive Oil. Add two tablespoons Star Olive Oil at the root of ferns or palm plants once a month.

USA Today. When watering houseplants with a mister, hold a section of USA Today behind the plant to avoid getting water on furniture or walls.

Windex. Use a clean, empty Windex bottle as a mister for plants. Clean the bottle with dishwashing liquid and water to remove traces of any undesirable chemicals.


Overwatering kills more houseplants than any other single cause. The leaves of an overwatered plant will wilt, turn yellow, and fall off. The base of the stem may also rot, a symptom of root damage.Underwatering a houseplant causes far less damage than overwatering. Revive a plant wilted from dryness by misting the leaves lightly, watering the soil, and placing the plant in direct sunlight. In 1848, German professor Gustav Theodor Fechner first suggested in his book Nanna that talking to plants helps them grow, insisting that plants have central nervous systems and possess emotions. In his 1882 book The Power of Movement in Plants, naturalist Charles Darwin noted the shared characteristics between primates and plants. In his 1906 book Training of the Human Plant, horticulturist Luther Burbank hypothesized that plants, while unable to understand spoken words, can telepathically comprehend the thoughts and emotions being expressed. The 1960 Roger Corman movie Little Shop of Horrors, costarring Jack Nicholson, tells the story of a meek florist who accidentally creates a man-eating plant. The movie, adapted into a campy off-Broadway musical, was in turn remade into the 1986 movie musical starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin. In 1970, New York dentist George Milstein, convinced that exposing houseplants to gentle melodies could accelerate their growth, produced the record album Music to Grow Plants By. Studies verified that plants exposed to soft, classical music grow toward the source of the sound, while plants exposed to hard rock music tend to grow away from the source of the music, shrivel, and die. The cartoon strip Doonesbury, by Garry Trudeau, frequently features Zonker Harris at home talking to his plants.

Excerpted from Joey Green's Gardening Magic by Joey Green.