Dust off

Plants, like everything else in your home, need an occasional cleaning, especially at this time of year. How frequently depends on where the plant stands. Those in the kitchen or a balcony by a busy road need more help than those in a garden tucked down an alley.

As the air becomes dry, dust levels increase. So does pollution, since there’s less water vapour to grab those floating particles. More and more dust settles on ageing leaves, and that’s enough to make your plants look down in the dumps. Dust and grime clog pores too, so that your plant cannot take in the sunlight and air it needs, nor can it breathe comfortably.

Most nurserymen we spoke with place their faith in the power of pure water. Says Karan of Garden Hut, Delhi, “A regular sprinkle of water is enough to get rid of the dust that settles, specially on smaller leaves." In fact, misting with a spray bottle is enough for small leaves. For a mass of plants or smaller leaves difficult to clean individually, a good dousing with a hosepipe generally works (keep the flow at low or medium pressure to prevent damage).

For medium-sized leaves, a soft, dry brush helps. If the leaves have spikes or hairs, this lets you clean them without damaging the fuzz or injuring yourself.

Don’t let sparks fly

If you aren’t careful while placing lamps and candles, some leaves may get singed. Fireworks and bonfires can also damage grass and leaves. Burnt leaves need to be trimmed carefully. The plant is in trauma already, so be gentle—snip off damaged bits individually, rather than yanking them off. Vinay of Green Revolution, a plant dealer in Delhi, says: “Just cut off burnt leaves. Your plant should survive."

Burnt fireworks are often tossed into flowerbeds or flowerpots. Remove them carefully before the next watering. “Scrape off half an inch of the soil immediately around where the firework lay and replace it with fresh soil," advises Delhi-based hobby gardener Suman Singh.

Spare a second glance

Examine plants in daylight. Larger leaves such as Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) have more surface area to collect dust. Wipe from stem base to leaf tip with a clean damp cloth. Don’t forget the underside of the leaf. Careful—that’s where insects roost and lay eggs: I’ve once been stung by a nest of angry wasps!

Just water, please!

I once met a homemaker who had amazingly green plants. She claimed she cleaned and smeared the leaves with a thin coating of oil! I never went back to find out how long her plants lived, but any specialist you ask wonders how her plants respire, since the oil can block sensitive stomata (pores) on the leaves.

You also hear of people recommending a first rinse with lightly soaped water followed by a second plain water bath, or even a mild vinegar-water solution. But none of the professionals we checked with recommend or use anything but water. And their plants are healthy enough for us to want to bring them home!

The author is a journalist and writer of children’s books, with a passion for gardening.

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