Ask A Plant Queen: How Do I Spring Clean My Plants?

Welcome to Ask A Plant Queen, where with the help of Tula founder and bona fide plant expert Christan Summers, we'll answer every question you've ever had about the care, keeping, and presentation of houseplants. No need for you — or your pretty green pals — to thank us.
Question:
I'm finally getting around to spring cleaning my apartment (no congratulations necessary, but they are appreciated). But... and this may sound like a weird question... how exactly should I spring clean my plants? Is there a best practices for cleaning and grooming their leaves? And is there anything else I should do to help them thrive this spring while I'm at it?
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Answer:
Your plants are going to be so psyched about this. Yes! I have quite a few best practices for cleaning and grooming. For spring and all year round.
As a general rule of thumb, cleaning your plants throughout every season is the best way of keeping them happy and healthy.
When you bring a plant home you are essentially taking on the job of Mother Nature. Congratulations, you’ve been promoted. And as your plants wake up from their winter hibernation they need a good clean, prune, and feeding to get them primped and primed for the most important time of the year: the grow season.
Here is your spring plant cleaning mantra: shower – dust – prune – feed.
And your go-to supplies:
Micro cloth – easier to pick up dust than paper towels
Spray bottle – for misting/showering large plants that you can‘t bring to the shower or sink.
Neem oil if you have any pest infestation
Pruners or sharp knife pruning knife (Swiss army knives are the great too)
Watering can – for a healthy drink after the clean
Illustration by Anja Slibar
Make it rain
Shower your plants. There is something so satisfying about watching a plant receive a 'rainfall.' The leaves are getting clean and the soil is receiving a good mineral flush. All plants need this, whether tropical or arid.
If you’re plant is small or medium in size, take it to the sink and/or shower and make it rain. Make sure the water is not too cold or too hot and wash the upper and under sides of the leaves.
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If you don’t have a shower setting on your sink faucet then use your hand to break up the heavy faucet stream so the soil can absorb the water more slowly and you get better coverage on the leaves. And don’t be afraid to use your fingers to clean off dust.
The duration of your shower will depend on the type of plant you have and how thirsty it is before the shower.
If your plant’s soil is still wet from a previous watering but the leaves are covered in dust, then hold on the shower and skip to the section below on dusting your plants.
If your plant is too big to move, use a spray bottle or mister and imitate a rainfall. You want to see water dripping from the leaves onto the floor. Don’t just mist lightly, the point is to clean the leaves of dust, etc. Make a little bit of a mess! It’s a good excuse to mop the floor while you’re at it.
Illustration by Anja Slibar
For a good dusting
Plants have pores called Stomata which are essential to the life of a plant. Through stomata, plant absorb CO2 and release oxygen and water vapor, they are essentially the plant’s pores. If a plant is covered in dust, the stomata cannot function as they are meant to. They can’t breathe, so we must dust.
Use a micro cloth to wipe down the leaves of your plants. They pick up dust much better than paper towels and also give a good shine to the leaves.
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If while cleaning you’ve come across a pest infestation then whip out the neem oil and trade your micro cloth for paper towel to rid of these pesky intruders.
Time for a haircut
Pruning your plants is a great way to promote new growth. In the natural world, branches, leaves and limbs are broken and fall on a constant basis. It is totally natural and healthy for a plant to get a good prune once in a while.
Take a look at your plant. Do you see leaves that look old/ripped/yellow/brown? If so, go ahead and prune them. Take a clean, sharp pair of pruners/scissors or a knife and cut down to the bottom of the stem.
Feed the beast
It’s just about that time to start fertilizing. Fertilizer is an easy way to reintroduce essential nutrients into the soil without uprooting your entire plant. Try to source organic fertilizers and follow the dilution and frequency instructions on the bottle. You want to avoid too much fertilizing as that can burn plant roots.
Illustration by Anja Slibar
The quick lowdown on fertilizer – there are three main macronutrients that your plant loves and needs: Nitrogen (N), Potassium (P), and Magnesium (K). Most fertilizers list these out on the package also in that order. You may see a fertilizer with the numbers 10-5-5 this would be a nitrogen rich fertilizer with a balanced dose of potassium and magnesium.
For a deeper dive into the world of fertilizer, we’ll be hosting workshops on fertilizer throughout the spring at Tula in Brooklyn.
That should cover it! You can of course venture into the world of repotting and giving your plant more room to grow for the summer. But let’s save that for another story.