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Plant Grooming: How To Clean Foliage

by Ruby Bayan

'Cleaning Plant Leaves' by Ruby BayanDeciding to bring a plant into an enclosure, like a home, a greenhouse, or an office, is equivalent to accepting the responsibilities of a "foster Mother Nature." Without the benefit or natural sunshine, rain, and the seasons, indoor plants require the tender loving care of humans -- the attention they would otherwise have received from Mother Nature in their native habitat.

In effect, indoor gardeners will have to provide, not only the adequate light, water, temperature, and humidity, but also the "grooming" that will make the plants look their best in their new setting. And one of the most important plant grooming tasks is trimming and cleaning the foliage.

As plants grow, their leaves mature, eventually wither and die, and get replaced by new and maybe bigger leafage. Dying or dead leaves that don't naturally fall off will drape themselves along the edge of the pot, giving the planter a ghastly unkempt look.

Don't simply grab and yank off the dead leaf because some leaves remain "stuck" to the plant, and trying to pull them off could result in one of two things: the plant will be uprooted, or the pot will fall off the shelf and come crashing on the fax machine. Cut off dead leaves with a pair of scissors or shears.

Many house plants can remain indoors for indefinite periods of time, becoming part of the furniture, gathering as much dust as the table tops and bookshelves. Therefore, dusting and cleaning the indoor greenery should be part of the housekeeping chores.

There are different ways of leaf-cleaning for different types of foliage:

  • Large, smooth, shiny leaves (Rubber Plant, African Mask, Zebra Plant) - moisten a paper towel or soft cloth with plain water and wipe the tops of the leaves in gentle outward strokes. If the leaf blades are spiked or thorny at the edges (Vase Plant, Bromeliads), avoid getting pricked by wrapping a moist piece of soft cloth around the tip of a ruler. Hold the cloth secure with a rubber band, and wipe the leaves gently.

    'Cleaning Plant Leaves' by Ruby Bayan

  • Hairy, spongy leaves (African Violets) - use a small and soft-bristled paint brush to very lightly dust off the tops of the leaves. Make-up brushes (blushers) and camel's hair water-color brushes are the best for miniature violets.

  • Thorns and spines (Cacti) - a thorny plant can be cleaned with a soft-bristled paint brush. If lint and cobwebs manage to form dust bunnies close to the base of the thorns, use a toothpick or skewer to pry them out.

    'Cleaning Plant Leaves' by Ruby Bayan

  • Tiny, clustered leaves and fronds (Money Plant, Palms, Ferns) - a feather duster is the best leaf-cleaner for these types of foliage. The plants can also be taken outside for a mild spraying with water to clean off unreachable dust and dirt.

'Cleaning Plant Leaves' by Ruby Bayan

Be very gentle and try not to scratch, bruise, or break foliage while grooming indoor plants -- just like Mother Nature.

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