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[DEC. 4, 2004]  URBANA -- Some people have it, some people do not. Are you one of those with a "green thumb," or are you one of those who can kill silk flowers? asks James Schuster, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator based in Cook County.

"For most of us, we tend to fall somewhere between the two extremes," he said. "For those who tend to forget to water their houseplants, consider these plants: cacti, succulents, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti (not a true cactus), aloe plants and Sanseviera plants. These plants can go a month or more without watering. However, when they are watered, they need to be watered thoroughly. Watering too often kills these plants. During bud and blooming periods, the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti need a little more frequent watering."

The Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti may need their light and temperature conditions modified to bring them into bloom. Contact your local University of Illinois Extension office or the garden center where you bought the plants for information on getting these plants to bloom.

"Heartleaf philodendron, devil's ivy and English ivy take more frequent watering when grown in potting soil," he said. "These plants, as well as the Sanseveria plants, tolerate a fairly wide light range. If the plants do not get enough light, they will spread out their leaves or the leaves may become smaller and further apart.

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"The heartleaf philodendron and the devil's ivy can also be grown in a vase with just water. You need to add a weak solution of fertilizer infrequently to the water during the summer months and add water as needed."

From the middle of spring to late summer or early fall, plants should be fertilized with very weak fertilizer solutions about once a month.

"Frequent weak solutions are better than heavy fertilizations when plants are grown in a home environment," said Schuster. "Do not fertilize during late fall and winter. Allow your plants to go partially dormant during late fall and winter. Water just enough to keep your houseplants from wilting."

Schuster offers one last hint, for plants that frequently drop leaves or grow a little "leggy" -- shake the plants vigorously for five to 10 seconds about three times a week. "The shaking simulates the vibration the plants get from gusty outdoor winds," he said. "The shaking will make your plants stronger so they will reduce leaf drop (leaf drop often stops) and the new growth will be more compact."

[University of Illinois news release]

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