3 Time-Saving Plant Maintenance Hacks

Saving time is something all of us desire to do. In the plant service industry, any small step we can take to help eliminate labor time can make the difference between breaking even or earning a profit.

Here are a few simple ideas while servicing to help prevent time loss:

Remove Reproduction Parts

I know this may sound cruel, but when common plants in our interiorscapes start to flower, they can create a mess. By removing the reproductive parts, it can save on valuable cleaning time. One of the biggest culprits is the Spathiphyllum, or peace lily. Because of its pretty white flowers, deep green leaves and low light durability, I have many atriums that contain Spathiphyllum as a bed plant. When these guys start to bloom, the pollen can shed everywhere and look like a white powdery disease on the dark leaves. After years of cleaning leaves, I’ve learned that the less I have to wipe, the happier I am. So when the spathe (or white flower) is fully open, I cut off the spadix, the hard yellowish center that creates the pollen, leaving the white spathe only. You may be wondering if this shortens the life span of the flower. From my experience, this practice has no effect on its longevity.

The next common interiorscape plants that have messy flowers are the aglaonema and massangeana. The reproductive buds, or spadix, of an aglaonema are usually well hidden until they reach maturity. At that time, they start to dissipate a sticky sap that can trap dust, pollen, insects that can be very difficult to remove without damaging the surrounding leaves. I always keep a look out in the main stems for any of these green reproductive pods. When I find them starting to form, I make sure to remove them within a week or two. Otherwise, I’m spending valuable time trying to wash off the sap and all the other debris it trapped with it.

Even after working in a greenhouse for two years, I never realized corn plants could produce flowers until I had to maintain a very tall one inside a three story atrium. Fascinated, for weeks I watched the pretty stem get longer and longer until it began to die. To my surprise, all those pretty white flowers and seeds got stuck to the leaves over ten feet up from the atrium floor. It was a disgusting mess of sap, dead flowers, dust and pollen that took me over two hours. I was standing on a ladder, trying to clean the mess with a bucket of soap and rags…which fell over and crashed into the Spathiphyllum bed below. That was the last time I let my fascination turn to frustration. If you are new to the interiorscape service industry, you may not realize these draceanas can flower indoors; especially the older ones. Beware of the consequences of letting them develop.

Replacing Plants

No matter how good you are at keeping plants alive, replacing plants is an inevitable part of the business. Being able to accomplish this without spilling any dirt, dropping any leaves or damaging your client’s rug comes with practice and planning. After fifteen years of having to replace plants inside structures with hundred thousand dollar imported Persian rugs, antique vases and Henry the eighth furniture, I’ve felt the stress when balancing a Kentia palm on a dolly without it tipping over. Having to remove wet dirt from a Persian rug can be both — time and financially consuming.  If I suspect a plant is deteriorating and will need to be changed out, I make sure to keep the soil as dry as possible. This is beneficial in two ways. One, it makes the plant lighter to carry. Two, if the soil does happen to spill, cleaning up dry dirt is much easier than mud. I also bring a box of large, high quality plastic bags to use as drop clothes and to seal up the grow container. Plus, if the old plant is covered in disease or pests, such as mealy bug or spider mites, using the large gallon bags to cover the foliage before removing it will help prevent the infestation from spreading to the other healthy plants it has to pass by. These time killing infestations can spread like wild fire in the air currents, especially when the plant is shaken from the force of lifting and being carried onto a cart.  If you ever have touched a marginata branch that contained mealy bug, you might have seen tiny white puffs drift away. Also, contaminated leaves drop easier during transportation, which can leave residue on carpets or floors. Using a plastic bag or even a paper sleeve will save you from having to retrace your steps to clean these costly messes. When servicing larger buildings where you are going floor to floor, this can save you from wasting valuable time waiting for the elevator to come back after stopping along twenty floors.

Preparation

Being prepared before leaving the shop to your service route can make or break your day. Inside my route van, I always have the necessary tools, such as water cans, scissors, spray bottles, plant shine, plant paw duster, EZ hand sweeper, moisture meters and three different kinds of moss. It seems simple enough to have all your regular supplies, but it’s the changes in your routine that can mess you up. For me, my biggest challenge is replacement plants or special orders. Every so often, I’ll have a client make a special request for the office or want a plant for their home.  Depending on the size, I’ll deliver the plant to the account to save the client a delivery charge. There have been many times where I’m rushing to get on the road to avoid morning rush-hour traffic and completely forget to load the client’s special order I needed for that day’s route. That half hour I just saved by getting an early start has just cost me an extra hour of drive time plus gas, because I have to drive back to the shop and retrieve the plant I promised I would bring that day. What has saved me from making this costly mistake is loading my vehicle the night before with everything I’ll need the next day. Sometimes this may not be possible with extreme weather conditions such as freezing temperatures since this will damage, if not kill any tropical plants. Whether I do this in the evening or early morning, before leaving the shop parking lot, I’ve learned that taking an extra ten to fifteen minutes to go over that day’s route list is worth the delay so you don’t have to return to grab a forgotten item and start your day over.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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