Houseplants, Water and a Warped Windowsill. Help!



Q: I keep my houseplants on a wooden ledge, and when I water the darlings, there’s always a little spillage. Even though I have saucers underneath the pots, the wood has warped. Is there an attractive fix for this?
“Splasher” Davies, Briarcliff

A: It’s not clear whether you’re talking about a window sill or a shelf, but whichever it is, water and wood are not a happy marriage. If your plant-pot saucers are terra cotta or another porous material, moisture will leach out and ruin the wood even if you’re not sloshing water all over the place.

Anyway, I assume you’ve cleverly asked a two-part question: How to repair the ledge, and how to prevent ruining it again, short of switching your real darlings for fake ones. Lisa McTernan, of the Croton company Lifestyles & Interiors by Lisa (www.lifestylesandinteriors.com), just happened to have her highly regarded cabinetmaker nearby when I called for advice. His name is Jeff Heath, and he was lukewarm about trying to repair the warped wood. “You can soak it with water, put some weight on it and try to get it to go flat,” he said without conviction. “But it usually cracks. If it doesn’t, you can plane it, or sand it down, and then refinish the wood with something water resistant.”

Heath believes it’s better to replace the ledge, even it it’s your windowsill. “It’s usually not tricky to fix a sill, and either way, it makes the most sense, because then you have a first-grade piece that hasn’t been compromised,” he says. Finish with something impervious—use polyurethane or spar varnish if the ledge is stained, or prime and paint with a high-quality, exterior-grade paint –emphasis on exterior, Heath says. “If money’s an issue, or there’s some kind of complexity—plaster walls or finish wrapping around the sill that you don’t want to damage— you could put another sill on top, although that could look a little hokey,” Heath adds.

“I’d be more careful about where the water’s going,” he remarks when pressed about how long such a repair might withstand your present plant-care routine. “But Azek is the ultimate fix. It’s a PVC product used for decking and exterior trim that will never warp. Once it’s painted, you wouldn’t notice the difference between that and wood.”

As for the plant setup: Lisa suggests you use an old tin tray with a lip, like the ones nurserymen once used. “Line it with river stones and put your pots on top. It looks very natural and organic,” she says. (You can find inexpensive galvanized steel ones at Gardener’s Supply Company if you go to www.gardeners.com and search “plant terrace tray.”)

If you want something a little fancier, she suggests you find a low stone or iron planter (or a lightweight look-alike—there are some good fakes around these days), then line that with a plastic container, put your plant pots in, and top the whole thing with green moss from a floral supplier. “Rosedale Nurseries in Hawthorne has interesting planters,” Lisa remarks. A quick call to Judy Sandwell at Rosedale (who may be prejudiced) confirms that the nursery indeed has “lots of lovely pots and planters in all sorts of materials,” as well as narrow copper trays. Jeff Heath can be reached through Lifestyles & Interiors by Lisa or at (845) 223-7334.

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