Shmita Houseplants

Hannah in Hadera asks:

How
do I take care of my houseplants during the shmittah year?

There are two questions which one has to ask in order to determine the rules for care
of houseplants. (a) Are the pots inside the house or outside, in the garden or
on an uncovered porch? (b) Is the plant pot “holed” or “non-holed”? If
the plant pot is outside, it must be treated as if it were in the ground. This
means that only work which is rabbinically forbidden may be performed, solely in
order to keep the plant alive or prevent noticeable damage. Watering, weeding
and fertilizing are examples of work which is permitted under these
circumstances. Since the roots of potted plants have limited room to search for
water, one may water them more often than plants which are actually in the soil.
Plants may not be moved around in order to improve their growth. These
restrictions apply even to non-holed plant pots.

Care
of indoor non-holed plants does not have these restrictions. A “non-holed”
plant is one which has no hole at the bottom or on the side of the plant pot. A
drainage hole less than 1mm. in diameter does not count as a hole for these
purposes. Similarly, if there is an intervening surface under a holed plant, it
also counts as non-holed. An intervening surface is also required between the
overhanging branches and the ground. What counts as an intervening surface? This
depends on the nature of the plant. For trees and other hard-stemmed plants, a
wood, metal, glass or hard plastic surface is required. For soft-stemmed plants,
pottery or soft plastic is also sufficient. Once the plant is indoors and has
the status of being non-holed, one may care for it as in other years. However,
one should still avoid planting even under these conditions. Do floor tiles act
as an intervening surface? According to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, they
do serve this purpose unless they are immediately above the ground. On any floor
which is above the ground floor (i.e. not directly above the ground) plant care
may be performed as usual. Rav Elyashiv, shlita, holds that floor tiles do not
act as an intervening surface, even on higher floors. However, one may rely on
them to intervene between the overhanging branches and the ground. A plant which
is outside may be taken inside in order to facilitate its care. However, one may
not take it outside again.