Indoor gardens: Proper care of houseplants in winter makes for greener days
The gray tapestry that covers the outside world for much of this season can be a depressing sight for nature lovers. A reprieve can come from indoor plants - greenery that defies the season, thriving in a room-temperature winter. But those with l...
The gray tapestry that covers the outside world for much of this season can be a depressing sight for nature lovers.
A reprieve can come from indoor plants - greenery that defies the season, thriving in a room-temperature winter.
But those with less-than-green thumbs may turn yellow at the thought of taking in a houseplant.
Too often, they've been an accessory in the death of helpless vegetation, the wilted, brown remains proving as depressing as the drab winter ground and sky.
With appropriate precautions and cold-weather hints, however, houseplants can survive long after their outdoor counterparts bloom again.
The first safeguard comes in bringing new plants home.
When houseplants are exposed to temperatures of 20 degrees or lower - even for a short time - the cold can shock and even kill them, says Neal Holland, owner of Sheyenne Gardens in Harwood, N.D.
"Wrap them up because they're very, very much tender, like a little baby," Holland says. "Wrap them up like you would a little infant."
Place the plant in a double plastic bag and blow warm air into it before transporting it to a warm car, says Todd Weinmann, Cass County Extension horticulturist.
Because homes are less humid in the winter, Tom Steele, manager of Shotwell Floral Greenhouse and Garden Center in Fargo, suggests misting plants.
"Our houses are so dry," Steele says. "Most of our houses are actually drier than the desert."
Using plain water and a bottle, spray water on the leaves. "I recommend twice a day, but at least once a day is great," Steele says.
Despite the drier indoor air, the problem most houseplants face year-round is overwatering, the experts say.
When plants are constantly wet, the roots are smothered, Holland says, and ineffective.
The classic test is poking a finger into the soil to feel for moistness. Steele suggests picking up smaller plants, to feel how heavy they are wet versus dry. The plant will feel lighter when it is dry.
When watering plants, they should be watered thoroughly, until water comes out of the drainage hole. All plants should be in pots with good drainage.
After that, let the plant sit for a week or two, Holland says.
If the soil is covered with a crusty, white layer, try leeching the plant to get rid of salt deposits. Water the plant repeatedly in a sink, letting it drain.
Holland says plant owners should try to duplicate the native habitat of the plant. For example, geraniums, a tropical desert shrub, should be kept on the dry side with as much light as possible, he says.
Making sure plants get enough sunlight during winter's shorter days is important. Artificial light, in the form of a specialty light bulb, can also be helpful, Steele says.
Plants that grow well without a lot of sunlight include Boston ferns, rubber plants, parlor palms and fiddle-leaf philodendrons, Weinmann says.
A little fertilizer won't hurt now, either. Holland suggests fertilizing once a month with a half-strength solution. A liquid or instantly soluble fertilizer is appropriate.
Weinmann warns against fertilizing plants fresh from the nursery for the first three months.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525