Houseplants are good for all of us, not only because they lift our spirits by bringing a bit of the natural world inside, but also for the health benefits they provide--increasing oxygen and decreasing carbon dioxide levels-- even filtering out harmful chemicals used in construction and home dec materials.
The houseplants that I live with indoors are really misplaced outdoor plants that come from the tropics, rain forests and deserts of the world. They come in all sizes, shapes and foliage color and some even provide pretty nice flowers.
If you think you can't grow house plants, you are so wrong. There are house plants that will live happily almost anywhere unless you live in an ingloo or underwater. Even if you think you have a brown thumb, you can find a plant that will love you anyway. It's all about knowing your home's conditions and how much effort you want to put into a plant's care. You can sort of compare it to adopting a pet--do you want a high maintenance pet that needs a lot of pampering and grooming or do you want a laid back, low maintenance pet? In future Houseplant Fridays we'll take look at some common house plants and discuss which ones will work in different home environments.
But this week let's talk about basic winter care for those few neglected plants sitting on our windowsills or floors right now and what they need.
This time of year I don't fertilize my foliage houseplants. All indoor plants need a break from active growing, just like the bare trees and shrubs outside are getting, so from about December 1st through the end of February I stop fertilizing all together. The short days and low natural light don't trigger the hormones (yes, plants have hormones too) that cause new growth to start so the fertilizer just sits in the soil doing more harm than good. Fertilizing now results in weak, stringy, stressed out plants and adds a lot of salts to the potting soil. For most, but not all, of my plants, I cut back on water now too, but I NEVER EVER let my plants go so dry that they wilt.
I'm limited on window space with good light, so only plants that flowering, like my cyclamen, african violet and amaryllis get the coveted east & south facing window spots. All my other plants must be content with north or west facing windows. I have an unheated porch too and unless the temps drop below 10 degrees, I leave my semi-hardy plants and herbs like rosemary and lemon verbena out there. My porch faces south so during the day the temps are usually above freezing and stay right around 32 degrees at night. It's an ideal spot for my tender perennial herbs who don't like being in a warm house.
Central heat, wood stoves, fireplaces and space heaters dry the air out too much for most plants. In the rain forest, plants get the majority of their moisture from the high humidity levels. Plants can absorb water through their leaves as well as their roots. I mist my plants a couple of times a week till I can see a few droplets collect on their leaves and stems. This also helps to shed some of the dust that accumulates on the leaves because plants breathe through their leaves (transpiration). An alternative to misting is to place your plants on pebble-filled trays and add water up to the top of the pebbles. This increases the humidity in the immediate vicinity of the plants. I don't use pebble/trays anymore because I have a clumsy cat who likes to jump on windowsills so I stick with misting,
Trivia: If the tips of your spider plant's leaves turn brown, it's from lack of humidity. To improve it's appearance, cut the tips off at an angle, not straight across, they'll be less noticeable and blend in. Weekly misting or a "shower" in the kitchen sink will help prevent the brown tips.
Tip: When plants are newly potted they won't produce new top growth until they've filled the new space with roots.