Friday, January 28, 2011

Houseplant Friday - Winter Chores

Peace Lily
I love houseplants, they provide me with some "green therapy"  whenever I look out the window and see three feet of snow and leafless branches. 
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.  

I  have more time to look over my plants now and do a little housekeeping.  For plants with broad leaves such as schefflera, pothos, or ficus,  I wipe them with a damp paper towel to remove any dust or dirt that could clog their stomata. I also remove any yellow or dried leaves and I'll wipe off the pots and check the botton holes for roots sticking out which means it's time for a new pot.  I like re-pot plants that need it now so when active growth starts in March, they'll be ready to take off. 

Tip:  When plants are newly potted they won't produce new top growth until they've filled the new space with roots.

If you have a plant that looks a little like a tall, skinny supermodel, this is a good time to give it a hair cut as well.  I never remove more than a third of the plant and I try to make it look as inconspicuous as possible.   For ivies, pothos and trailing plants, pinch off the growing or "terminal" tips.  This will cause them to branch out, making them fuller and limit the length of the trailing stems.  I also don't like my spider plants to have lots of babies so I remove the long stalks as they appear. 

Trivia A NASA study conducted in the 1980's concluded that some fifteen plants were effective for removing indoor toxins (sick house syndrome) and improving air quality. Among these plants are the spider plant, english ivy, philodendron, dracaena, peace lily, snake plant and ficus!

While I'm also giving them hair cuts, I'm checking my plants for hitchhikers that may have come in with my plants who spent the summer outdoors.  If I do find any pests, a quick trip to the kitchen sink and a spray with warm soapy water usually does the trick.   

Lastly,  I've had plants that were "lost causes" and had to make a hard decision to give up and toss them.  It's not a decision I make lightly but I never feel like a failure as a gardener and you shouldn't either.   What's that saying..."It's better to have loved and lost, than never to  have loved at all".  Just feel free to substitute the word "garden" for love.

 Stayed tuned for next week's Houseplant Friday Segment,   "Beginner Friendly House Plants"

Go Green!

Gail :)

1 comment:

  1. I'm washing my plants today, it's cleaning day after all! Thanks, Gail.


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