FEB. 12, 2022
Winter is well and truly ensconced, and, if you’re lucky, you may be packing up for some days in a warmer clime. But, before you leave, or if you’re settling in for a cozy month with a fire in the fireplace and lots of books to read…consider taking a few minutes to spruce up your indoor garden. All those pretty plants that add warmth and color to your rooms may be in need of a bit of extra TLC right now.
So, here are four suggestions for small tasks that will help keep your houseplants healthy and attractive. Maintaining plants indoors is similar to those tasks your outdoor plants require, only smaller in scope and time.
Watering: As you’ve probably noticed, indoor plants need less water, in general. They’re in pots and jars and bowls that are usually less porous and sometimes have no drainage hole at all. Be careful, if the drainage is poor, consistently wet roots may rot.
Water less but maintain humidity; you’ve probably been giving your plants water only once a week or so. But now, with furnace and fireplace going, you may want to moisten your houseplant by misting the leaves and even adding a humidifier—good for your skin as well as your plants.’
Humidify: If you don’t have a humidifier, try some shallow dishes or bowls layered with tiny pebbles or glass drops. Add water to cover the rocks, and cluster some of your plants in this pretty, moist climate bowl.
Avoid fertilizing your plants now. Give them time to go dormant. They’ll be gathering in the spring sunlight soon enough.
Repotting: Now may be a good time to move some of your plants into fresh soil and larger containers. If a particular plant has been in the same pretty pot for several years, or even one year where it has flourished, the roots of that plant may be a bit cramped. Gently coax the plant out of its original pot and try to loosen and free the roots from the tired soil. Then, situate the plant in a larger pot and fresh potting soil and give the plant enough water to moisten both soil and roots. Note: Watch for tiny pests that may have hitched a ride on plants brought in from outdoors. Here’s your chance to get rid of them.
Cleaning tasks: While you’re doing plant-maintenance, look around at the leaves of your houseplants. The leaves collect all that lovely sunlight; they need to be clean to do that.
Leaf Shower: Using regular tap water or some milk, sponge off the leaf surfaces with gentle strokes; hold one hand beneath each leaf for support as you remove the dust and grime that may have settled on those leaves. If the leaves are very small, try using a paintbrush instead of a sponge.
Debugging: Here’s another opportunity to watch for any pests—spider mites are notorious for hanging out under the leaves of plants. Mites can usually be gotten rid of with a simple spray of water and dish soap. You may have to spray the undersides of the leaves more than once to be sure you’ve gotten all the mites.
Primping & pruning: Remove any scraggly or dead leaves that may be clinging to the plant. If you’re courageous, you can take a sharp scissors to some of the gangly stems that may be marring the symmetry of your plant. I call it gardener’s “tough love.”
Lighting: Your plants need approximately eight hours of light each day. Since late winter tends to be rather dark and light comes from such an oblique angle, you might want to give your plants a bit of extra help with their photosynthesis now by checking that the windows are clean and/or providing some artificial light. Plants need light that provides red and blue wavelengths. The red waves encourage leaf production and growth. Blue waves affect the plant’s response to light and photosynthesis. You have two options that will provide both the red and blue waves, grow lights or LED lights.
Grow Lights: Grow light bulbs are usually installed in stands that focus the light down onto the plants below. Some provide a balanced light spectrum while others give only red or blue waves. Be sure you have a full-spectrum grow light bulb, such as a fluorescent tube, a High-Intensity Discharge bulb (HD), or High-Pressure Sodium bulb (HPS). Grow lights give off heat—the good news, they’ll help keep plants warm if you have a chilly house. The bad news is they can burn plant leaves if the plant grows too near the bulb.
LED Lights: LED lights are more expensive to purchase, but they require less energy to use (and you may need them on up to eight hours/day), and the bulbs last longer. LED lights are very efficient, converting 80 percent of the energy they use into light. They burn cool, so they won’t burn your plants.
After completing these four tasks, your houseplants will thank you by continuing to splash color and freshness throughout your winter rooms.