The Home Rx for the Coming Months

Top choices for houseplant lovers are an ever-growing number of succulents. Easy care and stunning presence are what succulents are all about. Photo by Lynette L. Walther.

Shorter days, cooler nights signal more than just a change in the season. They announce that it is time to get busy, get those gardens tucked in for the long, cold haul to come. And more importantly, they tell us it is time to bring in all those houseplants that have been vacationing outdoors for the summer.

Before you do, take a few minutes to examine each pot and plant. Some may need a “hair cut” to trim back exuberant summer growth. Because many houseplants can be propagated from cuttings, be sure to save those trimmings to root for more plants to share later. Some of your plants may even need to be repotted. A good rule of thumb is to select a new pot a third bigger than the old. Use a good commercial potting soil.  It often contains nutrient beads for slow-release fertilizing, and it consists of the right mix of ingredients to provide good drainage. Plus, it does not contain weed seeds nor insect eggs which garden soil might be harboring.

With clivia, you get luxuriant green foliage and blooms, too. The ultimate houseplant, clivia is a native of South Africa that thrives in a dry environment and low light. Photo by Lynette L. Walther.

Next inspect each plant, stem to stern and top to bottom. That careful check includes the undersides of leaves, where spider mites or other damaging insects might be lurking or have deposited eggs. Larger plants can be cleaned off with a spray of water from a garden hose. A damp soft cloth or even a soft paint brush can be used to clean smaller and more delicate plant foliage.

Your houseplants will be keeping you company for many months indoors. For the frustrated gardeners among us, they can indeed be our winter obsession. We know they add that vital touch of green (sometimes color and bloom, too) to light up the dark days of winter, and they look pretty, near windows or on sunny counters. Houseplants have even been found to help elevate our mood.

Blooms and more blooms distinguish plants in the begonia family. Low light and tolerance of dry conditions make them excellent choices. Allow houseplants to dry out between water, being careful not to overwater. Photo by Lynette L. Walther.

For these reasons, houseplants are our winter saviors, and they have never been as popular as they are now. But in winter they need a bit of care to keep them healthy and thriving, and they’ll pay you back in return. Whether you already have an inventory of thriving houseplants or are looking for a few to begin your indoor garden or add to your collection, here are 10 handy tips from Costa Nurseries (one of the largest producers of houseplants) on caring for your houseplants this coming winter:

1. Pick Your Plant Based on Light. Remember that while nearly all plants prefer bright light, be careful to protect them from intense direct sun. A good rule of thumb: if the sun is intense enough to burn your skin, it will certainly burn a plant’s leaves.

Winter is when the flowering cactus (Cereus) blooms. Cacti make good houseplants, tolerating the dry environments of heated homes. Photo by Lynette L. Walther.

2. Be Mindful of Your Schedule. If your absentmindedness is what stands between you and happy plant ownership, pick a plant that thrives from neglect. If you have bright light, try a succulent or cactus, and if you have low light, try a snake plant or ZZ plant.

3. Do Not Overwater Your Houseplant. Beware of overwatering. More houseplants die from too much water than too little. Telltale signs that a plant is overwatered include mold, mildew, and rotted foliage.  Telltale signs that a plant is past due for a watering are wilting plant leaves or soil pulling away from the sides of the planter. Always use tepid water to water your plant. Let the potting soil soak up the water for about 15 to 30 minutes, then empty any remaining water from the saucer.

Color-coordinated plants and pots can add a touch of sophistication to any setting. Photo by Lynette L. Walther.

4. Increase Humidity When Necessary.  For plants that prefer humid conditions such as ferns, ivies, or tropical plants, mist them using a small spray bottle in between waterings. During the dry months of winter, grouping plants together helps to create a humid microclimate. A humidifier can help, too.

5. Keep Your Plant’s Environment Stable.  Avoid placing plants near temperature hazards like vents, radiators, and exterior doors, which might create hot or cold spots and drafts.

6. Forgo Fertilizer.  Plants get minerals from the air, water, and their potting mix, and they are nourished and energized by sunlight. Now we are in the dormant season for most plants. If you do choose to fertilize, only do so during the growing season, and follow the general rule of thumb that “less is more.”

7. Purchase a Healthy Plant from a Reputable Source. Definitely give the plant a once-over before purchasing. Look for yellowed leaves, powdery mildew, leaf spots, brown leaf tips, weak or wobbly stems, insect eggs on the underside of leaves, and other obvious signs of poor plant health.

Houseplants that have spent the summer luxuriating outdoors will need to come indoors now. Photo by Lynette L. Walther.

8. Show a Little Extra TLC in the Beginning. Establish a routine of checking plants every three to four days. A little extra attention can go a long way.

9. Do Not be Afraid to Repot. Repotting does not necessarily mean putting your plant in a new planter, but rather, changing its soil or potting mix. Plants receive some of their nutrients from their soil so fresh soil can help them. Although one can repot in fall, as necessary, the best time to repot is in early spring, before the growth season starts.

10. Create Drainage. If the planter does not have a drainage hole at the bottom to allow excess water to escape from the soil, it is important to create makeshift drainage. Line the bottom of the planter with rocks and sand. Try lava rocks because they are porous. This added precaution could help prevent overwatering.

Houseplants can be the prescription for our winter blues. Just imagine the lift and color—the life—that a big fiddle leaf fig can add to a room. Go big or go small. The rewards are there, and with proper care your houseplants will be around for a long time. As I like to remind folks, every plant is native to some place. The trick to growing houseplants with success—or any plant for that matter—is to discover the native environment for that plant, and then try to replicate it as closely as possible.

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Lynette Walther

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