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March 27, 2023

12/4/2008 9:19:00 AM
Tis the Season for House Plants
Chisago County Extension Master Gardener

Now that we've had a few really hard frosts and our outdoor gardens begin their long winter rest, you may be inclined to turn your attention to a little indoor gardening. Gone are the days when Boston Ferns, African Violets, Rubber Plants and Philodendrons were the most common plants found in the home and office. Now there are endless choices of ferns, succulents, tropicals and much more to brighten up our living spaces when the days are shorter and we are spending time indoors.

Here in the northern climates, we experience vast seasonal fluctuations, not only in temperatures, but in the intensity and duration of daylight. Because light, water, temperature, humidity, and nutrient requirements of houseplants are all interrelated, we must take these changes into consideration to keep houseplants healthy year round

Before purchasing a houseplant, pay close attention to the light requirements of that particular plant and then select only the plants that will do well with the available light in your specific indoor locations. In northern latitudes, we change from long hours of daylight in spring and summer to much shorter days in fall and winter. Due to the sun's angle, winter light is less intense; weather is often cloudier, too. Houseplants may grow better if you move them into brighter windows or nearer to windows so they may receive as much light as possible. Be careful not to place them close enough to be injured by cold; never allow foliage to actually touch window panes.

How often to water your plant depends on several factors including planting medium, pot size and plant size. Always water thoroughly until water comes through the pot's drain holes. Discard excess water that collects in the saucer. Learn to recognize when the plant needs water by feeling the soil. Some plants such as ferns and African violets need water as soon as the soil surface feels dry. The potting medium of many cacti and succulents must dry thoroughly before watering. For most houseplants, allow soil to dry 1/2 inch or more below the surface, depending on pot size. Water when conditions warrant, not automatically, on a rigid schedule.

Keep houseplants out of cold, drafty locations such as an entryway in winter or near an air-conditioner in summer. Try also to avoid hot, dry spots close to radiators or heat ducts in winter. As long as air is neither excessively hot nor cold, and there's good air circulation, (as provided by a ceiling fan or forced air register some distance from the plants) you should be successful.

Our houses are drier in winter and these low humidity conditions can result in moisture loss and susceptibility to insects that thrive in dry, warm locations. Instead of misting your plants, group plants together to benefit from moisture they lose through transpiration. You can also place plants on supports in trays of water so that it evaporates around them, but doesn't wick up through the containers.

Typically, fertilizing your houseplants in winter isn't necessary. They will continue to manufacture their own food through photosynthesis, and need fertilizer only as a supplement. The exceptions are plants growing under fluorescent lights because they won't experience a seasonal change in light, so they might need fertilizer applications year-round. Always mix fertilizer one-half the label recommended strength. It's easier to repeat an application than to deal with the potential consequences of excess fertilizer--brown leaf tips and margins and burned roots, followed by stunted growth and ultimately, plant death.

Garden Center that are open year round will usually have a nice selection of houseplants available at this time of year along with those seasonal favorites like Poinsettias, Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, Lucky Bamboo. My personal favorites are the many interesting succulents that can be grouped together in even the smallest containers.

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