It’s getting cold outside! Temperatures have begun to dip, and the season of outdoor gardening is winding down as winter approaches. Those of us who love plants will now focus on gardening indoors, enjoying plants and greenery throughout the winter months. Houseplants offer the perfect escape from winter’s ice and snow. Here are some basic care instructions and tips to help you succeed with your indoor plants:
Light: Most houseplants prefer bright light with some direct sun. East- and west-facing windows are ideal, and a south-facing window is satisfactory if the plants are not against the glass.
Temperature: Most houseplants are content at 60–70°F. Please note that sunny windowsills that are not well ventilated can get extremely warm on bright days.
Humidity: All houseplants (except Cacti) resent the excessively dry air produced by radiators, hot-air vents, wood stoves and areas close to south-facing windows. Humidity should be provided by standing the plants on trays of moist pebbles, or by using a humidifier nearby.
Watering: This is an art that can be learned. The secret is to poke your index finger into the potting soil. If it is dry 1″ down from the surface, water thoroughly. Don’t water again until the soil is once again dry at the top. If the soil shrinks away from the edge of the pot, it is too dry and root damage is likely to occur. If soil remains constantly wet, the roots will rot. When this occurs some leaves may turn brown or yellow.
Feeding: Houseplants generally need plant food only when actively growing. This is usually in spring and summer. All flowering houseplants prefer a plant food that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus. We suggest applying fertilizer at half the rate listed on the container, but at the same frequency.
Potting: The potting soil we supply with some plants should be moistened, but not soaked, before using. When it is time to repot, use a good potting soil recommended for houseplants, avoiding bargain brands. Water well before potting. Remove the plant by turning it upside down and tapping the edge of the pot against a solid object. Use a pot that is 1–2″ larger or return it to the same pot by carefully removing about an inch of the soil and roots. At the same time, trim the foliage by one third. Please note: this treatment is not recommended for Clivia. Add compost gradually and firm the soil. Settle the soil by tapping the base of the pot. After potting, water well, but avoid washing out the fresh compost.
Pests: Most plants have few problems when properly cared for, but there will be situations, including insects and other pests, that require some treatment. Wait until the plant is not in flower. The safest method is to drown any insects with tepid water using the sprayer in a kitchen sink. Make sure not to soak the soil too much. If this doesn’t work, plunge the foliage in a bucket of soapy water, using liquid soap, not detergent. If this fails, try mixing 2 ounces of rubbing alcohol, 2 tablespoons Ivory Liquid Soap and enough water to make a quart. Apply with a sprayer that can produce a strong spray to dislodge the critters, taking care to hit the underside of the leaves and the growing tips. Commercial houseplant sprays are available if severe infestations occur.
Summer Treatment: Most houseplants prefer to be outside during the summer. If your houseplants are varieties that can tolerate full sun, it is critical to place them in a shady location for 2–3 weeks before you expose them to full sun. Return them indoors as soon as night temperatures drop below 45°F.
Trimming: Trimming will be necessary for vigorous varieties during growing season.