Winter Indoor Plant Care
by Elizabeth Waddington
Here are a few tips to keep your indoor plants thriving through our long cold Montana winters.
- Pests can be a real annoyance. They usually appear after outdoor plants are brought inside for the winter, or when a new houseplant is brought home. Your houseplants may also sprout bugs once brought inside your house because they no longer have outdoor predators.
- Spider mites thrive in warm, dry houses. Frequent misting under the leaves of houseplants will discourage them. A solution of 1 cup flour, ¼ cup buttermilk, and a gallon of cool water, applied in a mist, may be a good organic deterrent.
- Small flies may occasionally appear around houseplants. These are called fungus gnats and are harmless to plants and humans in their adult form, though their larvae can damage young roots. Letting the soil dry out a bit between watering can discourage fungus gnats.
- Remove aphids from houseplants with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water and add a drop of dish-washing detergent. Apply with a soft brush. This also works on mealybugs and scale.
- When arranging houseplants in your home, consider their lighting needs. Some plants require lots of direct light to thrive, while others prefer lower levels of indirect light.
- Put plants that can tolerate full sun in south-and west-facing windows, plants that like partial shade in east-facing windows, and low-light plants in north-facing windows.
- Most flowering plants need to be within three feet of a sunny window.
- Most plants require 12 to 16 hours of light per day.
- Rotate plants once in a while to encourage even growth and prevent legginess.
- Believe it or not, more houseplants die from over-watering than from anything else! Water plants with room-temperature water.
- Use filtered water if your tap water contains high amounts of minerals or chemicals. Fluoride can cause the leaf tips of some houseplants such as peace lilies, to turn brown.
- Water houseplants in un-glazed clay pots more frequently because the porous clay will absorb and evaporate some of the water.
- If your houseplant leaves are dripping, even when you haven’t watered, it’s trying to rid itself of excess water (a process called “guttation”). This makes a plant vulnerable to disease-causing fungi, so you may want to reduce the amount of water you’re giving the plant.
- Most houseplants are in a resting phase during the winter and do not require fertilizer. However, a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) works fine, fertilizers with a higher ratio of nitrogen will promote more foliage growth, and flowering plants can use a fertilizer with more phosphorous.
- Most houseplants grow well with daytime temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F and night temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees F. Temperatures below 50 degrees F or rapid temperature fluctuations may damage some plants.
- Keep houseplants away from cold drafts, radiators, and hot air vents. Also make sure houseplant foliage doesn’t touch cold windows by placing a cardboard between the window and plant.
- Humidity is a tough factor to perfect, as most homes are especially dry in Montana winters. Most common houseplants will be happiest when the relative humidity is between 40 and 50%.
- Group houseplants near each other to form a support group to cope with the low humidity of most winter homes.
- Set plants on shallow trays of moistened gravel to raise humidity. This keeps the pots out of standing water.
- Occasionally turning on a humidifier near your plants can be effective at combating indoor dryness. You would have to hand mist plants several times a day to raise the humidity sufficiently.
- Plants like cacti and succulents can tolerate lower levels of humidity.
MORE HOUSEPLANT CARE TIPS
- Loosen the dirt in your pots periodically. Re-invigorate your houseplants by removing the top ¼ inch of soil and top-dressing with fresh potting soil.
- If your houseplants’ leaves grow dusty, gently wipe them down with a wet paper towel. Too much dust can clog a plant’s stomata (pores), making it harder for the plant to “breathe.”
Challenge: does someone want to try this off-beat tip? To get rid of bugs in houseplants, push a clove of garlic into the plant’s soil. If the garlic sprouts and grows, just cut it back.
Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington