Winter Indoor Plant Care

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

  • 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.

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LIGHT

  • 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.

WATER

  • 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.

FERTILIZER

  • 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.

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TEMPERATURE

  • 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

  • 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

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Book Review: Lentil Underground by Liz Carlisle

Lentil Underground by Liz Carlisle

I adore this nonfiction book for so many reasons! As a gardener, a dreamer, a reader, and a Montanan (after being here 43 years), this book nurtures those of us craving some prodding towards creativity. It’s about the conversion from conventional, large-crop, synthetically fertilized farming to rotating, small crop, organic farming. Technical while still being accessible to the non-scientist, Lentil Underground explains the process of finding new ways to do what no longer works and the willingness to take the leap away from the mainstream. Many third-generation farmers were facing bankruptcy in the 1980s while farming the way they were told to do by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana State University agriculture professors.

Liz Carlisle, a Missoulian by birth who holds degrees from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, writes in a crisp journalistic style made popular today by writers such as Michael Lewis and Mary Roach. She weaves information into a timeline featuring real characters in an ongoing story that reflects recent history of the past few decades.

“My intention has changed from making money to growing good-quality, healthy food. I think the soil’s happier. The farm just feels better. It’s like it knows I’m not going to pillage.” These few farmers in Montana who moved away from debt to large corporations towards certain weeds to replenish their soils represent a broad philosophical shift. The independence and innovation of farmers fortunately cannot be restrained, even though they were bucking the trend and often alienating neighbors and family members. In the long run, most organic farmers not only survived but thrive.

What began with some founders of AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization), now based in Helena, has become essentially commonplace. Albertson’s and Walmart carry organic produce, whereas that designation used to be only carried by specialized, expensive health food stores. The movement no longer is the domain of a small, kooky cluster of transcendentally minded hippies, although the evidence, as explained by Carlisle, is that it started that way. Both the history of the movement and the character descriptions involved make colorful fodder for reading.

As a gardener, I still feel mixed about black medic and clover helping fix the nitrogen in my flower and vegetable beds. On one hand, I care about appearance. I get stuck in those middle class values that Carlisle confronts: “It became customary, when passing by a tidy, productive farm, to remark that a good family must live there.” Alternatively, I feel relief knowing I help the soil by ignoring what’s under the canopy of flowers and vegetables, thereby contributing to healthier, nutrient-rich soil.

She includes some celebrities, too, since land use often mirrors personalities of those that own it. I won’t be a spoiler, though, because reading the book far exceeds reading this review. If you have doubts about picking up a copy, keep in mind that it was the ‘Read for all Incoming Freshmen’ at the University of Montana in the fall of 2017. The themes of thoughtful change while taking charge of destiny from the ground up can inspire future leaders and gardeners everywhere to ask essential questions and experiment.

BOOK REVIEW submitted by Bess Lovec

Got Hail Damage?

Wild summer storms can discourage home gardeners as well as farmers. The best defense is a good offense by using proper cultural practices – location, watering, fertilizing and pruning techniques – from the beginning of the season. When hail happens, trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals can successfully survive if the proper maintenance is done after damage.

Trees and Shrubs
Prune off any broken branches caused by hail. Use proper pruning cuts, taking care not to cut into the branch bark ridge. If trees or shrubs were split and large limbs were broken, clean the wounds with a sharp knife or pruning shears. Browned leaves will not turn green. To assess the ex-tent of damage, move up the plant and past the leaves to check how far back dead material extends. Dead twigs will snap. Moving further back on the branch, you can use a knife to scrape the top of the branch to look for live wood. Prune twigs and branches at the point where there is live, green wood. Do not apply paint or wound dressings, but let the wound close naturally. If damage is too great, consider removing the plant.

Continue to inspect branch wounds closely and monitor throughout the growing season. Many wounds will callous over with proper plant watering and maintenance. Be vigilant about spotting Fire Blight if humidity and temperatures (60°F to 85°F and relative humidity above 60%) are conducive to the bacterial growth. A preventative spray of horticultural oil in the spring or fall can reduce overwintering egg casings and spores.

Hail often destroys leaves, but trees may have enough reserves to re-leaf. Because this takes a lot of energy, be sure to give the tree adequate water throughout the summer (approximately one inch per week, depending on species). Applying two to three inches of mulch at the base of the trees but not touching the trunk and shrubs will also help moderate soil temperatures and maintain soil moisture.

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Annual flowers and edibles
Plants that are completely stripped of foliage and have broken stems should be replaced. If less than one-third of the plant remains, it is probably not worth trying to save. Other plants with less damage might be salvaged, but they will need time and care to recover.

  • Trim and remove severely damaged leaves so that the energy of the plant is directed to create new growth. After trimming, spray edibles with a copper-based product available at garden centers.
  • Apply fertilizer to promote growth. Pat Appleby of Canyon Creek Nursery suggests Soil Diva either to spray on foliage or as a soil drench. It will enhance microbial activity to stimulate the plants.
  • Water regularly without stressing plants with too much or too little water.
  • Place new plants between damaged ones to provide instant color in the case of annuals – and to help insure a harvest in the case of edibles.

After a very intense storm, the soil around plants tends to form a crust after it starts to dry out. Use a small hand rake to gently work around those plants and break up that crust so it doesn’t form a hard shell.

Perennials
Perennials often have secondary buds that will provide new growth following hail damage. Perennials also require optimal care following hail so that they not only survive the current season but gain the health to overwinter and bloom again next season. Trim perennials back as far as the extent of the damage is visible. This also applies to perennial grasses.

Apply fertilizer to provide nutrients that will generate growth.

Do not cut back damaged foliage on bulb flowers such as daffodils and allium. The leaves enable photosynthesis which feeds the bulbs though severe damage may cause less vigorous plants the following year.

Water adequately. Xeric plants may need more water than usual to help them recover more quickly.

Living with Hail
In areas more prone to hail, use a cloth designed to protect plants from hail (or sun). Pat suggests using a 30% block to allow moisture and light to reach plants while protecting them from hail. You can also look for finer-leafed plants such as cosmos which the hail often falls through rather than shreds.

Sources 
Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado https://www.alcc.com/dealing-with-weather-damaged-plants.
Ask an expert Cooperative Extension https://ask.extension.org/questions/395347.
Colorado public news http://www.cpr.org/news/story/after-hail-advice-resurrecting-your-garden.
Interview with Pat Appleby of Canyon Creek Nursery.

~Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

To the Editor: Climate Change

Note: This article is based on my own research and observations and does not profess to be a statement from the newsletter editorial board nor from the Master Gardener program in Billings.  ~ Ann Guthals

We are unfortunately seeing more and more signs of climate change here and now, not in some distant future nor just in faraway places. I keep a nature notebook and I observe and record many natural phenomena earlier every year such as wildflowers blooming at least two weeks early, bees active in my maple tree in February, and signs of fall in the middle of August. We suffer from record heat and record snowfall. Storms are more powerful with high winds and large hail. Smoke from wildfires now blankets our skies all summer long, from wildfires of record size. The challenging gardening environment in Montana has become even more challenging.

These events were predicted decades ago by scientists using computer modelling. The predictions are coming true and they are happening faster and sooner than the climate scientists even imagined, such as the more rapid pace of the Greenland ice sheet melt and the opening of the Arctic Ocean in summer.

I have enjoyed spending much time in nature all my life and many years ago when I saw this beautiful wild world being harmed by human activities, I dedicated myself to doing what I could to help mitigate the damages. It has been increasingly difficult to remain involved with any kind of hope as the problems have gotten worse, not better, over the last 50 years. But I have kids and grandchildren and thus a link to the future even if I begin to see my time here getting shorter. So I can’t give up the fight.

Yet I see that the reality is there is not enough change happening fast enough or broadly enough. We are in for very rough times ahead. The changes needed are on a global scale and there doesn’t seem to be the political will to make this happen soon enough if at all. But rather than wait for bigger forces to act, you and I can act on an individual level and one area we can act in is the garden.

I see two directions in response to climate change that gardeners can take: 1. Learn to garden defensively in uncertain weather conditions, and 2. Engage in gardening practices that may help slow climate change or at least not exacerbate it.

“Gardening Defensively:”

Maintaining healthy soils has several positive results, including sequestering carbon in the soil, conserving water, and supporting stronger, more resilient plants.

Using mulch and cover crops helps keep the soil healthy and conserves water.

Not tilling the soil keeps the beasties in the soil healthy and in harmony.

Gardening organically puts less poison in the air, water and soil and, again, keeps the soil beasties alive and healthy.

Using drought and heat-resistant varieties may become a necessity.

Saving seeds from successful plants will help select hardier varieties.

Using drip systems conserves water.

Reading, learning, observing, and communicating are important. We are all beginner gardeners in this new emerging world and supporting one another helps. Observing successes and failures as conditions change may inform us to make different choices of what to grow next year.

“Gardening to Slow Climate Change:”

All of the practices in Gardening Defensively above will also help mitigate climate change by creating healthy soils and minimizing the use of petrochemicals.

Growing perennials stabilizes the soil and avoids the plastic pots annuals come in every year.

Gardening provides the most local food possible, in our own backyards, and helps minimize the “travel miles” for our food, cutting down on the use of polluting petroleum products.

We can eat from our garden as needed, reducing food waste (less going in the landfill, less methane created).

In addition to healthy soils, planting trees can help sequester carbon.

Composting returns the organic matter to the soil.

We are all in this together. We can learn and adapt our practices and engage in a small, individual effort to help the Earth recover. I hope it is not too late.

By Ann Guthals

Food Sharing

The Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market is designed to bring healthy, fresh, local, and affordable fruits and vegetables to the community. The market is also a social meeting place to celebrate health and nutrition. Healthy By Design is partnering with Billings Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands to bring the market to the South Park. The Gardeners’ Market is located in South Park on the corner of South 28th Street and Sixth Avenue South in Billings, MT. The season runs Thursdays from 4:30—6:30 from the second week of June through the first week in October.

If you would like to receive a weekly reminder and update about the Gardeners’ Market click here! For more information or if you have questions, leave a message at 406.651.6444 or email market@healthybydesignyellowstone.org. Master Gardener’s can receive credit towards their hours by donating surplus produce to this program. Log into your account and add the pounds.

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The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, a project of the Yellowstone Valley Citizens’ Council, aims to revitalize our regional agricultural system, which once met 70% of Montana’s food needs. The Food Hub strives to link local producers and fresh, healthy food to local consumers and institutions. The food hub will raise awareness about the nutritional, environmental, and economic benefits of local foods.

A food hub is an entity that actively manages the collection, processing, marketing, and distribution of food products from area producers in order to strengthen their ability to satisfy individual, wholesale, and retail demand. We would love to hear your ideas and insights. To learn more, contact Maggie at (406) 248-1154 or email maggie@northernplains.org.

~Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

 

Master Gardeners at Billings Public Library

FAMILY FUN – MYSTERY NIGHT AT THE LIBRARY

On Friday, April 13th, fifteen creative and ambitious Master Gardeners plus some of their family members used the Community Room at the library to host a Family Fun Night. it was open to the public with approximately 50 people in attendance. Educational displays on square foot gardening, garden tools, wise water use, pollination, good bugs, praying mantis, pine beetles and the Master Gardener Program were set up around the room.

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Merita talking with young girl

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Butler telling participants what he did

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Pat answering questions about African violets

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Karen H. at geranium table

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Vonnie heling with children’s activities.

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Casey D. and Cindy R.

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Pat M. and actors Bee, Ron, Merita and Joann

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Sharon Y. greeting guests

Those in attendance were told about the Master Gardener program and treated to a short skit “What is this?” in which they tried to determine who was telling the truth. The main activity for the evening was getting the audience to solve the Mystery at Orchard Manor as to why some plants were not doing well and who was responsible. Furthermore, there were children’s activities, drawings for gardening prizes, and snacks. Guests went home with zinnia plants, bulbs, square foot gardening packets and educational hand outs. This educational and fun event was immensely enjoyed by the participants as well as the volunteers.

~Submitted by Elaine Allard
~Photos by Joan Griffin