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

Brassicas

There are many vegetables in the cruciferous family that we can grow in Montana. Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts are some of the more popular ones. (Did you know arugula is also a brassica? Its nickname is rocket because it is quick to bolt in the heat, so remember to plant early and in succession for a longer harvest time.) Brassicas are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow. All members of the brassica family have similar nutrient profiles and contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, beta carotene, folic acid, vitamins C, E, K, and iodine. They have powerful anti-oxidants and they are beneficial eaten raw or cooked.

Here in the harsh climate of Montana, timing is important and the shorter season vegetables and their cultivars will be the most likely to come to full fruition. Most brassicas do best in soil pH of 6.5-7.5, so a little elemental sulfur can be helpful. They prefer firm, very fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of compost and additional food during the growing season. They require full sun, which is at least 5-6 hours of sun a day and do best in soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees. They do not thrive in hot weather and therefore do better on the shoulder seasons. In fact, they not only tolerate light frost but often become sweeter after a little nip of cold. Furthermore, most brassicas need the stimulation of cold weather to form heads; Brussels sprouts in particular need cold to form the sprouts. Seeds are usually planted six weeks before the last frost. Transplants should be set out in the garden in the middle of May. The following Montguide is invaluable for determining the planting time of all veggies. http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

Working your garden in wet conditions, which we usually have in the spring, is harmful to the texture of your soil, and compaction is difficult to reverse, so it’s best to prepare your beds in fall so you can get into your garden and plant early without causing damage. It’s also best to plant brassicas from transplants that are started indoors, not only to get a jump on the season but to reduce the risk of disease and insect attack. Set your seedlings deep enough to cover the stalk up to the first set of leaves and make sure your hole is deep enough to keep the tap root straight. Press the soil around them gently and water in well. Remember to check your spacing for the different varieties so they don’t grow too close together.

A tip that I have found to be very helpful is the addition of mulch. Using mulch around your plants not only prevents weeds, it also keeps the soil cooler, retains moisture, reduces compaction from the rain, and keeps your plants cleaner. Along with cool soil and lots of nutrients, brassicas need consistent moisture, so remember to water regularly. Eat some of the lower leaves as the plants mature and remove any yellowing lower leaves to provide good air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal disease.

Insects and furry critters can be a real annoyance when growing brassicas. (Think cabbage moth and deer among others!) The least invasive defense against insects is a good squirt of water to the leaves, preferably done in the morning so they have time to dry before nightfall. This will disrupt the life cycle of soft bodied insects without using chemicals. If you are still struggling but don’t want to use chemicals, a floating row cover prevents insect attack and as a bonus keeps the deer and rabbits off too. This is best applied soon after planting to be most effective.

If you grew kale this season, you have probably already been harvesting for a month or more, but if you got a late start like I did, your Brussels sprouts may just be forming. Remember to be patient and keep your brassicas going through our early frosts for a longer, fuller and sweeter harvest! There are so many wonderful varieties of healthy veggies to try; if you didn’t plant any cruciferous vegetables this year, prepare your bed this fall and get ready to enjoy the glorious fruits of your labor next year! Some of the following reference links are live and some are not:

http://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/brassicas-timing-temperature-fertility.html

http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

http://mt.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Brassicas.pdf

https://www.gardenguides.com/96425-vegetables-grow-montana.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/04/04/brassica-vegetables_n_5091657.html

https://www.healwithfood.org/list/healthiest-brassica-vegetables-benefits.php

 

Respectfully submitted by Ann McKean

SPIDERS

The summer that I turned ten there was a huge spider in our garden. She would spin a new web almost every day. Many days, I would take her off her web and set her on a length of sewing thread about a yard long. She would crawl up the thread until she reached the top, at which point I would spin my arms so she was at the bottom again, and up she would crawl. When we had both had enough, I would restore her to her web and give her a cricket from my ‘cricket farm.’ which was just some crickets in my garden who also served as playmates for an only child in a rural place. She and I played this game until the end of summer when I had to go back to school. I don’t know if the free meal was sufficient compensation for my daily molestation, but she tolerated me and I adored her. I guess it must not have been too awful for her because she stayed there all summer instead of moving her digs somewhere else. It wasn’t until adulthood that I finally identified her as an Argiope aurantia. She was large with yellow and black markings that were reminiscent of a tiger swallowtail butterfly, and her large orb web had a giant zig zag down the center. (Spoiler alert: I love animals, especially insects.)

Spiders, known as arachnids, seem to be right up there with snakes for triggering fear and disgust. The image of the black widow has been woven into our culture as a representation of evil. I would like to convince you otherwise.

My Argiope, common name Yellow Garden Spider, is a fascinating creature. Arachnids are easily identified by their eight legs and – if you get close enough to see – four eyes. As with most spiders, the female is considerably larger than the male. The males wander until they locate a female and then make a web nearby, eventually mating. After mating, the female will make several egg sacs and hang them in her web. The eggs will hatch in autumn, perhaps even after she has died from the cold, but the baby spiders will remain dormant inside the egg sac until spring. Each egg sac contains anywhere from 300 to 1400 eggs. As with other spiders, once a female finds a suitable location for her web, she will remain there all season unless she is disturbed. I suppose my Argiope friend thought the free crickets were worth the trouble.

Black Widow Spider                                                 2018 newsletter 1.1

These beautiful orb webs trap all kinds of goodies including everything from aphids to wasps to caterpillars to grasshoppers, but there are other types of webs that are equally effective, including funnel webs, sheet webs, mesh webs and the good old fashioned tangle webs also known as cobwebs. These webs can be useful in identifying the spiders who made them. I found a black widow in my garden last summer who had wrapped up a bumble bee and a wasp in her tangle web. Spider silk is one of the strongest natural materials, and is being studied by scientists and mechanical engineers for its potential uses.

Spiders are carnivores and are excellent pest control, and even help prevent the spread of disease by eating the insects that can spread it, such as fleas, cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes. Norman Platnick of New York’s American Museum of Natural History says, “Spiders are primary controllers of insects…without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.” He postulates that “if spiders disappeared, we would face famine.” Less dramatically, spiders in your house make excellent pest control, and if you can overcome your fear, they can keep your home virtually pest free without chemicals! If the thought of sharing your home with spiders is too much for you, try to capture them and toss them out the door instead of squishing them. They are wonderful partners in your garden for managing all the hungry pests who want to eat your plants.

Although a spider bite is deadly for its prey, most spider bites are little more than bothersome to humans. Furthermore, spiders will not bite unless provoked by intense harassment or accidental contact such as being sat on or otherwise trapped. It’s wise to keep your garden shoes and boots inside, since a dark damp place is a favorite for black widows and ground dwelling spiders. If you stick a toe into a shoe and corner a spider, she will potentially bite in self-defense. Although some are more aggressive than others, as with almost every wild animal spiders would prefer to run away rather than to bite you. The native black widow is Montana’s only venomous spider of concern and if you think you have been bitten by one of these spiders, seek medical treatment. Be aware that as the days shorten in late summer, spiders may seek the protection of your home. (Unless they are black widows that can be a good thing.) Happily, according to Laurie Kerzicnik at Schutter Diagnostic Lab, scientists have determined that hobo spiders are not harmful to humans. She also reminds us that venomous spider bites are extremely rare in Montana and she points out that if the spider’s fangs even manage to pierce the skin, the infection following the bite can often be more dangerous than the venom itself. The non-native brown recluse cannot survive our cold temperatures, but could potentially hitchhike in on luggage. The bite from this spider can be dangerous, because it can become necrotic and seriously infected. Always seek the opinion of a doctor if you have any insect bite that causes concern, but remember that, statistically, more people in the U.S. are killed per year by dog bites (28) and cows (20) than black widows (7).

The next time you see a spider and panic, think of Charlotte, the benevolent spider. Spiders are beautiful, complex animals who are peaceful and relatively harmless to humans, and perform a vital role in the web of life.

 

Respectfully Submitted by Ann McKean

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.

Library 8

Merita talking with young girl

Library 7

Butler telling participants what he did

Library 6

Pat answering questions about African violets

Library 5

Karen H. at geranium table

Library 4

Vonnie heling with children’s activities.

Library 3

Casey D. and Cindy R.

Library 2

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

Library 1

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