It may be cold and dreary outside, but that doesn’t mean we need to forego our green thumb until next spring. In addition to providing a winter hobby for gardening enthusiasts, houseplants make a home more inviting, purify the air, and contribute to an overall healthier living environment. Here are five tips to consider when caring for houseplants over the winter months:
The clocks have been set back, and the daylight hours are dwindling. As the last leaves fall from the trees, and the sun changes position in the sky, you may notice a fluctuation of natural light within your home. Based on these changes, it may be necessary to move light loving plants to a sunnier spot. Lacking light this time of year? No problem. According to the University of Missouri Extension, “Artificial lighting, if properly designed, allows plants to be grown indoors in nearly any setting.” When it comes to artificial lighting, most indoor gardeners depend on fluorescent tubes for their ease of use, economical price tag, and energy efficiency.
From frosted windowpanes, to bursts of dry heat from heating vents, fluctuating household temperatures can make plants uncomfortable. Keep plants healthy throughout the cold winter months by carefully selecting its resting place. Consider lighting needs, as well as the location of heat sources and drafts. Do you heat with wood? Jeremy DeLisle of the UNH Cooperative Extension suggests “adding a tray of pebbles with some water under the pot to raise the humidity level.”
Throughout the year, houseplants are exposed to environmental elements such as cleaning products, dust, and pollen. In order to “breathe” and absorb light, leaves need to be clean. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the tops and bottoms of leaves, or give them an occasional shower.
When it comes to feeding houseplants over the winter months, there is no need to go overboard. In fact, UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center Coordinator Emma Erler suggests fertilizing houseplants during the active growing season from March through September, allowing for a rest period over the winter months. Erler suggests choosing a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Be on the lookout for signs of over fertilization such as burning leaves and/or the accumulation of a crusty white substance on the outside of the pot. The UNH Cooperative Extension recommends “leaching” excess fertilizer by periodically flushing the plant with water and allowing to fully drain.
When it comes to water, houseplants tend to suffer from Goldilocks syndrome. One common problem is overwatering. If a plant receives too much water, leaves will begin to wilt and roots will rot, leading to eventual death. Be sure to use your finger to check the soil moisture at a depth of 2 inches. When plants are dry, water thoroughly. Allow excess water to drain from the pot, but do not leave plants sitting in the standing water.
The following resources can provide you with additional information related to caring for indoor plants:
Contributor: Sarah Roberts, Master Gardener