Until you can plant, read

Sharing home with the greens

    OK, by the time you read this the temperature is nearly at a level that gnomes can endure, but the cold trapped me inside last week with only houseplants to fill the gardening fix.

   After consulting the “Georgia Master Gardener Handbook” and “Month-by-Moth Gardening in Georgia,” I thought of a few tips to pass along concerning the plants that share our homes.

   Mostly, I thought I’d tell you about all the mistakes I’ve made over the years: too much water, wrong use of fertilizer, wrong light, cold windows, heating vents and cats who enjoy snacking on our friends who can’t run away.

   Too much water is the number 1 plant killer, inside and outside the home. Plants inside especially take up less water in the winter months because _ plant speaking  _ they are less active. Before watering a plant, check to see if it’s really dry. Don’t just feel the top of the pot, dig your finger into the soil about an inch deep. And of course you know that different plants have different water needs _ that new Christmas cactus thrives on neglect, for example.

    Along with too much water, it’s easy to give plants too much fertilizer in a season when they seem to beg for attention and a boost for their systems. You can still give them a shot, but only at half the strength you otherwise fertilize at. However, orchids will love you and bloom madly with regular feedings this time of year.

   If you brought plants in after they spent the summer outside, they probably look like they are suffering from H1N1 about now. Give them the best light position in the house, near a window facing east. The light intensity is less in the winter months so most plants probably feel deprived. Think of it as a rest period where the goal isn’t to flourish but to make it through to spring. Check individual plants for light needs and those with higher needs go to the best spots in the house. 

  However, be careful of setting up those sun lovers right next to windows, especially if you too have single pane windows. The cold coming off windows can harm plants. Back them away at least six inches. Also try to avoid placing plants in drafty areas or in front of heat vents, both are killers.

   I’m not sure about dogs and hamsters, but cats love to nibble on plants. Keep any poisonous ones out of pets’ reach or give them to your pet-less friends. To try to keep peace in our home I have set spider plants within each reach of cats. You can also plant grass for your feline friends.

   Those Christmas plants can survive for years like any houseplant. Poinsettias like it dry so easy with the watering. You will want to cut a Poinsettia back one or twice through the spring and summer months then in September, if you want it to change colors, you need to adjust its light exposure. Amaryllis can be kept as a houseplant or planted outside in May. Pick a sunny spot for it and be prepared to wait until the following spring for the blooms.

   Don’t be afraid to trim up dead leaves or to cut back a plant that’s overgrown its welcome. You can re-pot houseplants if needed during this time of year, too.

   Watch out for pests. Insecticidal soap will take care of most pest problems. If you see just a few of those mealybugs or aphids, you can use a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol to take them out.  

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