Keep houseplants thriving in winter

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Many people find it difficult to keep most of their houseplants looking good through the winter. By the time spring rolls around, several of them may look half dead. By understanding a little about how plants grow, and by taking a few precautions, you can do a better job of maintaining your plants throughout the winter.

Several factors influence the growth of indoor plants. When bringing the plants inside in the fall, they should be acclimated to the lower light that is found inside your home. If this was done to the plants, some of the bottom or older leaves probably turned yellow and fell off. Ficus is well known for this. If this was the case, the best solution is to try and supply as much additional light as possible to the plants. If they are in a north or east window, move them to a south window where they will get more light. Or you can supply them with supplemental lighting. This will help prevent the plants from deteriorating because of a sudden change to low light found in the home.

The second point to consider is humidity. Most house plants are from the tropics so they like high humidity. During the winter months, most homes have very low humidity because of forced air heat and the drying effect of the heat. Houseplants thrive outside during warm weather in a relative humidity of 60 percent or higher. When you bring them inside, the humidity is normally around 20 to 30 percent. This helps explain why plants grow much better in bathrooms and kitchens during the winter months. These rooms usually have higher humidity than the rest of the house.

You can increase humidity by putting hanging baskets over the other plants. The lower plants transpire and release moisture into the air and thus increase the humidity. You can also bunch plants together and this will increase the humidity for each one. Depending on the plants you have and your situation, sometimes you can place plants on top of some type of water filled containers or saucers that contain gravel or rocks.

Another method is to mist the leaves of the plants. Misting should be done early morning through mid-afternoon. Do no mist later than 4:00 p.m. so that the leaves will dry at night. One misting per day is usually not enough. Some successful growers mist as often as every two hours.

The third important consideration to be made with house plants is watering. Do not water too often. Let the plant dry out from one to two inches deep in the soil media before rewatering. Apply enough water so that it drains out the bottom of the pot each time it is watered. You should always use saucers to catch the water, and make sure you pour out the extra water that collects in these saucers. This will prevent the roots of the plant from rotting and will keep the plant growing for a much longer period of time.

Avoid watering plants with cold tap water. Research has shown that cold water destroys the ability of root cells to take in water and nutrients. Water below 50 degrees was found to reduce leaf size, cause leaf drop and eventually contribute to the death of some potted plants. Tests have shown that warmer water actually stimulates root growth.

The fourth point is fertilization. Most foliage and houseplants do very little, if any growing during the winter months, thus they do not need to be fertilized very often or not at all. Fertilizing too often during the winter can build up salts in the soil and this can be detrimental to the plants. If you do fertilize, they don’t need it any more than about every 6-8 weeks during the winter, using about half the recommended rate of fertilizer.

If you follow this advice, your houseplants should look much healthier this winter and they should be plants that you can be proud of and want to show off rather than keep hidden. Houseplants add a new dimension to interior decoration and add beauty and enjoyment to the home or office.

Reach Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County, at (706) 821-2349 or smullis@uga.edu.


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