Originally created 12/14/01

Plants need cold-weather care



As temperatures drop and sunlight gets more scarce, plants tend to respond by going into dormancy.

And unless you have a greenhouse and can artificially keep your house plants in active growth, it is best to take a hint and let your plants rest awhile.

Generally, house plants get used to their surroundings. If you keep a plant in one place inside throughout the year, it will adjust to the changes in a subtle way. If, however, you have plants outside in bright light, the shock of bringing them inside is liable to cause some drastic reactions.

Plants produce foliage in response to available light. When the amount of light drops below what the plant is used to, it can no longer support the amount of tissue it has produced and reacts by dropping leaves.

This is nothing to be alarmed about; you can remedy the situation somewhat by providing as much light as possible inside to plants that have been outside.

Plant growth slows because of less light and cooler temperatures. As a result, they require less fertilizer. If you fertilized once or twice a month during the summer, fertilize every six weeks to two months now. If you keep fertilizing at summer levels, you run the risk of salt buildup, which can be detrimental to plants.

Water thoroughly, then let the soil approach dryness before watering again. Use the old finger test. Stick your finger a couple of inches into the soil to feel the moisture.

Avoid watering plants with cold tap water, especially African violets, peace lilies, and ficus. Research has shown that cold water destroys the ability of root cells to take in water and nutrients. Water colder than 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.

Most house plants are tropical, and they do not like cold temperatures. Avoid drafts and heater vents because they can defoliate many plants, especially weeping fig (ficus tree). Avoid placing plants next to window panes, unless you have double paned or insulated windows. Even when windows are closed, it is cold next to them.

POINSETTIAS

You might have heard the rumor about poinsettias being poisonous. I recently received this information from the University of Georgia: Poinsettias are safe enough for people to eat for dinner, but they don't taste very good.

The POISINDEX Information Service used by U.S. poison control centers reports that a 50-pound child would have to eat 1.25 pounds of poinsettia bracts (the colored parts) to surpass the doses deemed safe. That would be 500-600 bracts. And even at those levels, the plants still are not toxic.

, Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349 or send e-mail to smullis@uga.edu. Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/columbia.