Homeyer: Notes in the Garden | Mid-winter houseplant maintenance | Community-information


Are you affected in the mid-winter blahs? More importantly, are your houseplants? We can’t maintain our gardens out today – except for some stalwarts that are pruning, I assume – we could take decent care of our houseplants.

Although I’ve not the fire for houseplants that I do for crops outside, my friends appear to think it’s all right to ditch weary or depressed houseplants onto me. I mean that they present me houseplants that require a little additional care. This winter I finished up with about 50 houseplants, such as a banana tree, cacti of various kinds, a gardenia and more, much more. That’s fine. I will re-gift a few from the summer or spring, and move the remainder outside.

One of the best things you can do to help the houseplants is to be more judicious in watering. More isn’t better! Roots will rust, particularly if the soil combination is becoming compacted over the decades (as organic matter was depleted).

That stated, as February alterations to March, sunlight is more powerful than it had been at January, and the crops are still stirring up for spring. Their roots are growing and looking for moisture. Instead of watering once per week, two times per week is better for a few. Leaves are growing and require more water.

Rosemary plants, that do well in arid climates such as California or the Mediterranean shore, don’t live if their origins become completely dry. Outdoors there, their roots go down deep into a soil layer that’s a bit moist annually. But in a bud? It’s simple to let them dry out.

If you find the leaves begin to wiltwater instantly! Sadly, should you don’t hit a watering and that the plant is at a sunny window, your plant can die. And afterward, however much you water your lifeless rosemary, it won’t return to life. I understand, I’ve tried. Just crop the leaves and use them at the kitchen,

I keep a woodstove chugging along day and night, all winter. I keep a kettle on it to add a little moisture to the air, but that is not nearly enough to keep most houseplants happy. The best thing you can do if you have a warm, dry house, is to buy a humidifier. This will make you more comfortable, too.

I have a small humidifier in the bedroom that will deliver a gallon of water to the air in 12 hours, but that is a drop in the bucket for an entire house. So I also have a cabinet-style humidifier that will deliver five gallons of water to the house in 12 hours. It wicks up water and then blows air over the wick to evaporate it. Since I have an open-plan home, this helps throughout the downstairs. Still, it is a struggle to keep the house at 40% relative humidity, my goal. It would be easier to do if I kept it running 24/7, but I don’t like the sound of the fan all day, and mainly run it at night. I fill the humidifier with a watering can from the garden that I fill in the bathtub.

Last fall Cindy asked if I knew a greenhouse that would keep a client’s gardenia for the winter. She said she’d been told they were fussy, needed high humidity and were aphid-prone. I asked one greenhouse, and was told $5000 would be about right for caring for one for four or five months. Huh. So I decided to do it — for free, and for the challenge of it.

The gardenia was loaded with flower buds when it came to the house in October. So far, we have had two flowers blossom, but most dried up and fell off. Still … getting any blossoms is a victory, I think.

So how did I do it? I’d like to say it is aphid-free because I washed the leaves and growing medium carefully before bringing it in the house. That’s what I would recommend. But life was busy, and it’s a 4-foot tall tree in a 50-pound pot, so I just lugged it in – frost was predicted.

I carried it upstairs to our cool, sunny laundry room. I filled a 12-inch plant saucer with small stones, and kept the saucer full of water. The gardenia sat on the stones and breathed in the evaporated moisture. I also sprayed the gardenia with a special plant misting device made by Florasol. This sprays a very fine spray with an easy squeeze, and is the best of the sprayers I’ve tried.

Still, it was not happy. Buds dried and dropped. I moved it into a bathroom where the shower is used twice a day, morning and evening. Everyone was asked to spray anytime they were in the bathroom. But there was not enough sunshine, and still no blossoms opening up.

Finally I hauled it back down the spiral staircase (losing buds along the way) and set it next to my desk and computer, the warmest place in the house. I set up that big humidifier nearby, and maintain the hand sprayer handy. It is in a bright, west-facing window, and is in flower now. And no signs of aphids!

In March I will start to help some dormant plants to wake up. I’ve had a fig tree and a crape myrtle in pots in our dark basement at 40 degrees all winter. They’ve dropped all leaves, and I only water them every six weeks or so, and lightly. But I will bring them up into the house, and give them a taste of liquid fertilizer – just a light dilution. I like Neptune’s Harvest fish and seaweed formula. That worked fine last winter.

So maintain an eye on your houseplants, and if they get dusty, you can take one in the shower with you and give it a good spray. And this should give your husband or wife a good giggle, also.

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