The holidays are over. Time to settle back into normalcy, whatever that is, right?! Maybe you purchased a poinsettia, Christmas cactus, Norfolk pine or one of our frosty ferns to add to your holiday décor. Now the challenge is keeping it happy!

Believe it or not, even the poinsettia can be kept as a houseplant. If you were in either of our stores, Cottage Grove or Edgerton, over the holidays you probably saw our huge poinsettias. Our Grower, Spike, kept poinsettias we didn’t sell from Christmas 2016, potted them up into large containers and grew them all summer. The result was four foot tall and equally as wide poinsettias for this Christmas!

Now I’m sure most of you don’t want poinsettias that big. Some may not want them at all after the holidays. However, assuming most people want all of their plants to thrive, here are some tips to keep your houseplants healthy and happy this winter. Read more…

Watering:

The biggest threat to indoor houseplants is the well-meaning owner who kills them with kindness! This usually comes in the form of too much water. Too much water prevents the roots from getting oxygen. Water requirements vary by plant type, but also by container size, potting soil, humidity level, temperature, amount of light available and whether the plant is actively growing or not.

As a general rule, most houseplants should be allowed to dry slightly between waterings. This means the top 1 inch of soil should be dry to the touch or the plant has started to wilt slightly. Exceptions to this are cacti and succulents, which should be kept dry. Other exceptions are some indoor flowering plants such as azaleas or other plants such as ferns, which should be kept moist.

During the winter, especially here in the north, most indoor plants are in a “resting” phase, so they are not using much water. When it is time to water your plants, use water that has been brought to room temperature. Water that comes straight from the tap or a well and is ice cold shocks the roots of the plant or can damage the leaves.

Water the plant thoroughly, so that water drains out the bottom of the pot. This prevents fertilizer salt build up, which can burn and damage the roots. Discard any water that runs through the pot and into the saucer, as most plants should not sit in water.

There are some plants that can be damaged by giving them water from the top. Plants like African Violet are damaged when water sits on the leaves. Cyclamen are damaged when water sits on the tuber (bulbous portion that the leaves and roots originate from). These plants benefit from what is called “bottom-watering”. To water these, place room temperature water in a saucer and allow the plant to soak up the water over the course of a
couple of hours. Dump any water that the plant has not soaked up, so that the plant is not sitting in water in the saucer.

Fertilizing:

During the winter, most plants are not actively growing and therefore do not require fertilizer. As we get to March and the plants begin to actively grow, you may begin to fertilize your houseplants again. We recommend Miracle Gro All Purpose Liquid Indoor Plant Food. Do not over-fertilize plants, as this leads to brown leaf tips, burned roots, stunted growth and even death. Never apply fertilizer to a dry plant. If the plant is dry, water it thoroughly first and then apply the fertilizer to prevent damage to the plant. Always read and follow the
directions on the label.

Humidity:

Most winter homes are dry because of furnaces and heaters running, with a relative humidity of around 10-20 percent. Many houseplants originated from tropical rainforests and these dry conditions make it difficult for the plant to thrive. The ideal relative humidity for most houseplants is 40-50 percent.

Bathrooms and kitchens are areas within your home that are naturally high in humidity. If possible, place your plants in one of these areas or near these areas. Running a humidifier is also an option.

Another solution is to place plants relatively close together. This is so that moisture evaporating from the soil and moisture lost through the plant’s foliage, raises the relative humidity in the immediate vicinity and is available to the plants. If you choose to place your plants close together, take care not to get them too close. There should still be enough space for air to circulate around each plant, so that diseases do not become an issue.

Other options are to use a cloche over the plants or to set the plants on supports inside a tray of water so that they benefit from the water evaporating, but are not sitting in the water. Another alternative to that is to line a tray or saucer with pebbles and fill it with water to just below the top of the pebbles. The plants should set on top of the pebbles without wicking water from the tray or saucer. The plants benefit from the evaporating water in this set up, too.

Temperature:

With most houseplants being tropical or subtropical, they prefer to grow in warm temperatures. A daytime temperature of 65-75 degrees is ideal. Nighttime temperatures should run approximately 10 degrees cooler. As a general rule, temperatures below 55 degrees should be avoided, as that is too cool for the plant to thrive.

Avoid areas of your home where the plants would get a cold draft such as by an outside door in winter or next to the air conditioner in the summer. Equally important is that they are not placed in areas of hot, dry drafts such as next to a radiator, hot air vents, fireplaces or pellet stoves. Plants that are placed directly in windows should be placed so that none of their leaves actually touch the cold window, as this will damage the leaves.

Light:

Most houseplants are adaptable to various light levels. However, it is light that is likely the most limiting factor for a plant to thrive in an indoor environment. They need light to create food energy to maintain physiological processes essential for life and growth.

Light should be addressed in three ways- duration, intensity and quality. Duration is the amount of time the light is available. In northern latitudes, in the winter, the days are shorter. Light availability or duration can also vary depending on what window the plant is in. East or West facing windows generally receive less light than south facing windows.

Intensity of the light is a measure of its strength. In the winter, because of the angle of the sun, the light is less intense. During this time, it may be best to have your plants in a window or as close to a window as possible. However, that same plant may do better away from the window, in indirect light, in the summer.

The best quality of light of course is the sun, whether direct or indirect, indoors or outdoors. If the natural sun is not available or you feel supplemental light is needed, you can use fluorescent lighting. The lights must be within a few inches of the plant in order for any
growth to be possible. Incandescent lights do not provide light in the proper spectrum for plant growth and only add heat to the plant’s environment. Because of this, they should be avoided.

Plants that are not receiving enough light will appear weak, spindly or leggy. Their color may be light green to yellowish. Plants that are variegated may lose their variegation under low light conditions. Flowering plants may not produce any flowers. Leaves may be smaller than normal and many leaves may actually drop off.

Plants that are receiving too much light may be light green to yellowish, but unlike the plants not receiving enough light, may also have scorch marks or a bleached look to them.

Cleaning:

In order to properly and efficiently produce energy, plants need to effectively use the light available to them. If leaf surfaces are dusty, dirty, oily and grimy, the plant cannot use the light they receive. If it’s winter when light levels are already low, this can be detrimental to the plant. That’s why it’s important to keep your plants clean. Yes, give them a bath!

Morning is the best time to bathe your plants as this gives them time to dry during the day. Be sure to use lukewarm or room temperature water when washing your plants. Large leaves on plants can be washed individually with a damp sponge or rag. Plants with many small leaves can be inverted in a tub or bucket. Hold the container and foliage in your hand and swirl it around. If you have cacti to clean, use a toothbrush or makeup brush to clean the stems and thorns.

Repotting:

You do not want to re-pot your plants in the winter, unless it’s an emergency. The time to re-pot your houseplants is the spring, starting in March. Re-potting stimulates new growth and by March there’s enough sunlight to sustain that growth. Make sure you choose a pot with drainage holes. A general rule of thumb is to repot into a container 2 inches larger than the container the plant was in. Do not transplant into a container much more than 2 inches larger, as the chances of overwatering the plant increases. Use a potting mix such as our Custom Potting Mix. It’s specifically formulated for container planting, so has proper nutrition as well as exhibits good drainage and air flow for healthy plant growth.

There is something pleasing about having healthy, beautiful plants surrounding you. Here in the “frozen tundra” it’s particularly gratifying knowing that you’ve had a hand in making sure that despite the odds, your plants are thriving, even in the harshest of conditions. This winter, make your indoor space as pleasant as possible with beautiful, beneficial houseplants.

~Betty