By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener
For avid gardeners, winter months are a resting period with little to do but read about gardening and plan for spring. But we also need to take more care with our houseplants during this time as conditions in our homes have changed from months where windows are open and furnaces are not running.
To give your plants the best chance to stay happy and healthy, remember these four important factors.
Most plants do drink less in the winter months so you can let them dry out between watering. However, plants like asparagus fern, anthurium, dracaena and ferns will still want to be kept moist. Check the soil an inch down or feel how heavy the pot is to be sure you are giving those plants enough water. Always fill your watering can and let it sit for a few hours before using. This allows the water to come to room temperature and also gives time for any chlorine or other chemicals to dissipate. Plants like jade, sansevieria, succulents and cactus will still want to be dry through the resting period.
Palm, croton, dieffenbachia and most tropicals prefer it warmer while ivies, wandering jew, cyclamen and jasmine like it cooler. So if you have your cyclamen in the same room as your fireplace, it might not be happy. Watch for drafts of cool air from open doors or from hot air blowing from furnaces. Many plants will suffer from this.
Give your plants as much light as you can. That south window that burns everything in summer will give just enough light in the early months of the year. You may need to move some of the plants you keep in other areas to a brighter window. Plants like ferns, figs or philodendrons may want to be in that brighter spot. But be aware of how cool it is. You may have to move your plant back away from the glass
Most homes in winter are too dry for most houseplants and this is why we see them suffer by dropping leaves. To increase humidity, you can mist the plant, give it a shower (at room temperature – this also will dust for you!), or set in a saucer with rocks (elevate so the pot and roots are not constantly wet). Placing plants in kitchens or bathrooms where there tends to be more humidity is another idea. Plants that like it humid include ferns, palms, dieffenbachia and dracaena.
Fertilizing in the winter months when plants often rest is not recommended, however if your plant is actively growing with new sprouts, use a weak solution of water soluble fertilizer (20-20-20) once or twice a month.
It is also very important to have a good look at your houseplants on a regular basis. Besides removing spent leaves or flowers, watch for chewed leaves, spidery webs, or wet patches on leaves which can indicate pests. If you spot something, isolate the plant to avoid the pest migrating to the rest of your collection. Pick off the infested leaves, give the plant a good shower or gently wash the leaves with water or safers soap and get a good insecticide. Take your sick plant to the bath tub for a good spray. Remember to spray the soil as well as the plant as many pests lay their eggs in the soil. You can also use plant pest strips. These work very well for fungus gnats and other flying pests.
With a little attention and care over these stressful months, you can keep you houseplants happy and healthy and ready for the next season.