The Winter “Garden”

January 11, 2018

As an avid gardener, I desperately miss the greens of spring and summer once fall and winter really take hold and everything turns brown (or white!).  As a result, as many people do, I have several houseplants to provide me with a bit of green as I anxiously wait for spring.

This time of year can be a challenge for plants whether they spent some time outside during the summer or not.  If they did go outside and you didn’t take the time to acclimate them to the change before bringing them inside, they might be going through a bit of shock right now. However, even plants that have been inside right along are going through a period of transition.

The outside temps are lower.  The humidity has dropped.  With the heat on in the house the air is dryer. The days are shorter so there is less available sunlight…  Your plants have to adapt to all of these changes. Their growth will slow – in fact some plants will go dormant.  With this slowed growth, we need to adjust our watering schedule and avoid fertilizing.  This can be hard when we are looking at plants that just aren’t looking as good as we feel they should and we assume that more water or fertilizer will help them bounce back. Before watering, push your finger into the soil.  Is it only dry on the surface or is it dry to an inch or more? For most plants, if it is dry between 1-2” depth it’s ok to water (but check your plant’s specific requirements).  You just really don’t want to wait until the soil is as dry as dust and the plant has sagged in defeat before watering because that would be as bad as overwatering!  When you do water, use lukewarm (room temp) water so that you don’t shock the plants.

The biggest challenges for plants this time of year are lack of humidity and reduced sunlight.  Moving your plants to a south or west facing window will provide the longest amount of sunshine. If you can, move your plants to the kitchen or bathroom in a sunny window.  You will soon see an improvement.  Just make sure to rotate the plant every time you water so that the whole plant can benefit from what little sun we have.  Be sure that you don’t have the plant too close to the window.  Plants DO NOT like the cold draft coming off the window! Temps lower than 50* are a problem for plants. You also want to be sure to dust the leaves of your plant because the dust will prevent the plant from being able to “breathe” and absorb the sunlight.

If the kitchen or bathroom aren’t really an option, there are other ways to easily improve the humidity for your plants.  Putting a tray of pebbles under your plant with water in the bottom (not higher than the pebbles) will provide humidity around the plant.  If you have multiple plants, grouping them together creates a bigger area of humidity because the plants naturally release water through their leaves.  You also have the option of misting your plants to help but it will take misting several times a day to be effective so if you can’t make that commitment, consider other options – even an average everyday humidifier!

A lot of people don’t realize that an ordinary fluorescent light is all the artificial light that a plant needs for a pick me up.  Despite the fact that I have a small greenhouse, I still start my seedlings in my basement under lights because heating the greenhouse in late winter/early spring is cost-prohibitive.  If you have under the counter fluorescent lights (or a spot where you would be willing to install one), your plants will be very happy there.  Just be sure not to mount the light too far above the plants.  About 4” between the light and the plant is good.  Much more than that and your plants will get leggy, stretching to reach the light.

If you are like me and counting the days until Spring, consider a houseplant or two to cheer you up if you don’t already have some – and since you are likely spending a lot more time inside this time of year, enjoy the added benefit of improving your indoor air quality.  Many houseplants are known for their ability to remove pollutants from indoor air. Some easy to care for plants that offer these benefits would include: Bamboo Palm, Dracaena Janet Craig, Philodendron, Spider Plants, Peace Lily, Pothos and Snake Plant (Mother-In-Law’s Tongue) to name a few. Because who needs the challenge of a difficult plant this time of year when we are desperate for green (and not white!)

As one of the best home inspectors in NH, we have a talented and knowledgeable crew to help you with many things around the home. Tracey authors many of our posts and doubles as our staff green-thumb (read more about all of our staff members on our About Us page). She keeps our office looking fresh and cheerful with numerous plants. Feel free to reach out to Tracey with any questions about your garden (or NH home inspections). Happy gardening!

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