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Winter hardy houseplants: Tips to keep your plants healthy

Jan 3rd, 2015 | Category: Growing

by David Pike

The cold, dark days of winter bring an end to most gardening ventures, but the joy of growing plants doesn’t have to come to a standstill. Houseplants can provide a source of year-round natural beauty and help enliven indoor spaces. Many houseplants are hardy enough to survive our tough conditions; thriving in low light, or without water for months, others seemingly thrive on neglect. I have often marveled at the health and vibrancy of a houseplant long overdue for a watering, which probably hasn’t been fertilized for years, and is tucked into a low-light corner of the living room, but is overall as healthy as can be!

A surprisingly resilient Moth Orchid flowers in December despite the snow and ice outside. PHOTO BY DAVID PIKE

A surprisingly resilient Moth Orchid flowers in December despite the snow and ice outside. PHOTO BY DAVID PIKE

Of course all plants need the essentials to survive; some light, some heat, some water, and occasional nutrients. However the number one killer of houseplants is not a lack, but rather an overzealous showering of attention in the form of water. Sadly, most houseplant deaths are drownings caused by a well intentioned owner. Especially during the winter months when their growth nearly halts, they require very little water and are more susceptible to root rot. The trick to watering houseplants is to wait until the soil is fairly dry before watering. If you are unsure, you can test your soil’s moisture content with a moisture meter, or by scratching at the soil to see if there is any moisture below the surface, or by lifting the plant (if not too big) to see how much it weighs. If it feels light for its size it probably needs watering.

We can also be sure a plant needs water if it tells us so; plants wilt or curl their leaves to conserve moisture. However don’t make the mistake of watering a plant that shows these signs if the soil is already damp (that’s the mistake which can kill plants). It is much easier to revive a dry wilting plant than an overwatered one. I have found that most houseplants thrive on a biweekly watering schedule; water once every two weeks. Cacti and succulents require scant water, especially during winter.

Although all plants need light for photosynthesis, they do not necessarily need, or may even be harmed by direct sunlight. The most sunlight will be found in your south facing windows; here you can place your cacti, succulents, and other light loving plants. Eastern windows are great for many plants because they receive gentle morning sunlight which plants love. Western windows also work well because they receive good afternoon sun, but if it gets too hot in the summer you may want to relocate more light sensitive plants away from direct sun exposure.  Northern windows around here are dark and cold places in the winter, but still there are plants tough enough to tolerate such conditions, try the invincible Snake Plant (Sansevaria), or Pothos, a trailing vine which can grow over 10 feet long and can be trained up and around a window frame.

Most houseplants originally came from tropical areas, and will thrive at common room temperatures in the 60 to 75 range. Many of the plants listed below can withstand cooler temperatures down in the 50s or even 40s, but should be kept above freezing (32 degrees).  The hardiest of houseplants, the Cast Iron plant (Aspidistra), can survive lows to 0 degrees! Remember that the air coming out of your heating vents or near your wood stove is much warmer than room temperature, so be sure to keep plants away from heat sources or it may burn their leaves or dry their soil too fast.

Avoid potting soil mixes which contain artificial fertilizers, and not using artificial plant food. You can instead mix in a couple handfuls of an organic, all purpose plant food with your potting soil mix, or gently work some into the top layers of already potted plants. The nutrient requirements of these tough plants are very low, and most require no more than a few tablespoons once or twice per year in the spring and summer.

By taking a moment every other week with a watering can, and by occasionally dusting or misting the leaves to keep the plant’s pores (called stomata) unclogged, these hardy houseplants can survive for decades in the right windowsill. Their presence helps keep us connected to all things green and growing, even while the Nor’easter howls and all such life outside is leafless and deep in dormancy.

 

Upcoming classes

Following are a few local classes about indoor plants:

• Houseplants 101: A Guide to the Great Indoors takes place Saturday, Jan. 17. Houseplants add interior design, provide air purification, and benefit your health. Learn the basics of indoor gardening and have the option to create your own container. The class is free and starts at 10 a.m. at Garden Spot Nursery, 900 Alabama Street, Bellingham. Call (360) 676-5480.

•  The Joy of Houseplants: Saturday, Jan. 17. Free class at Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

• Orchid Basics for an Indoor Oasis will be held Saturday, Jan. 31. Learn how orchids thrive as well as how to have successful blooms and rebloom year after year. Have an orchid of your own? Bring it in for complimentary repotting and soil. The class is free and starts at 10 a.m. at Garden Spot Nursery, 900 Alabama Street in Bellingham. Call (360) 676-5480.

 

Good houseplant varieties to try

PothosEpipremnum aureum Hoya

Snake Plant Sansevaria trifasciata

Thanksgiving CactusSchlumbergera truncata

Christmas Cactus Schlumbergera bridgesii

Spider PlantChlorophytum comosum

Peace LilySpathiphyllum

Corn PlantDracaena

Prayer Plant  – Calathea – Maranta

Moth OrchidPhalaenopsis Orchid

Jade PlantCrassula ovat Kalanchoe

Norfolk Island PineAraucaria heterophylla

Dumb CaneDieffenbachia Asparagus Fern

Cast Iron PlantAspidistra elatior (hardy to 0)

Clivia

Aloe Vera

Cacti (many species)

Sago Palm (Cycas Revolata)

 

Published in the January 2015 issue of Grow Northwest

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