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Houseplant Care

As winter approaches our attention seems to turn to sprucing up our homes' interiors with plants. Perhaps it is in anticipation of spending more hours indoors when cold weather prevents us from heading out into the garden.

Houseplants are a simple way to add instant vitality to a room, but they are not always easy to maintain. It is always so disheartening to purchase a houseplant to accent a room only to watch it fade over the course of time.

Whether you purchase new houseplants or bring in existing plants that have spent the summer in the garden, I have a few tips that will help them thrive.

Bringing Houseplants into Your Home
If you are returning houseplants to the indoors from your garden be sure to first give them a good bath. Gently washing the leaves with a mild soap and warm water will help them breathe and respond better to light. After you wash your plants, spray them with an insecticidal soap to assure that you will not bring in any hitchhiking pests.

As for when to move them in, the rule of thumb I follow is to make the transition when night time temperatures outside become similar to those inside your house.

Dieffenbachia When you purchase new houseplants deep soak them as soon as you bring them home. You can do this by placing them in the sink and watering them thoroughly from the top until the water has washed through the holes in the bottom of the container. Let them drain, and then repeat the whole process about 30 minutes later.

This does two things. It thoroughly saturates the soil around roots and it also washes out any salt buildup from fertilizers applied at the nursery.

Feeding
If a plant is looking tired and weak we automatically think, well, it's time to feed it again. But fertilizer isn't a cure. If a plant isn't in an active growth stage and you put fertilizer around its roots, it just sits there and it could possibly damage the plant.

Generally, most houseplants will do fine only being fed every 3 to 6 months. When I feed a plant, I use a liquid fertilizer, with a 5-10-5 ratio.

Watering
Over watering is another way we can kill plants with kindness. This time of year when we have the heat on in our homes, our plants can dry out sooner, so you may want to check them and add a little extra water, but be careful. Too much water can actually suffocate the roots. Healthy roots need plenty of oxygen. Now, if you're going to make a mistake in watering, I think it's better to err on the dry side rather than watering your plants too much.  Be sure that the container allows water to drain through the pot and not collect in the bottom.

Make sure the water temperature isn't too hot or too cold, just pleasant to the touch. Your plants will appreciate you for this and they'll drink more of it. Also it's important to realize that too much chlorine can harm your plants. You can easily de-chlorinate your water by filling the watering can and leaving it out for about 24 hours. This allows the chlorine to evaporate from the water.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it's natural for a plant to produce a few yellow leaves, so there's nothing to get alarmed about. This is particularly true if the plant has been moved to a new location. However if it produces a lot of yellow leaves all at once, say five or six, you may be over-watering or the plant may be suffering from a lack of light.

Humidity
During winter the dry air in our homes can be a problem to plants. One of the simplest ways to increase the moisture in the air immediately around the plant is to place the container on a saucer of gravel and water. Just make sure the bottom of the container is above the water line.

Location
Even with central heating, different areas of the same room can have subtle variations of light and temperature. For instance, on the north side of the house the window is cool making it ideal for growing something like ivy. But on the south side it's much warmer. There's much more sunlight making it the perfect place for something like a ficus. For plants such as ferns more humid areas of the house are better suited, like the bathroom or kitchen.