Houseplants do many things. They help to clean indoor air, provide a pop of color during a white winter, and they are a great way to keep your green thumb in practice for the upcoming season. With a little know-how, you too can grow prize winning houseplants.
Running the furnace is great to keep us warm, but it can leave the air void of much moisture. At times, the air can feel as dry as desert air. One of the greatest enemies of houseplants in the winter is low humidity. Most of the common houseplants are actually tropical plants that love higher humidity than what is commonly found in a winter household. Humidity levels can play a large role in how well houseplants do. There are a couple of quick tricks to increase humidity in the winter home. If you suffer from winter skin and nosebleeds, allow your humidifier to do double duty to increase the humidity of the room for both you and the plants. Houseplants that love high humidity, like ferns, rex begonias, and prayer plants, can also be placed in one of the more humid rooms in the house like the bathroom or the kitchen. Another way to increase humidity is by utilizing a cloche, or bell-shaped glass covering. Placing groups of pots on a plant tray with pebbles then filling with water to within a half an inch of the base of the pots also works well to increase humidity. Grouping plants in the same general area will create a microclimate of increased humidity.
When was the last time you dusted… your houseplants? Yes, houseplants do need to be dusted every now and then. Dust and dirt can clog the pores of the plants and if thick enough, it can actually hinder the photosynthesis of the plant. Plants with large smooth foliage, like philodendron, dracaena, and rubber plant benefit from having clean leaves. How do you dust your plants? In addition to the duster or dust cloth, the shower works wonders. If the plant is movable, place it in the shower or in the sink and rinse off the leaves with a gentle shower of water. Make sure that your pot doesn’t fill up too quickly with water and your potting media stays in the pot. If the plant isn’t movable or if you don’t feel like giving your plant a shower, put a banana peel to work. After you have eaten the banana, utilize the peel as a duster. Use the inside of the peel, the moist part, and run it along the leaf. The moisture from the peel will help to remove the dust from the plant as well as provide a nice shine. This works best on plants with smooth leaves.
Houseplants benefit from a little TLC just like landscape plants do. Take the time now to inspect your plants. Remove any dead leaves or stems that have collected on the soil’s surface. Be on the lookout for pests like mealybugs, aphids, and fungus gnats. Rotate the plants in the window so that all sides get access to sunlight. This will keep them from reaching or leaning over toward the light. Thinking they could benefit from a little fertilizer? Hold off just a little while longer. Most houseplants during the winter months are actually in a semi-dormant state due to the winter growing conditions. In most cases, it is best to avoid fertilizing foliage plants from November until mid-March when they start actively growing.
Looking for tough-as-nails plants? There are many choices for houseplants for people with less than green thumbs. The Cast Iron Plant, Aspidistra elatior, didn’t get its name from being picky. These plants don’t require much sunlight and thrive on neglect. About the only way to kill one is to overwater it or keep it in a hot room. The air plane plant, sometimes known as the spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum, is another good ‘starter’ plant for those easing their way into growing house plants. When this plant gets root bound in the pot, it blooms and sends out stolons with baby plants attached. Place the baby plants in water and it will root and you have another plant. Epipremnum aureum, or pothos, is a vining houseplant that is also pretty hardy. Be careful not to let Fluffy or Fido munch on its leaves as it can be toxic to pets.
Take a little time now to dust off those houseplants and provide them some much needed TLC. They might even thank you in the long run.
Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org, her blog at https://huskerhort.com/, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.