I’m not under 4 feet of snow at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend a lot of time in the garden right now. Nor should I: It’s terribly damp, and I will compact the soil where I walk and damage its structure where I dig. So to scratch the gardening itch, I turn to my houseplants.
I am a terrible houseplant gardener. I never do anything as regularly as I should: I don’t water, I don’t turn my plants. I hope mainly to keep them on life support for a few months until it’s safe to take them outside again.
Extension agencies from Universities of Nebraska, and Maryland recommend the following tips to ensure your houseplants thrive in the winter months:
1. Increase the humidity…
That dry, centrally heated air that dries out your skin, hair, and eyes parches your houseplants, too. The air inside your home may have as low as 10% humidity, but plants (and humans) desire humidity of around 40%. Use a humidifier, or set plants on trays of pebbles filled with water (make sure the pots aren’t sitting in water). If you can, keep your plants with high humidity needs in the bathroom, where they can benefit from your steamy shower.
2. But don’t overwater.
Ferns like evenly moist soil, and succulents like it very dry. For most all other plants, wait to water until the soil is dry to the touch, down to the depth of your first knuckle. Don’t assume that your plant needs watering once a week. Most indoor gardeners overwater rather than underwater their plants. Letting the soil dry out between waterings cuts down on the prevalence of fungus gnats.
When you do water, allow the water to saturate the soil and run through the bottom of the pot. Better yet, set the pot in a shallow pan of water for a short time. The dry soil will wick water up until the plant has what it needs. You’ll know it’s time to take the pot out of the water when the top of the soil looks moist, or when the container stops emitting air bubbles. Never let the pot sit in water longer than necessary.
3. Skip the fertilizer.
Most plants need a period of rest or dormancy in the winter months, when they’re not actively growing. Feeding encourages growth and robs your plants of a chance to recharge and get ready for the growing season ahead. Save the fertilizer until spring.
4. Avoid temperature extremes.
Wide swings in temperature, such as a blast of cold air from an open door or a perpetually heated breeze from a vent, stress plants. Don’t forget that window glass can be quite cold. As you edge your plants to the window to grasp what light they can, be sure to keep the foliage from touching the glass.
5. Spin me right round.
An additional tip from garden blogger and houseplant guru Lisa Steinkopf, is to give your plants a quarter-turn every time you water. You’ve observed plants growing towards their light source. Rotating the plant keeps it growing straight.