Houseplants require special care during the cold months

Indoor plants are widely used in homes and commercial buildings. They help keep us in touch with nature and, in a sense, "bring the outside indoors." With the cold weather months upon us now, houseplants that have been outside should have already been brought inside since most houseplants are tropical plants, and most are unable to tolerate temperatures below 40 degrees. The goal in overwintering is not to necessarily grow fancy beautiful houseplants during this time of the year but to maintain the overall health and vigor of the plants.

Overwintering them in the house presents a challenge because of lower temperature, humidity and light levels in the homes. Fertilization should be reduced by one half during the winter because the cooler temperatures slow the growth down and less fertilizer is needed. The plants should be placed where they will receive plenty of light. South-and-west facing windows are the best. If you notice new growth is spindly with the stems stretching for nearby light sources and the leaves spaced far apart, they are not receiving adequate light. The use of artificial plant lights is all right, but usually does not provide the necessary amounts of light by themselves. Use the grow lights only to supplement sunlight. Place the grow lights as close to plants as possible to get the most benefit.

The houseplants generally need more water during the winter months because the humidity tends to be lower inside often the result of the indoor heating drying out the plants. Thus, the plants need to be constantly monitored for water. How do you know when to water? Stick you finger in the soil to a depth of at least one inch, and if it is dry at that depth, you need to apply water. When watering is required, apply the water until it trickles out of the bottom of the pot. Occasionally, use a spray bottle to mist the plants to keep them moist. Group the plants together in the same area; and place a shallow pan of water to help increase the humidity. The plants can also be placed in a shallow tray filled with gravel and some water. Do not use water that is too hot or too cold. The temperature of the water should be between 62 and 72 degrees.

Next spring, examine the plants to see if they need to be re-potted. Prune off the dead parts and the excessive growth, water thoroughly and place them outside after all danger of frost has passed.

Different plants have differing requirements. Some plants, especially succulent plants such as aloes, can do with significantly less water than African violets. Ferns do well with lower light levels, but wax begonias need much higher levels. By knowing the cultural requirements for specific house plants in your home will help in keeping them attractive and healthy during the cold weather months.

Timothy Daly, MS can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.