DALY: Houseplants brighten the indoors during winter

Many people have houseplants in their homes and businesses to enhance the aesthetics of these indoor environments. Their presence complements other interior decorations. Also, studies have shown houseplants reduce indoor air pollution. In a sense, they help us stay in touch with nature during the dead of winter. Since most house plants are tropical, they do not tolerate freezing temperatures and many suffer when temperatures drop below 50. Thus, they need to be brought indoors during cold weather. Keeping houseplants healthy and attractive during the winter can be challenging as a result of the lower temperatures, humidity and light levels which are common to interior environments.

Different species of plants have differing requirements. Some plants, especially succulent plants like aloes and cacti, require significantly less water than peace lilies and African violets. Ferns prefer lower light levels, but wax begonias need higher amounts of light. Knowing the necessary cultural requirements for the specific house plants in your home or office will help keep them attractive and healthy.

Fertilization level in winter should be reduced by one half since the growth of the plants slows down as a result of the cooler temperatures and lower light levels. They should be placed where they will receive adequate light, preferably in south and west facing windows. A sign the plants are not receiving adequate light is the development of spindly new growth with the stems stretching for nearby light sources and leaves spaced far apart. Using artificial plant lights will help, but usually does not provide the necessary amount of light required for optimal growth by most plants. Use these lights only to supplement sunlight and place them as close to the plants as possible.

Houseplants generally require more water during the winter months due to indoor heating systems that reduce humidity and cause the plants to dry out. To determine if the plants should be watered, stick your finger into the soil to a depth of at least one inch. If it is dry, then apply water until it trickles out of the bottom of the pot. Group the plants together in the same area. Place the pots in shallow trays filled with gravel and water to help maintain the humidity. Avoid using water that is either too hot or too cold. The temperature of the water should be between 65 and 75.

Periodically inspect the leaves for dust accumulations which can dull their appearance and reduce their attractiveness. Use a damp cloth to wipe both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves. Occasional cleaning improves the plants appearance, growth, and helps control pests. In the following spring, examine the plants to see if they need to be re-potted. Remove the dead parts and the excessive growth, water thoroughly, and place them outside after all danger of frost has passed.

If houseplants are cared for appropriately, you can have houseplants that will beautify your home. Even on those cold dreary winter days, having indoor plants are a reminder that springtime is not far away.

Winter is a good time to decide on what to plant in your yard next year. The Gwinnett County Extension Plant Sale has some excellent plants that are available for sale this winter. Go to the Extension website at www.gwinnettextension.org to download the order form or call the Gwinnett County Extension office for a form to be mailed to you. The deadline for ordering is March 16. The order pick-up day will be March 29 from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

Timothy Daly, MS, Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. He may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.