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DALY: Houseplants brighten the indoors during winter

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Indoor plants are commonly used in our homes and offices. Their presence helps keep us in touch with nature and, in a sense, “brings the outside indoors” to enhance the aesthetics of indoor environments.

During the winter months, houseplants that have been growing outdoors should be brought inside. Most originate from tropical regions and are not cold hardy and are unable to tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees. The lower temperatures, humidity and light levels common to indoor environments can be challenging in keeping houseplants healthy and attractive during the winter months.

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 levels 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 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 in 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. To help maintain the humidity, group the plants together in the same area and place the pots in shallow trays that have gravel and water. Avoid using water that is either too hot or too cold. The temperature of the water should be between 65 and 75 degrees.

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.

A few simple steps will help you have beautiful houseplants that can brighten the indoors during wintertime. Proper care will go a long way to keeping them in optimal condition and attractive, thus bringing a touch of spring inside.

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.