Learn effects of temperature, light and water with this ... Winter guide for plants

Eric Barrett | Special to The Vindicator

By Pam Baytos,

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer


If you had your houseplants outside during the summer, I hope you’ve brought them in.

Most of us are introducing new plants into our homes around the holidays or shortly after to add some green to the winter blahs. Before purchasing that perfect houseplant, learn the plant’s specific requirements, including placement in the home and light and water needs. This will reduce the stress and add to the enjoyment all winter long.

Quality matters. Inspect the plant’s leaves carefully for brown edges, blemishes or pale or yellow leaves. Look at the plant’s shape and avoid a leggy specimen. Check stems and leaves for insects or disease. Examine the pot and soil, a plant with roots growing through the drainage holes will need re-potting. Before leaving the store or garden center during winter months, wrap your new plant in newspaper or paper bags to avoid damaging it on the way to your car. Don’t place it in your trunk; place it in the front of the car and turn on the heater. Avoid as much cold as you can.

Usually houseplants need to be located close to a window to receive enough light for them to flourish. Learn your plant’s light needs, and place sun worshippers, such as aloes, at south-facing windows. Place plants requiring less light, such as begonias, at east and west facing windows. African violets prefer north facing windows. If your plant becomes spindly, they need more light.

The time to water most houseplants is when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Keep the soil moist enough to supply the plant’s needs without drowning the roots. When you over-water the plant, the saturated soil drives out oxygen and the roots die. Make sure your pot has proper drainage, but don’t let your plant sit in the catch basin water, as plants with wet feet soon look sick with yellow leaves and any existing flowers will collapse. Ordinary tap or well water is fine for plants, most of the time. The consistent use of softened water is not advisable. Don’t fertilize plants during the winter months; fertilize only when you see new growth in spring.

It’s important to keep your houseplant clean to reduce chance of insects and diseases. Remove spent flowers and dying leaves. Wash leaves with warm water and mild soap, covering the pot to prevent soap from entering the soil. Make sure to rinse leaves thoroughly. Trim off brown leaf tips with sharp scissors.

Watch your new plants carefully for problems, remembering it was grown in a greenhouse and will need time to adjust. Sudden changes in temperature and light intensity, transplanting shock, over-watering can cause leaves to yellow and fall. Plants under stress are weakened and more susceptible to infection.

If you see insects on your plant, use a stream of water to remove them, wipe them off or pick them off by hand. Most houseplants when grown under proper conditions experience few disease and insect problems. Many houseplants can be toxic to humans and pets if eaten, so research the plant prior to making your purchase.

Following these simple guidelines you can enjoy the beauty of nature whatever the weather.

For details on selecting new plants, and everything else you ever wanted to know about houseplants, review this free bulletin: go.osu.edu/selectinghouseplants.

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