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Valley Grows Q & A: How to care for houseplants in winter

Q: I have several common houseplants inside that I brought in for the winter. Can you give me some tips on keeping them alive in my house this winter?

• Amanda from Canfield

A: While most of our common houseplants are foliage plants, some are flowering while inside. All houseplants are annuals somewhere in the world. Most foliage houseplants look attractive without high levels of light. They are able to survive inside our homes with little care, but have some basic needs we must provide.

Ensuring these plants have the proper light, temperature, water and humidity levels will ensure success and a somewhat tropical escape from northeast Ohio winters.

LIGHT — Different types of houseplants require different lighting situations. Some need a lot of light. In that case we need to choose a southern facing window and keep turning the plant to give it maximum light exposure. Other types need less light and can survive quite well in an east or west facing window. The distance from the window is determined by each plant’s light requirements.

One thing that helps all plants is washing your windows inside and out to allow the most light through and removing shears. You might think it is a lot of lights, but your plants know better.

TEMPERATURE — Most of our common houseplants will do best somewhere between 65 and 72 degrees but like cooler temperatures at night. Check the area where plants are located for drafts and air from registers. Use flagging tape or a thin strip of newspaper to be sure there is not excessive air movement. Higher temperatures and air movement can dry out plants quickly. If light levels are low, temperature is even more important.

WATER — Overwatering houseplants is one of the biggest issues I see. Try to practice dry watering. That means you do not apply water until the soil is dry to the touch.

But you need to water it before the plant starts to droop or wilt. This takes some practice, but becomes easier with time. The mistake we all make is trying to have a watering schedule for house plants, such as, “water every Friday with two cups of water.”

Do not water on a schedule. Use your finger to test the soil. Only add water if the soil is dry.

HUMIDITY — Your home is dry this time of year with humidity levels somewhere in the teens. This causes plants to lose water rapidly. A humidity level around 50 percent will help reduce water loss and the browning of the edges of leaves. Group plants together for a microclimate that keeps humidity higher. Put saucers of water with rocks (to increase evaporation) around plants to increase humidity.

For tips on lighting for houseplants, details on your favorite ones, growing bulbs indoors and more, check out this detailed website at http://go.osu.edu/houseplants.

Barrett is the Ohio State University Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Mahoning County.

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