Right now, most gardens are dormant and cold. Mine is a rainy mess of wet leaves and mossy lawn. (Amazingly, in the Pacific Northwest, weeds still thrive in winter, unfortunately for me.) So it’s a good time to look indoors for gardening fun. Here are a few tasks I’ll be doing to care for my houseplants this January.
In winter, most of the United States suffers from a lack of sunlight. The days are brief and clouds dim the sky. When there is sunlight, the light is weak and slanted. So if you have plants in corners, on shelves, on fireplaces, or against walls, reposition them so they are directly by a window, preferably a window that faces south or west. Another idea is to use a grow light.
Of course, each plant is different and some plants like rubber trees and peace lilies don’t like a lot of direct sunlight but unless you live in the Southwest or Southeast, you probably won’t have a problem with scorching their leaves. If you do, move the plants to north-facing or east-facing windows where the sun is either indirect or cooler morning sun. Regardless, they need to be close to a window.
Trim off leafless stems and old blossoms. Look for the brown. Oftentimes because of lack of light, lower more shaded stems die off. If you leave the stems on the plant, they may lay flat on the soil and retain moisture, which creates a swamp effect you won’t want in winter.
I use a pair of large indoor snippers (pictured) to do this and I have a little bucket with which I collect all of my trimmings. It actually feels great to prune away the dead tissue on plants. I also make them shine again by literally wiping the leaves with a wet paper towel. Note, look up your genus of plant online to see if they like that. African violets, for instance, don’t.
Watering is tricky in winter because plants don’t grow so they only need water to retain the leaves and roots they already have. However, homes are usually overly dry from forced air heating and become like deserts. If you have a dry home, consider running a humidifier in the room where your plants live. Another solution is to fill a pot saucer with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, it puts more humidity in the air. African violets like this kind of situation.
What I usually do in winter is water every 10 days. I water on Saturday mornings, but first I check the soil with a finger. If it feels moist, I push the watering back until Tuesday. If it’s dry, I flood the soil’s surface area. Either way, make sure you have good drainage holes on the bottom of the pot.
Cool But Not Cold Nights
Most people turn their heat completely off or down low at night. That’s a good idea but if your plants are on a sun porch or near a drafty window, they may die from cold. Houseplants, after all, are tropical plants. They like warm air. They also don’t mind and sometimes thrive on temperature drops but if you can keep their area above 60 degrees, they’ll be happier.
In working with gardening clients over the years, I noticed that houseplant owners almost never transplanted plants into larger pots. They sometimes asked me why the plant turned yellow and sagged despite their care. It was usually because the plant had outgrown the pot. The roots were being strangled inside. Houseplants need to be repotted every two-three years, depending on how fast they put on new growth.
I take the start of the new year as an opportunity to not only tidy up but repot my plants. I recommend buying fresh potting soil. Fresh soil gives them aerated material that hasn’t compacted yet and more nutrients. It also gives them a clean start, especially if pests or lichen or any disease has moved onto the plant.
Lastly, transplanting gives houseplants space to really stretch out come spring. When plants have access to water and food, they take off and bush out and grow into the healthy green beauties we love!