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Food, No! Light, Yes!
Although the days are starting to get longer again, it's still a waysto go until we get the kind of sunlight that wakes houseplants up fromtheir long winter's nap. Yes, houseplants deal with winter the way WEwish we could—they sleep right through it! That means they should notbe fed until Spring arrives; it'd be like trying to force a bolognasandwich on someone who's sound asleep. Wait until your landscape wakesup outside to start feeding your 'inside' plants.
In the meantime, if you want to do something nice for those hibernatinghouseplants, wash their windows—ON BOTH SIDES—on the next sunny day.Even if the glass looked clean, that "warshing" (sorry—but I'm fromPhiladelphia and surgeons have been unable to remove my accent) willlet in LOTS more light.
Or give some of the plants themselves a nice bath; the thick leaves ofsucculents like the common Snake Plant (aka "Mother in Law's tongue"),can collect a lot of dust, and a good cleaning allows them to betteruse the light they get. It's a great way to do a "bug check", too.
Indoor Plant Winter Watering: Less is More
Watering houseplants at this time of year can be tricky. The mostpopular ones, like ficus and Norfolk pines, will drown if you waterthem anywhere near as often as you need to in summer. That's becausethey're dormant now, and simply not using much water. So if you've been"keeping their soil moist", stop now, while there's still a chance theycan recover. Most houseplants (a good 95%) detest wet soil inwinter, and should be allowed to dry out completely between waterings.That's right—completely! These are plants, not Aquaman: Theywon't keel over and die if they go 24 hours without moisture!
In fact, nice stretches of dryness are the best way to protect yourplants from root rot. In MOST cases, keeping a plant constantlywet will yield the same results as you wearing damp socks for amonth—you'll both get a bad case of athlete's foot. (Except for the BIGEXCEPTION noted below.)
Of course, your specific indoor humidity has a lot to do with the waterneeds of your plants. If your air is humidified, almost all your plantsshould be able to go at least two weeks—maybe a month—betweenwaterings.
However, if your home is bone dry (or, like me, your plants live near atoasty radiator) you can safely water them more frequently. Weight isthe best way to judge. Pick up your pots. If they feel very light,place them in a few inches of water in a sink of tub and allow them tosoak it up through their drain holes until the pot feels heavy. Thenlet them drain in the dish rack, put them back in place and don't wateragain until the plant feels light once more.
VERY IMPORTANT: Never water just because the surface of the soil isdry; only water when that soil is dry all the way down to the roots.
BIG EXCEPTION: lemon, orange, grapefruit, other potted citrus(and a few other plants commonly kept indoors) REQUIRE a moist soil. Donot let these few types dry out. If in doubt about a plant's waterneeds, do a quick online check. If you come up empty, send us anemail.
"Lucky" Bamboo? Not if it's sitting in tap water!
Did you get some "Lucky Bamboo" over the holidays? Although thesepretty plants do look like it, they're not a bamboo of any kind.They're a tropical plant called Dracaena that breaks all the houseplantrules. Most plants need lots of light; but direct sun will kill LuckyBamboo. The ambient light in the average room is all it needs.
And while most plants would rot if their roots sat in water all thetime, Lucky Bamboo requires that amount of constant moisture. But it ISfinicky about the water itself. The chlorine and fluoride in city tapwater will turn the leaves yellow at first and then eventually kill theplant. Use spring water or distilled or purified water instead. Thinkof the bad karma if you killed your Lucky Bamboo!
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath
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Use indoors to protect houseplants
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