Helping Houseplants in January

Helping Houseplants in January

As the temperatures fall and we cope with ice and snow, our houseplants become even more important for raising our spirits and reminding us about growth and renewal. Here are 9 tips for keeping your plants healthy so that you stay happy as well.

  1. This is a good time to clean the leaves on many plants. Large-leaf plants such as peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.), monstera (Monstera deliciosa), or Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema commutatum) can be wiped with a household duster and then a moist, soft cloth. Plants with smaller leaves that aren’t too large can be placed in the shower or sink and washed with room temperature (not cold, not hot) water. Cleaning mimics what would happen if those plants grew out-of-doors; like in a good rainfall, the debris is washed away.

2. When cleaning a houseplant you should be on the lookout for insects. This is the time of year when the mealy bug, aphids, and scale show up in greater numbers. Cleaning will help remove both insects and the litter they create, but any plant with bug problems should also be sprayed with insecticidal soap after the plant is wiped clean.

This plant has both aphids and scale. These are often seen on tropical plants that are being kept from year to year, but many houseplants can become infested. This plant was put in the shower to clean it, and then sprayed three times with insecticidal soap. Note: it’s often easier to spray such plants in your bathtub or shower…just remember to wash the surfaces when you’re done since the insecticidal soap will make them slippery. Scale is a difficult insect to get rid of, and repeated applications of insecticidal soap will be necessary.

3. Watering houseplants completely: Remember to water plants well when they start to look dry. Some people are afraid of over-watering, so they only give their houseplants a little at a time. This causes the roots to dry up and stresses the plant. Instead, provide a deep saucer underneath so that when you water you can do so throughly, soaking the entire root ball. Let the pot sit in the saucer of water for up to a day. If there is still water in the saucer after 24 hours it’s easily soaked up with an old bath towel or a turkey baster.

Don’t let your plants get this dry! This poor peace lily was almost on the floor as it wilted. Peace lilies, by the way, can take more water than many other plants – they grow near streams in the wild, so wet roots are no problem for them. This makes the peace lily a great choice for those who tend to over-water their plants.

4. It’s a bit early to start fertilizing most indoor plants again, but putting a half-cup of earthworm castings on top of the soil is a great way to revive them and add to the health of their potting media. Plants in pots larger than 12″ in diameter can be top-dressed with a cup of earthworm castings. Most houseplants can be fertilized again in February or March, although citrus is the exception: citrus plants benefit from a mild feed once a month, year-round.

Earthworm castings have no odor, and are easy to use. Just scoop some on top of the potting soil your houseplant is growing in.

5. Rotate the plants in your windows so that they don’t become “one sided.” All plant foliage naturally leans toward the light, so turning the plants regularly can keep them evenly shaped. Some people make a habit of rotating their plants a quarter-turn every time they water.

See how the leaves and new growth on this begonia are all turning toward the window? In order to prevent a plant from becoming lopsided, turn it a quarter turn in one direction every week.

6. Watch for new growth! Some plants, like the moth orchids, are triggered in flowering or growth by going through the shorter days of December. In January it’s common to see some new foliage or flowers on some indoor plants.

This Phalaenopsis orchid has three new bloom spikes starting! Watch your plants for signs of new growth and blooms. Note that sometimes aphids show up on new leaves or flower spikes, so be ready to treat those with insecticidal soap if needed.

7. Don’t forget the pleasure of seasonal houseplants. There are many plants in the greenhouse that most people don’t grow for years and years in their homes, but get for a seasonal mood-lifter. Winter jasmine is great aromatherapy in January or February, for example, and primroses and fragrant hyacinths are good reminders that spring will come again. Oxalis, sometimes called shamrocks, come into the garden center in March, and forced tulips and daffodils arrive when spring is right around the corner.

The first of the winter jasmine have arrived at Hyannis Country Garden! This highly fragrant plant is one of the seasonal houseplants that most people don’t keep from year to year…if you do want to try keeping one, put it outside for the summer, trim it back at that time and fertilize. Then be sure to leave it outside for as long as possible into November, bringing it in when frost is predicted but putting it out again once the temperature is above 40° – it’s this cold but not freezing weather, along with the longer nights, that triggers blooming.

8. Stage your plants! Making a new display of your houseplants is a way to be creative and help your indoor environment to be refreshed.

Create new arrangements of your plants indoors. You can use objects or containers you already have, or shop for something fun that will display your houseplants in a new way.

9. Learn about new plants and growing options. Join us for a virtual Houseplant Happy Hour on January 14th and the make-a-terrarium Sunday Seminar on the 23rd. Registration and more information here.

You can make a terrarium in any clear glass container you have.
Bottom line is that indoor plants make us happier.
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