Houseplant 411

Winter Houseplant Care Advice

Most plants grow very slowly during the winter months some even become dormant. They have very different care requirements when days are short and the weather is cold

LESS is the word to remember. Since there is less growth, less light, and less humidity, plants need less water and less plant food.

Light: During the winter, the sun is lower in the sky and light coming through the windows can be up to 50% less than the light during spring and summer months. Plants near a northern or eastern facing window may need to be moved to a southern or western facing window. If possible, move all of your plants closer to windows. Keep plant leaves dust free so they can absorb as much light as possible, and, if necessary, add fluorescent bulbs to provide an additional light source.

Water: Over-watering is the main reason houseplants die during the winter. When not actively growing, houseplants need to practically dry out before being watered. Checking for moisture on the surface of the plant isn’t enough. You need to find out how wet the soil is near the roots. One way to do this by lifting the plant right after you’ve watered and feeling how heavy it is. When the soil is dry, the pot will be much lighter. I like to check the soil by getting my fingers dirty and sticking them into the soil as far as possible. Sometimes I use a long pencil to carefully dig a hole deep into the soil, being careful to avoid damaging the roots. If it comes out with wet soil stuck to it, I know the plant doesn’t need water. It’s like using a toothpick to test if a cake is done. Ferns are the exception; they need to stay moist even in winter.

fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.  : Houseplants need plant food only when they are producing new leaves. When you feed plants that aren’t growing, the fertilizerPlants need fertilizer only when they are actively growing. Slow growing plants in low light require very little plant food. Too much fertilizer is worse than not enough. Most plants prefer a water soluble plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Plants that are in bloom or dormant should not be fertilized. Houseplant food contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). A fertilizer containing these elements in equal proportion is considered a balanced plant food. Nitrogen helps in photosynthesis and encourages the growth of leaves and stems. Potassium and phosphorus also help in photosynthesis and aid in root and flower development. Most fertilizers have trace elements of other minerals that are lacking in the soil but are necessary for good plant growth. Fertilizers have a high salt content. If a plant is not producing new leaves and doesn’t absorb the fertilizer, salts build up in the soil. These salts can burn the roots, discolor the leaves, and cause new growth to be small.   is not absorbed. As the salts in the plant food build up in the soil, they cause ugly brown tips on your plants.

Humidity: Due to the heat used during the winter, relative humidity in our homes and offices is reduced to only 10-15%.  Houseplants prefer 40-50% relative humidity. When the humidity is too low, plants develop brown leaf tips and often get infested with a plant pest called spider mitesLearn how to identify and treat Spider Mites on plants. This sucking plant pest causes yellow blotchy leaves with a red haze and a gritty feel to them.. There are several ways to increase the humidity. Group plants together to create a mini greenhouse effect. Place a small humidifier in the room. Set your plant on a wet pebble tray. This is simply a shallow dish lined with small rocks or pebbles. Keep the water just below the pebbles so that the plant never sits in the water. As the water evaporates it increases the humidity in the air. Refill the water as needed.
Pruning: By pinching back stem tips during the winter, you’ll be rewarded with lots of new growth and a bushy plant in the spring.

See pictures and learn more about identifying and caring for your plants in the Popular Houseplant section of the website. Use the Plant Wizard to select the right plants for a specific location. Send your houseplant questions to Ask Judy; please include a picture if possible.

Please keep Poisonous HouseplantsIn her new book, Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat!, plant care professional Judy Feldstein shares information about twenty-five common houseplants, each with various levels of toxicity, and the possible consequences if your pet or child snacks on them. away from small children, cats, dogs, birds, and other pets. See pictures and learn more about Poisonous HouseplantsIn her new book, Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat!, plant care professional Judy Feldstein shares information about twenty-five common houseplants, each with various levels of toxicity, and the possible consequences if your pet or child snacks on them. in
Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous HousePlants
Keep this information handy as a quick reference not only for yourself but for babysitters and pet sitters as well.

How to Store Plant Bulbs for the Winter

Many of the bulbs we plant, such as Grape Hyacinth, Daffodil/Narcissus, Fall Crocus, Lily, Tulip, SnowDrop, Bearded Iris, are hardy and can survive cold winter temperatures. These don’t need to be removed from the garden unless you want to move them to a new location or they’ve become too crowded. When bulbs are too crowded, they produce fewer and smaller flowers each year.

Some bulbs originate in warm tropical areas and need to be dug up in the fall, these include, Gladiolas, Dahlias, Canna, and Begonias. Carefully dig up the bulbs once the leaves have died or have been killed by the first winter frost. Try not to damage the bulbs, even a slight nick in the fleshy part is enough to let in diseases that can cause bulbs to rot. Allow the bulbs to dry out on some paper for about a week in a cool shady spot (60-70 degrees) before putting them into storage for the winter.

Once dried, remove any remaining soil and leaves, and dust the bulbs with a FungicideFungicides are chemical compounds that are used to kill or inhibit fungi or fungal spores. Fungi can cause serious damage to your houseplants./insecticide. Store the bulbs in a shady area at a temperature between 50-70 degrees, basements and garages work well. Never store bulbs near apples because apples release a gas that kills bulbs.

If cared for properly, bulbs will bloom for many years.

How to keep Your Nails Clean When Gardening

I love to garden both outside and indoors. I don’t like to wear gardening gloves. I always want my nails to look pretty. There is a way to make this work that is both simple and inexpensive. The only thing you need is a bar of soap. I use Ivory or Dove Soap since both are biodegradable. Before you start your gardening chores, wet the bar of soap and drag or scrape your fingernails across the soap. The soap blocks the top of your nails and forms a barrier so no dirt can get in.

When you’re finished playing around with your plants, repotting, or digging up  bulbs for the winter, just use a nail brush to wash away the remaining soap.

 

Poisonous Flowering HousePlants

How to Get Poinsettias & Christmas Cactus to Bloom

Two of everyone’s favorite plants for the Holiday Season are the Poinsettia (Euphorbiaceae pulcherrima) and the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera briggesii or Zygo Cactus)). However, these plants don’t necessarily bloom naturally during the month of December. They are both photoperiodic plants and have to be tricked into flowering at the right time. Poinsettias and Christmas Cactus, as well as other flowering plants such as Kalanchoes, use a photoreceptor protein to sense when seasonal changes are occurring and nights are getting longer.

Starting in October, we need to keep these plants in total darkness for up to 14 hours a day and then place them in bright indirect lightVery few houseplants should be placed in direct sun. High light refers only to bright indirect light since direct sun often burns the leaves of indoor houseplants. An area that is too hot and dry encourages Spider Mites and causes blooms to quickly fade. A northern exposure really doesn't provide enough light for high light plants. These plants need to be placed directly in front of an east-facing window, within 1-3 feet of a west-facing window, and within 5 ft. of a south facing window. A high light area has over 300 ft. candles of light. the rest of the time. This way, we can force them to bloom exactly when we want. Read more about how to care for these plants in the Popular HousePlant section of the website.

How to Water HousePlants When on Vacation

It’s finally vacation time, and one of the decisions we need to make is how to take care of those special houseplants we’ve babied all year. My first word of advice is to not go the easy route and ask a family member or neighbor who knows nothing about plants to care for them. Nine times out of ten, these lovely, conscientious people will over- water your houseplants and most will never recover.

There are other options. If you’ll only be gone for a week or less, plan it so your plants will dry out right before you leave, water well, and then forget about them. If you have some plants in small pots that need water every few days, cut the ends off of a shoelace. Place one end of the shoelace in a bowl of water (placed higher than the plant)  and the other end in the soil of the small plant. The water will slowly drip into the plants.

If you’re going to be gone for several weeks or even a month there are several things you can do. First move the plants out of their usual bright or medium light into a darker cooler place in your home or office. That way they won’t need nearly as much water as they usually do. Group the houseplants together to increase the humidity around them, again decreasing the amount of water they need. Water well, but do not leave them sitting in water!

If you have some plants that need to be moist at all times, try using a product called Dri- Water. We use this product to keep the poinsettias in 12 ft poinsettia tree frames watered during the Christmas season. It really works! You can read about Dri- Water in the Glossary of the website.

Remember, the worse thing that will happen if your houseplants dry-out is that they’ll be droopy and have a few yellow leaves when you get back. This would a good time to put some superthriveSuperthrive combines vitamins and hormones to encourage plant growth both above and below the soil line. It's not a plant food so it needs to be used in addition to your regular plant food; the two can be used at the same time. Just put a few drops into your watering can & that's all that's needed to improve the health & appearance of your plants. If your plants are in real trouble, add about 10 drops per 2 gallons of water. SuperThrive works best when the soil is dry.     in your water. You can read about superthriveSuperthrive combines vitamins and hormones to encourage plant growth both above and below the soil line. It's not a plant food so it needs to be used in addition to your regular plant food; the two can be used at the same time. Just put a few drops into your watering can & that's all that's needed to improve the health & appearance of your plants. If your plants are in real trouble, add about 10 drops per 2 gallons of water. SuperThrive works best when the soil is dry.     in the Glossary of the website also. Coming home to droopy houseplants is much better than coming home to over-watered houseplants suffering from root rot.

Why I Never Mist my HousePlants

Many houseplants such as Calathea, Ferns, Caladium, African Violets, and Prayer Plants prefer high humidity. The 40 to 50 percent humidity levelThese are general guidelines that describe how poisonous certain houseplants are. It's possible for an allergic reaction to occur from contact with any houseplant, toxic or non-toxic. If there is ever a concern, call: Poison Control Center: ******1-800-222-1222****** Level #1: Houseplants with low toxicity, may be mildly irritating, especially the sap of the plant. Level#2: Houseplants with medium to severe toxicity. Eating parts of these houseplants may result in vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties. Level #3: These houseplants are  very poisonous. When eaten, especially in large quantities,  severe vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, skin irritations, and breathing difficulties can occur. Level #4: These houseplants are extremely poisonous. Eating parts of these houseplants can be be life threatening. Every plant listed in our Popular HousePlant guide has a section explaining whether or not it is poisonous and, if so, how poisonous. Amaryllis, alocasia, dieffenbachias, crotons, ivies, azaleas, lilies, and philodendrons are just a few of the highly poisonous plants we use in our homes and offices all of the time. If you don't know whether your houseplant is poisonous, go to Ask Judy on the HousePlant411.com website, send her a picture of your plant, and she'll let you know if the houseplant should be kept away from small children and pets. See colorful pictures and get more information about poisonous houseplants in Don’t Feed Me To Your Cat! A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants   some houseplants like is rarely found in our homes and offices. During winter months, the humidity may be as low as 10-20%. Misting houseplants is not the solution to this problem. Misting does not increase the humidity in the air; it just wets the leaves so the plant doesn’t lose as much water. The down side is that leaves that are constantly wet fall prey to bacterial and fungus infections that often destroy the entire plant.

If you want to increase the humidity in a room just install a humidifier; a small one for just one room a large one connected to your heating system for the entire house. There are also simple little things you can do to increase the relative humidity around houseplants. Place your plants on wet pebble trays. Just fill a tray with gravel and water and set your plant in it. Be sure the plant is sitting on the gravel and above the water line. You never want a houseplant to be sitting in water all of the time.  You can also just group your plants together. As the plants transpire, give off  water through their leaves, the humidity around them increases causing a mini greenhouse effect.

 

 

The Garden Island of Sark, One of the Channel Islands

Just returned from the beautiful Channel Islands that are located in the English Channel between the south coast of the United Kingdom and northern France. There are eight permanently inhabited islands but I only visited Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, and Herm. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth to be occupied by the German Army during World War Two.

I have to admit that one of the main reasons why I wanted to go to the Channel Islands was because of a great book I read a few years ago called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  You can read about the book at Amazon Books or drop me an email and I’ll tell you all about it. (judy@housePlant411.com)

All of the islands were beautiful but I have to say Sark was my favorite. It has a population of about 600 and an area of 2.10 square miles (5.44 km2).There are no cars allowed and the only way to see all of the beautiful flowers, trees, and coastline is to walk, ride a bike, or jump into a horse drawn carriage. La Seigneurie Gardens were my favorite. Check out this website to read all about them. http://www.laseigneuriegardens.com/gardens.html

Here are a few pictures for you to enjoy that are on their website. My pictures didn’t come out nearly as well.

 

Water Causes Many Houseplant Problems

I’ve been in the plant business for over 35 years. For most of that time, I owned one of the largest interior plantscape companies in Arizona. I, along with my 20 or so employees, installed and maintained the plants at over 600 homes, offices, and businesses. Now I’ve sold that company and spend most of my time and energy developing a houseplant website that helps our visitors learn how to identify and care for their houseplants. Here’s one of the most important things I’ve learned over the years; I don’t care what the plant problem is, most of the time water has something to do with it. Over- watering, under-watering, using water that has chlorine or fluoride in it, using water that is too salty because it has passed through a softener, all these conditions harm a plant.

If you are having problems with a houseplant, the very first thing to do is stop watering. An over watered plant dies quickly from root rot, an under watered plant might get droopy, but it will last until you decide what’s causing the problem. Check the watering requirements for your houseplants in the Popular HousePlant Section of my website, HousePlant411. If you don’t know the name of your plant, send a picture and description to me at: askjudy@houseplant411.com

Sea Lions Everywhere

I know I promised more pictures from the Galapagos “next day” but getting caught up after being away for almost three weeks is hard! There were so many Ask Judy questions to answer, I’ve been working on them all day every day. But things are looking up and the back log of questions is dwindling. So back to the pictures. Sea Lions have to  be my favorite. There were so many sea lions on the islands, and they were so unafraid of us, we literally had to climb over them because they refused to move. In one little town they were sun bathing on the park benches!

 

aa