Houseplants fill gardening void
Inside greenery needs gentle care
By Sandy Hodson| Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010

The temperature has returned to a level that gnomes can endure, but the cold trapped me inside last week with only houseplants to fill my gardening fix.

After consulting the Georgia Master Gardener Handbook and Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia , I thought of some tips concerning the plants that share our homes.

Mostly, I thought I'd tell you about the mistakes I've made over the years: too much water, wrong use of fertilizer, wrong light, cold windows, heating vents and cats that enjoy snacking on our friends who can't run away.

Too much water is the top plant killer, inside and outside. Inside plants take up less water in winter because they are less active. Before watering a plant, check to see if it's really dry. Dig your finger into the soil about an inch.

Different plants have different water needs: That new Christmas cactus thrives on neglect, for example.

It's also easy to give plants too much fertilizer this time of year. You can still give them a shot, but only at half the strength you otherwise fertilize at. However, orchids will love you and bloom madly with regular feeding this time of year.

If you brought plants in after they spent the summer out, they probably look like they are suffering from H1N1 about now. Give them the best light position in the house, near a window facing east. The light intensity is less in the winter so most plants probably feel deprived.

Think of it as a rest period, where the goal isn't to flourish but to make it through to spring. Check individual plants for light needs and those with higher needs should be placed in the best spots in the house.

Be aware, though, about setting those sun lovers right next to windows, especially if you have single-pane windows. The cold coming off windows can harm plants. Back them away at least six inches. Also keep plants away from drafty areas and heat vents -- both are killers.

Cats love to nibble on plants. Keep any poisonous ones out of their reach or give the toxic plants to pet-less friends. To try to keep peace in our home I have set spider plants within easy reach of cats. You can also plant grass for your feline friends.

Christmas plants can survive for years. Poinsettias like it dry, so go easy with the watering. You will want to cut a poinsettia back once or twice through the spring and summer, then again in September. If you want it to change colors, you need to adjust the light exposure.

Amaryllis can be kept as a houseplant or planted outside in May. Pick a sunny spot and be prepared to wait until the following spring for blooms.

Don't be afraid to trim dead leaves or to cut back a plant that's overgrown its welcome. You also can re-pot houseplants during this time of year.

Watch out for pests. Insecticidal soap will take care of most pest problems. If you see just a few mealybugs or aphids, you can use a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol to take them out.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or


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From the Friday, January 15, 2010 edition of the Augusta Chronicle


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