Houseplants Beat the Winter Blues

Posted on February 17, 2011 at 9:40 AM
 Despite the hustle and bustle and wrapping and parties, psychologists say the holidays and the weeks following them can be a very depressing time of year, even for the healthiest among us.Keep the blues at bay this winter by surrounding yourself with healthy, attractive houseplants. No kidding, indoor plants can chase the blues away. They filter the air we breathe, making our interior environments more healthy, and actually caring for plants can improve a person’s mood and productivity.So, go out and get a few interesting houseplants or revitalize those specimens you banished to poorly lit corners. Here’s how I get a dose of green medicine while keeping my houseplants healthy and lush.Less Is Better Proper watering is the key to a plant’s wintertime survival. Decreased light levels make plants less thirsty for water than during the brighter seasons of the year, so I am careful not to be too generous when watering. Overwatering is the No. 1 reason most houseplants die.Rather than watering on a weekly schedule, I check my plants’ needs. I use two ways to see if my plants need water. First, I check the soil color. Moist soil looks like dark chocolate, while dry soil appears the color of milk chocolate. (Chocolate provides its own mood-enhancing qualities, but I water my plants before I tend other indulgences.) Study your plants’ soil before and after you water to see color differences so you can recognize when your plants are dry.If I am unsure about the soil condition, I test the soil with a pencil to determine if it is dry. This works like a cake tester.If soil sticks to the pencil when it is inserted several inches into the pot, then the soil is moist enough, and I do not water. If the pencil comes out clean, then it’s time to give the plant a drink.When watering your plants, be sure to wet the entire soil mass, not just the top inch. Add water until it comes through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Discard water that remains beneath the pot one hour after watering.
Keep Them Clean Another way I keep my plants vibrant is to give them a shower. This is an easy way to dust off their foliage and flush their soil of built-up minerals. It’s also a good time to inspect the foliage for insects.Be sure to look under the leaves and along the leaf petioles and stems for scale, mealy bugs and spider mites.None of these pests likes water. I use my removable showerhead and hose to spray all the foliage from underneath. Good water pressure will literally blast some insects away.If you find insects, you can spray the plant with either a mild solution of dish detergent and water (1 teaspoon per gallon of water) or an insecticidal soap purchased from a garden center. I like to take a sponge or rag with either solution and wipe off the scale or mealy bugs, then rinse the plant in the shower. The plants seem to appreciate a warm-water cleansing and they look better with clean, bright foliage.
No Food, Either In winter, fertilizer can be too much of a good thing for houseplants. While light levels are low and plants aren’t as thirsty, refrain from feeding your plants.I start providing liquid fertilizer again in March when light levels start to increase and the plants begin to actively grow.Even then, I add fertilizer only every other watering.
Location, Location Finally, I enjoy my houseplants as houseplants. I don’t move them outdoors for the summer. If you are experiencing success with your plants indoors, why mess with a good thing?

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