The Greener View: Indoor Plants
Q: I have tried for several years to keep houseplants indoors during the winter and then move them outside for the summer. They grow well in the summer, but they nearly die indoors. I thought houseplants should be able to grow indoors. Do you have some tips on what I can do to help them grow better this winter?
A: Of course, all plants originally grew outdoors. But some of the locations that they grew in had temperatures similar to what many people think of as indoor temperatures -- mostly in the mid-70s. The nighttime temperatures might drop into the upper 60s, and, near a sunny window, the daytime temperatures might increase into the low 80s. I am sure the temperature is just fine, but other environmental aspects may not be good for your plants.
Humidity is higher in tropical climates than it is indoors in the winter when the furnace is running. To help your plants, you may need to run a humidifier. If there is water in the saucer under the plant, the plant roots may drown. Placing some stones in the saucer to raise the plant pot will keep the roots healthy and allow the water in the saucer to increase the humidity.
Plants don't need as much water in the winter as you were giving them in the summer. Check the plants regularly to see if they need water, but don't water on a schedule. More plants drown from too much water than die from not enough water. Touch the top of the soil in the pot. If it feels cool and damp, the plant probably doesn't need water.
Does it go without saying that plants need light? I guess not, since I am saying it. Plants will drop leaves that don't get enough light. You may need to add lights if not enough sun comes in the windows.
Because the days are shorter, the temperatures are cooler and there is less indoor light, plants don't grow as much in the winter. They don't need as much fertilizer as they did outdoors in the summer. If you add any in the fall, just use a quarter of the normal amount. Don't add any in December through February. Start with a quarter amount in late winter and then add full amounts a few weeks before they will be moved outdoors.
Check the plants for insects when you are checking them for water. Spider mites, aphids, whiteflies and other very small insects can build large populations because there are few predators and no rain to wash them off the plants.
Q: My landscaper said he wants to fertilize my lawn. I think he is just trying to make some money. Is this a good time to fertilize a bluegrass lawn?
A: Your landscaper is right, provided he is using the right fertilizer. A late fall fertilization of water-soluble nitrogen (not slow-release) is good for northern lawn grasses. This could be October or November, depending on how far north you are. If the grass is still green, it is photosynthesizing, and the food produced will be stored in the crown and roots of the plant. The fertilizer will boost the food production.
These food reserves will help the plants survive the winter and then they will help the plant grow at the right rate in the early spring. Applying fertilizer in the early spring can be harmful because it causes the plants to grow leaves at the expense of roots. The early fertilization forces the lawn to grow leaves that need to be mowed, but a fall fertilization doesn't do that (now or in the spring.)
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at email@example.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.