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Keep your houseplants going into spring

Around this time of winter our Ohio State University Extension offices begin to get questions related to houseplants. The common theme is that they aren’t “doing very well” and need some help.

Keep in mind that the plants that we use for houseplants are usually tropical plants that thrive in heat and humidity. We don’t have too much trouble growing them outside during the growing season but once we get them inside the home, they start to decline.

To be successful, you have to figure out the best place in your home to place a plant for the winter. Once you find a place that makes the plant happy, keep it there each winter for best success.

My dad, for instance, has a fairly old rubber tree that he puts on the patio in the summer and brings inside for the winter. He found a location in the house where the plant seems to be doing better than it has in years. This will be its indoor location from now on, right dad?

The lack of humidity is one problem for houseplants and tends to affect ferns more than any other plants. A trick to help ferns through the winter is to place them in the bathtub or shower periodically and run room temperature water over them.

Some recommend placing the potted fern on top of a shallow dish filled with gravel and water. The idea is that as the water evaporates it adds humidity to the air. This is really more trouble than the actual benefit. A house or room humidifier would be better.

The biggest issue that I see with houseplants in the winter has to do with watering. It’s not always easy to figure out how much water the plant really needs.

Keep in mind that when the plant is outside, it’s actively growing, using water and nutrients on a regular basis. When it’s inside the house, growth slows dramatically and therefore, the amount of water and nutrients needed decrease as well.

Over watering houseplants is easy to do. Giving you the exact formula for watering your plant is not easy.

All plants have different needs. In addition, the soil in the pot and the environment where the plant is situated also determines the amount of water.

A philodendron in a sunny solarium or sun room may need more water than the philodendron sitting on the corner of a credenza in a room that has minimal light.

Therefore, it’s up to you to figure out how often to water. A good rule of thumb is “don’t let the plant dry out completely.” Some plants drop several leaves in protest if this occurs.

Check the soil with your fingers, sticking them down into the soil and not just on the surface. The surface dries out quicker. If the soil still feels damp, go another day or two.

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