HELPING HOUSEPLANTS THRIVE in WINTER
As autumn becomes winter, here in the true north, the jewel-toned leaves on maple trees and others become a vibrant canvas on which nature will apply her next brush stroke. The burgundy, gold and green palette has always been my favorite, now with a patina of fresh, clean white.
Outdoor garden sales are now waning at all the home improvement stores, focusing more on indoor greenery. This is a clear signal to us northern gardeners that its time to shift our focus as well. It’s time to start thinking about ways to help our houseplants thrive. This can be tricky during those months when the climate inside is too hot and dry for them. Plants just don’t require as much warmth in winter, the way people do.
The presence of plants inside a home is an important element of that interior environment. Important because as we care for them, they offer a multitude of benefits to us. If you haven’t yet incorporated live plants into your home, here are some interesting things to consider:
When you breathe, your body takes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. During photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This opposite pattern of gas use makes plants and people natural partners.
Plants remove toxins from the air. Up to 87% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours, according to NASA research. VOCs include substances like formaldehyde (present in rugs, vinyl, cigarette smoke, and grocery bags). Benzene and trichloroethylene can be found in man-made fibers, inks, solvents, and paint. However, benzene is commonly found in high concentrations in study settings, where books and printed papers abound. Plants absorb these from the air effortlessly, while releasing the very oxygen we breathe. What a coincidence! You’d think we all evolved together on the same planet or something.
Adding plants to hospital rooms speeds recovery rates of surgical patients, according to researchers at Kansas State University. They request less pain medication, have lower heart rates and blood pressure, experience less fatigue and anxiety. They are also released from the hospital sooner compared to patients in rooms without plants.
When I lived in Southern California, there was a variety of houseplants that I found easy to grow. Here in the true north, I’ve discovered some new houseplants that actually prefer this more dynamic climate.
Naturally, plants that are native to a different climate require a different care regimen to match. The following is a list of common houseplants that may be familiar to southern and northern dwellers alike. As well as ways that I’ve discovered to help them thrive. Growing up in a beach town, I don’t like hot, dry air either. I know how they feel.
Tip #1: I water all my plants with water that has been adequately aerated. Tap water, in many residential areas, is treated with certain chemicals.
These chemicals can be harmful to houseplants causing severe browning of the leaves. Perhaps even death to more susceptible plants. I purchased a large, 30 gallon, clear tub that I fill with water. I then let the water sit for one week before I use it to water my plants.
This process allows the chemicals in the water to evaporate out, leaving the water more beneficial to the plants. The amount of time you wait before using will depend on the amount of water you are aerating.
Second Tip: In Winter, heating systems that run throughout the day can dry out the interior air, making it feel like a desert inside your house. We can apply lotions and lip balm but plants don’t care for those much. A more balmy environment can benefit all living things in a home, at once.
Higher humidity levels inside can easily be achieved with the purchase of an indoor humidifier. This is a really nice option to have if you live in a colder region like we do, where the exterior temperature can hover well below freezing for months, resulting in the need to have the heater running all the time.
If it’s just a bit more humidity you need for your plants, I suggest placing a bowl into a pie plate or similar, then sit the plant pot in the bowl and fill the pie plate with water. (The size of the bowl will depend on the size of your plant pot.)The increased heat in the room will cause the water in the pie plate to evaporate around the plant, increasing the humidity directly around it. Your plants will love this! Be sure to check the water level every couple of days, as the water can evaporate rather quickly, depending on the temperature of the room.
TIPS for POPULAR PLANTS
There are so many houseplants with which we can beautify our homes. But, in order to keep this article from turning into an encyclopedia, here are some helpful tips for the most commonly enjoyed houseplants.
This type of plant is very forgiving and is therefore perfect for those just beginning their houseplant journey. There are many different varieties in the Pothos family to choose from. Not only are they elegant looking but they can thrive in almost any environment. From a well-lit, sunny room to a room with only artificial lighting, these are happy campers. Making these beauties perfect for office spaces or apartments and condos that offer little by way of natural light.
Watering practices should depend on the season. In the spring and summer months, these plants go through a growth spurt. So, I water my pothos plants once a week with two cups of aerated water. One cup per week in the autumn and winter months.
I try to spritz them once a day with a spray bottle in the autumn and winter. This helps immensely when humidity levels are low due to the dryness of the surrounding air. Propagation is easy by taking a cutting, just above one of the brown nodes on the stem. Placing them in water in a sunny window, roots will soon grow from the node.
I find this next plant to be quite captivating. Under the proper conditions, it tends to propagate itself with the release of hanging ‘offspring’. This often takes place during the warmer months when the plant is in its most fervent growing stage.
The spider plant thrives in environments of high humidity. During our colder months, This plant seems to benefit the most from general tip #2.
Again, the water level is checked daily as the water can evaporate quickly. This practice also prevents the soil and thus the plant from drying out. Without adequate moisture, browning leaves will result and if left to continue, the plant will fail.
These lovely little plants flower in a variety of colors and can easily be propagated. With a little time and patience, you could have as many new plants as you’d like! In the warmer months, my African violets thrive in a bright and sunny, north-facing window.
In colder months, they experience a period of slower growth. During this time, they appreciate being away from cold windows and closer to the heating vents. I don’t blame them seeing as how these beauties are more of the tropical variety.
To create new plants from existing ones, simply pinch off a few large, healthy leaves at the base of the stem and immediately transfer them to a small pot filled with potting soil and a bit of compost.
African violets don’t really like for their leaves to be wet. Each leaf has downy hairs that allow water to roll off without settling on the fleshy part underneath. Water your violets and plant-lings by submerging the pots in roughly an inch of water for 30 minutes. Then allow them to drain before returning them to their sunny spot. Within 6 months, you will start to see tiny, new leaves growing from the base of the larger, transplanted ones.
This plant is very familiar to me. In Southern California, where rain seldom falls, aloe vera plants flourish and for quite a long time. Smaller plants can live up to 25 years with proper care. The largest of this type can go on for decades. The Aloe Vera is also a prime example of a plant that nature gives us in order to heal and maintain positive health.
The aloe vera has beneficial antioxidant and antibacterial properties. These accelerate the healing of cuts, scrapes and burns. An ‘arm’ of the plant can be cut open to expose the aloe gel inside. This gel can be applied directly to a flesh wound and allowed to dry. (Bonus tip: This gem of a plant a mom’s best friend when it comes to kid’s scraped knees.)
Farther north, however, the aloe vera is a little out of its element. So, it requires a little more attention as a houseplant. In our hot summers, our aloe plants love to be outside. In pots, care does need to be taken to make sure that they maintain adequate soil moisture. Upside? Potted aloes also allow for easy mobility when they need to be brought back inside in winter. They only require a good spritzing with a water bottle, 1-2 times per week.
This last plant, the Sansevieria Trifasciata or ‘Snake Plant’, like the first one is very user-friendly. Also, like the pothos, it can thrive in natural or artificial light. Quite tolerant of seasonal temperature and humidity levels, It requires just a cup of aerated water once a week. The architectural composition of this plant makes it the perfect addition to environments with a more modern or even mid-century esthetic. I’ve seen it blended into Boho style rooms as well, which looks really nice. Since snake plants grow in pots, they do require well-draining soil with a bit of sand to be happy. They like their roots to be snug as well, but not terribly root bound.
I truly hope these tips help you to create a healthy, interior living space while at the same time adding a little natural and vibrant color to your life. During these cold, winter months when all that blooms outdoors are fast asleep, they give light and warmth to the soul.
Folks are like plants; we all lean toward the light. – Kris Carr
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