Warm up to houseplants during this cold time of year

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured - posted Wed., Feb. 19, 2014
- Contributed Photo

Chilly winter days have me longing for warmth and greenery. Since a tropical vacation is not on my calendar, I turn my attention to tropical plants. Their green foliage and often colorful blooms brings a sense of beauty and hope of spring during this cold and often dreary time of year.

Many of us already have one or more houseplants. Right now is a great time to take a good look at them. Do they appear healthy and attractive, or are they just barely hanging in there? Give them a thorough grooming, removing any dead or dying foliage and spent flowers. Decide if the plant adds some decorative value to your home’s interior. If it does have potential or sentimental value, spruce it up with a new pot or attractive cachepot. Discover its cultural requirements and see that the plant receives the proper amounts of light and water, as well as adequate growing temperatures and nutrients.

Often, the places in our homes where plants would lend the most decorative value may not be the same places that would meet a plant’s growing requirements. In many situations, light is the limiting factor. Selecting plant species that tolerate low light levels, or setting up supplemental lighting are possible solutions. Another alternative is to purchase two or more of the same plant and rotate their locations every couple of weeks or so, in order for each of them to receive an adequate period of light.

Always keep in mind the light level when selecting a houseplant. Look up a plant’s light requirements in a houseplant book or online before purchasing them. The salesperson at a reputable greenhouse or plant nursery should also be able to assist you with your selection.

Another factor to consider when choosing houseplants is how much time you have to care for your plants. Some plants are quite demanding in terms of watering, fertilizing, humidity, temperatures and other growing conditions. Others are adaptable, and if you forget about them for a bit, they will forgive you.

Think about what shape and size of houseplant would work best for you. Would you like it to be tall and broad or tall and narrow; short and fluffy or short and upright; rounded; pyramidal or spiky? There are abundant forms to choose from. Match the size and shape of the plant to the space it will inhabit, and to your decorating style.

When picking out your plant, choose the healthiest looking one. Inspect it carefully for signs of insects or disease. Look to see if leaves have been removed or if roots are growing out of the drainage holes.

Especially during periods of temperatures below 40 degrees F, it is important to have the plant wrapped or placed in a protective sleeve before transporting it home. If at all possible, warm up the car before placing the plant in it. It does not take long for a tropical plant to be injured or killed when exposed to temperatures below freezing.

Since growing conditions will be different for the plant in your home that those at the retailer’s, expect that the plant will need a period of adjustment or acclimation. See that its cultural requirements are met as much as possible and keep most plants moderately moist. Do not be alarmed if a few leaves or buds drop. The plant’s condition will improve as it becomes accustomed to its new home if most cultural requirements are met.

Now is a great time to take a ride to your local greenhouse or garden center and see what plants they have available. All that greenery will remind you that spring is not that far away.

If your plants are not thriving, despite your best attempts, feel free to call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center with more information about your problem at 877-486-6271, email ladybug@uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

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