As nighttime temperatures dip into the teens, I have to face the fact that I won’t be outside gardening any time soon. Happily, a good part of my garden lives in my house with me. After a busy summer (punctuated by fire, hail, and floods), I finally have time to give my houseplants the attention they deserve.
Unless the plants are in dire straits, I prefer to wait on repotting until spring. Then, the longer days, larger pot, and fresh potting mix combine to encourage new growth. Except for the plants that are winter bloomers (Christmas cactus, some orchids), at this time of year I give my plants a rest by cutting back on fertilizer and watering just enough to keep the soil moist.
Consider water temperature when dousing your plants. Neither plants nor people appreciate ice water baths! The water doesn’t have to be warm—room temperature is just fine, and much less of a shock.
Turning on the heat dries out the air, especially here in Colorado, so look for ways to add some extra humidity. One common suggestion is to fill a shallow tray with pebbles, then add water. Place the plants on top of the rocks, so that the bottom of the pot is above the water line. As the water evaporates, your plants will thank you. Misting your plants helps them, and raises the humidity in the house as well. Room or whole house humidifiers are another option.
If you have forced air heating (as we do), keep plants away from the heater vents. That warm, dry air can make a tropical plant pretty miserable. You’ll end up with dried tips on the leaves, or worse.
The sun is now lower in the sky and light comes in the windows much farther than it did in June and July. I like to rearrange my plants to take advantage of this extra light. On the other hand, the sunny bonus is offset by fewer hours of daylight.
Just be careful when placing plants too close to the windows. If it’s very cold outside, the leaves can get frost-bitten. Last winter one of our windows didn’t close properly. Just a 1/8-inch crack was enough to freeze the plant nearby. (And probably boost our heating bill.) This year I already went around and made sure all our windows are closed and locked!
Most houseplants are native to tropical or semi-tropical locales, with balmy temperatures, high humidity, and often low light levels (they grow as an understory). However, the climate inside our Colorado homes is more like a desert. While I grow an assortment of species, the ones that do the best are adapted to cool and dry climes.
I was pretty excited to see my barrel cactus has flowers on it—tiny, brilliant striped sequins forming a crown around the top of my plant (right). Clearly I must be doing something right for it to bloom! I’ve had my jade plant (middle photo) for around 35 years, and it blooms every year as well. Hoya (top), with its thick, leathery leaves, is also happy here; its fake-looking waxy blooms appear on a regular basis.
The weather outside might be frightful, but my houseplants will keep my fingers in the (potting) “soil” all winter long.