Fall and winter life indoors can be tricky for plants — especially in the Pacific Northwest, where a long string of gray days can...
Fall and winter life indoors can be tricky for plants — especially in the Pacific Northwest, where a long string of gray days can compound other conditions.
If your plants could speak, they’d ask for extra consideration. That doesn’t mean extra work on your part. They actually need less attention, fortunately, at a time when everything else in our lives seems to ask for more.
Plain green leafy types do best when there’s less light. Scheffleras, philodendrons and ferns look good even in dreary conditions. They come from the understory of jungles and grow naturally in low-light areas.
Flowering plants will brighten room corners as long as they were started in bright, warm greenhouses. Florist’s cyclamen, chrysanthemums, primroses and tropical bloomers such as bird of paradise offer terrific color. Expect a one-time show of four to six weeks of flowering. (They won’t set new buds after the bloom finishes. That requires strong light.)
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The basics for fall and winter care of houseplants:
Reduce water and fertilizer. If you’ve had a regular watering plan, scale back now. Water just enough to keep the soil from going totally dry. Poke your finger about an inch down into the soil. If it’s dry, water. Be sure to dump excess water out of saucers to keep roots from rotting.
Plants that need water once a month or less in winter include anything resembling a succulent (jade plants, echiums, cactus). I water mine every six weeks.
Do not water clivia (Clivia miniata). Allow this flowering plant to go completely dry from November through February — when buds form, resume watering.
Fertilize less often. Some houseplant growers skip fertilizing in December and January, starting up again with half strength fertilizer in mid-February. Think of your houseplants as essentially dormant in winter. They need fertilizer only when active growth resumes.
Move plants into best light. You may have to choose how many plants to overwinter based on available window light.
Avoid cold drafts. Most houseplants can handle slightly cooler temperatures at night but detest blasts of chilly air.
Avoid placing most plants near drafty, high-traffic areas such as a foyer or hallway.
Fig trees (Ficus pumila) are famous for dropping leaves when exposed to temperature changes.
Flowering bulbs that are forced for winter color (tulips, daffodils and hyacinths) can take cooler conditions and will survive drafts better than other types of houseplants.
Don’t worry if some plants seem to fade a little in the winter. They’ll be back in full vigor come spring.
Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, appears regularly in digs and in Practical Gardener in Northwest Life on Wednesdays. Her e-mail is email@example.com.