The Lasting, Living Gift

For many gardeners the winter months can be challenging when they can’t get out and work in the yard. But… there are always houseplants to brighten up a winter weary world. The problem is that many times the houseplants aren’t looking their best and many homeowners don’t quite know what to do about that.

The first thing to avoid is putting it in the trunk on a cold day or the interior on a scorching hot day in order to take it home. The plant simply can’t take either extreme. During the winter months, make sure the store protects it with a plastic sleeve or covering in order for you to get it home.

What I learned early on about “over-loving” a plant is that they are like people and neither like wet feet. As a teenager I thought that water=love and I’m ashamed to say I killed a lot of cactus by over watering them to death. Do not let your plants sit in saucers of water. This rots the roots and will quickly kill the plant. If you are unsure of what to check for to determine if they’ve been over watered, tilt the pot on its side, slip the plant out, and inspect the roots. If they are white then they are healthy. If they are brown or black or non-existent, your plant has probably been over watered. It is possible to bring a plant back that has been over watered by cutting back on the watering and giving it some extra TLC for a while.

When choosing a container for your plant, make sure it is large enough and has good drainage. I really prefer pots with a drainage hole, but if you have a container you absolutely love and want to use, consider putting the pot in a slightly smaller pot to use as a “drop-in” inside of the decorative one. That way it can be removed to water and still maintain the drainage. If you have to use the decorative pot, be sure to put something in the bottom to provide a drain field. This can be gravel, bark mulch, or if you are looking for a use for those hated styrofoam packing peanuts, you can even use them!

Choose a good quality potting soil to plant in. Digging up our clay soil here and using them for your indoor pots will almost certainly kill a houseplant– it’s simply too heavy and dense to allow for good root formation and compacts pretty quickly in a pot which will cut off the oxygen. Buy a bag of potting soil labeled for houseplants and don’t worry… potting soil has no expiration date!

Be sure to give your plant the proper amount of light. Filtered light is best for most plants, but check the recommendations for that particular one. If the light is too low, your plant won’t thrive. Too much of our southwestern sun can lead to scorching and leaf burn.

Temperatures are important in our area too, especially with the large swings between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Avoid placing plants near wood or pellet stoves, near radiators, in drafts, or in windowsills at night.

Don’t forget the fertilizer- even during the winter months. Choose one specifically formulated for houseplants. Fertilizer is the cheapest insurance you will ever buy to ensure your plant remains happy and healthy. I tell people at the garden center all the time to remember, “What would you look like if you were never fed?” A little fertilizer goes a long way and will keep your plants happy and healthy throughout their lifespan.

From orchids to ivy, houseplants are relatively inexpensive but something that is green and growing. Whether you are looking for that impressive hanging basket, or you prefer working on a smaller scale with miniature or fairy gardens, there’s a houseplant for everyone. And with Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, a new plant and beautiful pot make a lasting, living gift!