Battling “Green Depression” by Paul James

With the arrival of winter, gardening outdoors has either slowed to a snail’s pace or come to a complete standstill. And that can lead to a condition known as “green depression” among folks who are used to spending time tending to their lawns and gardens but are forced to suddenly stop. Thankfully, however, there’s a surefire treatment – garden indoors by filling your home with houseplants.

Houseplants can do so much more than merely help you beat the gardening withdrawal symptoms. They purify the air in your home (I once thought that was rubbish, but it’s true). They can make an otherwise drab corner literally come alive. They can add color and texture and interest to practically any room. And, most importantly, they allow you to extend the gardening season.

And maintaining healthy houseplants is easier than most people think, especially if you follow these tips.

Tip #1: Mist. Then Mist Some More.
I made this the first tip because it’s the most overlooked task. Look, nearly all houseplants come from tropical regions of the world, where humidity levels measure around 60%. But the average home in winter tends to be pretty darn dry, with humidity hovering at around 20% at best. Even with a fancy built-in humidifier, most homes are nowhere near as moist inside as the tropics are outside.

The surest and simplest way to maintain adequate humidity is to mist your plants at least once a day. Just fill a handheld sprayer with room temperature water and have at it. Mist while you listen to music or watch television. Mist while dinner is in the oven. Mist with the mister in one hand and the beverage of your choice in the other. But please, by all means, mist! Then mist some more.

Tip #2: Don’t Overwater.
This probably should be the first tip, because overwatering kills more houseplants than anything else I know of, but I didn’t want to start things off with such a downer of a statement. And yet it’s true: the surest way to kill a houseplant is to overwater it. Why? Because the growth rate of houseplants slows considerably during the winter months, and because of that they don’t need as much water. But if they do get too much water, they drown -- or more correctly, suffocate. Either way they die.

The worst thing you can do is set a watering schedule whereby you water, say, every Saturday. That may be convenient for you, but it can be deadly to your plants. Some plants may actually need water once a week, while others may need water twice a week and others only every other week. And lots of factors affect a plant’s need for moisture – type of potting mix, size and type of container, proximity to heat sources (the farther away the better), the amount of light the plant receives, and so on.

So ultimately, the only way to know for sure if a plant needs water is to stab your finger into the soil to a depth of two inches. If your finger comes out dry, go ahead and water. If it comes out moist, don’t water. But feel free to mist.

Tip #3: Stop Fertilizing.
Again, because houseplants aren’t in an active growth phase during the winter months, the last thing you want to do is force them into rapid growth by applying fertilizers. Let them rest. They’ve earned it after months of active growth during the spring, summer, and fall. Use the time saved by not fertilizing to – you guessed it! -- mist.

Tip #4: Dust the Leaves.
Plants “breathe” (or more correctly, transpire) through tiny pores in their leaves. When those pores get plugged by tiny dust particles, they can’t breathe. The dust also prevents sunlight from reaching leaf surfaces. So once a month, dust the leaves with a damp cloth or, crazy as it may sound, put the plants in the shower and hit them with a blast of tepid water. And yes, you can skip a day of misting after showering.

Tip #5: Watch for Pests
Various pests can show up on houseplants, seemingly out of nowhere. Nearly all are easily controlled with a single application of insecticidal soap. It’s cheap, easy to apply, and safe to use. Be aware however, that most pests hide on the underside of leaves for protection. So take a peak now and then, ideally when you’re misting.

Note: There are always exceptions to rules. Case in point: cacti and succulents. They don’t need to be misted at all.

Another Note: We’ve got a great selection of houseplants right now. Click link below to see slideshow. We also have misters.

http://www.southwoodgardencenter.com/garden-centerspecials/featured/