During the coolest, darkest, most bleak season of the year, a little indoor colour will go a long way in winter to lift our spirits. Unfortunately, winter is the most difficult time of the year for our houseplants, but in the right location and with care, they will perform just fine.
Even professional growers have difficulty maintaining plant quality in winter. They supplement the lack of sunshine with high intensity lighting, control humidity, regulate temperatures according to the time of day and weather conditions, change their feeding programs, use heated water and alter their watering techniques. If these steps are necessary in greenhouses, just imagine how much more of a challenge it is growing plants in our homes without the benefit of a greenhouse and ideal environmental conditions and without the techniques available to growers.
A few adjustments to our household growing techniques can, however, make a huge difference. First, place all your plants beside east or north facing windows to take full advantage of the maximum amount of indirect light. Having an attractive wooden or wrought iron ledge added to your window sills would improve the appearance and health of all your plants, and your windows could become focal points inside your home. Attractive greenhouse windows installed outside of your home can make quite a difference. Because of the reduced amount of daylight at this time of year, you will still need to supplement natural light with artificial light. The finest supplemental light for plants is high intensity sodium halide fixtures, but even the addition of attractive florescent lights with daylight quality tubes will make a huge difference. Increased foot candles are needed and any way you can bump up those levels and extend them to 16 hours a day, the greater the impact on your plants.
The right temperature is also key to keeping your plants happy in winter. The rule is quite simple: the lower the temperature, the higher the humidity. If it is possible to run your home at cooler temperatures around 62-65°F (16.5-18°C) instead of 70°F (21°C), the improved level of humidity will be quite noticeable, not to mention your lower heating costs!
The third issue is watering. This is where most of us get into trouble. In winter the golden rule is: all plants must be rootbound in their pots so that when you water, you can water very thoroughly with warm water to moisten the soil, but any excess water will run off quickly. Saturated soils that dry out slowly will rot roots and hasten the demise of your plants. To get a sense of moisture levels, pick up small plants and feel their weight. Wet soils are heavy; dry soils are light. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be like the pros who can pick up any potted plant and tell immediately if it needs moisture. For plants in big pots, a quality moisture meter is useful. Remember: in winter, it may be a week, ten days or even two weeks between waterings and that’s okay.
I divide indoor plants into two categories: flowering and foliage plants. Both are important to enhance interior environments. Here are a few of the best colour plants for our homes. Kolanchoes have been real sleepers for many years now. These brightly coloured succulents stand up best in a bright location, and they last and last with the very minimum of care. Available in four or six inch pots, purchase them at the ‘tight-bud’ stage, just before the blossoms begin to open, and each month try one of the many different colours, from yellow, pink and deep red to orange and even white.
I’m truly amazed how orchids have caught on as houseplants. Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchids) lead the way with exotic pink, white, and mauve blossoms that last for weeks. Because they need so little care and stand up so well, they make super gifts. Check out the prices too – they have certainly come down.
I have a passion for foliage. The brilliance and diversity of foliage plants is breathtaking, from the deepest black-burgundy to vibrant green and everything in between. The fact that many flower in winter is an added bonus. Foliage plants offer dozens of unique colour combinations as well as leaves in unique shapes and styles. In addition, many beautiful indoor foliage plants make great outdoor plants for late spring and summer gardens.
So what are you waiting for? Stock up your windowsills with some gorgeous plants and brighten up your winter. If ever there was a time we need colour, this is it!