Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
December, 2004
Regional Report

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Some plants are naturally well adapted to dry conditions.

Hot Tip for Houseplants

If you suffer from itchy, dry skin in the wintertime, then you know how your houseplants probably feel about now. Home heating systems dry out the indoor air so dramatically that the relative humidity often drops to desert-like levels, affecting people and plants alike.

In other words, a warm, dry environment is not all that conducive to healthy plants. Even the cacti and succulents that don't mind air on the dry side still prefer about a 30 percent relative humidity level instead of the startling 20 percent range we sometimes find in our homes. They also would prefer it a little cooler than our typical 72 degrees during the lower light of short winter days.

To signal the need for more humidity, many plants will show dried leaf tips or dried edges on new leaves, and some may drop older leaves. Flowers will fade and drop off quickly, and buds may shrivel and fail to open. Overall, the plant will look stressed, less than perky, and may have an off color. At first you might think you need to water more, but if the soil is moist, then the problem is most likely dry air.

Combatting Dry Air
There are a few simple things you can do to help things along. One is to situate the plants away from the heating vent or radiator. Plants need air circulation, but they do not need to be in a drafty location -- especially not a hot draft.

The next step is to group your plants together so they can humidify each other as water evaporates from the potting soil. Arranging plants this way also makes a more impressive decorative statement, and it's quicker and easier to water and groom them when they are all gathered in one place -- and less chance you will forget one left in an out-of-the-way corner!

Next, make a pebble tray. Fill a shallow pan or tray with clean pebbles, then add water. Set your plant pots on the pebbles, making sure the water level is below the bottom of the pots so the plants are not sitting in water. As the water evaporates it will humidify the immediate area. Refill the tray with water as needed. If algae forms on the pebbles, just add a few drops of household bleach to the water in the tray.

Your plants (and you) will benefit from running a humidifier. Whole-house humidifiers are available to run as part of the overall heating system, or humidifiers can be purchased as room-sized units.

Last but not least, turn down the heat a little bit. The cooler the room, the more humid it will be. Most houseplants are quite happy in the 65 degree range. As a bonus, this also will help cut down on your heating bills this winter.

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