Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2005
Regional Report

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This variegated type of peace lily is especially effective in brightening up an indoor spot where lighting is inadequate for most other houseplants.

Green Up Your Home

Winter can be rather dreary outdoors, especially when grey clouds linger. Freezing weather has taken much of the color from our landscapes, so now is a good time to focus on our indoor gardens. That's right, tending houseplants is gardening, too!

There is so much we can do to decorate and brighten our homes with plants. An otherwise "sterile" indoor setting comes alive and inviting with the additions of the right plants. We can choose from hundreds of different species and varieties to find the right plant for each setting.

Some plants need lots of light, while others can survive on much less. Some offer attractive variegated foliage, and others add color with foliage or flowers. While some plants, especially taller ones, are effective as individual specimens, I like to combine different plants in groupings to achieve a nice effect. Just remember to group together plants with similar light needs.

Foliage plants are king when it comes to houseplant selections. Yet there are many other great options, including mini cacti (in a bright window), African violets and their cousins the episcias, mini terrarium plantings, and orchids (moth orchids are easiest).

Give Plants the Once-Over at the Store
When purchasing plants, check them over for signs of insect pests or other problems. Sticky residue on the upper surface of stems or foliage is sign of scale, whiteflies, or aphids. Avoid bringing such problems home as the pests are difficult to eradicate. I usually turn a plant over on its side and gently slide it partway out of the pot to check the roots. Healthy roots are creamy white. Brown to grayish, discolored roots are an indication of problems.

Water and Fertilizer
Check your houseplants often to see if they need watering, but don't water too often. More houseplants are killed by overwatering than by underwatering. Soggy soil for extended periods keeps oxygen from the roots, leading to root rot. Allow the soil to dry out a bit and then water well. Then wait until the soil starts to dry a bit before watering again.

Plants usually need little to no fertilizing over the winter. Lower light levels and shorter days slow growth quite a bit. If you have a very bright warm area, you may want to fertilize them lightly once a month or so. When spring arrives you can increase the rate and frequency of nutrient applications. Follow the label instructions carefully to avoid burning plants with an excessive application. Slow-release products also are helpful because they make fertilizing simpler.

Many garden centers offer a great selection of houseplants this time of year. Specialty mail-order nurseries expand our options even further. So consider where you could make room for some new plants this winter. They will bring beauty and life to your home and also do wonders for keep the gardening urge at bay until spring gardening weather arrives!

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