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Winter good time to tend indoors

Looks like the weather experts weren’t too far off on their prognostications of a snowy winter. Only time will tell how much we really get. One thing is clear though; we won’t be seeing green outdoors for a long while. That makes the next couple of months a great time to tune up our houseplant knowledge.

Whether you are a neophyte or an experienced indoor gardener, it never hurts to start your education with a trip to the Gaiser Conservatory in Manito Park. The 3,000-square-foot conservatory is home to several thousand plants from all over the world. It is a great place to see what is possible to grow at home. The conservatory is free and open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. except holidays.

During the winter most houseplants go dormant or are resting for the winter and need only a good source of light and water when they are ready for it. If you have south or west-facing windows, place your plants close to them. During the winter, sunlight levels are considerably lower than what they are in the summer so the plants will handle the southern exposure easily.

If you don’t have windows that face south or west, suspend a grow light about a foot above the plants. The grow light can be a four-foot long fluorescent shop light set on a timer for about 14 to 16 hours a day. Turn the plants a quarter turn each week to expose the leaves to different light levels.

Water the plants only when they really need it. Different plants will require different amounts of moisture. Overwatering can cause root rot very quickly. Plants with thick leaves will not need to be watered as often as plants with thin leaves. To check for dryness, lift a pot to see how heavy it feels. If it seems light, it is probably ready to water. Confirm this by inserting a finger into the dirt down to the first joint (to the second joint for large pots). Do not completely rely on a moisture meter as they are often inaccurate.

If the plants seem to dry out frequently, you may need to raise the humidity around them. Group them together on a tray filled with gravel and water or set a humidifier nearby. While watering, check for bugs under leaves especially if the plant spent some time outdoors over the summer.

Make sure the plants are away from either warm or cold drafts. Warm air from furnaces can quickly dry out leaves and soil. Other plants are very sensitive to cold drafts and will turn yellow and drop leaves when exposed to them.

Resist feeding or repotting plants much before the middle of February. By then the natural light levels have risen enough that the plants can really use the food and new soil. Once new growth begins to appear, begin feeding them with a quality fertilizer.