Documents: Container & Small Space Gardening:

Houseplants Stir
by Marg Fleming
January 1, 2000

As January proceeds days continue to lengthen. Soon we begin to notice that the progressively delayed sunsets allow us extra time to get birdseed into those feeders each evening. Plants inside our homes are also "conscious" of longer days and more life-sustaining light. They respond with increased growth and flower buds. What do we do now?

As indoor plants awaken from their low light, cool dormancy of temperate North America they respond to increasing days by producing more cells - they start to grow. New tissues come in a variety of forms. Stems lengthen, leaves appear and enlarge, flowers develop, and unseen roots reach outward to find the extra moisture necessary to sustain new parts above. In this active state a plant requires more moisture for new and existing tissues. Gradually start a more frequent watering schedule as your houseplants reactivate but be aware that at this early stage of reawakening over-watering can still quickly become the reason for a plant's demise.

When new leaves begin to unfurl, and especially when the energy-taxing blooming process begins, plants will also rely on us to supply extra nutrients. A good well-balanced soluble plant food such as 20-20-20 is often recommended and will satisfy the needs of most common houseplants. Here is a tip on fertilizing. To avoid overfeeding, try adding ¼ of the recommended dosage of food into the watering can and feeding each time you water. This prevents having to recall a feeding schedule of full strength doses, and thus avoids over-application.

If you prefer to use plant food full strength at intervals suggested on the container, use only 1/3 to ½ of the recommended amount. When dosages are determined in trials the test plants are grown under ideal greenhouse conditions - a far cry from the situations that specimens will encounter in your home. A more typical houseplant is subjected to the lower light of your living room, the reduced temperatures of your rec room and the scant humidity of the entire house! Growth is curbed in these less-than-ideal conditions, so your plants require less food.

Though a well-balanced fertilizer is usually the accepted feeding for hungry plants, there are a few individuals who have different tastes. For example, regardless of their copious green fronds ferns prefer a fertilizer low in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous. A fish emulsion or specially formulated fern food would be the best choice. An inexpensive book on the most common houseplants, or some advice from the local greenhouse grower can give you some valuable information regarding the proper care and feeding of particular houseplants.

If you are thinking about saving a few bucks and re-flowering your poinsettia again next Christmas, reconsider. A saga of care and maintenance begins next month and continues through much of the year. Most attempts end in disappointment when a tall, gangly, sparse specimen results with many small-bracted flowers. That's because greenhouse growers have a secret. Besides proper light, temperatures, and feeding schedules they apply a special spray to new poinsettias that causes them to be short, stocky, and full with a few large-bracted sizeable flowers!

Compost that Christmas beacon. It will be time well spent.

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