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Winter Houseplant Care: Food, No! Light, Yes!

Although the days are getting longer, its still a ways to go until we get the kind of sunlight that wakes houseplants up from their long winter's nap. Yes, houseplants deal with winter the way WE wish we could, they sleep right through it! That means they should not be fed until Spring arrives; it'd be like trying to force a bologna sandwich on someone who's sound asleep. Start feeding inside when your landscape wakes up outside.

If you want to do something nice for your hibernating houseplants, wash their windows, ON BOTH SIDES, on the next sunny day. Even if the glass looked clean, that washing will let in LOTS more light. Or give some plants themselves a nice bath; the long leaves of succulents, like the common Snake Plant, can collect a lot of dust, and a good cleaning allows them to better use the light they get. It's a great "bug check", too.

Indoor Plant Winter Watering Wisdom: DON'T!
Watering houseplants at this time of year can be tricky. The most popular ones, like ficus and Norfolk pines, will drown if you water them as often as in summer; they're dormant now, and not using water. So if you've been "keeping their soil moist", stop now, while there's still a chance they can recover. Most (a good 95%) houseplants detest wet soil in winter, and should be allowed to dry out completely between waterings. That's right, completely! These are plants, not Aquaman: They won't keel over and die if they go 24 hours without moisture! In fact, nice stretches of dryness are the best way to protect your plants from root rot. In MOST cases, keeping a plant constantly wet will yield the same results as you wearing damp socks for a month, you'll both get a bad case of athlete's foot.

Indoor humidity has a lot to do with their water needs. If your air is humidified, almost all your plants should go at least two weeks, maybe a month, between waterings. UNLESS you have a lemon, orange, grapefruit, or other potted citrus spending the winter inside; these plants require a moist soil.

However, if your home is bone dry, you can safely water your 'regular' plants more frequently. Weight is the best way to judge. If your plant pots are light, place them in a few inches of water and allow them to soak it up through their drain holes until the pot feels heavy. Then let them drain in the dish rack, put them back in place and don't water again until the plant you're worried about feels light again. Never water because the surface of the soil is dry; only when that soil is dry all the way down to the roots.

"Lucky" Bamboo? Not if its sitting in tap water!
Do you get some "Lucky Bamboo" over the holidays? Although these pretty plants do look like it, they're not a bamboo of any kind. They're a tropical plant called Dracaena that breaks all the houseplant rules. Most plants need lots of light; but too much sun will kill Lucky Bamboo. The ambient light in the average room is all it needs.

And while most plants would rot if their roots sat in water all the time, Lucky bamboo requires that amount of constant moisture. But it IS finicky about the water itself. The chlorine and fluoride in city tap water turn the leaves yellow at first, and eventually kill the plant. Use Spring water or distilled or purified water instead. Think of the bad karma if you killed your Lucky Bamboo!

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