During the winter, gardeners are forced to turn their attention to caring for plants inside the home while their cherished plants outside are in sleep mode. So how did your houseplants fare over this winter? Are they still as lush and healthy as the day you brought them home, or is their foliage slowly yellowing, or worse, so burnt it crinkles like over-cooked bacon? If so, don’t toss them in the compost and switch to artificial plants just yet.

Houseplants require more attentive care than outdoor plants. Whereas outdoor plants are acclimatized to survive some of the most inhospitable weather extremes and capable of obtaining most of their nutrients from the soil in a landscape open to abundant rain and sunlight, houseplants — which are mostly tropical in origin and growing within the confines of their containers and homes’ conditions — are completely dependant on their owner for their survival. It is no wonder so many of us end up killing them.

Finding the right remedy for a sick houseplant requires being a bit of a sleuth. It can be tricky, but there are certain things everyone can do to succeed with houseplants.

Leslie Thompson, sales and marketing representative at Planterra plant wholesaler in Dorval, with more than 30 years experience in the industry, advises that when caring for houseplants first and foremost, “know what you are buying.” This is done by choosing plants from a reputable grower where they are properly looked after and given a good start.

Watering

Correct watering is also essential to successful houseplant care. Overwatering due to improper drainage is the leading causes of houseplant deaths. “Plant roots need air just as much as they need water,” Thompson cautions.

Yellowing, soft foliage means the plant has been overwatered while browning tips are usually a sign of insufficient moisture. So before you reach for the watering can, check that the soil is dry to the touch and ensure the pot has drainage holes where excess water can escape.

Watering should also be deep rather than shallow, ensuring moisture penetrates the entire root zone of the plant, then any water that trickles out of the bottom should be promptly emptied before replacing the plant in its decorative container, otherwise it could lead to root rot, which is fatal. Smaller pots necessitate more frequent waterings than plants growing in large pots, so check them more often.

Light

In winter, plants go into dormancy as natural sunlight diminishes so their need for both water and fertilizer is also reduced. Thompson advises to stop giving houseplants fertilizer from approximately October to March and resume feeding as soon as daylight lengthens significantly.

In the plant world, light is measured in foot-candles. To determine if your room’s light is sufficient you can use a light meter or simply download an app on your smartphone that can do the job for you. “Most houseplants need a minimum of 150 foot candles to do well,” says Thompson.

If necessary, change the plant’s location or provide supplemental lighting, which can be “any kind of lighting with the right brightness,” says Thompson, and not necessarily the professional grow light variety.

Easygoing houseplants include Philodendrons, Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant) and Dracaenas. But just because these plants are tough to kill doesn’t mean you should neglect them. All houseplants benefit from routine, proper care. When a houseplant responds to lengthening daylight by putting on active new growth, that is a good sign. It not only signals that the houseplant is healthy, but also that spring — and the days of gardening outdoors again — are not far away.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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