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Winter houseplant care

Cold, dry air is hard on them

This is a tough time of year to keep plants healthy. Doug Jimerson is a retired garden editor from Better Homes and Gardens. He says some of them do best in high humidity, and central heating makes the air in your home really dry.

"One of the best ways to keep them is to set the pot in a waterproof tray with some gravel, and you pour the water in the tray," Jimerson says. "Just to where it does not touch the bottom of the pot but where that water will evaporate and go up through the leaves of the plants.  And misting also helps.  A daily misting, twice a day if you can do it."

Fill a spray bottle with water and spritz the leaves. If the soil feels dry to the touch, water it. But don't fertilize your plants. Hold off on that until spring.

"Don't fertilize in the winter, you don't want to promote growth, Jimerson says. "It's not going to help the plant, the plant won't be able to absorb it. Same with potting, basically you want to keep your plants where they're at. Daylight hours start to come back in March, and if you've got some that need to be repotted, that's a good time to repot and start the fertilization process."

Since daylight is at a premium this time of year, Jimerson says most plants will do well basking by either an east-or-west window. If that's still not enough, you could put them under a grow light for about 12 hours per day.

Check your plants periodically for bugs. Spider mites and mealy bugs are pretty common during the winter. A good way to get rid of them is to blast them with a shower in the bathtub. The sink sprayer will do the job for smaller plants. An insecticide will work, too. 

If your plants still suffer through the winter – or you have a cat that considers them his prey – Jimerson says it's okay to give up.

"These are not redwoods," he says. "You don't have to keep them for the next generation.  If it doesn't do well, toss it, go get a new one."

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