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MONDAY, JANUARY 22, 2007
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Instead of watering your plants religiously on the same day of the week, always check the soil of the plant to determine if it needs water. If it feels moist, leave it alone.
Daily photos by Emily Saunders
Instead of watering your plants religiously on the same day of the week, always check the soil of the plant to determine if it needs water. If it feels moist, leave it alone.

It can be easy
to be GREEN

How to keep your indoor plants alive during winter

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

Life just feels drab this time of year. The dull tones of winter grip the outdoors like a frigid hand and the bright, cheery days of spring seem so far away.

Rather than curling into a ball until the season passes, head to the nearest plant retailer and buy indoor plants to cheer up your dark house or office — and freshen the air. Studies show that indoor plants relieve stress and filter the air of toxins.

So for the newbies and those with black thumbs, we gathered advice from local green thumbs on keeping indoor plants alive and thriving.

Overwatering

Overwatering is the most common mistake for indoor plants, because many people assume they should water at the same rate in winter as they do in summer, said Mike Reeves, a Morgan County Extension System agent.

However, plants do not use as much water in winter because it is the low-growth season. A plant that sits in water may start to rot in the roots, so be sure to place a container underneath your plants with gravel in it to catch any extra moisture and keep it away from the roots, said Helen DeButy, a member of Morgan County Master Gardeners.

DeButy’s glassed-in sunroom hosts a variety of about 20 indoor plants, including a 35-year-old staghorn fern.

Instead of watering religiously on the same day of the week, always check the soil of the plant to determine if it needs water, Reeves said. If it feels moist, leave it alone.

Helen Debuty’s glassed-in sunroom hosts a variety of about 20 indoor plants.
Helen Debuty’s glassed-in sunroom hosts a variety of about 20 indoor plants.
However, some plants may be so dry that the water appears to go right through the soil, DeButy said. If they appear to be wilting, the plant may be root-bound and should be soaked in water in a large sink to let the water permeate a dry center.

Many common indoor plants such as philodendrons require low light, so extra lights are usually unnecessary, Reeves said. Always check what kind of light a plant requires, and place it so the plant will receive that amount.

Don’t assume the more light the better, because a strong southern sun, for example, can burn plants, DeButy warned.

Light fertilizer

Many indoor plants require only light fertilizer in the winter, if any. Houseplants do not grow enough to merit large doses of fertilizer. Often, the potting soil will contain enough nutrients to last a houseplant for years.

Once again, because winter is the low-growth season, too much fertilizer will harm the plant, Reeves said.

Placing plants too close together can invite disease and slow their growth, Reeves said.

“You want to separate them a little bit in the house so each leaf can take advantage of the sunlight and the photosynthesis,” he said.

In her sunroom, DeButy is careful to give each plant enough space, but to place them on different levels to make the arrangement visually appealing.

Regular cleaning

Indoor plants should be cleaned regularly to prevent dust and other buildup on the leaves, which will keep plants from absorbing sunlight and “breathing,” DeButy said.

She usually washes hers about once a month in her utility sink, though a shower or simply water and a soft cloth could also be used.

Plants with hairy leaves, such as an African violet, should not be cleaned with water, but with a cosmetics brush or stiff paintbrush.

EASY INDOOR PLANTS

We asked Steve Chrisenberry of Sugar Magnolia’s in Decatur to name the top five indoor plants that are easiest to keep alive. He says these plants don’t require too much attention and require low light:

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Spathiphyllum, or peace lily
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Dracaena
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Dieffenbachia
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Philodendron
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Aglaonema, aka Chinese evergreen

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