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Tips for keeping houseplants happy, healthy

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

There have been incoming calls on the Information Line recently concerning houseplants. Following are some secrets to keeping your houseplants happy.

Winter is the most challenging time for tropical plants. This is aggravated if they are grown outdoors in the summer. A true tropical plant keeps growing year around in its natural environment, while temperate climate plants go dormant during the winter: they “know,” it’s time to get prepared for the cold; reduce water intake, get rid of extra water, harden the trunk and drop useless in winter leaves. Tropical plants don’t know about all that. They don’t prepare for winter and would rather want to keep going year around.

Let’s see what happens to a tropical plant during winter outside of the tropics. Temperature drops in winter, and 70-75 degrees inside our house may already be too cold for it. Light levels are low. All processes inside the plant slow down. In the meantime, you continue to water the plant as you would do during the summer. The poor plant can’t “process” so much water. The soil gets cold, especially the plant that’s placed on the windowsill. Its root system is not completely dormant, but it works low power. It doesn’t deliver oxygen around the root ball fast enough. This may result in root rot. If the root system, or a part of it, dies, the plant doesn’t get water delivered to its organs—leaves and stems; but you don’t know that and keep watering weak roots. Then you see drooped leaves and continue watering even more, thinking the poor plant doesn’t get enough water. Then comes the moment when the plant collapses, leaves drop, the trunk dries up. These are the same symptoms as under watering.

Here are simple rules that will help you successfully maintain a tropical plant during the winter:

There are two ways to succeed. You can either keep the plant in tropical environment: bright light and warmth; in this case, you can continue to water abundantly and the plant will grow and flower. Or, you can let the plant go into “sleep mode.”

Water only when the soil gets dry. You can wait even more. Plan to water sunroom plants during the winter once every two-to-three weeks, while during the summer, they get watered almost every day. Very seldom does a plant die from under-watering during the winter.

Water only with warm water. Cold water will shut down the root system.

Make sure a pot is not cold from the bottom. Use a piece of wood or Styrofoam to insulate the pot from a cold windowsill.

If air is too dry, then mist the plant frequently.

Don’t worry if the plant drops a few leaves. As long as the root system is not over watered, and the trunk stays green, it will produce new foliage as soon as temperature and light levels go up.

Do not repot a plant during late fall or winter. Even if you see roots sticking out of the pot, wait until spring. It won’t develop much growth during winter anyway

Do not fertilize a plant until spring.

All this will help you to over-winter tropical plants and have them start growing again in spring. Thanks to Top Tropicals in Punta Gorda, Fla.