Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield
Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension.
Houseplants provide a nice sense of the outdoors inside during the winter. While everything on the other side of the windows has a dreary gray-brown look, at least you can enjoy a touch of green indoors.
Some people have great luck with houseplants. I’ve had a Clivia lily for 25 years and it’s never died. Of course, it’s never bloomed either, and it has had everything done to it. Still, year after year it’s there, producing new leaves each year but that’s about it. It doesn’t talk back or make demands, so it’s acceptable.
Gone are the years where houses used to be filled with all sorts of houseplants in every room, providing endless hours of care and frustrations.
It’s usually during January that the green itch starts to appear; of course, this is probably one of the worst months to go out and buy plants unless you can make sure they are truly insulated from the cold.
Of course, then you have to contend with indoor conditions, which are far removed from ideal for most houseplants. Not even cacti really like winter’s conditions – they can tolerate the dryness, but the overcast days really aren’t what they prefer.
However, of all conditions, the lack of humidity is the biggest killer of houseplants.
The plants look pretty good for a week or two, and then you notice that they may look just a little off. Not much. Maybe not even enough that you give it a concern.
But a few days or weeks later, you notice a general lack of vigor. Leaves may be droopy and slightly yellowed with leaf edges showing the color change first. Next thing you know, those edges are brown and leaves look so bad that a pair of pruners or scissors tend to be the only option. Argh.
If you could afford a greenhouse, that would be the best route to go. Most of us, though, probably won’t go down that road. Price is one thing. It’s cheaper to buy new plants every year.
On the opposite end is the mister. It’s almost the worst thing you could do.
Misting does increase the humidity around the plant….for about 5 to 10 seconds. After that, the water droplets dissipate in the room and house.
This is hard to understand because we don’t see the water droplets. However, take some perfume or scented room deodorizer and spray it in the room. Then walk to another corner or out of the room, and see how long it takes for the fragrance to waft out there. Not long. Of course, you could mist every 15 seconds and help the plants.
A room humidifier is one of the better routes, though you have to fill the water bin daily (or every other day) throughout the winter.
Group the plants closer to the humidifier, but don’t literally set them on the machine. That much humidity may increase insect and disease problems, particularly with blooming plants. Remember, the water vapor will move throughout the room.
Another option is to keep the bathroom door open when you take a shower, which puts more moisture in the air than a bath. Of course, there are some potential problems that could develop, but none related to the plants.
Another possibility is to vent the drier into the house, so the warm, moist air helps the plants.
Over the years, I’ve collected some food trays that are filled with pea gravel and river rock. Plants are placed on top of the rocks. Water is poured into the tray to just below the bottom of the pots.
Since the air is so dry, water will evaporate and as it does, evaporate around the plants. Sometimes house pets will look upon this reservoir as their personal water dish, which means you have to keep a closer eye on the water level.