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The roadblocks to healthy houseplants

Houseplants have always been a challenge for me. I can't seem to remember to water them regularly and the dryness of our Minnesota winters really challenges the health of even the hardiest of my plants. If you have a house full of plants, or just a few treasures, here are a few tips to keeping your houseplants healthy this season.

Light is the greatest limiting factor to growing houseplants indoors. Foliage plants need 12 to 16 hours per day of sunlight. African violets need 12 to 14 hours per day. Plants suffering from insufficient light are weak, spindly and sparse with long spaces between their leaves. Flowering plants do not bloom and variegated plants may revert to solid green. If the plant gets too much light, leaves may curl and turn brown, or fade to a lighter color.

Improper watering, particularly over-watering, is the biggest killer of houseplants. Under-watered houseplants will turn brown, wilt and eventually die. Over-watered plant's leaves turn yellow and drop. They will also wilt, even when the soil is wet. To determine whether your plant needs water, stick your finger in the soil up to your first knuckle. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, water your plant; if it feels moist; don't water.  Use room temperature water and allow water to run through the pot and out the bottom drainage holes.  Never allow a plant to sit in water for more than 10 minutes.

We tend to kill our plants with kindness, giving them way more fertilizer than they need. During the growing season (May-September) feed your plant every 14 days with half strength liquid soluble fertilizer. If plants are grown under fluorescent lights, you may need to fertilize year round. Plants that have been over fertilized exhibit the following symptoms: hard, stunted growth, burned leaf margins, poorly shaped leaves, wilted plants, even though the soil is wet.

Potting soil has a large effect on plant growth. Potting mix generally contains pasteurized loamy soil, organic matter (peat moss or compost), and drainage material (perlite or builder's sand). Flowering plants and tropical foliage plants require equal parts of each of these ingredients. Cacti and succulents require 1 part loam, 1 part organic matter, and 2 parts drainage material. The proper potting medium anchors roots, provides your plant with necessary minerals and nutrients, and allows oxygen to reach the root cells.

Our homes are veritable deserts in the winter time. Increase the humidity for your houseplants by grouping plants together. Placing them in pebble filled trays, and using a humidifier in rooms with plants. Misting houseplants can encourage leaf spot diseases, so don't mist.

Quarantine for two weeks all plants brought inside, and treat with a houseplant insecticide to kill mites, aphids, scale and other insects that could damage other indoor plants.

For more information on indoor gardening, visit:

Until next time, happy gardening!

"Not yesterday I learned to know the love of bare November days before the coming of the snow..."

- Robert Frost