Living in Coastal Texas during the winter months can literally be a case of blowing hot and cold, as we’ve already seen this year. By January, all the potted plants from the porches and patios are now residing indoors, under quite different conditions than were experienced outside during the summer. And they may bring a few surprises with them to their indoor friends as well. Here are a few thoughts on dealing with plants indoors during the winter months.
One of the first things to mention is dormancy. Several plants expend all their energies during the summer, and then shut down for a while. It can catch anyone unawares, and for novice growers, the assumption can be that the plant has died, and you might as well throw it out. Before you do, check the plant’s life habits with a quick computer search, to find out if it does indeed have a dormant stage. A couple of quick ones that come to mind are gloxinia and desert rose; plumeria goes dormant as well, but most who grow plumeria know about them and what to do.
Light and water are the next primary topics for house plants, whether they have been in the home all year, or are just wintering there. The vast majority of house plants are from tropical regions, but most are forest dwellers, and they need light, but not direct full sun. This is not usually an issue during the winter, but proximity to windows is a necessity to keep them fed. Watering for everyone needs some serious reduction at this time; they can’t afford to be standing in water, and will survive better in dry soil than in drenched dirt. However, humidity in homes is always much dryer than out of doors, so ambient humidity in the room can help. This can take the form of misting or just having a plate of water, decorated with rocks, for example, nearby.
When the pots were taken in, I hope you were able to inspect the plants and pots for potential enemies. Snails love to cling to pots, and if they get in the house, can wreak havoc with the greenery. The leaves themselves can house spider mites, fungus gnats, and a number of different scale insects. If it’s practical, washing off the leaves by hand can usually catch these enemy
combatants early, but if necessary, spraying an in secticide like Neem oil (an organic) can help. Do that spraying outside, away from your home ventilation system.
Vines in potted plants can get very leggy, and others have leaves that naturally die off, like spathyphyllum (peace lily). Now is a great time to whack the vines back, or to tidy up the plants that could use a little grooming. You’re inside, it’s cold outside, and what better way to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder than to nurse lovely green things? It’s a win once again for the green thumb!
The outdoor gardener doesn’t need to shut down in January; there are always a few nice days to enjoy the sunlight, and getting bragging rights for fresh vegetables is great fun. Now is the time for setting out broccoli, cauliflower, strawberry, collards, spinach and lettuce plants. Lettuce, radish, and carrot seeds can also be planted outdoors; believe it or not, seeds for tomatoes can be started now, but they need to be pampered inside for a while. Cool soils are just not going to work for tomatoes.
Dealing with insects is never a pleasure, and the timing to control them is critical if you want to save the bees. Systemic insecticides are those that you drench into the root systems around the plants. The roots draw the insecticide up throughout the plant structure and provide some defense. Early this month is about the only time you can safely do this with fruit trees, and with fruit trees, it can only be done once a year in order to insure that the fruit is safe to eat later on. You have to do it before the “bud break” on the fruit trees. Imidacloprid is usually the active ingredient in these drenching products, and they can be found widely in garden center sections of stores.
If fig trees are in the landscape, fungicide spraying is also appropriate before the plants leaf out. It seems a little strange, since the fig rusts get on the leaves, but actually, once the fig rust is seen, it’s almost too late for control. If the fig leaves weren’t cleaned out from under the tree in the fall, it should be done quickly. The spores for the rust are lying there just waiting for a good strong wind and rain to fly back up to do their nasty jobs on new leaves.
Don’t forget your lawn; the St. Augustine may be dormant, but all those cool-weather weeds are out there working hard. Mowing is a little chillier in January, but keeping the seeds from forming on the weeds makes your job a lot easier next fall.
A. Lynette Parsons is a master gardener and Chambers County resident.