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Inside matters

27 June 2022

Eight of the best hints, tips and tricks for keeping your indoor plants lush over the coldest months. Words and photos Rachel Vogan

Wahoo, the indoor plant boom is upon us, and I love it! Frequently when I am out and about, people talk to me about their indoor plant babies, citing botanical names, talking about new leaves appearing and all sorts of other indoor plant chat! It’s awesome! Passionate plant people are the best.

Two years ago, I only had a handful of indoor plants, now I have 10 times that amount. They are everywhere, hanging off the walls, perched on every available surface I can find. Along with the permanent residents are the future plants (cuttings) squeezed into any available space… window ledges, coffee tables, the laundry, plus a few on the sideboard.

Nurseries and propagators all over the country are struggling to keep up with the strong appetite for indoor plants. Never before has the demand for houseplants been so strong. New varieties are appearing,
but the demand is strongest for the tried-and-true campaigners that turn a house into a home. No special knack or skills are required to keep indoor plants happy and healthy. The only trick is understanding
what plants suit your environment, and how often to water them. Things to consider – especially at this
time of year – are room temperature and how much light a room gets. If you have poor heating, avoid anything from the tropics that requires constant temperatures above 10–12°C, all day and night. Look for something more durable if you’re starting out now. And do your homework with any gifted plants to learn
where they like to be placed and how they are going to cope with fluctuating temperatures in their first winter with you.

Friends with benefits

If you needed any more reasons to invest in a few indoor plants, they are the most cost-effective air purifiers you will ever have. As the plants grow, they filter out unwanted toxins from the air inside,
purifying the air as they grow.

My 8 Top winter tips

Avoid re-potting indoor plants

Slowly does it. The growth rate of indoor plants slows right down over winter. Like many of us humans, plants hibernate and sit quietly, waiting for the longer days and warmer nights to actively push out new
branches, leaves and stems.

Avoid re-potting for the next couple of months – wait until mid-spring. When indoor plants are re-potted, a liberal drenching of water is required to wet the new soil. Over winter this wet soil does not have the chance to dry out and warm up, and in some cases the overly wet soil can cause the roots to rot or decay. Hence, repot once it is warmer.

Reduce the fluids

Indoor plants do not need as much water over winter. It is easy to harm or even kill an indoor plant with too much water over the cold months. Many an indoor plant has been killed by the kindness of too much
water. As plants’ growth rate slows down at this time of year, they therefore use less water. Dry soils are warmer than wet soils; cold root zones are not ideal for some tropical plants.

Sometimes soils can look dry, but on closer inspection they are not. To test this, do the finger test. Gently push your finger down into the soil to about 4–5cm deep – if the soil feels moist down below, no extra water is required.

Warm water please: Where possible, use tepid water when watering indoor plants as it is much less of a shock for the root system than ice cold water.

Schedule a health check

While things are slower in the growth department, take time to give plants a quick check for winter ills and chills. Remove any yellowing or brown leaves. Most plants shed leaves at some time of year, and many do it in winter. Examine leaves for any signs of insects or disease and deal with anything you notice as quickly as you can. Trim back any dead or misshapen-looking stems.

Shower with a friend

Over time, the foliage on indoor plants eventually gets a covering of dust and household particles. In their natural environment, rain and naturally humid conditions would wash away any debris on the leaves. Once thick layers of dust and grime build up, the leaves become greasy. This film limits the plant’s ability
to grow, and growth will slow down. Wiping leaves will remove a build-up of dust, but a burst under a warm shower does wonders – as does time outside on a day when there is a gentle rain. If using a longer shower hose, wash the undersides of the leaves as well. By removing the dust from the leaves, it opens up the leaves’ pores to take in more oxygen for photosynthesis.

Rotate your plants

Plants, like people, often have one side that looks better than the other. To keep plants looking good all over, get into the habit of rotating plants so that they get an even amount of light on a regular basis. This helps the plant look good from all angles.

Trim & multiply

Trim back any long tendrils or spindly branches to encourage a bushier plant. The snippets can be used
to take cuttings in some cases and make some winter babies. Kids love seeing roots appear from stems in
glasses of water. Something quick-growing, like the inch plant, roots quickly and grows readily into a new plant in no time.

Fend off frost

Avoid placing indoor plants hard up against glass windows and doors, especially in buildings with no
double glazing. Plants can be frosted, even inside, and that can kill them. Back in June, my spider plant was damaged by a heavy frost because some leaves were touching the window.

Let there be light

If your room is dark, open the curtains or turn the lights on! All plants need light to survive – it is a vital ingredient for photosynthesis. Over winter, if curtains are kept closed and lights are not used (like in a spare bedroom), plants can wither and die. The less light a room has, the slower the plant’s growth rate will be, so turn the lights on or move the plants into a brighter room.

Going away?

If you’ve asked a friend to plant sit, remind them a few days without water won’t harm your houseplants while they’re in their dormant state or growslow mode. And place a sticky note on each plant about its water needs, such as ‘Nil by mouth’. Your friends will want to get it right and your plants will love you for it. Avoid closing the curtains for weeks at a time too; while it may deter crime, your plants won’t enjoy it.

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