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Give some love to your house plants

Cold weather months are the time to pay attention to your house plants.
A Christmas cactus will bloom around the holidays. Light, water and a bit of love; the essentials to make house plants thrive. Photo: Lucy Haines

Not only are house plants attractive, they filter out odours, add oxygen to the air, and are good for your health.

Consider: Aloe Vera, Coleus. Spider Plant, English Ivy, Boston Fern, Heart Leaf Philodendron, Eucalyptus, Chinese Evergreen, Peace Lily, Chrysanthemum, Snake Plant, African Violet, Christmas Cactus, and Easter Lily. Bulbs such as Amaryllis or Hyacinth are more of a challenge, often short lived, but well worth the effort.

The most common Christmas flowers are poinsettia, amaryllis, mistletoe, ivy, Christmas cactus, and paper whites.

Many house plants can be propagated by cuttings set into a container of water. Simply cut about four inches off the tip of a stem, dip it into some rooting hormone, and place it into a container of water. Some, such as succulents or African violets, can be propagated by dusting the end of a leaf with a rooting compound and sticking it into a mixture of compost, potting soil, and vermiculite.

Wait for up to 6 weeks before rootlets appear. Then plant them into a small container, 8 inches or so, containing a mixture of compost, potting soil and vermiculite. Make sure there are holes in the bottom of the container to let excess water out. Add a house plant fertilizer; liquid, granular, or slow release. Check at your local market garden for their recommendations. 

House plants need four to six hours of moderate to low sunlight through a window. When choosing a house plant, look at the label to see if it needs low, moderate, or full sunlight. A full sunlight window is south facing with at least 6 hours of sunlight. A low sunlight window may be an east or west window with a maximum of 4 hours of sunlight. A north window may let enough light in for African Violets.

Herbs need more light than traditional house plants, so either locate them on a south facing window, or under grow lights.

Because house temperatures rarely fall below 15C, when you put them outside make sure the average temperature is above 15C. Gradually get them used to outside light.

Do not water on a schedule, water on necessity. If the soil is continually damp, there may not be enough oxygen available to the plant roots. Allow the pot to dry out. How do you know when? When an inch or so down, the soil is dry. If it is damp, wait for a while. When you water, water so that some water drains out at the bottom. This will flush out some of the accumulated salt, preventing the salt from becoming toxic to the plant.

Watering from the bottom gets the water to the roots. When the air is dry, mist the leaves a couple of times a week.

Feed your plants every three months with a house plant mix, preferably a slow-release fertilizer. Read the label on the bag for the amount to add. Because plants rest in the winter, reduce the amount of watering and fertilizer.

Every week or so, remove any dead or dying leaves. Look for pests; holes in the leaves are a clue. Spider mites and thrips are often so small you can barely see them. Start by spaying the plant with insecticidal soap until the pests are eliminated. If that doesn’t work, put the container in a plastic bag, spray with neem oil or pyrethrin, close the bag up and leave it for 24 hours before taking the plant and pot out.

Consider dusting or wiping the dust off every six months or so.

If a plant gets too large, remove it and place it in a size larger container. Re-pot when the plant stops growing, does not flower well, is obviously too large for the pot, and if water drains through quickly indicating it is root bound. Replace some of the soil at the same time with the same mixture as previously used.

Charles Schroder gardens in the Edmonton area. For more, see