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Turn your attention to house plants

Turn your attention indoors this month.
christmascactus
Garden centres will showcase these holiday cacti, meant to bloom in low light and cooler conditions. Photo: Lucy Haines

By early November, the yard and garden are ready to go to bed for the winter, so it's time to turn attention indoors. Gardening expert Jim Hole talks indoor plants this month.

Alberta Prime Times: Are we really done with everything outdoors?

Hole: If we haven't had a deep freeze yet, then you can still water--keep hydrating until freeze up. The evergreens will thank you.

APT: So indoor plants, then. What is the number one thing to remember about indoor plants? 

Hole: It's all about light. Water and humidity matters, yes, so keep a plant's soil moist (don't overwater). You can get a portable humidifier if conditions in your home are really dry. But you don't want to fertilize anything over the winter. You're just trying to maintain. Keep plants away from hot air ducts too. But it's light that is key--that's the plant food.

APT: Should we buy plant lights?

Hole: Some plants do fine in lower light conditions--some of the toughest are snake plants and ZZ plants--ficus does fine too. Take advantage of a southwest window through the fall. Plants will adapt to the lower light conditions in winter. But it depends if you're after growth, and in that case, you will want LED plant lights. To go beyond maintenance and encourage growth, you'd have a regular light schedule for the plants.

APT: Plants to look forward to at this time of year?

Hole: Poinsettias and Norfolk Pine, which can substitute for a Christmas tree are popular. The same goes for the Christmas Cactus, which will bloom when there are cooler temperatures and shorter days. There's some confusion with these varieties, which can bloom around American Thanksgiving, late November, or even Easter time, and people have them for years and years. 

As with all indoor plants, watch for overwatering, which means watering before the soil is dry to the touch. If your holiday cactus is not thriving, cut back on water and repot it in a mixture of about 40 percent perlite and 60 percent fresh potting mix. Those who hate repotting plants can take comfort in the knowledge that holiday cacti bloom best when they are slightly pot-bound and only need repotting every three or four years.