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Switch your gardening focus to indoor plants

SHARE Switch your gardening focus to indoor plants

The garden has not changed at my house. As I write this, the temperature has not even reached the freezing mark for several days, and I am more drawn to the fireside than outside.

With that in mind, it is time focus on interior plants. These can bring some winter cheer on these cold and often dreary days if you give them the right growing conditions. Neglect what these plants need, and they are good for nothing more than the compost pile.

Looking around my collection, it is easy to see that some must go. A beautiful pink poinsettia that was accidentally upended by a granddaughter can leave my home without any regrets on my part. In fact, all the poinsettias can go because I don't have the patience to rebloom them.

Other plants are longer tenants. Since these are going to be the staying around, it's a good time to give them a little care.

Most of the plants that we try to grow inside our homes come from tropical environments. That means they need temperatures that replicate what they would have in an equatorial rain forest or a South Sea island.

Most of these plants are comfortable at the same temperatures as you are. While the inside of our home usually fulfills those requirements, pay attention to what is going on in specific spots in your home. Some of the older windows in my home get frost on the inside on cold winter nights, and it is easy to tell that those temperatures are not tropical.

Another problem area for these plants is near exterior doors. Open these on a cold winter night, and the blast of cold arctic air makes you shiver. Think how that makes your plants long to move from your drafty entrance to their ancestral home a couple of thousand miles south.

It is also possible for plants to get too hot and dry. Forced-air heating blasts out of the vents at more than 100 degrees, and it is very dry. Keep plants away from these, as well as fireplaces, computers and other heat sources.

Equally critical with the right growing temperature is getting the plant enough light. The human eye adjusts so that a dark room seems light after we are in it for a while. Plants have no such adaptation, so adequate light is critical.

Plants must have light to produce their food. Without light, they quickly run out of the energy they need to grow.

Light becomes less available in the winter because they days are much shorter, there are many cloudy or foggy days and the sun is very low on the horizon. This means trees, buildings and other obstacles cast long shadows that further block the light.

While moving a plant next to a window increases the light, it might also drop the temperature to critical levels. Try other methods to increase the light. Dirty windows can cut the light transmission by as much as 50 percent, so keep the windows clean.

Providing light artificially is workable, but it does require electricity. Use fluorescent tubes, and place the fixture close enough so it almost touches the plants. If the lights are ceiling-mounted and the plants are sitting on a table, the amount of light they get is almost negligible.

Watering plants correctly is another essential growing need. Because it is darker and cooler, interior plants have almost stopped growing. When plants are in this resting state, they need very little water.

Adding more water predisposes the plants to root rot. Root rot destroys the absorbing roots on the plants, so they wilt as though they are not getting enough water.

Most people think this indicates that the plant needs more water, so they continue to drown the plant. This makes the problem worse.

Overwatering also encourages fungus gnats to reproduce. While these insects usually don't cause serious damage to plants, they are annoying as the fly swarming your face or attacking your salad at dinner.

Keep the soil damp, but never let plants sit in water. Put enough water on so it drains out the bottom, but empty the saucer or keep the plants out of the water by placing small blocks or other risers under the pots.

Because your plants are not growing much now, you can dispense with the fertilizer. Fertilizer is not food; it is something plants use to make food if they have enough light and the temperature is right. Adding fertilizer when your plant is not growing is a certain way to kill your plants.

There is more than one way to kill a plant, but to keep them alive and growing well, pay attention to their growth factors. The reward, if you do it right, is healthy, green plants that lift your spirits and make winter seem a little shorter.

Garden tips and events

USU classes at Thanksgiving Point:

Growing Plants in the Greenhouse

Grow your own plants from seeds or from cuttings in the Thanksgiving Point greenhouse. Learn about fertilizers, growing mixes, seed varieties and transplanting and about insects, disease and greenhouse environmental problems. Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22 from 10 a.m.-noon or 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Cost $40.

Home Fruit Production

Make your backyard orchard successful by planting the best fruit trees, grapes or berries. Topics include: soil, fertilizing, variety selection, pollination, planting, pruning and pest control. Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22 from 2 p.m.–4 p.m. or 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Cost $40.