John Begnaud: Container plants need care to stay healthy indoors

John Begnaud: Container plants need care to stay healthy indoors

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The use of indoor plants was a much bigger rage 20 years ago than it is now, but many of us still enjoy having a few plants around the home or office. Many of us have moved a few of our special outdoor container plants in for the winter. It can be a challenge to keep indoor container plants healthy and attractive during the shorter, darker days of winter.

Some people are lucky enough to have a bright indoor exposure that plants love during winter, but many indoor plants are kept in below-desirable light. Low light conditions may work for plants like Chinese evergreen, sansevieria, devil’s ivy or fiddleleaf fig. If all you have is a low or artificial light location, low light loving plants are the best choice.

But plants that love bright light produce less food and subsequently little or no new growth if they receive less than desirable light. When plants slow their growth they reduce their uptake of water and nutrients through the roots. This is the major reason we water most indoor plants less during winter than summer and we skip fertilizing until brighter light conditions are available.

The No. 1 cause of decline and death of indoor plants is over-watering, which leads to root loss and rot. Most indoor plants will tolerate and thrive with the “water when dry” rule.  Sticking a finger in the soil to the knuckle and checking for the feel of moisture still works. It is better to err on the side of dry rather than promote root loss because of saturated soil during winter.

Believe it or not, potting soil in planted containers does change over time. Just as mulch and organic matter decompose in outdoor gardens, the soils in containers — which usually contain peat moss or mulches — decompose and break down as well. These container plant soils become tighter and less well drained. This is referred to as soil collapse.

Reconditioning container plants by freshening the soil can improve plant performance. We repot to introduce a new or larger container, but we also repot to remove some old collapsed soils and replace with new potting soil. This can be done any time of year.  

Indoor environments have microclimates like the great outdoors. Areas of the home or building may be warmer or cooler or may be exposed to blowing heater vents. It is usually best to avoid moving plants around, but to let them adjust to their location. It is ok to rotate or turn containers so plant foliage will distribute evenly around the plant. Leaning or lopsided plants are just indicating they would like more light.

Our goal is to maintain container plants through winter so they remain alive and still attractive until better growing conditions return.

John Begnaud is a retired Tom Green County Extension agent for horticulture. Contact him at jebegnaud@gmail.com.

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John Begnaud: Use these tips to keep container plants healthy once they’re indoors

It can be a challenge to keep indoor container plants healthy and attractive during the shorter, darker days of winter.

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