I think that we all have a tendency to take our houseplants for granted much of the time, but it’s during the Christmas season that this neglect is most pronounced. The Christmas tree takes centre stage, furniture is moved, dinners and parties mean extra space is needed, and any houseplants that are taking up that space are shuffled off to a back room until the festivities are over.
When they finally re-emerge once the tree is gone and the decorations are packed away, they can look a bit traumatized by the whole experience. Perhaps it’s time to reward them for their loyalty and good service in adding their elegant touch to your indoor décor during the other eleven months of the year by spending a bit of “quality time” with them.
Check them closely for signs of insects like aphids, scale, mealybugs and mites. Winter is the time when these pests can thrive; humidity and light levels are low and houseplants can be stressed by inconsistent watering patterns (the drought or drown syndrome). If they’re going to be troubled by insects, now is the prime time for it to happen.
Dust levels indoors are likely as high now as they will ever be during the year, with all of the activity of the Christmas takedown, combined with tightly sealed windows and increased air movement through the heating system. We tend to be less active in the middle of winter, and the dust settles on us as we hold down the couch in the evening, but it also settles on the foliage of your houseplants!
A trip to the shower, and a wash with lukewarm water will benefit your houseplants immensely. Cleaning off that layer of dust and debris will allow the foliage to breath better, and your plants will regain that shine they had when they, and you, were younger. A wipe with a soft cloth of larger leaves will also dislodge any critters that may be present.
Obviously houseplants are growing more slowly, if at all, during the dark months of winter. But they are still growing. If you haven’t given them any fertilizer for months, it’s not a bad idea to fertilize with a half-strength solution of an all-purpose plant food now and then again in six weeks.
What about the pots your plants are in? Ordinarily it’s not recommended to re-pot houseplants in winter, but there are exceptions. If the plant is obviously root bound (pale growth, water running out of the bottom of the pot each time you water, roots bursting out of the drainage holes) or the existing pot was purchased in the 1970’s and would look terrific in a macramé hanger, or next to Harvest Gold colour appliances, it’s time to make a change.
Go shopping for a nice container that will compliment both the pot and your decorating scheme. Choose one that is the next size up from the existing pot, and use a potting soil that has a good mix of peat and other organic material, plus perlite, vermiculite or shredded bark for good drainage.