Ruth Correll: Plant prescription for winter blues

Ruth Correll • Updated Jan 24, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Plants have many benefits both winter and summer. The following column appeared in the UT Gardens recent newsletter. If you would like a list of suggested indoor plants, please contact your Extension office.

Psychologists say the weeks following the holidays can be a very depressing time of year, even for the healthiest among us. Keep the ‘blues’ at bay this winter by surrounding yourself with lush and beautiful houseplants. No kidding, indoor plants can really chase the blues away. Not only do they filter the air we breathe, making our interior environments healthier, but they can also improve your mood and productivity. Studies show that just four minutes of viewing plants, indoors or out, reduces blood pressure, respiration rate, and the production of stress hormones and mood improves.

If you think you don’t have enough natural light indoors to grow plants, think again. And why not select double-duty foliage plants; those that require low light but are also the best for filtering indoor air. NASA scientists have discovered some plants can help remove formaldehyde and other impurities in your home for a safer, cleaner atmosphere. For the best results, put as many plants as you can care for in the rooms you use most, said environmental scientist Bill Wolverton. He recommends at least two plants in 10- to 12-inch pots per 100 square feet of space.

Proper watering is the key to a plant’s wintertime survival. Decreased light levels during this season make plants less thirsty for water than during the brighter seasons of the year. Overwatering is the No. 1 reason why most houseplants die.

Rather than watering on a weekly schedule, check the soil color. Moist soil looks like dark chocolate, while dry soil appears the color of milk chocolate. If unsure about the soil condition, test the soil with a pencil to determine if it is dry. If soil sticks to the pencil when it is inserted several inches into the pot, then the soil is moist enough and do not water. If the pencil comes out clean, then it’s time to give the plant a drink. When watering your plants, be sure to wet the entire soil mass, not just the top inch. Add water until it comes through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Discard water that remains beneath the pot one hour after watering.

Another way to keep plants vibrant is to give them a shower. This is an easy way to clean dirt and dust off their foliage and to flush their soil of built-up minerals. It’s a good time to inspect the foliage for insects as well. Be sure to look under the leaves and along the leaf petioles and stems for scale, mealy bug, and spider mite insects. None of these pests likes water. It is easy and convenient to use a removable shower head and its hose to spray all the foliage from underneath. Good water pressure will literally blast some insects away.

If you find insects, you can spray the plant with either a mild solution of dish detergent and water, 1 teaspoon per gallon, or an insecticidal soap purchased from a garden center. You may also use a sponge or rag with either solution and wipe off the scale or mealy bug insects and then rinse the plant in the shower. The plants seem to appreciate a warm-water cleansing and they look better with clean, bright foliage.

In winter, fertilizer can be too much of a good thing for houseplants. While light levels are low and plants aren’t as thirsty, refrain from feeding your plants. Provide liquid fertilizer in March when light levels start to increase and the plants begin to actively grow. Whatever fertilizer you select, be sure to follow label directions. When it comes to plant food, it is better to be frugal than to damage your plants by being too generous.

Finally, enjoy your houseplants as houseplants. Don’t move them outdoors for the summer. If you are experiencing success with your plants indoors, why knock a good thing? Sure, your plants will grow more vigorously outdoors, but many don’t adjust well when they return to the interior environment in the fall. Besides, they improve the aesthetics and can provide a healthier environment inside year-round. So, whatever your pleasure, try indoor gardening to ward off the winter blues.” 

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson. Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or [email protected]


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