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Home heating systems can make it hard to provide humidity for houseplants in winter. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/spaceamoeba/4171028387/">spaceamoeba</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Home heating systems can make it hard to provide humidity for houseplants in winter. Photo: spaceamoeba, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Keeping houseplants healthy in harsh winter conditions

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With the bitter cold outside, the heat will be turned up inside the house. That means dryer air will be rising right towards the houseplants on the windowsill. It's tough times for those houseplants.

Martha Foley discusses options with Amy Ivy, horticulturist with Cornell Cooperative Extension Service of Clinton and Essex Counties.

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Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

During the winter, it’s really hard to keep on top of watering the house plants. Often, it’s hard to tell which house plants really want to stay moist and which ones can tolerate a little dryness. Between the cold drafty window they sit near and the heat register underneath that are wafting up at them, window plants have it especially rough.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a plant needs water. Amy says that with some plants it’s easy to tell by the shine on the leaf. Often when a plant needs water, they’ll have a different sheen to them or they’ll look like they’re starting to shrink or droop.

Amy says that how often you water your houseplants depends on the plant, the temperature, the location and whether or not the plants have been repotted in a while. An easy way to tell whether or not your house plant needs repotting is that sometimes the water will not be absorbed when watered, depending on the nature of the soil and the density. If you’re trying to water a plant and the water trickles down the outside of the pot, you might need to repot the plant.

Sometimes the water does not move through the root far enough. If water accumulates in the saucer, the plant should not sit in water. About an hour after you water your plant, you should remember to empty the saucer that collects the excess water. The number one killer of houseplants is that the soil stays too wet. When the soil stays too wet, the roots die, the leaves begin to wilt and the plant begins to deteriorate. 

The best way to water your plants is to get them to the kitchen sink or a laundry tub sink and let the water trickle down for a while. But some house plants are too big. Amy says that spritzing larger plants with a little squirt bottle is a waste of time.

Watering helps the roots of plants, but having humidity in the air can also help the leaves (it benefits us as well). The effort you put into doing something for your plant can also help your nasal passages.

Amy suggests getting a room humidifier for your home. Or you could make a homemade "humidifier" in this way: put a on a free windowsill large enough to hold several potted plants, then put a layer of pebbles down on the tray and fill it with enough water (say half an inch) so that the pots will be up above the water level resting on the pebbles. As the water gradually evaporates, keep adding water to the pan. With this method,  there’s a much larger area that can be evaporating all of the time.

Amy advises everyone to spend some time thinking about humidity in the home because it’s not just the plants that will benefit.

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