Murphy’s Law of Gardening

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If it hasn’t already gone wrong, it will! Source: monumentenglish.wordpress.com & clipartxtras.com, montage: laidbackgardener

I first learned of Murphy’s Law (Remember? “Everything that can go wrong will”) in chemistry class, but over the years, I have come to the conclusion that it must have originally been created by a gardener. No matter how hard you try to put all the chances on your side, something will inevitably go wrong and your garden just won’t ever have that Martha Stewart look of perfection it was supposed to have.

You don’t believe me? Try reading over the following list of things I have noticed and see if they don’t also apply to you!

Did You Ever Notice…

That you can never get grass to grow in your lawn, but it always thrives in your flower bed?

That, when after five years of waiting and your lilac finally does bloom, it’s never the color it was supposed to be?

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Source: www.classicrealtyandrentals.com

That the temperature alarm in the greenhouse will work perfectly during your weekly tests, but will fail the very day your heater goes on the blink?

That if you grow a fruit tree, the best fruit will always be on the branches that reach across into your neighbor’s yard?

That if you plant 25 seeds, either nothing will come up or 436 plants will?

That when, after years of exasperation, you finally yank out that rhododendron that never bloomed for you, it will bloom like crazy in the garden of the neighbor who harvested it from the trash?

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Source: lawofficer.com

That the grass really is greener on your neighbor’s side of the fence?

That it will rain every day of your vacation away, while, back at home, it won’t have rained at all and your plants will have keeled over from drought?

That if you plant cold weather vegetables, you’ll have a hot summer and if you plant heat-loving vegetables, you’ll still be wearing a parka in mid-July?

That your garden-sown plants will grow like weeds until after you thin them to just the right spacing, then the cutworms will attack?

That pesticides never turn out to be efficient at the recommended dose, yet if you exceed the dosage by even one drop, they’ll kill off your entire garden?

That your garden will look at its absolute best until the day before the garden club comes for a visit, then powdery mildew will have covered every plant overnight?

That the Farmer’s Almanac is always absolutely spot-on right until you finally decide to follow its advice, then it will have an off year?

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But the label said dwarf conifer! Source: atlantabg.org & http://www.deviantart, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

That the dwarf conifers you put in your rock garden always turns out to be more closely related to a California giant redwood?

That, after telling your son he can’t bring his caterpillar collection into the house, he’ll always release it in the vegetable garden?

That the truckload of “topsoil” you spent hours carefully spreading over your entire lawn always turns out to be herbicide-laden sand colored dark brown with charcoal dust?

That, after having carefully chosen your new home for its perfect exposure, all three of your neighbors will immediately plant fast-growing shade trees within 6 inches (15 cm) of the property line?

That the lush green color of your lawn in early spring always turns out to be due to a healthy crop of dandelions and crabgrass?

That hordes of birds and squirrels always discover your cherries 24 hours before they are actually ripe?

That your exhibition dahlias will always reach their peak the day after the dahlia show registry closes?

That no matter how great the expertise of the person you entrust your houseplants to while you’re away, you will come home to find your prize ones dead?

That you can’t possibly have a lawn or garden if you have kids and/or dogs?

But also, of course…

That, no matter how many things go wrong in your garden, enough things go right that you’re willing to start all over again the next year?

A Laidback Gardener’s Response to Murphy’s Law of Gardening

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A garden doesn’t have to be perfect, it only has to be yours! Source: content.yardmap.org

Learn to close your eyes imperfection in the garden and instead appreciate the joy it brings you.

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Conifers Made for the Shade

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Yew hedges (Taxus x cuspidata ‘Hicksii’) create an intimate corner in this semi-shady garden. Source: http://www.instanthedge.com

Gardeners often wrongly believe that conifers are for sunny spots only and won’t grow in the shade, but in fact there are some species that are perfectly at ease in part to even full shade. Here are some examples:

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Taxus cuspidata ‘Emerald Spreader’. Source:  www.truffaut.com

Yews (Taxus spp.) are probably the conifers best suited to shade. There is a wide range of cultivars, large or small, with upright, spreading or creeping habits. Some are even variegated! Also, yews are one of the rare conifers that can be pruned harshly, yet regenerate completely, making them invaluable for hedging.

However, winter hardiness of many yews makes them a marginal choice in very cold regions. Cold climate gardeners could try the Canada yew (Taxus canadensis, zone 2), a creeping variety, or the Japanese yew (T. cuspidata, zone 4), which comes in all shapes and sizes. The anglojap yew (Taxus x media), which also comes in a wide range of forms, is almost as hardy: zone 5. In cold climates, plant even hardy yews in a spot protected from the wind.

Yews are slow-growing in any climate: you may want to buy a larger plant for faster results.

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Cephalotaxus harringtonia. Source: Fernando Lopez Anido, Wikipedia Commons

In more temperate regions (zones 7 to 9), plum yews (Cephalotaxus spp.) can replace yews. They look much like yews, but are faster growing.

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Tsuga canadensis ‘Bennett’, a popular dwarf variety of eastern hemlock. Source: http://www.richsfoxwillowpines.com

Hemlocks (Tsuga spp.) grow naturally in deep forests and tolerate partial shade and shade particularly well. The species most commonly offered is the eastern hemlock (T. canadensis, zone 4). It comes in a wide range of forms (upright, creeping, weeping, etc.) and sizes (from miniature to tree-size) and some varieties are variegated (green with white stem tips). Like yews, though, hemlocks like protection from drying winter winds, so place them with care.

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Microbiota decussata makes a great groundcover. Source: vancouverislandgrows.wordpress.com

The Russian Cypress (Microbiota decussata, zone 3), with its distinctly creeping habit, looks a lot like the popular but sun-loving creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis and its cultivars) and can easily replace it in shade to partial shade.

In Partial Shade

Your choice of conifers improves significantly in partial shade and you can dare to try spruces (Picea spp.), false cypresses (Chamaecyparis spp.), arborvitaes (Thuja spp.) and firs (Abies spp.), among others. Be forewarned, though, their growth in partial shade is often less dense than it would have been in full sun.


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The winter effect of conifers is magical. Source: bernadettemarykennedy.ie

Use these conifers in shady spots where you want greenery 12 months a year, as the great advantage of conifers is, of course, that they look beautiful in all seasons.

 

Getting the Hang of Watering Hanging Baskets

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Hanging baskets come with insanely small saucers: you simply can’t water your plants adequately using them! Source: beldenplastics.com

If there is one group of houseplants that is truly mistreated, it’s plants in hanging baskets. They almost always look like they’re about to croak … and indeed they are usually just barely hanging on to life. The problem is quite simple: they spend their lives drought stressed. While other plants get a thorough watering each time, enough to soak the entire root ball and keep them happy, hanging plants just get a perfunctory dribble and that leaves them in a sorry state.

And why is that? Well, while it’s true that plants hanging from the ceiling, being more exposed to air currents, tend to dry out more quickly than plants in pots set on a windowsill or table, that’s not the real problem. You can instead put all the blame on pot design.

Pot designers obviously have never tried growing plants in the hanging pots they produce. They’re inevitably sold with a tiny incorporated saucer that may look just great, but doesn’t do the job. They’re smaller in diameter than the pot and shallower than any legitimate plant saucer ought to be, yet their role is to catch excess water so it doesn’t end up dripping on the floor.

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Two very drought-stressed spider plants: a typical situation with hanging baskets. Source: jamesmissier.blogspot.com.

But since they’re small and shallow, holding almost no water, that leaves you, the gardener, in a quandary. If you add enough water to satisfy the plant, knowing that water often travels through the soil without really moistening it at first, there’ll be a mess to contend with, as much of it will simply pour out onto the floor. So, we tend to just add a quick splash of water and move on to the next plant, hoping for the best. And thus the poor hanging plant is in a constant state of drought!

Plunge and Soak

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To keep your hanging basket plants happy, soak them! Source: laidbackgardener.com

The only logical way to water these ridiculously designed pots is to carry them to the sink (or a bathtub) and soak them. Yes, let them sit in water up to their mid-height for 10, 20, 30 minutes or so and soak up the water they really need. Then you can lift the pot up, turn it to a 45-degree angle and let any excess water drain away. Only then can you hang the plant in its usual spot, knowing it got the water it needed, yet won’t drip onto the floor.

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You thought your asparagus fern was growing in soil? Think again! You’ll probably discover the pot almost take over by its tuberous roots! Source: www.plantsrescue.com

Some hanging plants so fill their pot with roots that soaking them is really the only way to go. I’m thinking of the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and the various asparagus ferns (Asparagus densiflorus, A. setaceus, etc.), both of which produce abundant, soil-compressing, tuberous roots. Water just flows right over them without sinking in … unless you soak them. If yours are not looking so great, try giving them a solid soak each time you water. Within two months, their appearance will have so improved you’ll scarcely recognize them!

What About Multiple Baskets?

Now, soaking’s fine if you only have one hanging pot to water, but what if you have dozens? Taking them one by one to the sink each time you water can become a bit tiresome. Yet if you don’t do it, they won’t be happy. So, here’s another solution.

Discovering the Drip Pan

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A clear plastic drip pan designed to hook onto hanging baskets. Source: cwplastics.com

A decade or so ago, I discovered a very handy product for watering hanging baskets: the drip pan.

The ones I see are made by Curtis Wagner Plastics and fit around the hanging basket, fixing on to it via 4 built-in hooks you simply clip over the basket lip. They’re transparent and come in sizes adapted to 8 in (20 cm), 10 in (25 cm) and 12 in (30 cm) baskets. I have them on all my hanging baskets now, at least indoors. Just take off the inefficient saucer and add the drip pan instead.

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With the drip pan installed, you can finally water as much as needed. Source: Amazon.com

Now, when I water my hanging baskets, I pour on the water abundantly, let the surplus drip down into the pan, then allow the plants soak. I find that if I leave about 1 to 1 ½ inches (2.5 to 4 cm) of water in the bottom, the plant will soak it up quickly, leaving the pan empty an hour later.

They’re transparent, but I won’t say they don’t look a bit awkward (they often do!) … and after a number of years (I’d say 5 or 6), they tend to yellow and stain, but even so, they still work. Mine just last and last! And now that my hanging plants are happy, so I’m happy!

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Ten-Pack of drip pans. Source: Amazon.com

Drip pans are usually sold 5 or 10 per pack. Some local garden centers carry them; if not, you can easily find them on Amazon or eBay.

I can no longer garden indoors without them!

The ZZ Plant: The Aberrant Aroid

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The ZZ plant may be a fairly new introduction, but it’s already seen as a “classic houseplant.” Source: fleurenville.com

The ZZ or zeezee plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), also called aroid palm, has been around long enough to have become a staple houseplant for indoor decors, but that wasn’t always the case. Although discovered back in the early 19th century (it was first described botanically in 1829) in eastern Africa, its potential as a houseplant went unknown for over 150 years. Dutch horticulturists, seeing it used as an ornamental plant outdoors in tropical Asia, tried it indoors and the rest is history. By 1996, it was being mass produced. By 2000, it was essentially available all over the world.

What Is It?

The ZZ plant is an aberrant aroid.

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Most aroids look nothing like the ZeeZee plant. Source: www.fairchildgarden.org

The aroid or philodendron family is best known to most gardeners for its climbing foliage plants, including not only the ever-popular heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, formerly P. scandensP. cordatum and P. oxycardium), but such other indoor climbers as the pothos or devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) and the syngonium or arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum). Of course, the vast family does contain a lot of other plants, including such tuberous tropicals as caladiums (Caladium hortulanum), taro (Colocasia esculentum) and any other plant commonly called an elephant’s ear, a few classic table-top houseplants peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) and Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.) and even a few very hardy perennials for the outdoor garden, like the Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), native to cool to cold climates in North America.

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Zamioculcas zamiifolia on the left; Zamia furfuracea, on the right. They certainly do look a lot alike, although they are not related. Source: www.plantsrescue.com & http://www.gumtree.com

However, the ZZ plant looks like no other aroid. With its clump of pinnate leaves arching outwards, you’d be more likely to mistake it for a palm or a cycad, possibly even a fern. That’s reflected in its botanical name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia. It’s named after the genus Zamia, short palmlike cycads from the New World which it certainly does resemble.

It is so aberrant that it has no truly close relatives: it is, in fact, monotypic, the only plant in the genus Zamioculcas. It even has its own subfamily that it shares with no other aroid, the Zamioculcadoideae.

A Closer Look

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Underground and out of sight are potato-shaped tuberous rhizomes. Source: Mokkie, Wikimedia Commons

Underneath the cycad-like exterior is a tuberous plant, growing from a fat, potato-like rhizome hidden or mostly hidden under the soil. Extremely thick, succulent petioles arise from the rhizome bearing about 6 to 8 pairs of very shiny, dark green leaflets. Such pinnate leaves are typical of palms, cycads and ferns, but not other aroids.

The plant usually reaches about 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) in height and spread.

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The flower of the ZZ plant is typical for an aroid. Source:  Mokkie, Wikimedia Commons

Small, typically aroid inflorescences, with a greenish to bronze spathe (leaf-like bract) from which emerges a cream to brown colored spadix (flower spike), appear on very short stems at the base of the plant, often so well hidden you don’t even notice them. Certainly, they contribute little to the plant’s appearance.

One Tough Cookie

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You can put a ZZ plant almost anywhere indoors, even a dark corner, and it will survive for many, many months. Source: Eveline Mallmann, pinterest.ca

The ZZ plant is extremely tolerant of indoor conditions (it also makes an easy-to-grow shade plant for the tropics, but that’s another story). It will grow just about anywhere, from full sun to deep shade, and seems to thrive in neglect. Even so, you’ll get better results if you “treat it kindly,” and that would include giving it good light with some direct sun each day and avoiding spots in full sun during the hotter months of the year.

Of course, while it will “hold” for months in a dark corner that receives no sunlight at all, that will eventually kill it: it’s a living plant after all and all green plants need at least some light!

Rumor has it that the ZZ plant never needs to be watered. That’s nonsense, of course: all living plants need water!

This plant is essentially a succulent (again, aberrant in aroids), native to forests and savannahs where severe drought can occur. As a result, it prefers fairly arid conditions to the humid jungle-like environment most other aroids favor. That helps make it easy to grow, as it will tolerate considerable neglect. Even so, it does best when watered regularly, as soon as the soil is dry to the touch. And when you do water, do so thoroughly, completely humidifying the root ball.

Overwatering can lead to rot, so be sure the growing mix is almost dry before watering again. Sink your index in the substrate to the second joint: if it’s still moist, it’s not yet time to water!

It will tolerate so much neglect you can actually not water it at all for months on end. That will eventually push it into dormancy, though, a state from which it will (slowly) recover when you start watering again. I had a friend whose ZZ plant accidentally got stored in a box for over 2 years: therefore, with no light or water. It was leafless by then, of course, but when water was applied again, it started to regrow, albeit several months later.

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The ZZ plant will grow in almost any decor… but it doesn’t like cold temperatures. Source: www.bakker.com

This plant’s well-deserved “tough-as-nails” reputation only applies if you keep it fairly warm. It is perfectly happy at normal indoor temperatures, that is, between 65° and 80 °F (18 °C and 26 °C), but does not like cool temperatures and can die if exposed to temperatures below 60 °F (15 °C) for any extended period. If you put yours outside for the summer, do make sure you bring it back inside early.

The ZZ plant is certainly not a heavy feeder and will probably do fine even if you never fertilize it, but to maintain good growth, a regular fertilizer regime at ⅛ to ¼ of the recommended rate, applied during its spring through early fall growing season, is best. You can use the fertilizer of your choice.

Finally, repot after a few years or when the plant outgrows its pot.

Propagation

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A ZZ plant cut into two and ready to be planted. Source: www.jackwallington.com

Mature plants can be divided, although they may take 5 years or more to reach a size where you’d be comfortable trying. Study at your plant and if you can see it’s composed of two or three distinct clumps, you can unpot it, separate the clumps by cutting between them with a sharp knife and repot them individually.

Mostly, though, home gardeners start new plants from leaflet cuttings.

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Leaf cuttings at various stages. Source: edis.ifas.ufl.edu

The leaflets are actually quite fragile and easily knocked off: always a good excuse to try a bit of multiplication. Just insert the lower end of the leaflet into a moist growing medium and water as needed so it doesn’t become totally dry … and that means not very often. Perhaps once a month or so.

An underground tuber-like growth forms first and, then roots and finally, a first leaf. Sometimes the green leaflet has time to turn yellow, then brown before there is any visible sign of life above ground, but don’t give up: there is probably a tuber at the base of the leaf and, if so, a new plant will form, although that can take a year, sometimes even two … and no, that is not an exaggeration!

You can also use an entire leaf as a cutting, but you’ll still just get one plant at the end.

Pests and Problems

As mentioned, rot is the most likely cause of any ZZ plant death. It usually sets in when the plant is left soaking in water for long periods. Remember, with this plant, water only when the potting mix is truly dry to the touch.

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Scale insects and their sticky dejections on a ZZ plant. Source: ask.extension.org

Mealybugs and scale insects just love the ZZ plant and are hard to control. I once tried putting a scale-infested plant into complete dormancy, forcing it to lose all its leaves. Then I dug up and thoroughly cleaned the rhizomes. When it grew back many months later, the scale insects came back too!

Try removing any visible insects with a soft, soapy cloth, then spray repeatedly with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to, hopefully, kill any nymphs. If that doesn’t work, toss the plant and only use the pot again after a truly thorough cleaning.

Toxic or Not?

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The ZZ plant is not edible, but then, apparently not as poisonous as once thought either. Source: clipartxtras.com

The ZZ plant is an aroid, all of which are usually considered poisonous because they produce calcium oxalate, which can cause painful irritations if ingested. For years, the ZZ plant was thus deemed “guilty by association” and even listed by many sources as highly toxic.

However, recent studies suggest that the ZZ plant is considerably less toxic than most other aroids and in fact, possibly not toxic at all.

While waiting for further studies to be done, it would still be wise to keep this plant out of reach of children and pets.

Cultivars

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Variegated ZZ plant. Source: MonsteraCo.

Recently, a few cultivars have appeared, none widely available at the moment.

‘Raven’, with dark purple black foliage on a more compact plant (30 inches/75 cm).

‘Zamicro’, a dwarf version (16 inches x 12 inches/40 cm x 30 cm) for tight spots.

There is also a variegated ZZ plant out there (I saw one specimen in the Berlin Botanical Garden and it was gorgeous!), but it’s outrageously expensive.


The ZZ plant: original and easy to the point of being nearly unkillable. Give one soon as a gift to some poor brown thumber who desperately needs a bit of a confidence boost in his or her gardening abilities!

Let Grape Hyacinths Tell You Where to Plant!

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A circle of grape hyacinths will show where the other bulbs were planted. Source: http://www.dobies.co.uk

You’re out in the fall with your shovel and fall bulbs, ready to add even more color to your flower bed. There is just one catch: you planted bulbs in previous years (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, etc.) and know that they’re still there, sleeping underground in your flower bed … but where exactly?

In the spring, it’s obvious: their leaves and flowers are clearly visible! But in the fall, you see absolutely nothing: the bulbs are completely hidden under the ground. And you don’t want to dig up the “old” bulbs by accident while planting the new ones!

Circles of Grape Hyacinths

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Plant grape hyacinth bulbs around your other bulbs and, over the coming years, their fall leaves will tell you which spaces are occupied. Source: http://www.cliparthut.com, http://www.turpinlandscapedesign, melbournechapter.net & clipartxtras.com, montage: gardenerparesseux.com

Here is an old trick to try: when you plant bulbs, surround them with a circle of grape hyacinth bulbs, also simply called muscaris (Muscari armeniacum). They’re small, inexpensive bulbs, so you can afford to use them generously.

Muscaris, unlike other fall bulbs whose foliage that doesn’t appear until spring, produce their narrow grasslike leaves in the fall, leaves that will last until spring. They don’t bloom in the fall (rather in mid-spring), but they do leaf out in the fall.

So, in the future, when you see a circle of muscari leaves appear in fall, you’ll know that there are other bulbs planted in the center and will therefore know to plant new bulbs elsewhere.

Turn Your Fence Into a Hedge

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A pack of morning glory seeds are all it took to turn this chain link fence into a narrow, blooming hedge for the summer. Source: Kelly Crocker, pinterest.ca

A chain-link fence (Frost fence) is strong, long-lasting … but not very attractive, especially when it begins to rust. Often the owner will plant a hedge in front of the fence to hide it, but what a waste of garden space! In addition, wire mesh behind the hedge makes pruning the hedge difficult. And lets face it: hedge plants are expensive and you need lots of them.

Yet it is possible to convert a chain-link fence into a hedge very quickly and at a low price: just let annual climbers such as scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and morning glories (Ipomoea nil and others), or perennial vines, such as Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) or grape vines (Vitis spp.), cover it.  

Simply sow annual climbers at the bottom of the fence (one seed pack will probably be sufficient) and let them grow. They climb all on their own, wrapping their twisting stems around the wire mesh. Youll probably have to buy perennial vines in the form of plants, but youll need only one quarter the number of plants as a hedge would have required. And they too will cover their fence all on their own. Youll end up with a hedge as high as the fence that completely hides the view of the yard next door, but that is extremely narrow, taking up little garden space and this is one hedge that self-prunes, as climbers will stop growing in height once they reach the top of the fence.

Preparing Houseplants for Winter

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Winter is difficult for houseplants and they’ll need a bit of TLC to get through it. Source: http://www.mygardenlife.com

There are so many reasons why we should all have plants in our homes: they beautify our decor, filter the air of pollutants, add beneficial moisture to the air, reduce the frequency and duration of colds and flu, increase the oxygen level in our homes, etc. But still, you do have to keep them alive …and winter is the most difficult time of the year for houseplants, at least, if you live outside of the tropics.

Fall and winter conditions simply make life hard for indoor plants. Shorter and grayer days seriously reduce the sunlight they receive and therefore their ability to grow, plus the dry air present in our homes during the heating season can damage plants or even cause them to drop their leaves. How then to prepare our houseplants for the harsh conditions to come?

The More Light the Better

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Move your plants nearer to windows during the winter. Source: gardenmagz.com.

To help make up for the short gray days of winter, place your plants closer to the window, even moving them to a more brightly lit room. Think too that large windows let in more light than small ones. Leave blinds and curtains open during the daylight hours and clean the windows (dust and grime greatly reduce the penetration of light). If possible, remove window screens, not needed in winter when insects are absent, as they too reduce amount of the light that penetrates. From the end of October through March, the sun in northern regions is unlikely to be strong enough to burn plants, even if you place them directly in front of a south-facing window.

It is also possible to use artificial lighting, including fluorescent lamps, to increase the day length. A simple two-tube workshop-type fluorescent lamp (combine a Cool White tube and a Warm White tube to ensure excellent light quality)—with a timer set at 14 to 16 hours a day and hung 1 foot (30 cm) above the plants—can even allow many houseplants to grow throughout the winter as if it were summer. There are now LED lamps that provide similar lighting.

Increase Atmospheric Humidity

Did you know that the relative humidity of a home heated in very cold weather can drop to 15% or less? That means the air is drier than in the Sahara Desert, where 25% is the usual minimum! And that most plants need a relative humidity of at least 50% to grow well?

To correct the problem, run a humidifier in the room where you grow your plants. Or group plants together, putting those with the thinnest leaves (more sensitive to dry air than those with thick leaves) in the center and the others all around. Since each plant gives off moisture due to transpiration, all the plants will benefit from increased humidity, especially the more fragile plants in the center.

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Humidity tray. Source: http://www.sargentsnursery.com

Or, prepare a humidity tray. To do so, fill a waterproof tray with stones or gravel and place your plants on it, without a saucer (not needed, as the tray will catch any excess water). Now, when you water, pour extra water into the tray. The purpose is not to cover the stones in water (you don’t want the bottom of the pots to be left soaking!), but simply enough that the base of the stones sits in water at all times. Water will then move up onto the stones by capillary action and evaporate, offering your plants beneficial humid air.

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Spraying foliage is a pure waste of time. Source: http://www.bobsmarket.com

On the other hand, spraying the plants manually with water, which you often see recommended, is a waste of time: the effect lasts only a few minutes, not enough for plants to benefit. To help them, the air needs to remain humid at all times.

Less Fertilizer

It’s never a good idea to try and encourage plant growth when light is weak: that will stimulate etiolation, a situation where plants seem to stretch towards the light with unusually long stems and pale green leaves. That’s not healthy growth and you don’t want to encourage it. So, stop fertilizing your plants in October to slow them downand only resume in March (in the Northern Hemisphere) when days begin to seriously lengthen.

If you use artificial lighting, however, most plants will continue to grow normally right through the winter and therefore you can continue your regular fertilization program.

Water as Needed

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Continue to water your houseplants when the soil is dry to the touch. Source: hihort.blogspot.com

Sometimes you hear the advice to water houseplants less during the winter than in the summer. And that would seem to make sense, because isn’t it true that their growth slows down in winter? True enough, but the bulk of the water that the plants absorb is not used for growth, but rather is lost to transpiration…and plants transpire more when the air is dry, that is, in winter. Depending on your conditions (and especially on whether or not you’ve done something to increase air humidity), some plants may need actually more frequent watering in winter than in summer!

There is only one way to find out: check each plant once every four or five days by inserting your index finger into the potting mix to the second joint. If the soil is dry, water abundantly, otherwise wait another four or five days and try again.

Temperature: Usually Not a Problem

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Usually, the temperatures of our homes are suitable for indoor plants, even in winter. Source: Maker Crate, pinterest.ca

Tropical plants (and most houseplants are of tropical origin) prefer fairly warm temperatures year-round, at least during the day. At night, however, they do appreciate a good drop, to 60 ° F (15 ° C) or even less. And a nighttime drop in temperature is good for humans too. So, set the thermostat to ensure a nighttime drop or crack the window open a little at night.

Then, of course, there are the exceptions: houseplants that prefer cool temperatures day and (especially) night during the winter. This group includes most cacti (but not other succulents), cyclamens, azaleas, chrysanthemums, rosemary, Norfolk pine, etc. If you can find these plants a cool spot where they can pass the winter (about 60 ° F [15 ° C] during the day and 40 ° F [5 ° C] at night), they’ll appreciate it.

Never place your plants so close to a window that their foliage touches the glass or it may freeze. And avoid gusts of cold air, especially near doors that open and close in the winter.

Put Off Potting and Taking Cuttings

In October, when most houseplants are still growing at least somewhat, it’s still reasonable to repot houseplants or to take cuttings, but between November and February (in the northern hemisphere), it’s best to abstain. Since their growth will have slowed down or even stopped altogether, they won’t recover as readily from disturbances to their roots (repotting) while the cuttings tend to rot rather than to take root.


There you go! Given reasonable care, your houseplants will spend the winter in fine condition and will be more beautiful than ever when spring comes around again!