With snow and ice bearing down many of us are left to indoor gardening chores. You may even find yourself thinking about the Christmas cactus, poinsettia or cyclamen you were given as gift. Maybe you are having the blues with the Christmas tree gone and find yourself needing to add some foliage.
Indoor plants can certainly add beauty and enjoyment to your home but only while they remain healthy. Many gardeners begin their struggle with houseplants in choosing the wrong location with regard to light.
The amount of light a plant requires will vary by type. When deciding on where to place your plant in your home it will help to understand the window and light environment.
East-facing windows receive cool morning sun, and are good choices for most houseplants. However, in the winter, east windows receive more sunlight than the rest of the year. This would be my pick for the Christmas cactus.
North-facing windows receive almost no direct light. North windows are great choices for houseplants that thrive on indirect light. The cyclamen that is a popular Christmas plant would love this window, as would the Peace Lily, Chinese evergreen or pothos ivy.
South-facing windows receive a lot of sunlight in the winter, but less in the summer. Special care may be needed in using south-facing windows, or you may simply need to move the plant in the summer. The poinsettia would look good for a couple of more months in this location, as would the parlor palm.
West-facing windows receive the most sunlight of all. Plants on the west side of your home may need to be protected from the sun. Plants like the Norfolk Island pine and weeping fig would find this window most ideal.
These statements on windows can be greatly changed at your house by tall trees, blinds and curtains. Remember also that light is measured in foot-candles and a bright sunny day outside may register as high as 10,000 foot-candles. Indoors it may drop off to the point of only 300 to 500 depending on where you take the measurement.
Light is certainly important, but the leading cause of death to most houseplants comes from overwatering. Soggy soils can happen for a variety of reasons. First, and absolute, your container must have drainage holes. It is unbelievable to see how many beautiful houseplants are placed in expensive decorative containers that need to have holes drilled. Essentially the new plant was put in a bathtub and its days numbered.
Selecting a good lightweight potting soil is also paramount to your success. Cheap potting soil sold by the pound is heavy and it simply holds too much water. I still find many unsuspecting gardeners using topsoil from the garden in containers. This is not a good idea from the standpoint of drainage, soil-borne diseases and insects.
Once you do have your plant in good soil you can determine whether or not your plant needs watering by gently pushing your finger to about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep to feel if it is dry. Make this a regular practice before each water application.
Spring is coming, and the landscape will wait, but for now see where some foliage or flowers might add beauty to your home and indoor environment.
Norman Winter is author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."