A GROWING CONCERN: Make your houseplants feel at home

AS WE MOVE into February, and the end of winter soon, let’s look inward towards your living arrangements.

A few days ago, as I was gazing out my buddies picture window past the frost covered trees and foothills, admiring the snow-laden mountains, it became patently obvious that his rather healthy, fully organic, upright rosemary was competing to steal the scene by obscuring the view with its abundant new growth.

Being the pruner that I am and having my Felco pruners at the ready, I descended upon the overly lush Mediterranean herb.

Now, as I have said before, is the beginning of the best time to prune many plants.

As I pruned out handfuls of 2-foot-long branches, I realized how precious those healthy, lateral sprigs of rosemary would be to fine chefs in Port Angeles. I separated the 10- to 18-inch tips from the rest of the pruned parts.

This locally-grown, environmentally-sound produce is easy to grow and is perfectly suited for the North Olympic Peninsula.

I found myself at another friend’s house last week, who wanted to show me a mutant growth on a foliage plant deep in the house, far from the natural light. Thus, I offer my advice on the somewhat difficult task of keeping your indoor house plants healthy and productive.

So I am presented with a neat, white and yellow, polka-dot house plant with a single set of cupped leaves atop an 18-inch spike sitting high above the plant’s crown.

He wanted to know what was going on, and what is up with this weird growth spurt?

Well, careful examination revealed this unusual growth to actually be a flower spike and bloom of a rare and most coveted green flower.

“Why so long and gangly?” he persisted.

The answer reminded me of one of my quests and promises to write to you about winter house plant care.

The easy, well-known answer was that almost all flower spikes grow up well above the foliage in order to be seen and pollinated.

Why it was so long and spindly is a matter not well understood, but detrimental to many houseplants and ever so troublesome this time of year. You see, plants do not grow towards the light.

“What?”

Plants do not grow towards the light, but rather each particular type of plant has a minimum required amount of light (candles per inch, CPI) in order to grow at a normal rate. When a plant’s required light falls below the needed CPI, the cells on the dark areas mutate and grow at a rapid, accelerated rate.

In the case of a plant near a window, the side facing the glass is receiving the light at or above the minimal CPI for normal growth, but the dark side goes mutant and by growing a lot faster, it pushes over the plant towards the window.

In the case of my friend’s blooming botanical (or your foliage plants scattered around the house) all the plant was doing, flower spike included, was stretching.

Look around your house, your friend’s houses, office buildings and malls, and you will see this common trait of elongated, thin, spindly plants that are all below their normal light requirements. And now that we are in winter and with sunlight at its lowest intensity, what is an indoor plant owner to do?

Well, along with the low light, we have other major issues this time of year as my friend’s dust covered, packed and crusty soiled plant so quintessentially showed.

First, buy a bag of the best potting soil possible.

Then, make sure you have nonpermeable saucers for each of your indoor plants that are a few inches bigger than the pot they are to be under.

Next, you will need a few bags of decorative gravel or marbles. A pet store is the perfect place to buy these items and you will need enough to cover the bottom half of all your saucers.

You will also need some small wooden blocks, roughly 1 inch by 1 inch in size, three blocks for each saucer. This way you won’t start “root rot,” whereas the pot will be above the water and the moisture will add humidity for the plant.

Next, start to figure out how you can make room for all your plants in front of your brightest, sunniest windows.

So stay bright and stay well all!

________

Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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