Wake up houseplants indoors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

We have been receiving a few calls lately about indoor gardening. Two specific areas have been using lights to starts off transplants and simple things to do to rejuvenate houseplants after the long winter. Here is a little info on both.

Q: How can I provide a little boost to my house plants?

A: By late winter some of your houseplants may look pretty scraggly and in need of a little sprucing up. Grooming of houseplants can be done anytime, but late winter is a good time to remove any dead or damaged leaves, divide crowns of those that are overgrown and then re-pot.

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As you are pruning out the dead or damaged stems, you may want to take the time to give the plant a little overall pruning to shape it and encourage new growth.

This could also be an opportunity to use the stem cuttings to begin some new plants. These cuttings should root fairly quickly and will have the whole summer to mature. The bonus to this is you will have plenty of mature houseplants to brighten up your home next winter. Some examples of common houseplants that are easily rooted from cuttings include pothos, heartleaf philodendron, Swedish ivy, Christmas cactus and wandering Jew.

After you have given the houseplants a little haircut, watch for evidence of new growth.

As soon as you see plants beginning to grow, give them a dose of a water soluble fertilizer. Follow the recommended rates and frequency for the fertilizer. Most will tell you to fertilize every time you water.

For the flowering houseplants like poinsettias, kalanchoe and Christmas cactus keep these barely moist and in a spot which receives bright outside light, but not direct sun. Potted chrysanthemums and the florist’s azaleas prefer a cold, but not freezing place and an evenly moist soil.

Q: How do I get started using lights to grow plants?

A: We have received several questions about artificial lights for growing transplants. We have had more than normal cloud cover so far this winter so putting seedlings in the window may not be enough light and sometimes a shady home can’t provide enough light even in the right conditions. The first consideration when selecting which light source to use is the proper wave-length of light.

This may be confusing but there are three major wavelengths of light that power this process:(400 to 510 nm; 510 to 610 nm; and 610 to 700 nm; with the most active ranges in the ultraviolet to green (400-510 nm) and the red to infrared (650-710 nm) ranges.

Normal fluorescent and incandescent bulbs do not produce a lot of energy in those ranges, so there are special “grow” lights that are engineered to produce light in the desired ranges. Many garden centers and online sources will be glad to sell you these bulbs. The special bulbs will fit in a standard light fixture. A second advantage of the special bulbs is that they are cooler and can be placed closer to the transplants than normal bulbs. The lights should be a foot or less away from the seedlings to have the best effect.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.