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Remember, houseplants need wintertime boost

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2002

If you're keeping up with your landscape chores, now is also a good time to look at those plants in your house. This is often a time of year when our houseplants don't look so good, usually because of lack of light.

Spend a few minutes rejuvenating your houseplants. Start by removing the plant from the pot and giving the pot a good scrubbing. Use a weak solution of bleach and a hard bristle brush to remove salt build up, algae and pests. Rinse well. Look at the root ball and gently prune those roots that don't look healthy. The roots should be white and fleshy. Knock off some of the old soil before repotting.

Now turn your attention to the foliage. Remove all yellow and dry foliage. Rinse the foliage under tepid water to remove dust and pests. To repot, place the plant back into the same clean pot, or use a bigger pot if necessary. Use a high quality potting soil and water thoroughly with a mild concentration of water-soluble fertilizer. Place in a location where an adequate amount of sunlight is available. You may want to place the plant in a shady area outside, perhaps on your lanai, during the daylight hours.

Plants that thrive in the great indoors

If you have to replace some houseplants, here a few that are very tolerant of indoor conditions:

Spathiphyllum, or peace lily, is a sturdy plant with glossy green leaves and white "flowers," which are actually callalike spathes on slender stems. This plant blooms most profusely in winter but flowers can appear in all seasons. It will thrive in low to bright light and prefers northern or eastern exposures. Keep the soil evenly moist.

Plectranthus australis, or Swedish ivy, is neither from Sweden nor ivy, but is great in a hanging basket. It produces spikes of white flowers. Some varieties have variegated leaves. It tolerates low to moderate light and prefers evenly moist soil. Keep it on the East, West or South side of the house. Cutting can be started easily. Just place the cut ends into a glass of water and they will root.

Sansevieria trifasciata, or snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue, or cast iron plant, is a houseplant requiring very little care. The plant has sharp, pointed leaves that are dark green and grow upright. They produce fragrant light green to white flowers. This plant will take low light conditions and can get bone dry between waterings. When it outgrows it pot, simply dig it up, divide the clump and repot each clump into its own container. I can't even remember the last time I fertilized mine. Cuttings are easy. Just cut a leaf into a number of one- to two-inch sections and let the ends dry out. Stick either end into sand and keep moist. They are slow rooting.

Epipremnum aureum, called devil's ivy or pothos, is commonly thought to be in the philodendron family but is not. It grows in water for months, keeps in a planter for years, or given good, moist, humusy soil and filtered sunlight, will frame a window in record time. I have two small plants on a high plant shelf in my family room that are neglected for months. I only remember to water them when I look up and see the leaves are wilting. Conditions probably can't get much worse, but the plants thrive. Most pothos have apple green, heart-shaped leaves that are boldly splashed with creamy white. They can be trained on a support or used in a hanging basket.

Hedera helix, or English ivy, is a common houseplant. It is available in countless varieties. All ivies are good climbers and will attach themselves by means of aerial roots to rough surfaces. They also make a good ground cover for large pots. Even in poor light, a healthy plant of English ivy will decorate a coffee table for months. They can be easily trained into interesting topiary shapes for whimsical touches in plant collections. They prefer to dry out between watering and do best with moderate light. They are susceptible to spider mites and a "shower" each week will help control pests. They also enjoy short vacations outdoors.

Keep winter and weeds in mind

If you're working in your garden outside now, make sure you pick up all debris and stay after those weeds. Don't prune off winter damage yet; cold weather could still be coming. Evergreen shrubs can be pruned and if you need work on your big trees, this is a good time to contact a tree service. This is an expensive task and it pays to speak to a number of companies and get recommendations from friends.

January is a nice month to garden in Florida. There are many chores that you can take care of, or conversely, you can just sit back and enjoy your garden. I basically try to keep the weeds in check and then opt for enjoyment. If you're feeling ambitious, you can transplant, prune lightly, remove sod, replace sod, plant or any number of other chores.

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Mary Jo Melone
Howard Troxler