Gardening Guy: Brighten Up Dark Winter Days | Weekend magazine
This is the darkest time of the year: not only are the days short, but the clouds obscure the sun most of the time. Many of us find the gloom overwhelming, especially when there isn’t enough snow to ski, or ice to skate. And for gardeners, there is little we can (or want) to do outdoors. So what do I do?
First, I go to my local grocery store or florist and buy some cut flowers or potted plants. For $ 10 or $ 15, I can dramatically improve my outlook. Potted plants are the most economical to buy. They will bloom, with a minimum of care and forethought, for weeks or even months. Here are some of my favorites:
Christmas cactus. It should be called a Thanksgiving cactus, really, as they usually bloom long before Christmas. Buy one in full bloom, or one that has a mix of flowers and buds. They need moderate indoor light, but no hot afternoon sun. Temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees are best for success. You don’t want to let them dry out completely, but they don’t want to stay soggy either. They love humidity, so place them in a saucer of small stones and add water. Never let the pot sit in the water.
Cyclamen. Another low light plant. This one is suitable for even less light than the Christmas cactus. If you give it direct sunlight, an hour or two of morning sunlight is sufficient, but indirect light is best.
Water your cyclamen only when it is dry, which depends on temperature and relative humidity. I find that picking up the pot tells me a lot: if it is dry, it weighs very little; when it is wet, it is heavier. If you go too long, the flowers will crumble as if to say, “Look at me, I’m dying of thirst!” But they recover quickly. Place your plant in a saucer of water and let it suck up the water. But don’t let it sit in the water for a long time.
My mother loved African violets and got on well with them. I remember doing an experiment with my new chemistry kit for young scientists when I was in fourth grade. I made a tannic acid solution and put a drop on a leaf. Overnight he burned a perfect hole! Great experience until my mom asked me if I had done something to her plant.
I haven’t had much luck with African violets here in New Hampshire (they may have heard from my experience a long time ago). I heat most of it with a wood stove, and keep the house warm, but quite cool at night. I finally read an article that said you should never let the temperature in the room they were in to drop below 70 degrees. So I don’t try anymore, although I recently read that temperatures up to 60 degrees are okay.
If you want to grow them, keep them constantly warm in a bright room but not in direct sunlight. They like high humidity (so don’t like wood stoves) but don’t tolerate soggy roots. Water from below, but water once a month from above (to eliminate any fertilizer salts). Never let water get on the leaves. Pinch off any faded flowers or yellowed leaves.
My favorite houseplant is an orchid called Phalaenopsis or butterfly orchid. Buy them in bloom and they will bloom for several weeks. Direct sunlight can scorch the leaves, but they need a bright room. They are tropical orchids that love hot temperatures. But cool nights are good – up to 55 degrees.
Moth orchids in their original environment grow in trees. So the soil mix they come in is usually a special orchid mix made up of bark chips and maybe a bit of perlite or vermiculite. This mixture allows the water to flow right through. Make sure that if it comes with an inner pot and an outer pot, pour water after watering the outer pot, which normally has no drainage. Or just lift the inner pot and run water in your sink. Otherwise, you will kill your orchid. Water once a week, or if the exposed roots turn silvery white.
According to experts, tree orchids like these cope better with good air circulation. Me? I find that in a room where people come and go, there is enough air movement to keep them healthy. I grow them on a saucer of pebbles and water to increase humidity, and I grow them in the bathroom where the steam from the shower helps.
But if you have no patience with houseplants, or think you can’t grow them, buy flowers for a vase. Most cut flowers will last a week in a vase, many will last longer. Most rods cost between $ 1.50 and $ 3. Buy an odd number of stems – 3, 5, 7, or 11, depending on your budget.
The vase for displaying the cut flowers should be about half the height of the stems are long (or a little shorter). But this rule is not firm. If the arrangement looks good to you, that’s fine. Use a clean glass or pottery vase for best results, but if you want to use Grandma’s silver vase, go for it. Elegance is good.
Cut flowers are usually accompanied by a small sachet of white powder. Use it. This helps prevent the water from filling up with bacteria or fungi that will clog the stem, preventing it from absorbing water. Remove any leaves that would otherwise go into the water. You can also use a teaspoon of Clorox in a quart of water. Never put cut flowers near a heater or wood stove.
So buy something in bloom. This will help dispel the gloom of the short, dark days. Oh, and on that African violet: I confessed and wasn’t punished. But I never experimented with her houseplants again.
Henry Homeyer is a longtime master gardener and author of four books on gardening. At this time of year, he dreams of spring. Henry’s book “Organic Gardening (Not Just) in the Northeast” is available from his home for $ 19. Send a check to Henry Homeyer at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, 03746, or order from his website, Gardening-Guy.com. Contact him at [email protected]