Gardening

Houseplants are Alaska’s way of gardening through winter. Make your collection something special.

Most people who read this column are gardeners. Gardening doesn’t stop with winter. Houseplants count. This is the time to build your collection and grow — not just maintain — houseplants.

It always thrills me when I see every single parking spot at local nurseries full. This is what happens around Memorial Day, when we all scurry around to get starts. It confirms for me that Alaskans really are into gardening. Some nurseries even have traffic jams because they are so busy.

Would that we all flocked to nurseries in the same numbers this time of year. This would be indicative of our love of houseplants. We don’t, however. I have come to realize that this has nothing to do with houseplant popularity. Instead, it is a statement about how we approach indoor gardening versus outdoors.

For some reason, we don’t see taking care of houseplants as gardening. Instead of growing, we maintain houseplants. Too few of us employ decent lighting systems, to carry over from last week’s words of wisdom. And we are content with the static way our houseplants survive. When it comes to indoor plants, we figure we can keep them in “maintain mode” forever.

Just look around at your own collection. When was the last time you repotted your houseplants? When was the last time you tossed one? And, more important, when was the last time you bought any new houseplants? It is easy to be satisfied with those plants you first bought into the house, but you are not really growing anything.

We can do better, and for the sake of our sanity, we really should. This is a great weekend to start. All you have to do is take an inventory of the houseplants you have been maintaining. Then take whatever action is necessary to get them really thriving and actually growing again.

For starters, toss those plants that are beyond repair. We all have them. You know which ones I am talking about. For example, those with scale, powdery mildew or even white flies. Then there are those plants with few leaves or those that haven’t put out a new one in years. You know the ones that will never recover. Toss them.

I know it is difficult; many Alaskans are literally plant hoarders and could be the subject of a TV show. Some can’t bring themselves to dump any plant into the trash, no matter its condition. Add in that an ex-boyfriend gave you that naked poinsettia or that your struggling ficus came from your grandmother’s home in back in Mississippi. If you really want to save a trashed plant, take a cutting.

After thinning your collection, clean up remaining plants. Remove dead leaves and stems. Prune appropriately. Stake when needed. Make sure the soil — and pot — is salt-free, not compacted and drains well.

Next, I know we are coming into the winter months and “experts” advise letting plants go dormant, but if your plant needs repotting, do it. Use fresh, living soil — organic and full of microbes. Make sure the new container has adequate drainage. And don’t use filler at the bottom of the pot, just soil.

Finally, and this is really the point of the column, consider getting some new plants. No, don’t just consider — do get some new plants. We are in a window of above-freezing days that makes transporting them easy, and with the transition away from summer plants, the selection of plants right now at local nurseries and plant departments is good.

If you have lights — and all my readers do — then you can pick and choose from what is available; this is another reason to have grow lights. There are cacti, succulents, African violets and gloxinia, which you know about. If you wander around floral areas, you will discover a whole host of new plants you might never have seen. Read their labels and select those that fit your conditions. Go on. Modernize your collection.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar:

Wreaths and centerpieces: Workshops at the Alaska Botanical Garden in November will teach you and your kids how to use garden material for holiday decorations. See alaskabg.org and reserve space.

Chrysanthemums: ‘Tis the season for the “poinsettias” of fall. They are for sale, in bud and bloom, all over the place. This is a great, albeit short-term houseplant for fall. I like to buy plants that have not fully flowered yet, as their displays will last longer.

Move plants: The heat is on and you might have go adjust where you grow your houseplants. Don’t delay.

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