One of the days I look forward to is December 21st, the shortest day of the year, as then things start looking up.  The plants have more light and soon will respond. In a week or so they will be getting ready for more food and water, the leaves will be greener and new ones appear. At about this same time the insects will also be awakening, so look carefully! I have lost a Hibiscus to white flies about this time of year.

          After a long, dreary winter this is also the time for us to be looking for a blooming plant to relieve “cabin fever”. Be careful with your new plant as it may have come from the Deep South and may have been in the dark several days. Put it in a not too bright warm place to let it adjust to its new home, especially if you have put it in a new pot.  A plastic pot is light, but is easily upset, and doesn’t lose moisture as fast as a clay one.  The plastic does come in different colors to match your room decor as well as being easier to clean.  However, I like the light weight, foam like pots. When I am done with them in the fall, I can leave it outside and in winter they will not break like the clay ones that retain water in their pores and then freeze and expand. If the clay pots do not break they will probably flake off and not look very well. The most important part of any pot is the drainage holes in the bottom.  I like saucers under mine to catch the water but I never leave the water in the saucers in order to prevent root rot.

          If you have plants in pots that require humidity, they can be placed in very large decorative ones and the space between filled with damp crushed paper or sphagnum moss. It is easy to keep it slightly damp.  The more plants that are close together the higher the humidity.  People in many other countries tend to have more house plants than the United States .  I have read those “long cold winter” countries of Norway and Denmark have the most. 

          If you brought your plants inside around Thanksgiving or before, now is a good time to put a dose or another dose of systemic insect killer in your pots. A third application about Valentines Day is good insurance. They used to smell horrible and some such as Di-syston still do. But now a systemic containing imadicloprid (Merit) is available that does not.

          In your pots it is nice and warm, watered well, and probably no natural enemies around to eat the eggs or the young hatchlings. If you use an insecticide in the house or outside, read the label and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations!!! Some of these chemicals are harmful to plants. A spray of insecticidal soap is a good general insecticide but you must hit the insects in order to suffocate them. Some insecticidal soap is made with Neem oil so has a little longer residual. Insecticidal soap as a spray will kill the adults and then a systemic insecticide applied to the soil will take care of the young hatchlings when they hatch.

          A dish garden is probably the easiest inside garden to start and takes very little upkeep. It is usually rather shallow with a special soil intended for succulents or small cactus. Watch the watering as both of these need loose, gravely soil that is well drained.  It’s also an arrangement that can stand some neglect, doesn’t demand a great deal of space but does need good light and most grow slowly.  This is a good way to get started. Small creatures can be added for decoration. I have one containing a dinosaur.

          For cooks an herb garden can be a helper.  There are a number of herbs do well in the house.  Many of them have a strong aroma so you might not like too many kinds in one area.  Most of them require a good deal of sun so a north window would not work well. Most require at least 5 hours of sunlight a day or a fluorescent light no more than six inches above the plant for about 16 hours a day. Do not leave your artificial lights on for more than 16 hours as the plant needs the rest to use the energy that has been generated by the light.

          My lights are in the basement. I have heard of a gardener who grows hers in a closet. The plants will vary depending upon your use.  Some are for cooking, others for their fragrance as many put herbs and spices in the same category.  History books tell us of the use of both being scattered on the floor of homes to over come the odors that were not so pleasant. The Chia (Scolumbariae) that is sold for “hair” on clay figurines is a sage. The sprouted seeds are used in salads. 

          “Herb” has a rather long definition-any of those plants, both herbaceous or woody, whose leaves, flowers, seeds, roots, bark, or any other plant part is used for flavor, fragrance, medicine, cosmetics, or dyes.

          January is the time to get your seed starting materials ready.  There are a few seeds that seem to take forever to germinate, such as the Prairie Gentian ( Gentianaceae Eustoma , sp.) The last few years pelleted seeds have been available, making them easier to plant and retain moisture until sprouting occurs.  Some Geraniums are also very slow but the seed packets will tell you how far ahead of time to start.  Artichokes are tropical and need a long season to reach maturity so I like to start them early.  Damping off, a fungous will kill your young seedlings if your watering is not the best, so I use a seed starting medium containing sphagnum peat moss that seems to help provide control. Under my trays of starting pots I keep a heating pad to speed up starting, but as soon as they are started they need to be moved off that pad.  There are a few varieties of plants that practically refuse to be transplanted, so again, read the label or seed envelope and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations.

Copyright 2011