How are your indoor plants doing? Winter time means gardening is taken inside in Montana, and this can bring a variety of issues you don't necessarily encounter in outdoor planting and summer sun. Some of these issues include overwatering, pH imbalances, and salt buildup in the soil.
Just because your plants are indoors, does not mean that they do not feel the seasonal differences. In fact, research shows that plants respond more to day length than temperatures. This means that as the hours of light shorten, your plant responds by going through a semi-dormant period. During this period, they do not grow much, require less fertilizer, and use less water. This is why it is so easy to overwater your plants in the winter! We get into our weekly routine and forget to dial back the watering regimen as the plants stop growing. It is important to keep an eye on your plants and only give them water when it is needed. A moisture meter can help you discern this, or simply sticking a finger into the pot to see if the soil is dry before you give them more water.
The rest period is important for plants, much like bears that go into hibernation. As with the bears, you don’t want to interrupt their hibernation by wafting delicious food around their face. This means that you not only need to change your watering routine come the winter months, but also your fertilizing program. This will do two things for your plants: encourage them to go into dormancy and help prevent and flush any chemical buildup in the soil. Plants that are in pots are much more susceptible to pH imbalances and mineral build up simply because there is less material to absorb the chemical inputs. Here in Western Montana, most people naturally have basic (high pH) water. Over time, just the act of watering can cause the pH to climb up to levels that decrease nutrient absorption and cause deficiencies in the plants. Using a soil test kit to determine your pH and nutrient levels can help you determine whether you need to be adding soil amendments to counteract your pH drift.
Watering with clear, fertilizer-free water can help rinse out any salt or mineral buildup as well. Sometimes we can get buildup from fertilizers and amendments, and other times we can get buildup from our hard water. If the buildup is caused from the former, watering with straight water will help your case. If it is from the former, you may need to add some Epsom salts or other amendments to remove those minerals. Remember, if you are using chlorinated water, it is not a bad idea to let it sit on the counter for a day to allow the chlorine to evaporate out.
Houseplants give you an excellent chance to flex your green muscles when there is snow on the ground. Many of the things you learn caring for your houseplants can apply to your garden next season. Enjoy!