Indoor gardening can be a tough task

You might think that I would take especially good care of my indoor houseplants in the winter, since I have nothing to baby outside.

I wish I could tell you that I’m a good indoor gardener, but it’s simply not my forte.

My mother grew gorgeous African violets, which I’m pretty sure I nearly killed when I decided to pet them vigorously as a child, and when I watered them from above and dribbled water all over the leaves.

She kept them in such beautiful condition that they bloomed nearly all the time, winter or summer, on the windowsill. I’ve never been able to keep one alive long enough for it to bloom.

I have this love-hate relationship with houseplants. I mostly blame it on a lack of good sunlight. We don’t have any south-facing windows, which makes the house nice and cool but not ideal for growing houseplants that like sun. And winter is a hard time for plants in our house, because we have forced-air heating, and that dries out the environment even further.

Truthfully, my lack of success probably has more to do with inconsistent attention than anything. I notice the plants look awful, so I baby them for a bit. Maybe more than baby them, I smother them, and then it’s back to neglect.

Part of the challenge is establishing a good watering habit. I say “habit,” not “schedule,” because the truth is, you can’t say you should water every three days or once a week. It totally depends on how dry the soil is in your plant’s container. If it’s dry, you water it. You have to be vigilant about sticking your finger in the soil and checking to see if the plant actually needs water.

In the past, I have been guilty of just eyeballing the soil surface to see if it “looks dry.” This doesn’t work at my house because the furnace dries out the top layer of soil first, and then I end up drowning the plant because it looks dry.

Since I’ve killed quite a few houseplants, I’ve become accustomed to the warning signs that I’ve failed, yet again, to keep my indoor garden going. Of course, every plant is different and has different watering needs, so please take that into consideration if you’re determining how much to water your cactus vs. begonia. In no particular order, I’m sharing my warning signs with you:

See-through leaves ­— If my plants start getting really translucent leaves, like a really light green, almost transparent color, I know I’ve been slacking on the watering schedule. They need water.

Yellow leaves — This is tricky. If the lower leaves turn yellow (the ones closest to the root of the plant), that means the older leaves are dying off. This usually means my plant needs more water. If I notice that the older leaves and the newer ones are both yellowing and dropping off, it’s probably a sign that I’ve over-compensated and watered the plant too much. See, it’s confusing.

Brown, crackly edges of leaves — This happens with my philodendron a lot, which means I have a serious problem with not watering it enough. This is also probably why my philodendron grows at a sloth-like rate.

Any part of the plant is moldy or seems rotten or mushy – This is a definite sign of overwatering. In my case, this is usually accompanied by a full container of water under the plant, where it is just sitting in standing water and its poor little roots are suffocating. Someone take this plant into protective custody.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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