Friday, January 17, 2020

Beating The Winter Gardening Blues

A lit candle next to a glass jar of candle stubs on a windowsill looking out onto a wintry yard.
This time of year can be a bit discouraging for plant lovers. Winter is deeply entrenched and spring seems so far away. Outside activities can be severely limited and, for many, gardening in the elements is challenging at best. Even here in Southern Arizona where the days are not frigid or snow-bound, many plants are in dormancy and nighttime temperatures can dip low enough to freeze even hardy desert natives. For those people who love getting their hands in dirt, doing without can be problematic. Gardening has many health benefits, including reducing the risks of cancer and dementia and strengthening bones while reducing stress. The loss of any of these benefits can be felt physically in a relatively short period of time by some people, while the loss of the psychological benefits (sense of well-being, community and accomplishment) will be felt more quickly and by most people. So, what’s a poor garden-lover to do in January?

Turn your attention to your indoor plants: If you love your plants, chances are you have a houseful as well as a full garden. If not, why not? Not only are they beautiful and add soul to the home, there are inherent health benefits in having them in an indoor space (more on that here). But, in the darkest days of winter, they can also use a little cheering up. Here are a few things you may want to try to keep yourself and your plants happy:

Check your watering:
A variety of plants in colorful pots on a windowsill looking out a snowy scene
Plants need and use less water in winter as their growth slows. When you do water, use water that is the same temp as the air in the room – stay away from those frosty taps. Plants, like people, don’t like that sudden shock of cold water.
Evaluate your humidity:
Humidity levels can drop as much as 10-20% in winter and most plants prefer about 50%. There are many ways to increase humidity, including (of course) using humidifiers.  While humidifiers are highly effective for that purpose, using them can lower the amount of watering needed; which gives you another reason to consider your watering practices.
A green houseplant under a window on a counter next to a sink with drying utensils in it. Watch the temperature:
Cranking up the heat during those frigid nights may not feel as good to your plants as it does to you. While you’re at it, check for drafts and heat sources. Fluctuations in temperature can kill plants as easily as temps that are too high or too low.
Clean those leaves:
This is a great time to get in there and clean each plant. Put 'em in a bathtub or a sink, if need be. Dust and other detritus can absolutely affect a plant’s ability to photosynthesis. This is especially true in the winter, when plants have less light to work with. Clean ‘em up and let them breathe.
Check for pests and pathogens and look into the light:
A row of bulbs in pots on a windowsill. Some have pink or yellow blooms.While you're cleaning your plants, make sure there's nothing hiding in there. Indoor conditions in winter can be a breeding ground for pests and disease, so don’t let them sneak up on you. And, while you’ve got your hands on your plants, assess your light situation. With the reduced light in winter, a move to a brighter area may benefit your plants immensely. Here in very hot Arizona, many people do the same in reverse; in the summer they move plants away from spaces with strong direct sunlight.

For more on houseplants in winter, check out this helpful article.  For more information on how to keep your houseplants happy and healthy in general, here is our page on that.

Why not bring some color into your home during these dark months?  There are a number of blooming plants that can see you through the winter and who doesn’t love a great Christmas Cactus or Peace Lily?  Here are several additional cheery options. You can also get some bulbs going; but, if you haven’t started by now, you probably won’t get any blooms until winter is sputtering out. Here is an excellent article that will give you a better idea if bulbs are a good option for you.
Plants growing in green metal pots hanging on a white wall. There are also little white bags hanging in a row.
There are people who grow vegetables outside in winter, using season extenders and other creative coverings, but if that is too hard-core for you, there are other options. Growing vegetables indoors is very doable and can provide you with some plant joy and a snap of fresh flavor before spring. Here are some ways to grow veggies that you might not have thought could be grown indoors (like potatoes!).

A hand holding a paintbrush painting pink and white flowers. There are also tubes of paint on the lower right.If the winter doldrums encourage more esoteric or stationary pursuits in you, there are ways you can still scratch your gardening itch from the warmth of your cozy abode. This article suggests you become an artist. Botanical art, be it classic or modern, is always fun for a plant lover. This may be a great way to express your creativity and love of nature from the safety of your home (you know, just in case you aren’t comfortable showing your work).

A snowy scene by a lake with an arched bridge. Japanese Garden, Ft. Worth, TX
Japanese Garden, Ft. Worth, TX
The same article encourages winter wonderland walks. Undoubtedly there is always something to see and appreciate in every season. But, if schlepping in the snow is not your bag, go online and check out some beautiful winter gardens. There are many places that plant and maintain their grounds to be as spectacular in winter as they are in other times of the year. Here is a taste of some of those. Or, just ignore winter altogether and head online to Hawaii – they have some breathtaking gardens there.

A gif of snow falling on a vase of pink flowers by a white fence.
Having said all that, it may pay to remember that there are only two months of winter left.

Submitted by Pam

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