In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
December, 2013
Regional Report

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4441

Some plants are naturally well adapted to dry conditions.

Humidity Keeps Houseplants Happy

If you suffer from itchy, dry skin in the wintertime, then you know how your houseplants probably feel about now. Home heating systems dry out the indoor air so dramatically that the relative humidity often drops to desert-like levels, affecting people and plants alike.

In other words, a warm, dry environment is not all that conducive to healthy plants. Even the cacti and succulents that don't mind air on the dry side still prefer about a 30 percent relative humidity level instead of the startling 20 percent range we sometimes find in our homes. They also would prefer it a little cooler than our typical 72 degrees during the lower light of short winter days.

To signal the need for more humidity, many plants will show dried leaf tips or dried edges on new leaves, and some may drop older leaves. Flowers will fade and drop off quickly, and buds may shrivel and fail to open. Overall, the plant will look stressed, less than perky, and may have an off color. At first you might think you need to water more, but if the soil is moist, then the problem is most likely dry air.

Combating Dry Air
There are a few simple things you can do to help improve conditions for your plants. One is to situate the plants away from heating vents or radiators. Plants need air circulation, but they do not need to be in a drafty location -- especially not a hot draft.

The next step is to group your plants together so they can humidify each other they transpire and as water evaporates from the potting soil. Arranging plants this way also makes a more impressive decorative statement, and it's quicker and easier to water and groom them when they are all gathered in one place -- and less chance you will forget one left in an out-of-the-way corner!

Make a Pebble Tray
Fill a shallow waterproof pan or tray with a layer of clean pebbles. Then add water to about half the depth of the pebbles. Set your plant pots on the pebbles, making sure the water level is below the bottom of the pots so the plants are not sitting in water. As the water evaporates it will humidify the immediate area. Refill the tray with water as needed. If algae forms on the pebbles, just add a few drops of household bleach to the water in the tray.

Use a Humidifier
Your plants (and you) will benefit from running a humidifier. Whole-house humidifiers are available to run as part of the overall heating system, or humidifiers can be purchased as room-sized units.

Keep It Cool
Last but not least, turn down the heat a little bit. The cooler the room, the more humid it will be. Most houseplants are quite happy in the 65 degree range. As a bonus, this also will help cut down on your heating bills this winter.


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