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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Houseplants and Holiday Plant Care

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

We have all had our houseplants indoors from their summer locations outside now for several weeks and as I have seen already, some of those houseplants are showing up with insects on them. This past week spider mites have shown up on a variety of plants. Spider mites are very small mites that are most often found at the margins of leaves, at the base of the leaves where they attach to the stems, on flower buds and very new growth. The pattern here is they really like young tissue to feed on at first, then move to older leaf and stem tissue. When the outbreak gets going, you will actually see fine webbing and why we named them "spider mites".  Spider mite damage increases inside our homes because of lower humidity and a lack of natural predators and dry growing conditions. Outside mites are around, yet kept in check by other insects that feed on them and wet weather. On smaller houseplants control can be done by simply taking the plant to the kitchen sink and rinsing the foliage off, especially the undersides, using a forceful stream of water from your spray nozzle. You will likely miss some adults and eggs, so do this weekly for about 3-4 weeks to break the cycle. Larger plants are a bit more difficult and require the use of your bathroom shower.

Holiday plant care can vary, but one of the common causes of decline is not monitoring the plants for adequate moisture. Poinsettias for example are going to use a lot of water and the soil media should not ever be allowed to completely dry out. While the decorative foil wrap looks good, the foil will trap water inside the pot and cause root rots as well. If you want to keep the foil, cut several holes in the bottom and use a plant saucer as you do on your other houseplants. Poinsettias also like lots of bright light as they have been growing in a greenhouse getting many hours of high quality light a day. They may look good backed into a dark corner in the family room but they are not going to remain in good condition. Leave them in as much light as possible during the day if you can. Poinsettias, like other holiday plants, like it on the cooler side. Try to avoid putting them near a heat duct where they are hit by the hot dry air or on top of a heat-generating source like a TV.

If you intend on keeping your holiday plants after the season is over, be sure your plants are insect free before placing them with the rest of your collection. If you keep your poinsettia healthy, you can plant it out in the garden for a very interesting effect next summer. Some holiday plants, like amaryllis and cyclamen, are bulbs and can be kept for many years. If you are not keeping the holiday plants, do not throw them in the trash, but add them to your compost bin.

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