Protect indoor plants from cold

December 16, 2009 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      One frigid winter night I stepped out the door carrying a beautifully blooming kalanchoe houseplant loosely protected with plastic, a housewarming gift for my neighbor.  Ninety seconds later when I arrived at my new neighbor’s door, the kalanchoe was dead.

      The lesson here is that most houseplants originate in tropical regions and cannot tolerate even a short blast of cold.  If you are giving or receiving a poinsettia, Christmas cactus or other houseplant this time of year, special care must be taken when transporting them outdoors. 

      The key to keeping the plants alive is to protect them with as many layers of paper, plastic and even blankets as possible.  It might not be a pretty presentation, but at least it will be alive.  It would be smart to warm the car up and move it as close to the door as possible when a tender plant is to be carried.

      If you are the recipient of a gift plant, check the potting soil to be sure it is moist and water immediately if it is not.  Slip the pot out of the pretty foil that surrounds it and let it drain before replacing the foil.   You can keep the foil around the pot for a few days, but then it should be removed and the pot inside should be placed on a saucer for drainage.

      Inspect the plant, including the undersides of the leaves and the stem to be sure no greenhouse pests have been relocated to your home.  Look carefully, especially at poinsettias, to see if tiny little whiteflies are flying around the plant.  Most pests can be removed with just water using your kitchen sprayer or the bathroom shower.

      If the pot feels unusually light, the plant is root bound and it should be transplanted to a larger pot with a good potting mix.

      In general, houseplants and gift plants should be kept in a warm location near a south or west facing window.  Poinsettias do best in indirect sunlight, but Norfolk Island pines and Christmas cactuses can be placed right in the sunshine. 

      Make sure the plants are not near a furnace register, fireplace or other heat generating appliance and move them away from the window if it gets cold in the area at night.  The key is to prevent rapid temperature fluctuations.

      The soil of poinsettias, Christmas cactuses and Norfolk Island pines should be kept constantly moist, but not dripping.  Do not allow the plants to sit in standing water or you risk root rot.

Gardening techniques and toolsHouseplants

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