Spruce up houseplants this winter
December 4, 2013
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URBANA, Ill.  - Winter is a great time to spruce up houseplants, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. 

Rhonda Ferree offers the following tips to give houseplants new life this winter.

“First, check to see if the plant has any insect or disease problems. Over the years I’ve decided that discarding these plants is often the best option since it is really hard to control pests indoors on plants. Some plants, though, can often be remedied with an insecticidal soap application or simply a good cleaning,” she said.

Next, see if the plant needs to be repotted. “Houseplants grow well outdoors in the summer and often need to be moved to a bigger pot. Sometimes plants just need to be repotted to give it fresh soil with better texture and nutrients. When repotting, use a good, sterile, multi-purpose potting soil. Never use garden soil for houseplants grown in containers,” Ferree said. 

Cleaning and grooming plants will keep them healthy, clean, and attractive. Clean plant leaves to remove dust and dirt buildup with 1 teaspoon non-phosphate soap in 1 quart of water.

“Commonly used soaps include Ivory dish soap and PineSol, but many others are okay too. Use a sponge, cleaning cloth, or paper towel to wipe all surfaces of the leaves clean. Wipe down containers too,” she suggested.

Another cleaning option is to spray plants with a non-ammonia glass-cleaning product (such as Sparkle) and wipe clean. Hairy plants should be cleaned only with a brush or feather duster.

“I do not recommend using mayonnaise or furniture polish or anything that could clog the plant’s breathing pores,” she added.

Groom plants by removing debris. Debris found on the plant, on the top of the soil, or at the bottom of the container should be cleaned out regularly. Keep the plant attractive by trimming off old flower heads and all dead or dying leaves. Plants kept outdoors during the summer may need pruning to fit back indoors.

“As you consider each plant, think about what is missing,” Ferree said. “What could be more fun than a new houseplant this winter? “

Houseplants bring nature indoors and allow homes to come alive. In fact, studies indicate that houseplants help keep people happier and healthier. Plants fill an important psychological function and are also proven to clean indoor air.

“Plants help us be more productive,” she said. “I have seven houseplants in my office and have to think they help my creativity too. Add a new plant to your office or home this week.”

More information about houseplants from U of I Extension can be found at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/houseplants.