I don’t believe groundhogs. Frankly they aren’t very bright. Punxsutawney Phil has been back in his burrow dozing because he thinks spring is still weeks away. But my houseplants know better.
For months now I have been doing little but keeping them alive, just barely. Light watering, no fertilizer, occasional dusting. And they all just sat there and sulked. But while you and I have been grumping about snow, they have noticed that the sun is stronger and it hangs around longer. They’re ready to start growing again.
My first clue is always their thirst. Suddenly I’m watering twice as often, twice as much. And now fresh, new leaves are beginning to grow. It’s time to take them one at a time to the kitchen for some serious grooming. This always delights my wife.
Hanging plants can be a pain if you don’t know the easy way to handle them. My own daughter, now the proud owner of her own magamart fern, called me to gripe about how she had to wire a dish pan on the bottom of the pot so it wouldn’t run onto the floor when she watered, then unwire the pan and empty it. She had watched me do it the easy way for years without even noticing. Kids!
First I gave her a stern lecture about buying full grown plants from discount stores. They have spent their lives in greenhouses in sunny climates. When you put them in the corner of a dim, drafty living room, they resent it, and they tell you. A real plant person buys small plants. They grow up in your hostile conditions and get used to it. In the long run, you will have healthier plants. Cheaper, too.
Then I told her to go back to the discount store and buy a decorative ceiling hook and a short piece of chain. Install it over the kitchen sink. You can temporarily hang the plant at any height that’s convenient to water or groom it. The chain should be short enough that you can leave it there without chewing on it every time you do the dishes.
I pull and prune out the dead parts and clean the fallen leaves out of the pot. While doing that I keep an eye out for critters. It is a rare plant that gets through to February without some mealy bugs or spider mites or aphids.
Most can be taken care of with the sink’s spray hose. It’s important to get the undersides of the leaves. Luke warm water cleans off the winter’s dust and the tawny film of pipe smoke. If I suspect an insect infestation is more than the water can handle, I use some insecticidal soap. The stronger stuff that I spray outside should not be used inside.
After holding off on the fertilizer since last fall, now the plants are hungry. The nice thing about fish emulsion is that it is mild, and it has lots of trace elements that newly growing plants need. Sort of like a spring tonic. So for years I put up with the smell.
Now I’ve found a better way. Instead of using the expensive stuff from the bottle, I use the even more natural stuff that I wash out of the filter on the fish tank. It seems to work just as well, and it doesn’t smell as if something died behind the stove.
For plants that don’t hang, I put a fiberglass cafeteria tray on the counter. That makes it easier to clean up the dead stuff that falls off. But I always leave a scrap or two on the counter in plain sight. Otherwise my wife will search for half an hour until she finds some speck to complain about.
Plants fed and tidied, it’s time to fire up the light garden for seed starting. The season has begun.